During one of our trips to Jodhpur in Rajasthan, we were told that there was an auction of old furniture at one of the grand palaces in the city. Rajasthan is known for the grand and opulent lifestyle of its maharajas and the auctions threw up some really valuable pieces of antique furniture. Once we reached there, I realised that we could barely afford anything. The furniture and other things on display were exorbitantly priced, but I was happy to indulge in some “window shopping”.

Aditya’s eyes suddenly lit up at the sight of a portrait. It was a large painting of a king dressed up in all his regalia. It had caught his attention from across the room and he walked up to the auctioneer, who, probably sensing Aditya’s enthusiasm, quoted a huge price. There was no way we could buy that. “What are you charging for? The portrait or the frame,” Aditya quizzed. Taken aback, the man said in a louder-than-usual tone, “The picture.

“Ah,” Aditya replied, “Chalo, bach gaye (Thank heavens). I want the frame only. How much will that be?”

The auctioneer was completely baffled. “Frame only?” He asked several times, until he finally quoted an amount that was a fraction of the price that he had asked for earlier. Aditya immediately agreed, and the intricately carved wooden frame was handed over to us. According to Aditya, he had had his eye on the frame right from the start – not the painting – but then, how would the auctioneer know that?

The frame, polished and shining, now hangs in our home in Mumbai. It holds a mirror and is a perfect prop for one of Aditya’s jokes. When friends come over, after a few drinks go down the hatch, Aditya turns to them and says, “Let me introduce you to the great maharaja.” He takes them by the hand and shows them the mirror. “There,” he says, “that is king of all he surveys.” When they turn to him flummoxed, he tells them the story. “The frame once held a king’s portrait and it now has you.”

Aditya never wastes a chance for a good laugh – be it at home with our friends or, (very often) at my expense or, in a room full of strangers. Some years ago, Aditya’s work with HDFC Bank was getting recognised and he would constantly be invited for some talk or the other. He would turn many down but there was one invitation that both of us knew we had to honour. His alma mater, the Panjab University, wanted him to address their outgoing class of graduates.

Aditya was only too happy to do that and the two of us landed up in Chandigarh for the event. We were taken aback by the welcome that we received! There were posters lining the streets that had his photograph plastered all over and banners strung all along the roads, with the caption, “Return of the prodigal!”

You know what Punjabi hospitality is like and needless to say, we were treated to a really good time. All the things Aditya wanted to eat, more importantly, all the things he wanted me to taste, were provided. We only had to mention the word and it was presented at our doorstep. The hour of his lecture soon arrived and the auditorium was packed – not a single empty seat in the room. He spoke at length about his journey in the banking profession, the ups and downs that had come his way and how hard work and passion have been his constant companions in every venture. It is always interesting for me to be a part of these events, because when he looks back on the life that we have led, I am often surprised by the things he is able to bring up. There have been times, I had no idea about what he had been going through either.

Coming back to the auditorium, it was time to take questions. A student turned to him and asked, “You spent many years here. Tell us, which were your favourite haunts.” He paused for a moment and then with a sheepish grin said, “See, whatever I am about to say does not take away from what I have just told you. All that still holds. Hard work, passion, sab jaroori hai (everything is necessary). But the truth is, while I was here, I worked the hardest at eating bun anda opposite the English department. My friends and I timed our visits such that we were there just as the English classes got done. I am sure you all know why we did that,” he said (as I am sure you do too, dear reader). The room burst into laughter.

Adityanama: The Man Behind the Banker Revealed

Excerpted with permission from Adityanama: The Man Behind the Banker Revealed, Anita ‘Smiley’ Puri, Jaico Publishing House.