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Talking Business

Thursday, January 04, 2018

When storytelling is combined with the intricacies of how people do business, it is sure to mesmerise readers. Trisha Ghoroi talks to author Maya Bathija about her book, Paiso, and much more

It is no surprise that Sindhi families and business go hand in hand. They are not only good at it, but excel in their businesses. But no matter how successful they become or how big an empire they’ve built, their story rarely reaches the public. ‘Paiso’ by Maya Bathija sheds light on five Sindhi families and their path towards building a successful business. Being a part of the community and heading a Sindhi magazine called The Sindhian, Maya is deeply connected to the culture. We had a conversation with the author about her book, her experiences and more. Here are some excerpts from our conversation.

What made you venture into writing a book, and one that sheds light on business families?
My career as a writer began when I was 45-years-old, when I realized that my children had grown and I could afford the time to join my husband in bringing out a magazine for Sindhis. Sindhis have been known as being survivors and continue to be a very adventurous and outgoing business community. They have settled all over the world and have made their families proud. Somebody had to chronicle those stories and there are some well-known people in the community doing so. We were lucky to be, maybe not exactly the first ones to do it, but definitely the first to bring out a combination of the glossy and the news and yet maintain the ethos of the community. The young and the old were approached and their life stories were told. Along the way I became that storyteller, making waves and forming relationships. Some of the interviews were of businessmen, politicians, actors and the like. I had gathered so much fodder along the way and succeeded in having 14 glorious years. But soon after, I felt the need to get out of my comfort zone and wish upon a star.

At a time when everyone and their aunt were writing a book, for me it was plain natural progression. I gave up working for the family magazine and decided to test the waters outside. I tried a few things but to no avail, only writing came naturally to me. I had to stick to what I always knew; it was part of my DNA. I gingerly approached Penguin, the largest publisher in the country. And as luck would have it, the doors opened as they were looking to complete a trilogy on what they envisioned as business stories of three successful communities. They had already published ‘Dhandha: How Gujaratis Do Business’, then ‘Rokda: How Marwaris Do Business’ and they were lying in wait for the Sindhi book to happen. And there I was, with 14 years of the Sindhi flavour behind me asking for a chance to tell stories. The situation worked in my favour as I went on to be commissioned by Penguin to do the book on five prominent business families. Lists were drawn, all possibilities covered and I was truly on my way.

Tell us a little about the five families featured in the book and why did you pick them to be part of it?
The important ingredient that bound all the families that were selected was their love for the Sindhi community. They understood the need to share their journeys in order that other people could strive to be on the same path. And of course, the fact that they had sharp business acumen and their families had actually adapted themselves from the Partition days, showing absolute grit and determination, thus, setting up some of the biggest companies of the world.

The first family that was chosen was a request from the Publisher themselves, since they already knew about the Harilelas of Hong Kong and the curiosity that engulfed most people of how a family (all 100+) managed to live in one mansion, with history rewarding them success down the ages. A trip To Hong Kong did the needful, as they were gracious and wonderful hosts, and I felt truly honoured to be in their offices in Kowloon.

The second family that I met was The Lakhi Group. Dilip Kumar Lakhi heads the family and has taken them from being jewellers in Jaipur to being one of the biggest diamond suppliers in the country.

The third family that I approached was the Embassy Group in Bangalore, and Jitu Virwani, the chairman and the MD of the , was already ranked 68th in the Forbes India’s 2015 richest list.

India saw its first individual angel investor in Harish Fabiani, a Madrid based NRI businessman who is now the chairman of Americorp and IndiaLand. This group invests in the fields of technology, media, real estate and other sectors in EU and in India.

The last story goes to a matriarch, Ramola Motwani, who heads a real estate investment and development company located in Fort Lauderdale, with its arms spreading all over the United States.

According to you, how are Sindhi business families different from others?
These Sindhi families that I spent time with showed that they were all about survival. History has showed us that being immigrants somehow had instilled in us the greed for growth and success. But that did not mean attaining it at any cost. Certain business tactics and acumen were used and implemented, and these were the things that made them stand out and become sought after. A definitive never-say-die attitude drove them from poverty to prosperity. Sindhi’s not only earn their wealth, they spend it intelligently as well.

What can readers expect from the book?
Exactly what the title suggests. Subtle hints in the form of what one can do, etched from the stories of these great businessmen. How they went forward in the deals they made, what caused their failures and successes, and there’s also so much to learn from the patterns that they followed in becoming who and what they are today.

Do you have any more plans to write in the future?
Definitely! I always believe that ‘Because I read, I write’. And with this experience I have tasted blood. I love telling stories, business ones or the likes of the same. I see myself writing more books simply because the subjects are numerous and I don’t believe people are not reading. There’s always going to be an audience for stories.

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