INTERVIEW WITH HIRO MAKHIJANI
by Ram Jawhrani
Every human being views his life from a different perspective with different aims and aspirations. Some say that this life be spent in the care of one’s family, while some aim at achieving success in business, and others want to become industrialists, traders, doctors, engineers. Those who want to become wealthy make plans accordingly and those who want fame pay more attention to that angle.
There are a few in the society who leading family lives, achieve great success in business, fulfill their responsibilities, and yet want to do something to serve the society, who think about the community and the country. I firmly believe that such persons are the most successful amongst us all. In fact such persons are also more inclined towards spirituality. One such successful person who went on to become a successful businessman is Shri Hiro Makhijani who is now on the path of spirituality and very close to Narayan Baba.
R. Jawhrani : Om Sai Ram! Makhijani Sahab, thank you for sparing your valuable time for this interview. First of all some information about your place of birth and ancestral home please.
H. Makhijani : I was born in Karachi, Sindh (Pakistan). My mother was from Hyderabad and my father from Karachi.
R. Jawhrani : What was the occupation of your ancestors in Sindh?
H. Makhijani : My paternal ancestors belonged to the business community. They basically dealt in stationary, while my maternal ancestors were civil servants. They believed in acquiring education and some of them became doctors, while others joined the civil services and became municipal commissioner etc.
R. Jawhrani : Did your paternal ancestors do business only within Sindh or like other Sindhis, called Sindhwarkis, went abroad for business?
H. Makhijani : They did business only in Sindh.
R. Jawhrani : And when were you born?
H. Makhijani : I was born on 23rd August 1938.
R. Jawhrani : What about your education?
H. Makhijani : I did pre-primary schooling in Karachi, (Pakistan). After the partition in 1947, we came as refugees in 1948 and settled in Devlali military camp, near Nasik (Maharashtra). In 1949, my maternal uncle became a doctor and was posted at Kalyan camp and was alloted a house. He requested my mother to join him. So in 1949-50 we shifted to Kalyan camp no. 4 and started residing with my uncle.
R. Jawhrani : Do you have any memories of the partition days?
H. Makhijani : I was very young then, but my father used to read out the newspaper to us. From that, I remember that Jinnah, the Muslim leader, initiated a great agitation amongst the Muslim community and demanded a separate state for Muslims. And it was decided that wherever Muslims were in majority that area would become part of Pakistan and where Hindus were in majority, that would be part of Hindustan.
R. Jawhrani : What according to you was the main reason for our quitting Sindh?
H. Makhijani : From what my father used to tell me and from the news in the newspapers and on radio, I can recollect that where the Muslims were in majority they attacked the Hindu minority and told them to quit, specially in Punjab. We didn’t live in much fear in Karachi. But my father realized that in future the same situations could soon develop and we might be attacked, and as such thought it prudent to leave.
R. Jawhrani : Did you come here empty handed or were able to bring your valuables and belongings?
H. Makhijani : We had property in Karachi, which my father and uncle owned jointly. We couldn’t sell that property at the right price, but there was a good Muslim, who agreed to buy our property and within a couple of days gave us Rs. 30,000 – 40,000. We came here with those funds in hand.
R. Jawhrani : After coming here, what was the occupation of your elders in Devlali?
H. Makhijani : When we came to Devlali, my father got a job in an engineering company in Bombay. I don’t remember the name. He used to stay with his sister in Colaba. After some time, in 1950, he got another job, with a better salary. He used to stay in Bombay, while we lived in Ulhasnagar. In 1952, my cousins who were residing in Hong Kong, requested my dad, who was their maternal uncle, to quit the job and come to Hong Kong. They ran a firm by the name of Sitlani Silk Stores, in Kowloon, Hong Kong. My father agreed and went to Hong Kong. Then we built a small Sindhi community housing society by the name of Sion Sindhi Colony, which is still there near the Sion railway station.
R. Jawhrani : Did you construct the building entirely on your own or were some barracks allotted to you by the government?
