Unexpected Boon

“Thousands have lived without love, not one without water.”

 — W. H. Auden, (1907–73), Anglo American Poet

After completing the major modifications to meet the expansion plans of DELITE Departmental Stores and adding four rooms on the first floor, I became totally busy with my MBA course, part-time business, coming out of my job with Indian Telephone Industries Limited (ITI) to become a full-fledged entrepreneur. And needless to mention, my marriage with Hema. Ten years (1977–86) flew past, during which time four members were added to our family: Archana – daughter of my younger sister Vijayalakshmi, our two sons – Hari and Ram and Naresh Keerthi – son of my youngest sister Latha. We lost our dear grandmother Kaveri during August 1984.

By the financial year 1987–88, both the enterprises that I was managing had become stable. Hence, with my own funds this time, I decided to modify one half of the rear portion of our ancestral home that had tiled roof. I wanted to add a couple of more rooms on the first floor, behind the three new rooms that were built during 1976. This called for demolition of the dining hall, kitchen and bathroom on the ground floor (shaded brown in the plan) to enable building new foundation and columns.

My brother Raghu who was working in Indian Institute of Technology, Madras (IIT-M) had introduced me to Raghavendra Rao, who had done his M.Tech (Structural Engineering) at IIT-M and had taken up a teaching assignment with Bangalore University. I consulted Raghavendra Rao to design the structure for the new building. Once again I engaged Kannan mestri with whom I was familiar, along with his team of carpenter – Doraiswamy and electrician – Babu.

Having finalized the drawing and estimates, I moved my parents to my elder sister Vasanthi’s house at J. P. Nagar, which is about nine kilometres from our home while the four of us shifted to my father-in-law’s house at Malleswaram. As Hari was three and a half and Ram was less than a year old, there were no issues related to schooling. It was convenient for Hema to attend to her teaching job, which was at a college in Malleswaram. The construction work started in all earnest during the second half of August 1987.

While digging near the kitchen area for erecting a column, we received a boon in the form of an open well brimming with water. The well was simply covered with a large, flat granite stone about two feet below the floor level.  The water level was just twenty feet below the floor level. I even got the water tested in a laboratory and it was certified absolutely fit for drinking.

Ever since my mother got married (1943) and shifted from Mysore to our ancestral home, there was always a problem for water. She has often told me about the difficulties the family had faced. Even during most of my younger years, we got water from the Maharashtrian neighbour who had a well or from the public tap near the house. It was only during 1976 we built a water storage facility and installed a pump for lifting the water to the second floor.

The grand construction project that I initiated in 1987 was completed in a little over four months and we moved back to our home in January 1988.

Several happy events took place during 1979–86 in my family: both my younger sisters got married, my own marriage with Hema, our maiden trip abroad, birth of children, and so on. A couple of unusual developments also took place during this period.

In July 1979, there was a circular from the Administrative Department of ITI informing that those officers who have completed five years of service could avail of a car loan of Rs. 20,000/- that could be repaid at the rate of Rs. 200/- per month over ten years. I casually mentioned this to Paul and he came up with an offer: I buy a reasonably good second-hand Ambassador car (the most popular family car then) and he would use it. He would pay me Rs. 200/- every month, which otherwise would be deducted from my salary. He further suggested that I could use his Standard Herald whenever I needed it. As the car proposed to be purchased would be in my name, I did not see any problem and agreed to the deal. Within a week of my applying for the car loan, it was sanctioned.

From an advertisement in the newspaper Paul identified a 1969 model Ambassador owned by a professor of Indian Institute of Science, which had been sparingly used. We bought it for Rs. 17,500/-. Paul taught me driving in that car for a week and I got my driving license before end of that year. I would have never dreamt of buying a car at that stage of my life, but for Paul!

In 1982 Paul decided to take up, along with an investment partner, a major government contract – building a dam in Idukki, Kerala as part of a hyrdroelectric project. Paul handed over the management of DELITE to his son Sojan who was married by then, and left for Kerala with his family.  Unfortunately within a couple of years, Sojan brought the business down due to several factors – lack of discipline, lack of management skills, and bad association. By this time, I had resigned my job at ITI and established a couple of enterprises.

Paul came back for a short period in 1985 to set right the business. Having understood that it had gone beyond repair, he decided to change the line of business to Auto spare-parts, for he saw good future in it, with increasing sale of two-wheelers and auto-rickshaws in Bangalore. He discussed it with me and the other tenant Vargheese. He asked if we could join the business as he did not want Sojan to manage it alone. While Paul and Vargheese brought in cash investment, my share was a nominal sum of Rs. 50,000/- which otherwise should have been paid as advance for the premises. The earlier advance given for building construction had already been adjusted through monthly rents over seven years. A suitable partnership agreement was drawn and DELITE AUTOMOBILES was inaugurated on 2nd December 1985 by Mr. S. R. Bommai, Minister for Revenue for Karnataka. Paul again left for Kerala to continue with the government project.

1986 was a terrible year for Paul. There was a leak in the dam that was being built and it became a political issue in Kerala. The Minister for Electricity of Kerala had to resign after being accused of corruption. The payments that were due to Paul from the government were struck. Meanwhile Paul’s third son Xavier, who was married in 1985, met with a road accident in April 1986 and succumbed to the injuries. In October 1986, Paul who had just completed sixty years had a massive heart-attack and succumbed to it. It look a long time for the family to overcome the shock.

Meanwhile, the couple of enterprises that I had established were doing well. As the Ambassador car was in my name, I was using it regularly from the time I resigned from ITI, having settled the balance loan amount from my gratuity. It also helped me as a status symbol during my initial entrepreneurial years – for others to interpret that I was a successful, first-generation entrepreneur! The car served us well for nearly seven years (car was being used by Paul during 1979-82)  – we made several out-station trips to Coimbatore,  Coonoor,  Guruvayoor, Mysore, and so forth, until I bought a Maruti Suzuki Van in 1988.

May 15, 2021 | Ravi 44