I was the founding Chief Executive of the Mahindra United World College of India (MUWCI). On 6 November 1992 I represented the MUWCI at the inauguration of the Li Po Chun United World College of Hong Kong. The Prince of Wales (Prince Charles) was the Chief Guest. He was then the President of the United World Colleges (UWC). A few members of the UWC community, including me, had sought an audience with Prince Charles. We were met by his secretary, and he informed us that from the requests received, he had formed four groups that would stand in four circles which he would draw in the foyer of the hotel the following day at 10 am.
Prince Charles would meet each group by turns. Of the four, three groups comprised 6-8 people, including ladies; I was the solitary person in my circle. During his briefing, the Secretary stressed at length that Prince Charles was an informal person, and that we should talk to him informally. “Please don’t address him as Your Majesty, Your Highness, etc; you may even call him Charles. And some witty banter will not be out of place.” Prince Charles met the first three groups for 8-10 minutes each. However, almost all members of the groups violated the Secretary’s briefing.
The ladies bowed before talking to him, and the men unabashedly addressed him as “Your Majesty” or “Your Highness”. Prince Charles, while approaching Circle No 4 – only a few feet away from No 3 – said “Good Morning, Captain Mohindra” (obviously his secretary had given him my name!). I responded by cheerfully saying “Good Morning Sir” and gave him the Naval salute. So, how is the Indian UWC faring? I said: “Sir as they say in the Navy, it’s on top of the ball! We have a distinguished Chairman of the National Committee, Mr. Harish Mahindra. Harish is an alumnus of Harvard.
He is in the top echelons of Mahindra & Mahindra, one of the global enterprises headquartered in Mumbai and renowned for its integrity and business ethics. Sir, the wonderful news is that the Board of Mahindra & Mahindra is considering Mr Harish Mahindra’s proposal to meet the entire cost of the project.” Prince Charles said he was delighted to hear this. He then enquired about the Government of India’s approval. I replied that we hoped to receive it soon.
I may add here that Prince Charles was taking a personal interest in the Indian UWC and much credit goes to him for establishing it finally. As he was leaving, he said, “well done” and “keep it up”. I thanked him profusely but added that a minor issue needed to be resolved. He said, “what is it?” I told him that we looked forward to receiving a message from him for publication in the first brochure being brought out by the Mahindra UWC.
He looked at me quizzically and said, “I don’t write messages for brochures, do I?” I then pulled out a photograph from my pocket and told him, in good humour that in that case I would reproduce it in picture in lieu of his message. Prince Charles looked at the photograph intently and asked, “Where the hell did you get this from?” I said that in 1953, I was a Midshipman on board HMS Gambia, the Flagship of Vice Admiral Lord Mountbatten, Commander-in-Chief of the Mediterranean Fleet, based in Malta.
The Queen, the Duke of Edinburgh and their children had been invited by Lord Mountbatten to visit Malta on a holiday. Her Majesty’s Yacht HMS Britannia was tied to a buoy in the Valletta harbour, just aft of Gambia. “One of the items on the programme was ‘Prince Charles and Princess Anne play with the Midshipmen on board the Gambia’. The boats in which you and Princess Anne are joyfully sitting were built on board by the Midshipmen.
I took this photograph with my box camera.” Prince Charles had a hearty laugh and said: “Oh, we have a blackmailer here!” He told his secretary: “Send him a message” The message from the Prince of Wales was duly received and published in the first brochure brought out by the Mahindra UW.