‘Ravi’ - embossed on a pair of slippers, in the change room of an up-market mumbai gym had me in smiles. It set me back by fifty years, say 1960s, like the flashback so often you see in bollywood movies. A group of young entrepreneurs in agra joined together and formed, what came to be called ‘Charm kala Kendra’. An export oriented medium-sized Company. Those were the days of ‘license raj’ so they needed someone resourceful yet trustworthy to ‘push’ their case in delhi’s corridors of power. That is where, He with his proximity to Powers that be, came to play a crucial role. Through STC (state trading corporation) he succeeded in getting the attractive export order of leather shoes and belles to Russia and other communist countries. The orders started pouring in, in bulk for different sizes, shapes and colors.
Agra is the biggest activity center of leather goods. agra has been a city of rich heritage inhabited by poor people. At least, so it was in 1960s, however, the availability of labor for tanning, processing, manufacturing leather goods was handy and in plenty. Soon he chucked up cushy routine govt. job of limited means to chase his dream of making it big. He established his own export unit, becoming a share holder, under the aegis of Charm kala Kendra. He named his factory Ravi Shoe Factory after his eldest son. The Ravi shoe factory started in a rented first floor of a building in Naubasta, Agra.
There were too many partners to share. Each thought he is doing ‘more’ and is entitled to reap ‘more’. He would regularly visit Delhi where his family continued to reside. Thanks to new money and the market/ business pressures he took to drinking and drinking heavily. As the years passed, he was getting into the big league of respectable industrialists, exporters at that. As I mentioned, there were far too many partners. One of them was his own younger brother, who not having done anything worthwhile with his life (despite armed with BA., LL.B degrees) was thrust upon by his father to pile on, on his elder brother. This younger brother, though was a teetotaler, but possessed limited intelligence and unlimited ambition – a lethal cocktail indeed. He would watch with disdain and hatred his elder brother flounder thereby wastes money in things which could not be called ‘in the interest of company’, rather, at times, detrimental to the reputation of the company.
This younger brother did nurture villainous feelings towards his elder brother. He would bitterly complain to his father giving exaggerated version how elder brother was not paying desired attention due for success of an upcoming Factory. He’d also spice up stories and go around with his malicious narration in the market. Worst case of sibling rivalry.
Ravi too visited the factory a couple of times. Being son of the major partner, he would be treated a VIP. Be it as small a gesture as liberal helping of Lassi, visits to Taj, etc., Once Ravi had ordered two cold drink bottles in a day, one after another, in quick succession. The system was a-paper-slip was sent to the shopkeeper for accountal purposes who will add up and present the bill at the end of the month. That particular month Ravi’s father had little less liquid money ‘cash in hand’ left after settling score of other bills. Ravi got a firing he cannot forget till this day for wasting money on two cold drinks in a day. Agra is a city of extreme climates. In winter, it is biting cold, while summers are simply intolerable. The temperature soars every year to break/set a new record. Ravi did think for a while. What kind of business or factory is this.. What kind of an exporter or businessman his father was if he is not allowed to indulge in the luxury of having two cold drinks on a hot summer afternoon.
Father’s drinking binge and hence, neglecting rose. In inverse proportion the turnover dipped. The market largely works on one’s credibility, in other words, one’s goodwill to procure material on credit and secure soft loans at a short notice. The drinking... neglecting mixed with other partners’ mainly ‘own brother’s’ exaggerated and malicious propaganda soon led to a deadlock. Market began to shut doors at Ravi Shoe Factory. One can enter any damn business... the ultimate bottom line is your delivery system. After all, of what use is a business, any business if it lacks market.
He would travel to and fro Delhi in Taj Express or overnight trains. Ravi fondly recounts till this day, Father’s visit was such a day of great pampering. Child like complaints and counter-complaints, variety of sweets ... other goodies. Kids won’t give second glance to the breakfast prepared by their mother who was a single parent rearing five kids, long before the term ‘single parent’ came to gain currency as it does today.
One such evening when he had had enough drinks and was to set for his usual Delhi trip, his younger brother (partner) came rushing with the cheque-book requesting to issue few cheques of minor amount so that a bill or two could be settled. He had been eying and nurturing a hidden desire to play a major role rather usurp the entire factory. Ravi’s father was in a hurry lest he misses the train thereby meeting his family next morning. He signed a cheque, neither crossed it nor wrote the amount. An error of judgment. A betrayal... A mistake so fatal...enough to ruin him. Next morning when he reached delhi... he realized what he had done. His heart, kind of warned him, all was not well. He returned to Agra same day .... rushed to the Bank. And yes the Bank confirmed what he feared. His partner brother, his own younger brother had withdrawn entire money except for mandatory hundred rupees required to keep the account live. In all, he had withdrawn Rs.37,000/-, the entire working capital. A real big sum in 1960s. He cried and cried before his father (Ravi’s grandfather) begged to prevent his younger brother from ruining him. Father and son duo were partners in this crime. They in unison said “the way you were conducting yourself it was bound to happen sooner than later. Before market nabs/nails us we want to neutralize them and absolve ourselves”.
With empty hands, a heavy heart and tears in eyes he returned to his family in Delhi. Younger brother, triumphantly went to Charm Kala Kendra to inform the directors “ I have got rid of drunken senior partner and now am raring with clean team for bigger orders and ambitious expansion plans”. Mangat Ram, the Managing Director gave him a cold glance and said “How do you expect me to trust you, when you have back stabbed your own elder brother. get lost and never show me your face again”.
PS: My chachaji with two constant companions, misery and tragedy, is leading a haunted sub-human life in Aligarh, more dead than alive.