H. Makhijani : We weren’t allotted any barracks. In those days there was a Sindhi municipal commissioner, Mr. Hassamal Shivdasani who allotted us a piece of land and asked us to form a society and construct simple cottages consisting of two bedrooms and a hall, for Sindhi families. We went through the Panchayat and were allotted a piece of land, and my father spent about Rs. 5,000 and constructed that cottage. In this way they started building cottages and allocated them to Sindhi families.
R. Jawhrani : So you shifted to Sion.
H. Makhijani : Yes, I stayed in Sion till 1960. I did my graduation in 1959 from Jai Hind College. After graduation I wanted to go abroad for higher studies. My father didn’t have the funds at that time, but he said he would try to arrange and do something. In the mean time I got a job offer from Nigeria. The son of Shivdasani family of the Panchayat through which we had got the land, was in Nigeria. He wrote to my father requesting to send me to work for him in Nigeria. He told my father that within 2 years your son will earn enough and then can go to England to pursue his higher studies. The elder Shivdasani told my father, “Why do you want him to study more? Do you intend to make him a civil servant?” My friends also told me that since I was going abroad for a job, what is the need to study further. So in 1960 I went to Nigeria (West Africa) for the job, with a monthly pay of Rs. 300/- plus lodging and boarding.
R. Jawhrani : In those days Rs. 300 was equivalent to Rs. 3,00,000 today. You said you wanted to pursue higher education in London, but your father did not have the required funds. Is this the reason that today your Trust grants scholarships to students who wish to pursue higher education abroad?
H. Makhijani : Absolutely! I don’t want other youngsters to go through what I underwent. And we specially focus on helping medical students. Nowadays the scenario in education has changed quite a lot in India. In those days about, 20 years ago, good and capable doctors who had completed their M.B.B.S. here, and could have excelled further, didn’t have the money to go abroad for higher education. So we advertised that they can go ahead with their plans to study abroad, to do their post graduation in any country and our Trust would support them for one year, but with a condition that after completing their post graduation they would have to come back and serve in India for 5 years. Today we have completed 17 years granting these scholarships and we have sent about 200 doctors abroad for higher education who are now serving in various hospitals in India.
R. Jawhrani : Is this scholarship restricted only for doctors or do you assist others also?
H. Makhijani : This scholarship is granted only to doctors. But if some genuine case comes up from our community through known channels for engineering, then we do consider such cases and try to help them in some other way. We give them a loan, which they can repay, after they start earning.
R. Jawhrani : When was the Hargovind Foundation established? And what are its main aims and objectives?
H. Makhijani : Hargovind Foundation was established in 1999. Its main aim is to help needy students for their education, be it pre-primary, primary, secondary, higher secondary education etc. The other objective is that we not only help doctors to pursue higher education but also help needy patients who require medical assistance, and can’t afford it. We help them by way of getting them admitted to hospitals and taking full care of their pre and post surgery expenses. Such cases are often referred to us by doctors.
R. Jawhrani : By getting them admitted to hospitals, do you mean you help them financially or do you have some beds reserved in some hospitals for needy patients?
H. Makhijani : We don’t have any beds reserved in any of the hospitals, but we help them financially. We speak to the hospital authorities, try to reduce the cost for them and we make the payment to the hospitals directly. We don’t give money to the patients. At this moment we have an understanding with two hospitals, one is In Laks Hospital in Chembur, where we have four beds and can refer poor patients and the other one is the J. P. Vaswani In Laks Hospital in Pune, where we have an understanding for two beds. Other than these two we also have good relations with government hospitals like K.E.M., Nair, J. J. and Sion hospitals. Since we have helped them in procuring various equipments for their hospitals, they do not refuse the patients who go there with our reference.
