Interviewed by Ram Jawhrani
Migration from Sindh for the Sindhi Hindus at the time of partition was not for the first time. Our ancestors had passed through this hell, earlier too; in the eighth, fourteenth, sixteenth and eighteenth century. They had to abandon their ancestral homes and proceeded literally empty handed to other parts of India. But, wherever they went, they created a niche for themselves, always reached the zenith of their progress through sheer hard-work and intelligence and shared the fruits with everyone they came into contact with.
Innovation has always been the hallmark of Sindhis. It was Sindhis who gave clothes to humanity when everyone else was covering themselves with leaves and skins. This happened some 5000 years back, but the contribution of present day Sindhis has also not been a mean one. Sindhis have enabled other Indians to fly at the price of a railway ticket. We are talking about a new no-frills airliner, Air Deccan, which introduced the concept of economical air travel in India. We have Mr. Sachanand Ladhani, the Vice Chairman of Air Deccan with us to-day.
Jawhrani (J) • Ladhani (L)
J : Sir, we welcome you! First of all, let our viewers know how you selected the field of aviation in this era of cut throat competition?
L : We were already running a helicopter taxi service under the banner of Deccan Aviation. I can still recollect that day, when captain Gopinath came to me with a proposal to start a helicopter taxi service. I thought that the prospective customers must be owning their own helicopters, then where is business going to come from. I asked him whether his proposal would be viable and how would he ensure its success? The captain replied that the people coming from overseas want to see India and our rail/road travel is time consuming and tiring. He had firm belief that the project would prove to be a profitable one.
J : Why didn't other airlines think on these lines?
L : When we both met our bankers for financial support, specifically the Chairman, Bank of India, his reaction was skeptical. He thought that many airlines have gone bust the world over and why hadn't any established airline thought about such a concept. I replied, that I had full confidence in my project as I was investing every single rupee of mine earned over the last forty odd years of hard work into it. I had started from a meager salary of Rs. Sixty a month in 1960 and reached upto the present level. When I can sink every penny of my earnings into it, they should also have confidence in our projections. They demanded my personal guarantee, as I had a lot of goodwill among my bankers. I said, they should not ask for my personal guarantee, as I had already committed it for other two people. An aviation project needs a lot of money.
J : Didn't government organizations come to your rescue?
L : No! The government didn't help us. When we constructed a hangar for helicopters and approached the Karnataka Finance Corporation for financial assistance, they simply laughed at our proposal. We had to pitch in with every single paisa from our own pockets.
J : How did you think about an airline, after completing six years in the helicopter taxi service?
L : Our initial three years of helicopter taxi service were very trying, but our continued hard-work and perseverance paid us rich dividends. We contacted large business houses and convinced them that having their own helicopters cost them 300% more than using our taxi services. For a personal helicopter, they had to shell out pilots' salaries, ground rentals and maintenance charges. At last they agreed, and our project got their full support. Political parties utilized our services for campaigns etc. Our helicopters were also used for rescue operations, for providing urgent medical care to heart patients and many other commercial uses. Our project not only earned a good name, but improved our bottom-line, too.
J : How did you and Captain Gopinath come together? Was it an old acquaintance?
L : No! We didn't know each other before that. When he thought of helicopter taxi services and contacted banks, they simply refused to help him. Then someone referred him to me, as I am always ready to take risks. God has always been kind to me and I have never failed in any of my ventures.
J : To which area of Sindh, do you originally belong?
L : The name of our village was 'Ghulam', which was situated near the town of Rohri.
J : What was your ancestors' main business activity, there?
L : Recalling those days, whenever I asked about my dad, I was told that he was in Bombay.
J : Even in those days, Sindhi businessmen had regular interaction with Bombay.
L : Baba (father) was sixteen years old, when Sukkur Barrage was built on Indus River. At that time, Baba had taken his mother to 'Char Dham' for pilgrimage. It took him three years to have a pilgrimage of all the four pilgrim centres (Char Dham).
J : Where did you come initially when you migrated to India?
L : We came to a village of Shanker Garh, situated near Allahabad. Some relatives from our paternal side had already come there and we had followed them.
J : What was your first business activity in India?
L : Baba was employed with a construction firm, which used to work for the Indian Military.
J : Can you recollect the days of partition?
L : Very little! I cannot recollect any hardships of migration through which my family might have gone through. I can only remember few glimpses of our rail journey from Sindh.
J : It means you had education in India.
L : I completed my nursery (Kinder Garten) in Sindh and then upto IV Std. I studied in Shanker Garh. Then, we shifted to Faizabad which is the birth place of Lord Rama. There, I completed my matriculation. I learnt Sindhi at Faizabad and presently I can read and write Sindhi language upto some extent.
J : What about your children. Have they got any interest in their mother-tongue?
