Bye Bye Michael Uncle! By Ashok Vyas
How to start? I sit to write something about Phulwani Chachaji and ask him in my mind.
He says, ‘You are a poet, you figure out’. I look at the canvas of Michael Phulwani ji’s life.
It was much before I was born that Uncle became friends with my father Arjun Raj ji Vyas.Both of them were fond of discussing new business ventures, both had likable personalities.Both of them were fond of staying connected to the cream of society.
They shared interestin movies. My father was general manager at Polo Victory Cinema for many years.Mr Phulwani did distribution of films for some time with him. He was a visionary, a dreamer.
My mother would tell us, after Mr Phulwani came to USA and made it big here, that she usedto laugh at him, when he would declare, ‘Bhabhiji I will go to America’. By the time, we became teenagers, all three brothers knew that there is a special relationshipbetween Mr A R Vyas and Michael Phulwani.
He had made a big name in USA as immigration attorney, his visits to Jaipur were always markedin his very meticulously planned itinerary for various cities of India. He was a very busy man butit was a must for him to spend some time with Mr Vyas. If he couldn’t come to Jaipur, Mr Vyas would go to Delhi or Mumbai, wherever he was for few days.
I still remember their laughter together, there was a glow, a passion for life, a sense of confidence,self-assuredness and ability to hold on to their own space with complete ease. They had some memories of early days, reference of few friends in Jaipur, including Judge Indra Israniji,politicians Khet Singh Rathore ji, Munna Lal Goyal ji, Padma ji, Jagwani family.
Our family would find him as the magnetic center, we three brothers were eager to serve him.Be it bringing water to serving food on the table to sometimes early morning, bringing all smallitems for shaving in the lawn. I remember, shaking the shaving brush in the jar placed near mirror,and getting ready to apply another layer of shaving cream on his cheek. He said, we have waterrunning in the basin continuously and we do it quick in USA. Here Vyasji can sit and spend somuch time for shaving, reading newspaper. Mr Vyas in his turn would tease him, ‘Yes, you arealways running after dollars.’
Mr Phulwani would say in his charming style, ‘that is necessary’.
Once my mother asked him,‘Do you go for walk everyday’. Wiping his face with the towel handed over to him by my brother,he looked at my mother and said, “ Bhabhiji, I want to go for walk every day, but what can I do,when I step outside home for walk, dollars call me, where are you going, we are here, so I goafter them” . All of us laughed loudly, those days, I had not thought of coming to USA.
I grew up and joined All India Radio, Mr Phulwani’s annual visit with his partner were fixed, my father would miss a wedding in family, if he had to go to meet his friend. I am aware, being in New York for last 22 years, Uncle made a big name and he was recognizedfor his passion, dedication, contribution to many organizations. He loved me. I carry that love inmy heart a badge of honor and inner strength. He came to JFK Airport, when I landed here by his support on H 1 B Visa to work in media. Itwas 1997. I was impressed by his Mercedes car, roads, George Washington bridge and waswondering, no people on the street.
Mr Phulwani was observing my curiosity and he asked me about my impressions of USA. I was in the process of settling down, there were teething problems and Uncle shared hisown journey, his struggle, his initial phase of having worked multiple jobs. He wanted to becomean attorney right from his childhood days and soon he realized that being a store managerand serving for another business won’t help him succeed. He told me, Ashok, in USA, everybodyhas his game. You need to find your game otherwise you will work for fulfilling other’s dreams.
He was fond of Bollywood. In the course of his practice many film stars and producers becamehis friends. He was very close to Kapoor family, Rishi Kapoor’s passing away last year was a shock for him. He called,, and we recorded his impressions about Rishi Kapoor via Zoom for Vision of Asia program of ITVGold. Dev Anand used to visit him quiet frequently for professional workas well as general friendly conversation. Boney Kapoor, Salmaan Khan and many film stars including Rishiji’s son Randhir interacted with Phulwaniji. He was also rubbingshoulders with Yash Chopra. If I start talking about his interviews with politicians to bring the immigration related issuesfor Indian Americans, that would lead this expression to a different direction. I would onlymention his interaction with Dada Vaswani for the viewers of ITVGold. Interestingly,shadow of Michael Uncle has always remained with me in some or the other form. Founder of ItVGold, (where I have served for last 22 years now as Program Director), Dr Banad Viswanath and his wife Sathya Viswanath were friends with him. Dev Viswanathalso worked with Mr Phulwani as an attorney in his initial years of practice. Mr Phulwani somewhere helped in bringing about transition in ITVGold’s management. He was also friends with Padma Shri Dr Sudhir Parikh, chairman of Parikh Worldwide media,who acquired ITVGold. I interviewed him at length in 2018 and recorded his journey, his thoughts about his legacyand most memorable moments.
He was happy to have earned recognition through his service. He gave emotional supportand shared his wisdom with some of his clients. I heard those stories, where his advice helped a young girl move away from past. He was very pragmatic in his approach; he didn’t want anybody to remain stuck in the past. Life is all about moving forward.How long can you remain stuck in the memory of someone who passed away, you respect him, you love him, but you have to live your life, you are here to do something,that is how it is.
As 2021 is approaching, I choke and keyboard hears my sobs, neither my father is herein his physical form, not my guru is present on this earthly plane and now, my local guardianLegendary immigration attorney Michael Phulwani is here.
But do they really go, they live in those who love them. My King Uncle, as I also addressed himwith Prakash Banad ji at ITV Studio) lived in a royal way. I haven’t made any systematic attemptto trace his life in chronological fashion from 28 Sept 1936 in Pakistan to Indian to USA to thisday 25 Dec 2020, when he left his mortal frame.
I have skipped his interactions with my wife Sheila, who is also an attorney, my daughter Dr Shrutiand son Pratyush.
I have only picked up those moments which just came on their own. I would sum up saying, Michael uncle changed his name from Mohan to Michael but he remained Mohan in his heart.He was sincere, loving, lover of life, compassionate and jovial. He was generous in sharing, his knowledgeas well as his contacts, that I recently heard from attorney Dev Viswanath and attorney David Nachman.
I have heard anecdotes from Dr Shashi Shah and Yashpal Soi and many others about theirfriend Michael. Time to appreciate his contribution to the world in his unique and charming way.
When I heard about his passing away, I couldn’t control my tears. He used to address meas ‘Pundit ji’ also, in USA, I did perform puja as Hindu priest. It was a strange coincidence,once I had gone to perform last rites at a funeral home, which was an exception and I wasconducting that ritual for the first time. My father was in USA and he was living with MrPhulwani in New Jersey for a few days, it so happened that the departed person wasknown to Mr Phulwani. He was presented at the funeral home with Mr Vyas.Both of them appreciated my Sanskrit Chanting. Mr Phulwani would sometimes call meto discuss rituals, sometimes spiritual matters and sometimes just like that, if we have not spoken for many days. He was aware about my devotion to my Guru Swami Shri IshwaranandaGiriji Maharaj. I used to go to India every year on Guru Purnima and be with Swamis.
He would affectionately chide me to say, ‘Guru is fine but you should spend more time withyour parents, is that not your duty?’
I never disagreed. I promised him that I don’t neglect my duties.
(Ashok Vyas is poet, priest and Program Director, ITVGold)
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