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Mumbai pays homage to its tallest tycoon — Dhirubhai passes into history

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FINAL JOURNEY: Mr Mukesh Ambani, Vice-Chairman, Reliance (left), and Mr Anil Ambani, Managing Director, carrying the body of their father at the Chandanwadi crematorium in Mumbai on Sunday.

MUMBAI, July 7

DHIRAJLAL Hirachand Ambani built an empire. And while he was at it, he put his hands on the shoulders of a few million people and touched their lives.

Hundreds of them - big and small, poor and rich, well-known and little known - today paid homage to one of the most extraordinary businessmen of our times.

Through the day, until late afternoon, people queued up in patient lines to have a last glimpse of Dhirubhai.

The 69-year-old patriarch of the Ambani family passed away at 11.50 p.m. on Saturday at Breach Candy hospital, two weeks after he suffered a stroke.

As news of his death got passed along, men and women quietly drew up at Sea Wind, the Cuffe Parade home of Dhirubhai in south Mumbai. Many others had made it to the hospital on Saturday mid-night itself.

It seemed as if the city, whose streets Ambani knew too well, felt a bit let down, and covered itself in a cloak of thin monsoon clouds to watch the event.

Policemen, security staff of the Reliance group and a large number of volunteers wearing black tabs managed the crowd with quiet efficiency.

The flow of visitors began at 9 a.m.

Among the first few in the morning at Sea Wind were Mr Ratan Tata, the Maharashtra Chief Minister, Mr Vilasrao Deshmukh, Mr Sharad Pawar, Mr Ajay Piramal, former UTI chief, Mr P.S. Subrahmanyam, Mr Adi Godrej, and Mr Amar Singh.

Later, the newly appointed Deputy Prime Minister, Mr L.K. Advani, visited.

There were the unknown faces too. One such was Bhikshu Veeratna, a monk from a Buddhist temple in a Mumbai suburb.

"He never visited our temple," said the monk who stood out in rust-red robes among a multitude of white-clad people. "Lekin hum unki manavta ka bahut kadar karte hein...hum unka bahut aadar karte hein (I respect deeply his humanity...I respect him)," he said standing dejected in a corner of Sea Wind, the Ambani residence. "I just need two minutes to do a puja before his body," the monk said sadly, before he was edged out by a flow of VVIPs.

Thobanbhai had come all the way from Kozhikode to pay homage to the man he "loved and respected deeply.''

The copra merchant, who has made a small fortune buying Reliance shares, said with tears in his eyes, "I am very sad at Dhirubhai's death. I know that Anil and Mukesh will take good care of us shareholders, but Dhirubhai was special."

At the corner of the street leading to the Ambani residence, a florist was selling roses and jasmine.

A hand-written placard at his makeshift shop read: "We `salut' our dearest Dhirubhai Ambani." Along the street, banners put up by Raju Purohit, an MLA, read - "Dhirubhai Amar Rahein."

Apparently the Ambani family had prepared for the event, as the back and front porticos at the all-white multi-storeyed Sea Wind had white pandals with large-size frames of Dhirubhai placed along the walls. The soft chant of prayers came over the sound system.

Outside, the press and TV media clicked away, though they were not allowed to shoot any pictures of the deceased Dhirubhai. Sons Mukesh Ambani and Anil Ambani stood beside the body of their father, accepting condolences with folded hands. One could see Mr Anil Ambani occasionally wiping his eyes while Mr Mukesh looked sombre.

At about 5 p.m., Dhirubhai's body was taken in a flower-bedecked vehicle to the Jagannath Sankersett Crematorium at Marine Lines here. A few thousand people milled around the narrow entrance of the crematorium - known locally as Chandanwadi - as Anil Ambani and Mukesh Ambani carried, with others, their father's body to the pyre.

For someone who believed in the participation of all, perhaps, it may not have been to Dhirubhai's liking that only a few people could enter the small cemetery.

On the road in front of Chandanwadi, policemen and private security guards struggled to control a large crowd that had gathered to have a final glimpse of the visionary businessman. As the funeral procession approached, chants of "Dhirubhai amar rahein (long live Dhirubhai)" rent the air. Long will he live in the memories of millions and through the businesses he built.

And for the men and women running the businesses that he built, there will be no time to pause - they have to continue building. All the Reliance offices and factories will be working tomorrow in line with the work ethic set by Dhirubhai.

The man who built `Only Vimal' into an awesome logo would have appreciated the gesture as work rarely ceased at the Reliance workplace during his lifetime.

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