Inder Sharma is no more. He was ailing for sometime and breathed his last in his home. The Last of the Titans, his was one of those few faces that virtually launched Indian tourism, some 50 years ago. Over the years, he kept his head high, his principles upfront and truly represented the moral voice for the industry. In those days, tourism had only one vertical, that of inbound for group travel, and Sharma was one of the originals in this space. Much later into his career, I once asked him what he enjoyed doing most? He replied, “making a new itinerary for a foreign tourist!’’
Remembering one of the many episodes that I can recount, one that I particularly remember was the election for the TAAI president in Bengaluru, in the mid-80s, where he was pitted against Pesi Master from Mumbai. When the counting was over, the results were tied between the two, with the Returning Officer, Vinoo Ubhayakar, yet to vote. It was obvious to whom Vinoo’s vote would go, ( it was the early days for Mumbai and Delhi to compete for industry leadership) and that Sharma would lose if Vinoo cast his vote, but Sharma was adamant. There were huge suggestions that Inder Sharma should withdraw but he would not agree to doing so, on a matter of principle, saying he would never withdraw from a contest. And Vinoo did cast his vote, and Pesi won, and yet Sharma did not lose.
His passing away, in an ironic way, also represents the end of an era when the industry was a friendly club, where competition was tough, and yet there was comraderie enough. You competed during the day, and enjoyed a drink in the evening. Industry was a fraternity with close bonding and strong ties. Tourism, in that sense, has lost its focus, and also its close knit character. Sharma was the last of the Old Boys.
Along with Gautam Khanna and the Katgara brothers, this was truly those valiant ones who put Indian tourism on the world map. He was honoured with a Padma Shri, the first Indian agent to be so acknowledged, was a member of the Yunus Mohammed Committee for Tourism, instituted by then prime minister Rajeev Gandhi, and was a big face for Indian tourism in global tourism organizations like PATA, ASTA and others.
India’s tourism industry will surely miss his presence and guidance for a long time to come.