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Remembering Ajay Oak

As much as we have to say farewell, we have little option but to make Ajay’s legacy richer

As much as we have to say farewell, we have little option but to make Ajay’s legacy richer.

Ajay Oak
1973 – 2018
Co-founder and COO
Shubham Housing Development Finance Limited

I have always admired people who have been the sum of little things, as much as I have admired people who do big and wonderful things. And then there are folks like Ajay Oak, a rare person who was (and I dare say, is) the sum of little and big things. Almost anyone who has undertaken an entrepreneurial journey knows that it is a reflection of life’s journey itself: great heights and awful lows, unparalleled opportunities and missed expectations, amazing successes and incomprehensible failures, rarely predictable and yet requires resilience and focused effort. Entrepreneurs also quickly realize that, like life itself, the only thing that matters is whether you made a difference to the people around you. This is where the true nature of an individual gets amplified manifold.

In Elevar’s decision to back a startup (even before it received its lending license or was even named) being founded by two extraordinary individuals, Sanjay and Ajay, and in their desire to use their decades of financial services experience to build an organization that reflected humility, admiration and meaning in every interaction with their customers in low income communities, we (I speak on behalf of every Elevarian) got a unique and ring side view into the extraordinary life of an extraordinary person. We saw his commitment to true friendship and partnership in the way Sanjay and he transformed a prior working relationship where they completed each other’s sentences. We saw Ajay’s innate humanity and commitment to help everyone, when he worked hard for the growth of his colleagues at Shubham; just talk to anyone at Shubham. We saw his commitment to the idea of democratizing mortgages for low income communities; you only had to go on a field visit with him to meet customers. We saw his commitment to fairness and integrity in every interaction with every stakeholder, whether it was easy or difficult; one only had to listen carefully when he made a point at board meetings. And most importantly, we saw Ajay’s commitment to his family (as a husband, father, son and brother) as he co-founded Shubham to create a future and legacy for them. Having spent some time with his wife, Rupa, his children, Kunal and Riya and with his parents and sister, the day after Ajay passed away, one is awestruck with their fortitude and inner strength.

I believe that Elevar “invested” in the idea of Shubham in so many more ways than capital (pun intended) and I know he reciprocated that “investment” (pun intended again). We have lost our friend, our partner, a fellow Elevarian. Words such as “warm”, “kind”, “thoughtful”, “compassionate”, “leader” don’t do him justice. Actions such as “helping people”, “going out of the way”, “always seeing the best in others” don’t come close to describing his nature. This is what occupies my thoughts, and not just in the context of Shubham and Elevar. We assumed, perhaps took for granted, that we would stay connected for a long time (much beyond the investment period) and that part of the journey will always feel incomplete, unfulfilled, empty and full of pain.

Heaven must have a shortage of wonderful people if folks like Ajay and Naveen (Elevar’s office administrator, who we lost a few months ago) are being pulled away, prematurely and tragically. Premature deaths solidify the legacy people leave behind (and often, make it richer) because of the shared responsibility that the rest of us have to complete dreams, to reach heights the departed wanted to reach and to embrace life with the same purpose as they did. And so, “Mr. Oak, as much as we have to say farewell, we have little option but to make your legacy richer. I think you know that because I can almost picture you with a knowing smile.”