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Report Dated December 5, 2016 6:49 PM
The nine-year-old girl has created history in Kashmir.
Tajamul Islam won the sub-junior World Kickboxing Championship in Italy in November.
She has been winning local championships since last year, and now aspires to participate in the Olympics.
Tajamul comes from a village in Bandipora district, some 65km (40 miles) from the main city of Srinagar. Her father works as a driver with a construction company and earns 10,000 rupees ($146) a month.
She began kickboxing at an early age and picked up a gold medal in a state championship in Jammu last year.
She defeated a 13-year-old opponent to pick up the gold medal in India’s national kickboxing championship in 2015.
“I was a little afraid when I saw her [my opponent]. But then I said to myself that age or body structure does not matter. I will remain focused and give it my best shot,” she said, after her win.
Tajamul began kickboxing in 2014 when she joined a local martial arts training academy.
“I was walking near the stadium here when I saw many young boys and girls training. I saw them punching and all that and told my father that I wanted to join them and he let me,” she told a journalist.
Every day she puts on her boxing gloves, punches the sand bag and does her stretches under the watchful eyes of her local coach Faisal Ali.
Mr Ali says she has sometimes practised up to 25 hours a week.
Earlier this month, Tajamul won the gold medal in the sub-junior world championship, winning six bouts in five days. Some 90 countries participated in the event, where she defeated opponents from China, Japan, France, Italy, Canada and the US.
Tajamul’s neighbours are turning up in droves to congratulate her after her return from Italy. Many garland her, shower her with gifts and carry her around the village.
She has become a celebrity of sorts as people recognise her on the streets and take selfies with her. She has also become an inspiration for the youth in the Kashmir valley.
Tajamul’s brother and two sisters also practice kickboxing.
“It is in their genes. All the siblings are champions, but Tajamul is far ahead of the pack,” Shabnam Kounser, principal of her school said.
“She has a fighting spirit even though she looks soft-spoken and cute. Do not be fooled by her innocent looks, they are deceptive.”
Her mother has been very supportive of her daughter’s sporting efforts.
Tajamul is close to her younger brother, Adnan-ul-Islam, who wants to follow in her footsteps. She often plays with Adnan and does not mind pretending to lose to him.
A student of the Indian Army’s Goodwill School, Tajamul frequently tops her class and participates in all extracurricular activities at school.
“She dances well. She has her own team here and teaches them dancing. She is a bright kid and very good at studies,” Ms Kounser says.
Tajamul says she wants to become a doctor.
“It will have its own benefits. I will first break my opponents bones and then treat them,” she says with a laugh.
Report Dated November 17, 2016 6:39 PM
In his sixties, Laxman works eight hours a day as a tea seller, then returns home to write his novels, which have sold in the thousands.
Rain-bearing clouds hang heavy over the skies of New Delhi as an avuncular portly man alights from his bicycle outside the Hindi Bhavan near the popular Pragati Maidan and begins setting up a makeshift tea stall on the footpath.
In a few minutes Laxman Rao’s stall – a rudimentary plank to hold his stove and tea making paraphernalia under a large umbrella – is up after which he opens a large bag of books and spreads the novels on a plastic sheet in front of the stall.
In no time people stop by and order tea. One of them picks up a book, flips through it and purchases it. Laxman smiles as he accepts the money for the book. ‘That’s a novel I wrote last year,’ says the 62-year-old man. ‘It has already sold over 5,000 copies.’
The tea vendor is a hugely popular award-winning writer and has already got 12 published books to his credit, several of them selling like hot cakes at his tea stall and on online stores such as Flipkart and Amazon.
‘I self publish and on an average sell books worth around Rs.10,000 every month,’ says the author.
The figure is impressive considering the fact that Laxman started off life in Delhi working as a construction labourer, then in roadside eateries, cleaning dishes for a living.
‘I arrived in Delhi from Maharashtra in 1975. My dream was to be a writer, but I quickly realised that it wasn’t easy so took up the first job that came my way – as a construction labourer,’ he says. When the project was over, Laxman moved on to other jobs like helping in roadside cafés.
