WRITTEN by a scion of the famous Bharat Ram & Sons of the Delhi Cloth Mills, this book is both an autobiography as well as the story of the company’s evolution.
Divided into two parts, the first part of the book tells the story of the author’s ancestors and their associates whose efforts brought the company into existence in 1889; the other part presents the author’s own experiences from childhood through his growing up years, thus giving the work an autobiographical flavour. Running through it are the parallel political and cultural developments over the years that serve as a backdrop to the company’s growth, for instance there is the pre-Independence period when Indian industrial policy was dominated by British interests and the post-Independence era of Nehru’s socialism “which only became more onerous during Indira Gandhi’s time.”
On progressing further through the book, one can understand that the author must have had a good rapport with Rajiv Gandhi. The author’s father Bharat Ram was the first private industrialist to be appointed chairman of Indian Airlines and “the young pilot to be interviewed for recruitment was one Rajiv Gandhi.”
The author gives a very detailed narrative about his grandfather Shri Ram who set up the ginning factory in Alwar. That was bound to fail as no cotton grew there or in its surroundings. Second, there was no dearth of ginning factories in Delhi and Punjab. The author praises his grandfather’s working style and how he picked up the tricks of the trade, acquiring a firm grip on the commercial aspects of the business by spending the bulk of his time at the factory. He narrates incidents from his grandfather’s life and praises him for his exceptional observation power as apparent when a boiler breaks down. Shri Ram did not move from the site for the whole night till it was up and running and also every morning he would stand on the Ridge near Bara Hindu Rao and make note of the smoke emanating from the chimneys when the boilers were fired. He could then confront his engineers and the coal purchaser because the smoke could tell him whether the boiler efficiency was poor or the coal quality was uneven.
The author describes his college days when he used to indulge in game hunting and when he shot a number of blackbucks and chinkaras; his going to study for his MBA at Ann Arbor, Michigan and on his return from America, his grandfather advising him, “Remember young man, he who sticks to the beaten path gets nowhere in life.” The author experiences his share of sorrow at not being able to see his grandfather alive when he wins the Ford Foundation sponsorship to the Harvard Business School for the middle management programme.
He even narrates how the differences cropped up between his father Bharat Ram and uncle, Charat Ram by the mid-1970s due “to their differing philosophies.” He adds that the differences between the two brothers “and by extension between my uncle and me, had their genesis in the method of presenting financial data to the executive committee.” He explains how the brothers separated and their ancestral home known as Lal Kothi got sold to fund the debts. “Lal Kothi, with it understated elitist aura, continues to reside in our collective memories.”
While narrating the story of DCM (Delhi Cloth Mills) and Shri Ram Fertilisers, the author reveals his timidity, bursts of courage, an occasional flash of insight and a musical opportunity, “all melded into making me what I am.” On the other hand, the people associated with these companies and the people he had known for years fall into proper perspective in the “mosaic of corporate life.”
(Penguin /Viking Books India Pvt Ltd, 11, Community Centre, Panchsheel Park, New Delhi -110 017)