RAM BUXANI – THE MAN OF ACTION
Buxani wears many hats-winner of numerous awards, successful businessman (he is the director of ITL-Cosmos), founder and chairman of the Overseas Indian Economic Forum (OIEF), philantrophist, sports promoter, amateur actor, proponent of Sindhi culture and a family man. One thing he is not and that is, an armchair spouter of wise words because he believes in action with a capital A. At the age of 58 he shows the same unflagging energy and dedication as when he first came to Dubai 40 years ago at the age of 18 to eke out a living” . . . . . . . . . . KHALEEJ TIMES
Much can be said and written about this unique personality and indeed much has already been written and said. So the best option was to report Ram Buxani's views, in his own words, on various subjects relevant to the Sindhi Community and society at large.
Sindhishaan is proud to carry his views from conversations held with him, and extracts of his interviews given to several journals, magazines and Ram Jawhrani (for Doordarshan).
EARLY DAYS AND PARTITION
My ancestral town was Hyderabad, Sindh. My grandfather was engaged in the business of bidis, but during the time of my father's early years, we moved out of Sindh and we are known as Sindhwarkis.
People of Sindh were less active in the freedom movement than those from the other provinces, or maybe I have gathered this impression as my grandpa used to say that the English government was the best. The genesis of the tragedy of partition may lie in the hardships Sindhis had to face when they had to migrate after Partition.
What can be worse for a family, than having to abandon its ancestral dwelling and proceed towards an alien land, literally empty handed. My father passed away during those fateful days and we became orphans. We wanted independence, but instead we got a truncated India. Recent overtures of both the countries to have close interaction with each other in various fields has proven beyond any doubt that Partition was a most unfortunate and unwanted occurrence. Our leaders may have achieved their goals, but millions of Indians had to face the brunt and consequences of partition.
Although many are critical of the fact that our leaders provided us with an opportunity of shelter and settlement in Gandhidham; - a barren land, – an area that boasted of nothing but snakes and scorpions, I would congratulate Bhai Partaprai for selecting that area for the settlement of Sindhis, as it was climatically similar to Sindh. Even otherwise, which state would have given us that much area to carve out a new Sindh! The then Maharaja of Kutchh, conceded our demand and allowed us to build Sindh at Gandhidham, which was later on amalgamated with the state of Gujarat, which eventually proved to be detrimental to the interests of Sindhis. Sindhis didn't like Gandhidham, as they are traditionally more inclined to settle on the banks of a river. I distinctly recollect the efforts of Atur Sangtani, who was responsible for the development of the city of Pune, to make Silvasa a haven for Sindhis. Silvasa was a union territory and it was easy for the government of India to have acceded to his request. Unfortunately Mr. Sangtani died before the demand could gain the requisite momentum. But yes, I feel that our Sindhi leaders could have insisted on the inclusion of Tharparkar into the Indian fold and then we could have said with pride that we Sindhis also have our own territory in India.
There is a saying in English, “Pain is inevitable, suffering is optional”. It emphasizes the inevitability of pain but how people react to it depends on the individual person. Life is like a sandwich. Happiness is bound between sorrows and to experience the pleasure of that sandwich you need both layers of bread (sorrows) too. Sorrow leads and guides you on the way to humanity.
POST PARTITION – FROM INDIA TO DUBAI
Initially, we were bundled en-masse to Madras and from there we came to Baroda. I received my primary education in Baroda and later took employment in Baroda itself but inside me there was a desire to be associated with a company having its base outside India. Dalamal, Dhanamal, Kishinchand Chellaram etc. were famous Sindhwarki firms in those days. I happened to come across an advertisement of Chotirmal that they wanted a person for their Dubai office. I applied for it, even though during those days I didn't know anything about Dubai. My elder brother was skeptical about it and he wrote to me questioning my decision. I replied that it was unwise to turn down an opportunity; and there were many others also living in Dubai.
I was hired from India as a small time worker at a salary of Rs. 125 at the tender age of 18 and we were only two persons working in this company that used to sell textiles. Gradually, we kept on growing and today ITL is into electronics, manufacturing, textiles, banking and an exchange company managed by Canara Bank. We have around 230 employees and it gives me a sense of satisfaction that ITL is able to provide opportunities for people to grow and work.
Khalil Gibran has said, “There is no elevator to success, you have to climb the stairs”. Hard work is a essential for success and there are no short cuts. Happiness and sorrow are part of life. Every single moment of joy comes sandwiched between two sorrows. Definitely, there are more sorrows in life; one has to learn to accept, cope and live with them.
I like the policy of Arabs. If there are ten members in their family, they prepare food for twenty people. They distribute the extra-prepared food in charity. They never give out residual food in charity. I consider that every human being is a trustee of God's goods. He should share the good things of life with other people.