This continued for some years until he saved up enough money to set up a teashop of his own. ‘For the past 20 years, I have been selling tea, along with my books, on these pavements of Delhi.’
While he is busy all day managing the tea stall, once he shuts shop and returns home, he slips into writer mode penning short stories, essays, plays and novels.
Over the years, Laxman has written 22 books so far; 12 have been published, six have gone into reprints and the rest are due to be published by year end. Along the way, he also picked up a couple of awards and honours for his works.
However, the going has not been easy. ‘I’ve had to overcome several challenges to realise my passion for the published word,’ he says. ‘I belong to a very poor family. My father was a farmer and could barely make ends meet. Desperate to improve our life, and hoping to become a writer having a passion for reading and writing, I came to the national capital after I realised that most of the publishers are based here.’
That was in 1975. Laxman had just Rs.40 that he had borrowed from his father. While he would spend all day working as a labourer in the hot sun of Delhi, at night he would retire to his rented small one-room shanty and slip into the world of dreams putting down his thoughts into words.
‘I was determined to become a writer some day,’ he says. But three years later, in 1978 after finishing his first book titled Nai Duniya Ki Nayi Kahani (A new world, a new story) he found there were few takers.
‘Breaking into the club of Hindi writers was frighteningly difficult. Many publication houses refused to meet with me. Some wanted around Rs.30,000-40,000 to publish my work,’ he says.
He spent his hard-earned savings travelling every day, meeting publishers and agents. But he wasn’t lucky.
‘My wife Rekha, who I had just married and brought to Delhi, was initially upset that I was spending almost all my earnings on trying to get my book published. She suggested that I stop writing,’ he says. ‘But I would have none of it. I told her “How can I leave my dream half-fulfilled. Nothing can stop me from writing. By killing my writing, you will end up killing me,” I argued.’ Rekha, 50, smiles shyly when reminded about the bygone years. ‘I then told him, “If the distributors or book stores are not willing to sell your book, you publish it and sell the copies from your stall alongside tea.”
That was a turning point in his writing career. ‘I thought that was a good idea and investing all my savings. I self published my book in 1979.’
The book sold a modest 3,000 copies, and Laxman began to be noticed. ‘I got a few reviews in newspapers and magazines and people began to talk about how a tea boy became a writer,’ he says.
But not all of it was positive.
‘Many people felt I’d lifted someone else’s work. Few took me seriously. Some of the people I showed my work to including writers, said: ‘‘You better concentrate on your tea-making skills, you cannot become a writer by lifting other people’s work.’’
‘People used to discourage me. But I never got disheartened. I was determined to make a mark in the world of literature.’
More books followed almost all of them mirroring his life or the lives of people he came across – characters leading turbulent lives and struggling in the midst of grinding poverty but at the same time not forgetting to enjoy the simple pleasures of life.
Since Laxman was close to the centre of government, many of his novels and essays reflected the then political scenario, too.
Soon, word about the budding roadside writer soon reached the ears of the then Prime Minister Indira Gandhi, who in 1984, extended an invitation to him to meet her. ‘I was overjoyed,’ says Laxman. ‘I took along a copy each of all the books I’d written and presented them to her.
‘I told her that I wanted to write a book on her life. She however told me, “Don’t write about me. Write about the political leadership of this country. Write about their work.”
Laxman took her advice and wrote an essay titled Pradhan Mantri (Prime Minister) on part of Indira’s tenure. ‘I also wrote a play based on her life and used the same title as the essay,’ he says.
His hard work and determination began to pay off and more honours came his way.
In 1992 he published Ramdas – a novel that explores the turbulent relationship between a teacher and a student – which went on to win him the Indraprastha Sahitya Bharti Award in 2003. It also earned him an invitation from the former President of India Pratibha Patil to visit her at her official residence the Rashtrapati Bhawan.
‘It was another red letter day for me,’ says Laxman, who prefers writing about social events, literary analysis, social events and political analyses.