R. Jawhrani : How long were you in Nigeria and when did you start your own business?
H. Makhijani : I served 25 years with the same firm of Shivdasanis’, which is known as In Laks Limited in West Africa.
R. Jawhrani : Are both these In Laks hospitals, you just mentioned, named after that same firm?
H. Makhijani : Yes. When my boss was alive, he established the In Laks Foundation with the aim of helping the needy students for education. After he passed away, his wife and children gave a donation for the first time to Dada J. P. Vaswani, through which the In Laks hospital was built in Pune. The management is under Dada Vaswani, but it has been named In Laks. In a similar manner here in Chembur, there was one Mr. Chhabria of the Rashtriya Seva Samiti, who approached us for helping them to build the hospital. There was one doctor by the name of Daulatram, who assured me that these people were good and even Mr. Hashu Advani telephoned me to help them. So we gave them a donation from In Laks Foundation, through which the In Laks hospital was built in Chembur.
R. Jawhrani : Are you also a member or trustee of the In Laks Foundation?
H. Makhijani : No. I am not a trustee of that Foundation, but have very good and cordial relationships with them. The office of In Laks Foundation is in New Delhi and they help students of medicine, science, arts or any other faculty. They also help needy persons who approach them through the Panchayat.
R. Jawhrani : During this span of 25 years in service, where did your pay package reach from Rs. 300?
H. Makhijani : I retired from that firm in 1984 and at that time my salary was Rs. 2 crores per annum. Thereafter I thought that since I have 3 daughters and no son, why take on the headache of doing business. But my African friends requested me to start a business. Two of my African friends helped me establish the first ever bottling water plant in Nigeria. The name of the brand was Swan, which is quite well known even today. That company still exists in Nigeria, but I have sold off my share. In 1999, two of my daughters were already married, so I thought why waste more time here, hence I sold off my share.
The other factory that I started was for producing edible corn oil, since corn is produced in abundance there. The name of the brand was Gold at that time. Now we have three brands by the name of Golden Corn, Grand Gold and Grand Oil. The Grand Oil brand is very famous.
In 1980 - 81, I met my Guru Narayan Baba. At that time I had thought I would be fortunate enough if I can help my Guru. In 1981, we gave a donation of Rs. 1,00,000 from my Foundation. At that time the Panvel Temple was being built and they had appealed for donations for plumbing services, electrical services, carpentry services etc. Our firm chose to donate for the plumbing services. Thereafter I came to Bombay and met Narayan Baba. I had also seen a couple of films of Sai Baba of Shirdi and had visited Shirdi frequently. Thereon every 31st December I don’t party, but go to Shirdi instead and return on 1st January.
R. Jawhrani : Did you establish any business in India also?
H. Makhijani : Yes. When I came back, I thought of doing something for my country also. So I started a Plastic Aluminium coating factory for packaging purposes in Taloja. It involved coating of aluminium on soft plastic. We had got the know-how of this factory from England. Then I saw that there was lot of competition in this line and we were competing with giants. The other thing was cheating. If I didn’t pay excise duty, only then I would be able to make a profit or it would just be cost-to-cost. Because of these reasons I sold off that factory in 2002.
R. Jawhrani : I have read somewhere that you also had business in London.
H. Makhijani : No. I didn’t have any business in London, but I had an agent who used to buy machinery, spare parts etc. and send them to Nigeria and I used to pay him commission. I didn’t have my own office in London.
R. Jawhrani : Are all your three daughters married and settled in India?
H. Makhijani : All my three daughters are married, but settled outside India. The youngest one is settled in New York, America. The eldest had a love marriage and is settled in Lagos, West Africa. The next daughter who is a nutritionist, was in London when she got married and is now settled in Dubai.
R. Jawhrani : As per our scriptures, the one who never forgets death, shall seldom commit sin. But our big industrialists say that the one who never forgets death, can never become a big industrialist like Tata or Birla. What is your opinion regarding this?
H. Makhijani : Our Guruji has taught us that we have not seen what the future hold for us. At any moment, you may die. Therefore always be ready for death. Hence do such good deeds which shall be beneficial for you, so that you are never afraid of dying.
