Raj Kamble may be better known in our industry as an Art Director turned Global Creative turned Entrepreneur, but I know him since before all of this. I've known him since 25 years, when we both were in JJ School of Arts. At age 17/18, when I first met him, he was as pure a Marathi Mumbai boy as anyone could find (in many ways he still is to this date). Coming from a very humble background and a Marathi-medium Jewish school, he couldn't speak English to save his life!
I remember this one time we went to Tata Theatre to watch Alyque Padamsee talk about advertising. At one point Mr. Padamsee started throwing out questions to the audience and I could see Raj shiver at the idea of being asked to respond in English in front of so many people. His face froze; his fists clenched sitting there shell-shocked for a few moments. The question was simple, we all have to close our eyes and Mr. Padamsee would say a word “RED” and then he would choose random people and ask them “what did you see or think when you heard the word RED?” Being the great friend I was and for the fun of it all, I obviously used all my enthusiasm to make sure he caught Mr. Padamsee's attention and was put in the spotlight. So when we all opened our eyes, my next seat, where Raj was sitting was empty. Obviously he sprinted straight out of the auditorium without looking back, all out of the fear of saying one sentence in English.
Cut to 15 years later, I visited Raj in New York and found him comfortable in a corner office facing the Chrysler Building, confidently narrating a funny incident to a group made of Americans, Latinos and Indians. While his English was still a little broken, his fear was gone. And I thought to myself - how did this simple, shy little Art Director without a single connection in advertising get here?
But the truth is, Raj was never poor. He may not have had money but he was rich with knowledge and he was rich with friends. In his early days, he devoured Marathi literature like he was dying and it was oxygen. Not many know that he worked as a Marathi journalist while in college and also performed as an actor in Marathi Theater. As an Art Director, he could visualize anything without the need for too much copy, but unlike the typical art person, he never treated words like an enemy. That is why I always believe he has the heart of an Art Director but the soul of a Writer. Even today, he reads more than most writers I know - both in English and in Marathi. And when you talk to him, you realize that language is just the surface - true knowledge and true insight connect, regardless of the way they are said. This is also perhaps an important reason why he is one of the few people with an Art background who is a successful entrepreneur on his own today.
And while he deeply loves advertising and all the craziness that comes with it, he loves people more. I've never seen anyone put as much effort for the people in his life (and even those not in his life) as Raj does. You may barely know him, but he will go out of his way to come meet you and spend time with you, all because he enjoys people. I can sit in a park or coffee shop and watch people for hours, he often says. He believes in people and he is hurt when people don't behave the same way. The junior most Art Director in his company could be leaving, and he will be hurt, not because he doesn't want to lose an Art Director, but general, because he doesn't want to lose people.
Till today he cares deeply for his classmates from JJ, for the people he met working as a journalist, for his various partners and colleagues in advertising who are now all over the world, and for every single person who has been part of Famous. If he could, he would choose to meet all of them every single day. It's this love for people that made him General Secretary in college and the only person who was popular between students 5 years senior and 5 years junior. And the people who love him come from all walks of life. One day you might find him with Shekhar Kapoor, another day with Raj Thackeray and the third day with someone who's a complete nobody today…but Raj sees something in him that you don't. A fun fact - last year, he crossed 5000 friends on Facebook and was struggling to add/accept new people!
So, what he didn't have in money, background, legacy, etc. Raj created on his own with knowledge and people. His is a story where ambition meets heart, hard work meets madness and struggle meets hope. To the world, he may be one more example of rags to riches but to me, he is a friend, an inspiration, a foe, a competition, a Single-malt Partner, a person to learn from and a person to fight with, all in one. But I do believe the best of Raj is yet to come, and tomorrow if he tells us that he met the US President over lunch or he has bought a small island somewhere in the middle of the world and he has started a lovely Hotel there, trust me I will not be surprised.