IT HAPPENS ONLY IN GUJARAT
Over the last 1 week, a number of friends have messaged me with a similar query: How come everyone in your Gujarat has a rags to riches story; a history of struggle; first Narendra’bhai, now Anandi’ben; I mean it’s just smart marketing right??
No. actually it isn’t. If you are not from Gujarat, it would be difficult for you to fathom this. Rising from the ranks is a very common feature in Gujarat. It’s really no big deal. It perhaps appears as smart marketing to those from an outside state – because very few states offer the kind of opportunities & social respect that Gujarat does.
THE `BEN-BHAI’ CULTURE & SOCIAL EQUALITY – HALLMARK OF GUJARAT
The rise in influx of people from other states into Gujarat for business opportunities, changed one very essential fabric of Gujarati culture – it’s `ben-bhai’ culture. (behen / bhaiya / sister / brother). This practice has now morphed into rather ugly `uncle / aunty’ & `sir / madam’ culture.
`Uncle / aunty’ is pseudo-respect & a crass attempt to look foreign. And `sir / madam’ reeks of hierarchy. I have no idea how & when the urban Gujarati accepted this format.
I grew up in Ahmedabad being taught – that it is mandatory to add a suffix of ben / bhai to a name, across social strata & across ages. It is about respect & equality. First names are a no-no & surnames denote class, creed, caste, religion – and hence best avoided in daily reference.
In Ahmedabad, my domestic help is Kanku’ben, my garbage man is Keshu’bhai, my tailor is Pratap’bhai, my electrician is Rakesh’bhai, my house broker is Rekha’ben, my doctor is Dilip’bhai, my surgeon is Manish’bhai, my CM is Anandi’ben, my PM is Narendra’bhai. Period. All equal.
When I say social equality – I do not mean `communist’ or `communism’. No – Gujarat believes in capitalism & inequality of wealth. Their motto is clear: Want it? Earn it. And you can keep what you earn. Social equality is simply respect & acceptance across genders, across classes, across social barriers, across economic lines.
And somehow it was always such an accepted norm, so natural, so un-analyzed & so un-dissected. It was just a way of life.
MY CLASS-FELLOWS ….
In my college, a friend in my circle, was a brilliant Parsi girl. She topped the university 3 times in a row in B.Com & went onto to do her Chartered Accountancy. Last I heard she was managing partner in one of Ahmedabad’s top accountancy firms.
If I were to script her success story aka Anandi’ben – it would say:
- The girl whose dad was a plumber.
- The girl who was dropped to college every day by her daddy on a moped that was practically falling apart; a moped he had put together from the junkyard; it had no pillion foot-rest, so my friend had to hold her feet in air on imaginary foot-rests till she reached college.
- The girl who stayed back an extra period every day so she could ride with me in my auto & save 2 kms of walking distance to her own home.
- The girl who would bring only 2 slices of bread from home & eat it by dipping it into sabji (curry / vegetables) from all our lunch boxes.
- The girl who made frocks / dresses from her mother’s old castaway sarees.
- The girl who would ask us if we had old spectacle frames whenever she needed to change her powered lenses.
- And this list can go on…
But the point is – no one cared. It was just so natural, so accepted. I don’t even remember discussing all this at home at the time. For us, she was simply – our friend; the funny girl with a ready wit; the genius who did us proud & brought our college 3 gold medals over 3 successive years.
Cut to M.com. University School of Commerce, Ahmedabad – my class fellow was a boy from Dholka. We lost touch after M.Com & the next I heard from him was via a LinkedIn invite which showed him as Reader of a University in southern part of Gujarat. The last I heard – he was poised to become Vice Chancellor of same.
If I were to script his success story aka Narendra’bhai – it would say:
- The boy’s whose first acquaintance with me started on the first day of college, where he took me aside & whispered: Mane English nathi aavadtu; hu tamari saathe besi ne notes copy karu? (I don’t know English, can I sit beside you & copy notes in class?).
- The boy who lost his father when he was 8 years old. The boy who had 3 younger siblings.
- The boy whose mother worked as a housemaid, after her husband’s death, to bring in money.
