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Thursday, June 19, 2008

The persuasive young Bania – Part I

He is known by many names – a persuasive young bania, the polyster prince, man of the century, guru of equity cult and many more names to reckon. Born on December 28, 1932, in the family of banias, he was the third child of a poor school-teacher in a rural village called Chorwad in the State of Gujarat, India. Yes, I am talking about a great Indian business magnate, Dhirubhai Ambani. I came across this book The Polyester Prince : The Rise of Dhirubhai Ambani, by Hamish McDonald. Below is an excerpt from a chapter ‘The Persuasive young bania’, which explores the roots, imbibed values and making of Dhirubhai Ambani :

Dhirubhai Ambani was a Gujarati and among the Gujaratis, the people of Kathiawar are renowned for their exuberance of speech, inventiveness and commercial drive. ‘This is the place of have-nots’, notes Sheela Bhatt, a former editior of the magazine India Today’s Gujarati-language edition. Kathiawar is a barren land, but out of stone they are capable enough to somehow draw water.

Kathiawari traders have more vibrant terminology than other traders. They were the first to go out of India for better prospects. Adventure is second nature to them. They have less hypocrisy. Dhirubhai Ambani was part of that culture.

In one sense, Ambani was born to be a trader, as his family belonged to a Bania caste, a section of the Vaisya category(Varna) in the traditional Hindu social order whose roles are those of merchants and bankers. This instantly provided a whole network of relationships, a community and social expectations that made commerce – taking a profit from buying and selling in markets, the accumulation of capital – an entirely natural and honourable lifetime’s occupation.

Vaisyas marshaled huge amounts of capital, which funded the campaigns of maharajas and nawabs and at times the British trade and military expansion when the budget from London ran short of operational needs. Centuries before the modern banking system, Vaisya shroffs or bankers were the conduits of a highly monetised Indian economy, remitting vast sums around India at short notice through a sophisticated trust system based on hundi (promissiory notes).

The commercial instincts of Gujarat’s Vaisya were encouraged by a convenient interpretation of Hinduism preached by the holy man Vallabhacharya in his wanderings around the region early in the 16th century. Vallabhacharya saw a personal god who created and sustained life, for whom living life to the full was a form of devotion. His school became known as Vaishnavism, as the focus of devotion was the god Vishnu’s playful avatar (incarnation) Krishna.

In his classic text on the Vaishnavas of Gujarat, the scholar N.A. Thooti pointed out that, Vaishnavism was a philosophy that justified their way of life and gave a divine purpose to their roles as providers and family members. It also fitted the rising social status of the Banias in Gujarat, overriding the formal varna hierarchy.

Ambani’s particular caste is called Modh Bania, from their original home in the town of Modasa north of Ahmedabad before a migration many centuries ago to Saurashtra. The Modh are one of three Bania castes in this part of Gujarat, who might eat meals together but who would each marry within their own caste. They are strict vegetarians. Their practice of Hinduism follows the Vaishnavite path. But the main object of their pilgrimages, on marriage or the start of a new business venture, is a black-faced idol with a diamond in his chin called Shrinathji, located in a temple at Nathdwara, a small town in the barren lands of Rajasthan.

Given the circumstances and poor upbringing, his religious values significantly contributed to the making of a man called Dhirubhai Ambani.

In my next post I will continue on another aspect of his life, which moulded him to become a successful business personality.

1 comment:

forum said...

Looks really good!!!! Got to know the past life of the great personality and also about his community.