L : We speak Sindhi in our homes but my children are not educated through the Sindhi medium. This may have been the reason behind their disinterest towards learning Sindhi language. My children have started learning Kanada since we shifted to Bangalore. My wife speaks in Sindhi with her children. She narrates stories in Sindhi and then asks them to answer few questions. It is just to make certain that children understand Sindhi language very well. This can only be done by the elders, else the children will lose every interest in their mother tongue and slowly and gradually Sindhi will make its exit from our homes.
J : What about your brothers and rest of your family?
L : The rest of my family lives in Ayodhya. Our family in Faizabad is still a joint family. All the assets are jointly owned by all of us – four brothers. I am proud of my family's unity. It has helped us immensely. They have got different businesses. They are mainly engaged in bottling plants for Coca-Cola and Thums-Up. We were the first to bottle Coca-Cola when it was re-launched in 1993, though there were many established players already there. It is a great brand, worldwide.
J : Have you ever thought of, or missed Sindh? Would you like to see it again?
L : My father used to recall Sindh with moist eyes, but he couldn't go back. Because at that time the relations between both the countries were not cordial enough. Recently, Sai Chanduram offered me to visit Sindh, but I didn't want to go there alone. I wanted to see it along with my whole family. At last I got a chance to go there and the experience I had is simply difficult to describe in words. I have seen nearly half of the world but the love I got from Sindh was tremendous. One thing I liked most about it was that I could hear everyone conversing in Sindhi. Everyone showered immense love on all of us. I think the secret of it lies in the water of River Indus and the soil of that country. The patience and love exhibited by us Sindhis must have come from that water and soil.
J : Taking advantage of cordial relations between India and Pakistan do you have any proposal to strengthen it further by bringing artists from both the countries on a single platform.
L : I am highly optimistic that good relations between both the countries would help our mother-tongue, because the majority of Sindhi speaking people live on other side of the border. We could not resurrect our language in India due to the fact of us being scattered throughout India. Our collaboration with Pakistani Sindhis would certainly benefit our language.
J : So you think present circumstances suggest less danger to our language?
L : Absolutely! Rather I am hopeful of strengthening it.
J : Upto what extent Sindhis' vocal culture can help?
L : Very much. Sindhi songs and Kafis, when sung, create a celestial atmosphere. It looks like the singer sings from his heart.
J : Have you ever arranged Sindhi cultural programmes in Bangalore or Lucknow?
L : Recently few artists had come from Sindh and we were in the forefront to receive them. We hold Cheti-chand festival at Faizabad, every year. My younger brother Mohan Ladhani is completely dedicated to Sindhi society. Whenever he is called for community work, he is there to do it.
J : Suppose we get our Sindh back, would you like to go back there?
L : My generation would love to go back but our descendants won't like the idea. I long for love which only Sindh can provide me but our younger generation won't appreciate it.
J : We have also got a lot of love in India, and then too, you long for love from Sindh.
L : People here love out of compulsion or you can term it as need-based love, while in Sindh people love from their hearts. Real love can only be provided by the soil of Sindh.
J : You have really worked hard and reached the pinnacle of your career and life. Would you like to give a message to our younger generation as to how to attain such lofty goals?
L : A lot of proposals come my way but unless my heart and mind, both do not okay any proposal, I never go for it. I always focus on my aim, I may falter, may sustain a loss temporarily but ultimately I succeed.
Success demands firm determination and honesty. One should never compromise on integrity. I think hard-work and honesty are basic ingredients we Sindhis possess which makes us stand apart from other communities. I can boast that our community has prospered due to sheer hard-work and honesty.
J : Have you ever thought about entering politics?
L : No! Politics is totally a different ball game. We people are not suited for it, specifically today's politics. May God save us from it!
J : But we need a leader to represent our case with the powers to be!
L : Politics has stooped down to such low level, that I cannot think a person like me can fit into it. He will be a complete failure. Only a person with thick skin can survive in it. Though some of them are real gentlemen but these are in a minority. I think, at present only twenty percent of work is done honestly and for the rest, the less said the better.
J : Recently, Shri L. K. Advani had conferred an award on you from the platform of All India Sindhi Chamber of Commerce at Ahmedabad. What did you feel at that time?
L : I have received many awards, but this award has a special place in my heart because it was given to me by my community. I feel proud to have received it. It is as good as receiving blessings from my elders. It inspires me to do more for my community. I am thankful to our Ahmedabad federation.
J : We are really grateful to you for this interview. Thank you!
L : May Lord Jhulelal bestow his blessings on all the Sindhis! Thank you!
To achieve the No. 2 position in domestic skies, in such a short span of time is a remarkable feat, perhaps unparallel anywhere in the world. As per the figures released by the Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA) for June ’06 the Bangalore based Air Deccan’s share has grown to 21.2%. It is also learnt that Air Deccan which currently operates 265 flights daily to 55 destination (largest served by a domestic carrier) is planning on fleet augmentation and has placed orders for 96 new aircraft!
May you keep flying higher and higher with the blessings of lord Jhulelal and the entire Sindhi community
(The interview was conducted in Sindhi. Translation into English by Prem Matlani)