An avid reader, Laxman says he enjoys the works of famous Indian writers Munshi Premchand, Sharat Chandra Chattopadhyay and Osho Rajneesh. ‘I also make it a point to read the editorials of all the major newspapers that I subscribe at home,’ he says.
Although his first book came out nearly four decades ago, Laxman admits he is still struggling. ‘At times, I feel that I came to Delhi to become a writer and ended up becoming a tea-vendor. I haven’t still got the place and recognition I deserve in the Hindi literary world. But when I look at it from another perspective, I realise that I have come a long way from where I started. I have written so many books. I have been published in several national and international media, people have read and relished my stories worldwide.
‘What else can a tea seller ask for?’
Although in his sixties, Laxman has no qualms loading his books on his bike, taking them to schools and pitching them to students.
‘I’ve learnt writing a book is not the end, you need to market them too.’ In 2000, Laxman’s fourth book Narmada saw the light of day. Inspired by a real-life character called Narmada.
‘When I came to Delhi, I used to work at a construction site. While there, I observed a girl named Narmada. I used to see her walk her dog every morning and initially I thought she belonged to a well to do family. But over time, I found out that she was actually the daughter of their maid. Both her parents had died and she was now working in a house. Her story intrigued me and from her sprang my novel Narmada’.
His bestselling work, though, is Ramdas – also inspired from a real-life story. ‘Ramdas, a mischievous, boorish boy, falls in love with an idealistic girl called Ranjana. The story is about how the girl changed the boy and brought him on the right path,’ he says. The book sold over 7,000 copies. Laxman says there have been instances when people ‘look up my books on Amazon or Flipkart, read up about me then come to my shop here to meet me and buy my book from me personally.
‘They have tea at my stall, buy books and praise them. What else do you want as a writer?’ he asks, with smile.
Self publishing, he admits, is expensive. ‘I have to save up for three to four months before I can publish a book, he says. My two sons help, too, by chipping in what they can.
Laxman’s books are also available on Kindle and Paytm. ‘It is overwhelming to know that British and American people too, are buying my books,’ he says. Last year, he earned close to Rs.80,000 in royalties.
So does he plan to quit his tea-stall and take up writing full time?
‘The day I start earning enough to take care of my family I would know that the time has come to move on and take up full-time writing. If I dedicate the eight hours to writing that I spend at the tea-stall, all my pending, half-written works would be completed in no time.
‘I want to reach every nook and corner of India through my books. I want to leave a mark on the history of Hindi literature before I die,’ he says.
Courtesy : GN/Friday
Report Dated October 31, 2016 11:08 AM
If the start-up market in India is headed for a crash, no one will pay as high a price as Vani Kola.
The 52-year-old is co-founder of Bangalore-based Kalaari Capital and one of the country’s largest venture investors. She’s raised about $650 million and holds stakes in more than 60 start-ups, including the country’s two most valuable, Flipkart Online Services Pvt. and Jasper Infotech Pvt’s Snapdeal.
But this year is shaping up to be perhaps the roughest ever for India’s technology companies. Foreign giants like Amazon.com Inc. and Uber Technologies Inc. have trained their sights on the market just as many venture firms slash investments, fuelling predictions that most local players will be squashed. Kola isn’t backing off. She has kept up her pace of investments and even launched an accelerator a year ago to nurture more entrepreneurs.
“There’s a recent view that the story of most Indian start-ups is over and Uber and Amazon can declare victory,” she said during an interview in the board room of Kalaari’s incubator, decorated with traditional Indian brass oil lamps and an impressionistic painting of a sheep and train engine. “I will never underestimate these entrepreneurs’ ability to think their way out of a problem.”
Kola has a record of success. She raised her first $210 million fund in 2006 with Vinod Dham, best known for developing Intel’s Pentium chip, and placed bets on e-commerce start-ups just as that business began to take off. Since parting with Dham, she has raised another $440 million, making her the second-largest firm in India by assets and the biggest run by a woman, according to researcher Preqin Ltd. Of the firm’s 84 investments, Kola has managed to sell 21 start-ups.
“She is among the top five VCs in India,” said Mohandas Pai, chairman of the venture firm Aarin Capital Advisors and former chief financial officer at outsourced Infosys Ltd. “She came to the internet business very early. Nobody else saw its potential then.”