I would rather go a step further. My granny used to feed crows before eating herself. Some people feed their neighbours before eating and I have been part of such a family. A man is a trustee of God as he not only comes empty-handed but even goes empty-handed. Probably this is the reason that there is no pocket in the last apparel of the dead. He is like a postman who has to deposit undelivered post with the office at any cost. A man has to distribute all his belongings in this world. There are no co-incidences; whatever happens is destined already. God has been judicious to entrust chosen ones to redistribute the wealth among needy people and if there is misappropriation, he may withdraw his blessings on them.
Sadhu T. L. Vaswani used to say, whenever you feel like giving, go ahead and do it. He never applied any theory on these issues. A donation is a donation. It is humiliating for a person to ask for something and a giver should never judge the genuineness of his request. Once someone asked Sadhu Vaswani as to why he never verified the genuineness of the request of any person but gave immediately. Sadhu replied, “When God didn't verify my credibility how could I entrust myself with such authority? Whatever your inner voice recommends - just follow it.”
I shall relate to you an old folk tale from Sindh. While defecating, a person heard a call for a shawl. He promptly threw out his shawl to the person who was shivering with cold. His wife came running towards him and told him that he could have waited and given away the shawl after having fully eased himself. He replied that he might have changed his mind mid way; therefore he had thrown it instantly. It is God himself who directs you to do so, although one has to exercise discretion too.
ON HIS INVOLVEMENT IN EDUCATION
A Gujrati lady, Hemkalaben, lost her only son in an accident. She started Bhartiya Vidyalaya from her home. At that time there was no school in Dubai, no community had any school, not even local. Because she used to teach local children she started with primary initially and gradually started secondary school which later became IHS. Since, she was not really qualified to run the school, the members of the community came forward, and contributed donations and became trustees; Sheikh Rashid gave the land free and the school was built. It developed in the course of time and now we have a branch too. IHS is a pioneering institute because the word education here started with IHS, Dubai.
For four years I was the Vice Chairman. At that time the chairman was Mr. Naval Ved, one of the trustees and a very well known businessman. Somehow, he had lot of confidence in me and gave me a free hand to run the affairs. So, literally speaking, in practical terms I was the chairman for eight years, four years as Vice Chairman and for another four years officially the Chairman of the school. Sheikh Ahmed Bin Sayed Al Maktoum is the patron now.
ATTACHMENT TO SINDHI CULTURE
I believe in the stanza of a poem, which says, “Can't forget the language of mother's lullabys”. These days mothers do not sing lullabies in Sindhi language, with the result, that our future generation is deprived of the sweetness of their mother tongue. We must stick to our basics of Sindhiat. We should come out of slumber before it is too late, otherwise fifty years down the line our descendants will not be able to define a Sindhi! They would just remain Indians, without any roots and none other than our present generation, would be held responsible for this sorry state of affairs and our future generation will never forgive us for this.
Even if our educational institutions stop imparting education in our mother tongue, we should continue to converse with our children in Sindhi language and let our descendants know the basics of Sindhiat! We can make use of other languages too, to impart and inculcate our customs, traditions and culture to our future generation, which will make them proud about their origin and civilization.
Sindhis are visible in every walk of life. We find Sindhis amongst the best fashion designers, actors and film directors. A Sindhi restaurateur can introduce Sindhi food along with continental. Just give an appropriate name in English. This way, new clientele can be generated for Sindhi cuisine and Sindhi goods. Sindhi Khichdi is one of the nicest dishes and I am confident that other communities would also love it, the way we Sindhis do.
WHAT PROMPTED HIM TO PUBLISH HIS AUTOBIOGRAPHY AT AN EARLY AGE
The wristwatch I wear at present has got a picture of Dada Jashan Vaswani and one of his favourite quotes is “The greatest tragedy of a man is the he thinks that he has plenty of time”!
I believe in doing tomorrow's job today. I think I am the first businessman to have come out with my autobiography. Whichever community or whoever has left impression upon my person has been a motivation for me to acknowledge their good deeds. It has also helped the Non-Sindhis to view Sindhis in proper perspective.
HIS EXPERIENCE AS A WRITER
The magazine 'Sabhyata' started its publication during the time when I lived in Baroda. I was secretary to 'Sindhu Samaj of Baroda'. Dr. Lakhmichand 'Prem' was its President. I used to write articles for 'Sabhyata'. Another magazine 'Jagrti' was also published in those days which was a 'tabloid' in the strict sense, and not a magazine. Both publications and also 'Hindvasi' carried my articles from time to time.
