I’m sitting with Vikram Seth’s book The Golden Gate that she had gifted me and her inscription inside “May your future passages be through Golden Gates”. This was May 30, 1990. Little did Jane Swamy know that, having met her in 1987, my passage through the golden gates had already begun.
Jane Swamy was my manager, teacher, guide, mentor and most of all, friend. She was PR Manager of Glaxo India, and faculty and Dean of Xavier Institute of Communications (XIC), Mumbai. But she was more than her titles. Her interests extended from the world of literature and journalism (she studied Journalism at Marquette University, Wisconsin) to the arts, films and all forms of creative expression. Through her, I met artists of national and international fame, went to exclusive film screenings, watched amazing plays, interacted with poets and authors and, most importantly, was exposed to the relevance and interconnectedness of communications with other disciplines.
And that’s why Jane Swamy probably recruited me as a Management Trainee at Glaxo the year after I passed out of TISS with a post graduate degree in Medical & Psychiatric Social Work. A department of women at the time (she tried hard to recruit men), we were a mix of varied backgrounds that collectively contributed to how she believed a corporate communications department should be structured. From writers to journalists to audio-visual producers and social workers, we were one of the best run communications department in India, doing work way ahead of its time. Glaxo’s consistent ranking as one of the most respected companies in India, scoring high on communication attributes like reputation and corporate social responsibility were outcomes of her initiatives. Reporting directly to the Managing Director and as one of only two women at her level, she ensured that communications had its rightful place within the organisation.
Over and above all, Jane Swamy was a great teacher. As a requisite of my being in the PR department, I was sponsored for a PR course at XIC and was privileged to have her teach me. But it was under her wings at work that I learnt the most as she guided me through proofreading typeset newsletters (it was the days of typesetting!), scripting and writing audio visuals (35 mm in the day), and much more. Through her I learnt skills that would set me on course for a PR career, but I also learnt values that have stood me in good stead all through these years – of ethics, professionalism, standing up for one’s rights and how to stay strong through adversity.
When I left Mumbai, Jane Swamy and I continued to remain in close touch. I had moved to Weber Shandwick. It was early days of PR Consultancies in India and she found fascination in learning how the consultancy business ran. On every visit to Mumbai, I would visit her home. Until 2016 when I visited and realised she no longer knew me. Alzheimer’s had started to eat into this vibrant personality whose life had been so full of stimulation and I found it hard to visit her again. Today, brought news that she passed away last night.
In Jane Swamy’s passing India has lost one of the PR greats of her time, if not of all time. It is sad that our industry did little to acknowledge her in her lifetime, possibly a reflection that she worked in an era when there were no digital imprints to record her impact. But her legacy continues through the many PR professionals and journalists who were fortunate to be taught by her.
Fare thee well Mrs Swamy. May you be led through golden gates to your forever.
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