‘Not That Kind of People’
Kola grew up in the southern city of Hyderabad and studied engineering at university. She headed to the U.S for a master’s degree when she was 20 and stumbled upon her first business idea a few years later while working as a product engineer. When she called home in 1996 to tell her father, a government employee, that she was starting a company, he was hardly enthusiastic. “We are not that kind of people,” he said.
She went ahead and founded RightWorks Corp., which helped businesses set up software systems to buy and sell globally. After some early struggles, she signed on customers like General Electric Co. and PepsiCo Inc., and four years later agreed to sell control of the business for $657 million in cash and stock. She had become an entrepreneur — and a rich one. She started another company, Certus Software, and sold her stake in that one too. By the end of 2005, she had money and experience: She decided to move back to India and work with young entrepreneurs.
She raised her first $210 million in capital in about six months, persuading investors the time was ripe for India’s entrepreneurs. Many of her fellow countrymen who had gained experience abroad were returning home, and the opportunities in sectors like e-commerce looked enormous. “Many people talked of the limitations; I saw the possibilities,” she said.
She was convinced that local start-ups would have a fundamental edge over foreign competitors. She reasoned that outsiders would struggle to navigate complex business practices that are unlike any place in the West, including inefficient payment practices, Byzantine regulations and underdeveloped infrastructure. “Even today, the delivery boy will call the customer 20 times to announce he is coming, ask for directions, etc,” Kola says.
Shortly after setting up her fund, she began to get unsolicited e-mails and phone calls from a pair of twentysomethings, Kunal Bahl and Rohit Bansal. The duo had started an e-commerce company that had been turned down by every other venture investor they could find. Kola met them at the boardroom of Kalaari, in the Whitefield neighbourhood of Bengaluru. Within 48 hours, she offered her support. She was drawn to the pair’s discipline and ambitious plans to give Indian consumers efficient online commerce, through what is now called Snapdeal. “Vani was our first institutional investor and we had done the rounds of all the 13 other VCs by then,” Bahl recalled. “What could she have possibly seen in us? We were two struggling 26-year-olds selling physical coupon books!”
The relationship hurtled through difficult stretches. In 2013, Snapdeal was close to running out of cash. Kola came in and agreed to invest 20 per cent of her fund into the start-up. “When someone does that, you want to give your 1,000 per cent,” Bahl said. The effort has paid off: Snapdeal was last valued at $7 billion, according to CB Insights.
Kola has also invested in the travel website Via and the fashion retailer Myntra. The latter grew to become India’s biggest fashion website and was acquired by Flipkart, the leader in e-commerce, for $330 million. Kola’s strategy to invest in ambitious entrepreneurs who want to create something big in a new and emerging market was becoming rewarding. She says her decisions stem in part from a willingness to accept the risk of not being right all the time.
“Vani is insightful and supportive yet very frank and firm on non-performance,” said Ratan Tata, who is interim chairman of the Tata Group conglomerate and sits on Kalaari’s advisory board.
‘Best Friend Hasn’t Called’
The firm’s incubator, in a glass and chrome building next door to Kalaari’s offices, has the bustle of a Silicon Valley start-up — with Indian touches. Kola is dressed in a hand-embroidered white and blue salwar kameez, formal Indian attire consisting of a tunic and loose pants. She wears a nose ring. One of her frequent gestures is to close her eyes while talking as if to concentrate on a particular point.
She says she draws lessons for work from raising two girls through their teenage years. “It’s not about being popular all the time,” Kola said. “It’s about setting them on the right path through thoughtful dialogue, treating their personal vulnerabilities with discretion and being there to support them during their moments of self-doubt.”
She makes a point of getting back to founders within 24 hours no matter where she is. Kola has given advice on personnel crises, financial strains, stressful conversations and management strategy. Snapdeal co-founder Bahl refers to her, only part jokingly, as his “work mother.”
