Hard work is not overrated. It is fail proof. What you want- whatever it is- you shall get if you apply yourself wholeheartedly and work towards it with a single minded vision.
– Kalpana Saroj
Born to a constable in Vidarbha with her three sisters and two brothers, Saroj was a bright student and loved school. She used to play with other children would play with abandon but the adults who posed the problem. They expressed displeasure at her, scolded their children for playing with her and forbade them from visiting her place or accept any food she offered. This attitude, though hurtful, was unsurprising as same was the behaviour of the faculty at school who tried to make her sit apart from other students, constantly prevented her from participating in extracurricular activities and undermined any dreams she had for herself. And this was only because she belonged to the part of society tagged as lower, untouchable and disgusted section by the so called laureates and sophisticated class of people. She was a Dalit! But it didn’t matter anyway to her but to more of her dismay, she was soon to be horrorstruck in the future.
She was pulled out of school in class seven and married off!
In the Dalit community where she grew up, child marriage was the norm. Her father was emancipated in his views and wanted her to complete her education because of the courtesy of his job in the law enforcement but his refusal was drowned out by the clamor and clangor of the extended family- people who placed little to no worth in the life of a little girl. Her father was powerless against their united front and so was she.
The kind of society where she grew up, it was a given that life post marriage would not be a bed of roses and she was mentally prepared for all the slavery that was expected of her. But even I couldn’t have foreseen the hell that was to come next. She was a scrawny kid of twelve, responsible for all the cooking, cleaning, laundry etc. for a household of about ten people. But that wasn’t enough. They were a sadistic lot and she was the easiest scapegoat around. They would look for the slightest excuse to hit her, brutally kicking, punching and thrashing. They starved her and heaped emotional and physical abuses on her. When her father came to see her six months later, he was horrified and decided to brought her back home. In her community, and most poverty stricken societies across the nation, girls are burdens to be cast off at marriage, never to be thought of again. What caused the hysterics was the ‘shame’ she was bringing upon my family, community and society at large by daring to return home a married girl. She picked up some tailoring skills and started sewing blouses at minimal costs to make sure not to burden on her father.But the levels of hate and taunts kept rising. My father gently suggested to go back to school, but she could not gauge putting up with the humiliation and hatred coming her way every time she tried to leave home. People kept whispering that only if she killed herself would the dishonor that she had brought to her family be obliterated. So she obliged and downed a bottle of poison. She was rushed to the local hospital, was in a critical condition but miraculously regain to start the second lease of her life.Gone was the naïve helpless girl the world had deemed too worthless to exist. She felt strong, recharged and empowered and was determined to make the most of this new life. She left for Mumbai and committed to her tailoring gig full time. Later, herc family joined her there as due to some bureaucratic shuffles, her father lost his job and being the eldest daughter and only earning member of the family, she had to take care of them now.
The catastrophe that made her an entrepreneur
Money was scarce and to sustain her family, she started working sixteen hours a day, a habit she still maintain. I went through various government schemes and applied for a loan and with that small seed fund, she started a small furniture business where she sold cheap versions of high end furniture and continue tailoring along. Their circumstances gradually began to improve.She learnt everything about being an entrepreneur from the ground up through this business- sourcing raw materials, the art of negotiating, identifying market trends and, above all, holding my own among a sea of crooks trying to take advantage of her. She also started a small NGO where we aggregated and distributed knowledge about the various government loans and schemes available to people like her as she did not want a single child, boy or girl, go through what had happened to her. She wanted to let them know that they could do wonderful things with their life if only they cared to find out how.
After paying off initial loan in two years, she was on the lookout for other business opportunities and an interesting offer came her way. The proprietor of a litigation locked land need cash urgently and offered to sell her his property for almost nothing as the land was practically worthless to him. She ‘begged, borrowed and stole’ the funds to buy it and then threw myself into the ensuing legal torture that unfolded. The next two years she was in and out of the courts, to get my property cleared up. After that was successful she wanted to get the land developed and find an investor and soon a building came up on that land. With thriving furniture and real estate business, she felt life in complete sense. But the best was yet to come.
After many strange happenings and decisions at Kamani firms, they were at a debt of 116 crores with two unions battling it out for supremacy as the ownership was to the workers after the death of their founder. Of the three Kamani firms, two had already gone into liquidation. The third seemed set to go down the same way. That is when the workers came to her, pleading to save their company and, thus, their livelihood. Her flourishing NGO and her business acumen had earned her a decent reputation among certain circles. Her knowledge was nil, but the thought of hundreds starving families gave her a reason as she had nothing to lose.
In my first order of business I formed a core team of ten, hired some consultants and created a proposal on how to go about fixing the damage. The board asked her to sit on the board and took charge of all liabilities, to agree to her proposal. I agreed. They appointed her president in 2000.For the next few years, they were just running in and out of courts. With her some correct realizations and discrete actions, she brought Kamani Tubes out of darkness. The penalty and interest amounts were forgiven and 25 per cent of the principle amount of the loan was deducted as well. Now that the debt had been reduced to less than half the original sum, life got much easier.In 2006 she was appointed chairman of the company. The court transferred ownership of Kamani tubes to her. They were told to pay off the bank loans within seven years. They did it within one. They were instructed to clear the workers back wages within three years. They did it within three month.They gave out five crores and ninety lakhs, instead of the requisite five crores only.
Today, she is in the process of acquiring the other two branches of the Kamani firm that had gone into liquidation- soon she will have reunited the empire that once was.Hard work is not overrated. It is fail proof. What you want- whatever it is- you shall get if you apply yourself wholeheartedly and work towards it with a single minded vision.
She had been awarded with Padma Shri and several other awards reciting the world the tail of a Dalit girl, who was married off at 12, was abused and humiliated, attempted suicide, came out of it, struggled for years and today, is one of the most inspiring entrepreneur on Earth.