People's feelings are mixed; they experience happiness as well as sorrow at different times and a person with an artistic bend of mind feels an urge to express himself. I find pleasure in writing and feel elated expressing myself, though I don't count myself as a writer.
ON THE NRI'S PERCEPTION OF INDIA
First of all I must emphasize that we regard Indian Sindhis as our brothers and sisters. I would like to give you an example. For a train to traverse from Bombay to Pune, it needs an additional engine at Karjat, likewise you should treat us NRI's as the second engine. The prime initiative has to come from you, and then only shall we come forward and help you. As far as the love angle is concerned, we regard you Indian Sindhis in high esteem. Time and again you must have seen that we visit India on a regular basis and mostly try to be in India at the time of all special occasions and celebrations.
We lobby with the Indian government to alleviate the problems faced by NRI's. These problems are not limited to the interests of Sindhis only, but are relevant to all Indian citizens. An 'estate duty' is some sort of a death tax. After the passing away of any Indian, the government wants to have a share of the property of the dead. Though it is prevalent worldwide, in India it was highly exorbitant. Rajas had to dispose of their palaces to settle the estate-duty dues with the government. When Prithvi Raj Kapoor died his bungalow had to be auctioned to pay off the estate duty of Rs. 1.2 million. Even after such harsh tax laws, the government of India could collect only Rs. 220 million annually during the days of the late PM Mrs. Indira Gandhi.
I recollect the trauma faced by the family of an Indian who died in Dubai. His accounts in India were frozen and the question arose about which government should levy estate duty? I suggested to the government of India that it should not levy any estate duty on the properties of non-resident Indians; otherwise they would prefer keeping their funds outside India. At that time there was an intelligent Finance Minister – Mr. Pranab Mukerji, but before he could decide on the issue Smt. Indira Gandhi passed away. Then came Mr. Rajiv Gandhi as Prime Minister and V. P. Singh as finance minister. They could very well understand the importance of the issue and they abolished the levy of estate-duty altogether. We heaved a sigh of relief and felt that now we can die in India without worrying about the payment of estate-duty.
Another point to note is, Indians go to foreign shores like America, England and Australia for higher education. Indians, Chinese and Japanese jointly pay $ 9 Billion to America for the education of their children. In America most of the students as well as teachers are from India and they spend Indian money for that education. Can't it be arranged in India? We Indians have not been able to fortify the foundations of education in India. Sufficient number of educational institutions are not available in India to cater to the needs of 1 billion Indians. The schools should be privatized. People who can afford the fees of private institutions can admit their wards in such institutions and those who cannot, can enroll their children in government run institutions. I had raised this issue from the platform of FICCI, which although an association of the trading community, was sympathetic. The economy has been liberalized but a lot has to be done in the field of education. It is still shackled in chains.
Education can be a major forex earner for India. It is an area that can be tapped for investment from NRIs because under the present system they face acute problems in getting admissions for their children in good Indian schools and particularly in good technical institutions.
Then there was our demand for a Free Port. You must be aware of the fact that Hong Kong had been a window to the outer world for China and we wanted India to have one such free port at Andaman and Nicobar Islands, as it was away from mainland India. It could have been developed on the lines of One Country - Two Systems, so that Indians could shop from one part of India and not go outside for shopping purposes. At that time Subramanium Swamy was the Indian Commerce Minister. A committee was constituted to look into the matter. It had to decide on the location of the Free Port. The committee was headed by Raunaq Singh and I was a member of that committee. We visited many places, like Singapore, Hong Kong, Pondicherry, Khandala and Goa and finally we suggested the name of Goa for a free port. Though our proposals were accepted in principle the rapid change of governments put the issue in cold storage and now under the present circumstances the issue seems infructuous as the whole country has already become literally duty free.
I must also add that at times one feels sad that when an Indian goes abroad people back home treat him like he is Non Required Indian or a Non Reliable Indian except when it comes to accepting his hard-earned money. But, in my opinion, NRIs have always behaved like loyal citizens of the country. If you take into account violation of the country's law I will not hesitate to say that overseas Indians follow the rules and laws much more seriously and diligently than resident Indians.
Finally I also feel frustrated at the lack of an appropriate platform from which where NRIs can make themselves heard. This important constituency of 15 million people has only the media as its platform. The law-making bodies in India have totally wasted the caliber and strength of their own citizens living abroad. What could have been used to improve the total outlook of the country in all spheres has been side-lined for money making purposes. Otherwise each NRI has the potential to be a Sam Pitroda in his particular fields, especially from the Sindhi Community.
And on that high note Sindhishaan concludes, with a strong recommendation to the readers to read Ram Buxani's autobiography 'TAKING THE HIGH ROAD' in which besides narrating the engrossing story of his own life, he catalogues the history and spirit of many a Sindhi family.