At the incubator, start-up founders get parent-like perks too. There are fruits and other healthy snacks every morning and home-made chikki, a kind of peanut brittle. There are also personal trainers, exercise equipment and weekly meditation lessons. “It is not just caring about what they do but caring about them in a wholesome way,” Kola says, closing her eyes.
She recharges at her farmhouse an hour’s drive from downtown Bengaluru. A lifelong vegetarian, she grows her own produce there to supply most of the family’s food and keeps a pair of Labradors. She meditates every day and follows the ancient Indian philosophy of karma, whereby good deeds contribute to future happiness. She also responds to her daughters at least as quickly as her entrepreneurs. She’s stepped out of meetings to answer their distress calls, including when she left a board meeting to talk her younger teenage daughter through a meltdown. “My best friend hasn’t called and it’s my birthday,” the girl said.
These days are considerably more tense for entrepreneurs in India. Venture money is drying up, especially with the retreat of foreign firms like Tiger Global Management. One research firm has started a list of dead or dying start-ups, called the Deadpool, that stretches to more than 800 companies.
Kola is funding many of the entrepreneurs who would otherwise be shutting down, just like she did with Snapdeal. She put money into 10 companies in the first three quarters of this year through Kalaari, about the same pace as last year, and has funded another eight start-ups through her accelerator.
“Their death has been foretold many times but I can say this much, these companies are not slated to die,” she said, dipping a biscuit into her cup of ginger-infused green tea.
Kola has a majority of her investments in e-commerce, one of the gloomier segments now that Amazon is spending billions to win over customers. Bangalore-based Zivame is a online shop for lingerie that lets people buy intimate clothing more discreetly, while Guarented offers home furniture and appliances on short-term rentals to on-the-move millennials. Mumbai-based Holachef offers 400 freshly-made menu items, a pioneer in a once-popular niche that is now far out of favour. “Foodtech start-ups have gone from everybody-loves-you to nobody-thinks-you-can-succeed,” said Kola. The start-up has streamlined its supply chain and focused on making each transaction profitable as it works to survive the downturn.
She believes more than ever that local entrepreneurs will hold their ground against foreign competition. To illustrate, she explains the experience of shopping for a car when she returned to India from the US. There are no lots for customers to check out models, so employees brought cars to her doorstep for test drives. When she finally chose the car she wanted, the salesman arrived at her home with the car, all the necessary paperwork, as well as a basket of flowers, coconut and chocolates for the divine offering that is customary before driving a new car in India. “India can never be a repeat of the US or China,” she said.
Report Dated August 30, 2016 5:46 PM
The 32-year-old talks of the pride she feels in leading a business that has been run by her family for 88 years.
The store in the southern Indian city of Chennai was first opened by her great-great-grandfather in 1928.
Over the decades Nalli has become one of India’s best-known brands of saris. The traditional Indian garment for women, saris are lengths of wide fabric which are first wrapped around the waist and then draped over one shoulder.
Lavanya says the brand’s heritage and reputation for selling the finest silk saris are central to its continuing appeal.
And with annual revenues of more than $100m (£76m) across 29 Indian stores, plus outlets in Singapore and California, business remains strong.
Yet as a growing number of Indian women are choosing to wear Western clothing, or less formal Indian garments, Lavanya is using business skills she gained from spending several years away from the family company to introduce new product lines and take the firm into e-commerce.
Nalli is renowned for selling hand-woven silk saris, which are made from the artisan weavers in the Kanchipuram district of the southern Indian state of Tamil Nadu.
These saris are known for their opulence, their fine fabric, vibrant colours and intricate designs, which range from floral and peacock motifs to checks and stripes.
They are popular as special occasion wear for celebrations, festivals and marriages, and the most beautiful are passed on from one generation to the next.
They are also not cheap, with the most intricate examples costing as much as $3,100 (£2,350).
As a child Lavanya says it was impossible for her not to take an interest in both the company and retailing in general, because her father and grandfather would forever discuss business at the dinner table.
“Work and personal life were amazingly integrated,” she says.
Lavanya herself formally joined the business in 2005, when she was 21. She stayed for four years, before deciding that she wanted to leave to learn about different ways of doing things.
