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Big bulls in India have mostly flattered to deceive. Harshad Mehta, one of the first to be given that title, was the kingpin of one of the biggest market scams in the early 1990s and spent his last days in prison. Ketan Parekh, another pretender to the throne at the turn of the century, ended up in equally disgraceful circumstances.

This is what makes Rakesh Jhunjhunwala so unique. By the time of his unfortunate demise, he had done enough to restore the power and glory of a stock market badshah, including run-ins with the markets regulator, which he mostly settled without accepting wrongdoing. He was the risk-taker who became an icon for a generation of investors by showing them that an ordinary person could make a fortune with disciplined and informed investing. It is easy to see him as a man with the Midas touch. Sure, the stocks he picked over a glittering four-decade-long career gave him returns ranging from 10X to 100X, though there were duds as well. The trick was he got it right more often than he got it wrong, and he wasn’t worried about churning his portfolio regularly, which gave him phenomenal gains.

Behind those eye-popping numbers was a mind that understood human behaviour as well as it did the workings of companies. Combining a chartered accountant’s training with a visionary ability to look into the future, he picked companies and the people who ran them over waves and flavours of the season.

Take his most recent success. Metro Brands debuted with its IPO last December when start-ups were the talk of the town. Jhunjhunwala identified the company’s potential with its right mix of products and eventually bought 14.4% of its shares through his wife and business partner, Rekha. On Friday alone, as the company’s stock rose 7% in a day, his wealth went up by 221 crore.

It was just the kind of manoeuvre that he loved and that made him famous. Shunning low-hanging fruits or those that had caught the fancy of the uninitiated and opting instead for stocks of companies that had real products and services to take to the market was his speciality. The theme runs through most of his major stock picks, whether it is Titan, Tata Motors, Fortis Healthcare, Canara Bank, or NCC Ltd. Having convinced himself about a company’s long-term prospects, he then committed himself wholly to it, which is why just 10 stocks accounted for more than 80% of the value of his portfolio.

Over his decades-long career in the markets, he kept finetuning this strategy, making constant modifications but never deviating from the underlying principles of value investing. An investor since his college days at Sydenham in Mumbai, Jhunjhunwala got it right more often than not because he was never scared to ask top executives of companies tough questions. Indeed, his presence at such meetings, where he sat at the back but took centre stage with his piercing questions, became a source of dread and learning for the companies. Men like Bhaskar Bhat, former CEO of Titan, have acknowledged the value of his grilling in forcing them to reassess their strategies.

More than anything, the 62-year-old Jhunjhunwala loved the markets and enjoyed being an integral part of them. In recent years he had become a central figure around whom the markets revolved, with millions of investors happy to follow his cue. It would have pleased the man who loved the attention and was never scared to wear his heart on his sleeve. Whether it was partying at the watering holes on Marine Drive, at least one of which, Geoffrey’s, he made popular by his very presence, or in television studios where he often made anchors flinch, and viewers smile by the candour of his comments, Jhunjhunwala was an original. He detested being called the Warren Buffett of India.

Part of his rich legacy will be the philanthropic work he did, having committed 25% of his wealth to the cause of improving educational and nutrition standards.

Through all his successes and the billions he had accumulated, which catapulted him to the ranks of India’s richest people, he was also a builder and a creator, having promoted companies in businesses he believed in. It is a real pity that days after India’s newest airline, Akasa Air, which he had kickstarted, took to the skies, the man who was king of the markets decided to leave the cockpit. With his health deteriorating, the last few years had been a struggle for him, but the fire remained undimmed.

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