Author, a sports commentator with the BBC, an orator with a great sense of humour and an internationally known leader of the YMCA – Mr Egbert Samraj (76), who attained eternity today in Hyderabad, was all these and more.
The news of his passing, that came shortly before noon on the first working day of 2017 here, left me deeply saddened. Though he had been ill the last two years or so, I had remained confident that his fighting spirit would see him recover well enough to be active again.
I last met him about a year ago when I visited Hyderabad for the wedding of a friend’s daughter. Having always seen him active and articulate, with a commanding presence, he was hardly the great conversationalist he used to be. He was happy to see me and was expressive but his failing health was painful.
Egbert uncle at my wedding reception in Hyderabad in February 1986
Tall, handsome, confident and amiable, Mr Egbert Samraj (Egbert uncle to me and my wife) was easily among the best leaders the Indian YMCA has seen, showing great professionalism in steering the organisation forward.
Having been closely associated with the YMCA, with the opportunity to know its leaders well as long as I was in India, I can say this with a certain degree of authority.
Nation Building without Insularity
Under his stewardship, the YMCA saw fulfilment of his innovative ideas and strategic plans aimed at engaging the youth in creative pursuits and contributing to nation-building without invoking any insular considerations.
The YMCA is only Christian by name, all its activities are centred around embracing the young from all religions, races and castes.
From sports and debates to cultural programmes and summer camps, there was no dearth of activities members of the YMCA could engage and excel in.
During my stay in Hyderabad, the YMCA even sponsored an all-India music and dance competition, attracting contestants from all over the country — all young amateurs but with the ability to take audiences to aesthetic heights.
It is no exaggeration to say that the association flourished during his leadership:
- as General Secretary of the National YMCAs, based in Delhi
- as General Secretary of the YMCA in Hyderabad / Secunderabad
- as General Secretary of the Indian YMCA in London, a position he held for three years before returning to India.
“It’s Grace in Retrospect”
Unfortunately, the YMCA started to lose its lustre in recent times, with politicking and bickering distracting it from its long-cherished ideals.
I began to get the impression that manipulation, mediocrity and even graft had ironically become a way of life in a Christian organisation where selflessness and service without strings were expected to rule.
Post-retirement, uncle had his own reservations about the state of affairs in the YMCA. Some of his thoughts were reflected in his book, “It’s Grace in Retrospect”. It made for interesting, enjoyable reading with autobiographical insights into his lineage, his leanings and his professional transformation.
Special Place in my Heart
Egbert uncle has a very special place in my heart, having played key roles in my life. Uncle was a friend of my dad who had also spent all his life with the YMCA. I have seen them play table-tennis and darts together at the Madras YMCA.
When my dad passed away in July 2010, he sent me a note recalling his friendship with him and how thoroughbred he was in maintaining confidential information relating to the YMCA. My dad used to play volleyball as well and shared a love for sports with uncle.
Egbert uncle was there for me when I took up my first job in August 1983 as a journalist in Hyderabad. He had me stay at his home for a few days until a room was available in the YMCA Hostel at Narayanguda. I had stayed at his home even when I went to Hyderabad from Chennai for the job interview.
Egbert uncle (left) with my dad.
A few years later, he helped me organise my wedding reception at the YMCA in Hyderabad, personally taking care of all associated activities.
Sarojini aunt was a source of great strength for my wife, Sugi, who loved her. With her constant help and support she never felt lonely there.
All members of Egbert uncle’s family (including Kumar and Grace, with Mercy, a little, lovable girl then) went out of their way to help make our stay in Hyderabad enjoyable. So did Solomon, a great friend and his Son-in-law.
About 10 years or so ago, Egbert uncle and aunt visited Singapore and we had the privilege of spending some quality time with them.
Egbert uncle’s death is a huge personal loss for all of us at my home. We are certain to miss him for long. May his soul rest in peace.
G Joslin Vethakumar