So she first went to the prestigious Harvard Business School in the US to get an MBA (master of business administration).
She then worked with business consulting firm McKinsey in Chicago from 2011 to 2013.
Returning to India in 2014, she then spent a year with an online fashion retailer called Myntra, before finally rejoining the family business in 2015.
With all the experience she had gained while she was away, she says her family were happy to let her take the lead at Nalli.
The challenge Lavanya faces is responding to the continuing change in the fashion tastes of Indian women, which is seeing many of them wear saris far less often.
“Saris were the only choice and preference Indian women had for a very long time, and that has changed over the years,” she says.
While saris still dominate on Indian city streets, it doesn’t take long to spot young women in Western casual wear such as jeans, t-shirts and shirts.
They are buying these from shops opened in India by the likes of Sweden’s H&M, and US chain Gap.
Less formal Indian clothing such as kurtis (a stitched long shirt) and salwar kameez (dresses) have also grown in popularity, especially on college campuses and in the workplace.
Amit Gugnani, a fashion expert at Indian management consultancy business Technopak, explains the growing challenge for companies like Nalli.
He says: “Indian fashion consumers have become more experimental and image-conscious.
“A strong and growing economy coupled with better job prospects, higher disposable income and profound impact of media and technology is revolutionising [the] buying behaviour of Indian consumers.
“It is a fairly large challenge to be able to cater to the modern day Indian consumer – it is a fine balance between understanding the consumer and educating them at the same time about the offering your brand has.”
Backing a hunch
While Nalli has no plans to introduce Western-style clothing, under Lavanya’s direction it has launched a range of kurtis and salwar kameez.
The company has also launched a range of more affordable saris, made from cheaper fabrics, such as a blend of polyester and cotton. This has brought prices down to as low as $2.20 per sari, a fraction of the price of the most expensive silk versions.
Lavanya says that while saris remain the “major revenue generator for the company”, Nalli has “adopted the changing preference of consumers”.
While Lavanya has led the development of the company’s website, to enable sales from around the world, she still intends for the business to double its number of physical stores by 2020.
She says her family continues to support her efforts, particularly because she provides detailed business plans.
“Our set-up is very entrepreneurial, which allows us to keep thinking about different ways of doing things,” says Lavanya.
“So whenever I have an inclination or hunch, I find data that validates my hypothesis. This makes me more confident to chase it further, and my family supports it.
“I’m really grateful to be in the position that I am in today. There is a deep sense of pride to be part of a historic brand that my family has built.”
Report Dated July 20, 2016 6:16 PM
Born into a Dalit (low caste) family, she was bullied at school, forced into marriage at the age of 12, tortured physically and mentally at her in-laws’ house and tried to take her own life. But when Kalpana Saroj survived, she decided to make the best of it.
“I had got a second chance at life and lived to tell the tale,” she joked. “Today, people consider me an inspiration. But I would attribute my success to a lot of decisions taken at the right time, the determination to abide by certain principles and strokes of luck,” she added.
Born in Vidarbha, a small village in Maharashtra, Kalpana, 55, moved to Mumbai after marriage. When she first came to the city, she had no idea what the city held for her, but today, she is a multi-millionaire at the helm of Kamani Industries and two city roads are named after her company.
The representation and awards achieved by her include: World Peace Committee (NGO), New York; International Peace Representative (Recognized by the United Nations); Honour given by the Mayor of the London Municipal Corporation, and the Padma Shree by the Government of India in 2013.
She shares her life’s journey
Having undergone life’s upheavals, what childhood memories come to your mind?
Kalpana Saroj: As a child, when I would go out to play with friends they made fun of me. When I visited their homes, parents admonished their children to stay away from me. In school, the teacher would make me sit away from other students and prevented me from participating in sports or cultural activities. Just as I was beginning to understand the crudity behind the treatment meted out to me for being a Dalit, at the age of 12, when I was a Grade 7 pupil, I was married to a 22-year-old boy. The first shock came when I found myself living in a slum. On top of that, I was forced to cook for a family comprising more than a dozen members. I would be ordered to clean the house, with no one to help and often hit, kicked and punched on the slightest pretext, as someone or the other [in the family] would find fault in the food I cooked. Apart from physical and mental abuse, they would starve me and my husband never supported me.