- The boy who travelled 3 hours (one way) from Dholka to Ahmedabad in a crowded ST bus & made the return journey back to Dholka every afternoon after college.
- The boy who would go home, sweep-swab the house, do the cooking for family, chat with his mother over the day’s activities, help his younger siblings with their homework – and then sit down to do his own studies at night.
- The boy who made do with only water from the college cooler for lunch & would politely refuse all offers to share lunch.
- The boy who would insist in speaking only in faulty broken English & ask me to correct all his sentences & then dutifully repeat same after me. In fact, he actually mastered an American accent with the logic – my accent will cover up my grammatical mistakes.
- The boy who took home all my notes, copied them over the night, because 25p per zerox sheet was too expensive.
- The boy who practiced writing 10 pages of English every day so he would not require a writer for the final exams.
- The boy who would come to my home directly from bus station, every exam morning & touch my mother’s feet – so he could beat me to the top slot because now he had the blessings of 2 mothers.
- The boy who broke down & cried that he missed it – when I bagged University 1st with 2 gold medals. And then graciously congratulated me with the words – agli baar, aapki haar.
But honestly – no one really cared about his history back then. He was simply our classfellow – the tall lean guy from Dholka; who tried his luck with girls like all others; who was ambitious & aspired to be Class Representative; who harbored the hope that someday he would be an orator-par-excellence, in English.
RAGS TO RICHES STALWARS OF GUJARAT
- Gautam’bhai Adani Group
- Dhiru’bhai Ambani Reliance
- Dilip’bhai Sanghavi Sun Pharma
- Karsan’bhai Patel Nirma
- Indravadan’bhai Modi Cadila Pharma
- Piruz’bhai Khambatta Rasna
- Pankaj’bhai Patel Zydus Cadila
- Narandas’bhai Desai WaghBakri
- Rajesh’bhai Gandhi Vadilal
- Uttam’bhai Mehta Torrent
- Kartikeya’bhai Sarabhai Group
These are just the top 10-odd known names from Gujarat – and essentially from the business field. If I were to include other walks of life, my list would extend to another 10 pages… The unknown names abound in 1000s. Every 2nd house has a similar story to share.
Every Gujarati entrepreneur listed here has built his empire in just 1 lifetime, rolling over into a maximum of 2 generations. By gen-3 their roots are deep & firm.
These are names from a league of extraordinary gentlemen – who have sold blouse pieces ferried on bicycle racks; who have roamed Ahmedabad city streets in their youth on Vespa scooters; who have lived in small cramped over-crowded houses before moving into their well earned mansions; who have started their offices from garage & warehouse corners; who have sold wares in handcarts on streets of Ahmedabad – 1-man-show all of them – driven only by the belief – `yes I can’.
These are men who started their journeys alone, people joined them along the way & a movement fell in place. These are men of extraordinary caliber who perhaps made a beginning with humble 1000’rs which was perhaps borrowed on high interest.
These are men who have retained their humility over the years; men who are not ashamed of their humble beginnings.
These are men who meet an old ex-employee for at least 5 minutes, even if they were to walk in unannounced. If there is more time to spare, chances are they will offer you a cutting-chai and enquire about what you are doing in life.
That is the simplicity of Gujarat. A state blessed with big-city benefits & small-town values.
So next time someone asks: These rags to riches stories that abound from your Gujarat, are they really true? I am forced to reply: Yes, very true, very real. And it happens only in Gujarat.
NARENDRA’BHAI’S BIGGEST CHALLENGE
In that context – Narendra’bhai’s biggest challenge will be one of mindsets. In Gujarat, people are proactive about progress; if it is profitable to them they don’t mind being driven. They are industrious, simple, compassionate; they want to rise in a single lifetime, they know it isn’t easy, hence they cooperate. And most important of all – they have social equality. When you are hoisted onto the same platform as everyone else, it is easier to reach for the skies. Question is: Is it the same everywhere else in India?
Time will tell. Big victories will always have big challenges. Hoping India takes a page from Gujarat. Waiting for May 26th.