Didn’t your parents come to your rescue?
Six months after marriage, my father visited me and was horrified to see my state. He said I looked like a walking corpse! Instantly, he took me back home. But that did not end my trauma. I now had to endure the taunts of my own relatives and villagers. The only reprieve I had got was from the violent relationship, but leaving a husband was widely frowned upon in our community. Girls were considered a burden, only to be cast off at marriage. People would whisper within my hearing that I should kill myself rather than bring shame to the village. For more than a year, I ignored the nasty comments and learnt tailoring to earn a living. Even though I had gained financial independence, it was very painful to see my father fighting the social pressures and being ridiculed for the step he had taken for my sake. Distressed, one day, I consumed a bottle of insecticide to end my life. Rushed to a local hospital in critical state, I survived.
So, you decided to live and prove your worth?
No, it wasn’t that easy! But yes, I resolved to live life on my own terms. At 16, I convinced my parents and moved to Mumbai to stay with an uncle and started working as a tailor. Unlike in the village, I found that in Mumbai, caste did not matter to anyone. I worked hard and stitched clothes and soon had regular clients. As a result, my income rose. But my father, who worked as a police constable, lost his job. Being the eldest of six children, I considered it my duty to take care of the family. I had been saving money for over two years and decided to rent a small room at Rs.40 a month so that my parents and siblings could join me in Mumbai. Even though we survived on a tight budget, what mattered most was that we were together.
In a way, Mumbai gave you a second chance?
That’s right. But I did not rest on the tailoring business alone and got into furniture trade in Ulhasnagar, about 50km from Mumbai. Exploring various government schemes, I applied for a loan amounting to Rs.50,000 and ventured into furniture production. I hired a couple of carpenters and we would make imitations of high-end furniture and sell at cheap prices. This gained us huge clientele. I became an entrepreneur and learnt the ropes of the business and made good money.
You are known to have created awareness about government schemes?
Having seen a troubled life, I did not want other children to go through traumas and started a small NGO where we aggregated and distributed knowledge about various government schemes and loans available to people. We would let children know they could do wonderful things with their life if only they cared to find out how. This guidance led many to start their own small enterprises and we assisted them in getting loans.
Other than hard work, do you believe in fate?
Oh yes, because opportunity knocked on my door many times. I received an offer to buy a land for a pittance, only because the owner was locked in litigation and was in dire need of hard cash. I borrowed money from several sources and acquired the land. But for the next two-and-a-half years I was in and out of the courts to get all litigations cleared up. By then, property prices had shot up and I ventured into partnership with a real estate developer and constructed a commercial-cum-residential building. I guess, fate had even bigger plans for me. The owner of Kamani Industries, Ramjibhai Kamani, had died in the late 1980s, without preparing a will for his properties. When dispute broke out among his three sons, the Workers Union went to the court demanding that ownership be transferred to the workers, since it was felt the owners were acting against the interests of the company. Kamani became the first firm in India where the Supreme Court passed the ownership rights from the legal heirs to the Workers Union. Just when people thought a new revolution had taken place in the country, the new arrangement brought new issues. The company had 3,000 owners!
So, that led to you becoming an entrepreneur?
Yes, even though banks disbursed loans and the government provided Kamani with funds and benefits, without the expertise to utilise the money, ego clashes broke out among workers. Once again the matter reached the court. By then, the firm had incurred huge losses. And since I had built a good reputation and business acumen, workers of Kamani requested me to take over the company and save their only means of livelihood. Though having no knowledge of running such a huge enterprise, the thought of numerous starving families compelled me to give in. After several setbacks, we managed to turn things around.
But how come the name Kamani was retained?
The name had a good standing despite the downs, and I had immense respect for the owner. So, it never occurred to me to alter the name. Ramjibhai had commenced operations of Kamani Industries with nation’s growth as prime concern. I share his vision.
Courtesy : Gulf News