R. Jawhrani : But constantly remembering death while doing our business and other daily chores, killing our ambitions of moving ahead, by thinking nothing more is required, and soon we may be gone leaving all this behind, how will the nation and world progress? This thought process wouldn’t have led to the inventions of the needle or that of the airplane. Because you are so much on this spiritual path, I would like to ask you whether it is alright for a person, on the spiritual path, to carry on with his Karma?
H. Makhijani : Yes. I agree with this point of view. Since I don’t have a son, even I had doubts on taking up headaches of doing business. But our Guruji has taught us, never stop doing social service – be it helping the poor or helping the medical students etc. So I have my social service organizations running. I am also associated with a few other organizations of my friends where I assist them. We carry on cataract surgeries throughout India, where we give donations. We also organize medical camps for the disabled. So for the welfare of the nation, social service is a must.
R. Jawhrani : In our community as well as in other communities the litterateurs and the artists are respected and honoured. Some have even said that they are the jewels of the community. It is our duty to take care of them and encourage them. Have you also helped the writers, artists or the litterateurs at any time?
H. Makhijani : Yes. We had helped Lal Pushp. There was one more professor (I don’t remember his name) who used to write books, we had helped him also a lot. He has passed away. Late Popati Hiranandani, had asked for help for few of the books which she had written. We had helped her also.
R. Jawhrani : So if someone approaches you, and if the work is genuine and good, then you are ready to help them.
H. Makhijani : Yes. In the field of literature, if any Sindhi or Non-Sindhi approaches us, we help him whole heartedly, because usually a writer writes fantastically, but doesn’t have the required funds to publish his works.
R. Jawhrani : What help did you take from Gobind Malhi in the field of literature?
H. Makhijani : Gobind Malhi used to come to me, when he needed financial assistance and we would help him. Our Guruji’s Guru had written a book in English – ‘Gods Experience.’ This is for all the religions. With the help of Gobing Malhi I got that book translated into Sindhi and was titled ‘Prabhu jo Anubhav’.
R. Jawhrani : In our Indian culture, I would say more than Indian, in our Sindhi culture and tradition, we believe in lot of love, respect and reverence for our elders. Then why the need for old-age homes?
H. Makhijani : Sir, it is observed that since the past 15 – 20 years the world has changed drastically. The mind-set or the thinking of the younger generation has changed. They feel, that after getting married, why keep our old parents with us. Some are married amongst non-Sindhis. I have seen the way children misbehave and talk ill to their parents. They even insult them. Seeing this I felt that something must be done for the elders to lead a respectable life. The youngster feel that their elders did their duty of taking care and bringing them up. Now even they have to take care of their children, so they ask their parents to leave and search for some other accommodation.
R. Jawhrani : Just now you used the word ‘duty’. In today’s modern world and society, all know their rights very well, but have forgotten their duties completely. No attention is paid to duty towards parents, friends, society and the nation etc. but the rights are strongly demanded. What are your views regarding this?
H. Makhijani : It depends on individual thinking. Each has his own thinking. Today’s so called modern generation is ever ready to acquire their rights, but they have forgotten their duties. Today our Sindhi community or the other communities through their Panchayats keeps telling the elders not to transfer all the assets in favour of their children as long as they are alive or else they will be on the streets. Many such instances have taken place. Our Guruji keeps telling us that whenever you meet any elder, or senior citizen who needs a shelter then bring them here to this elders home.
R. Jawhrani : Is this elder’s home established in Lonavala running successfully?
H. Makhijani : It works like this. If one is really needy and doesn’t have income then we accommodate him free. But otherwise we have kept a small fee of Rs. 4,000 per month, per person which includes lodging, boarding, everything. A self-contained room is provided for one to stay.
R. Jawhrani : It is often seen that every person who chooses his path to reach the Almighty, chooses according to his nature. Like for example, if a person is stingy, he will prefer the temple or the institution which doesn’t accept donations; while some like the institutions which do not put any restrictions on eating or drinking; some prefer the institutions where all are treated equally, a husband bows to the wife and the wife bows to the husband. In this manner there are various paths and as per one’s nature one starts following that path. What was it in Narayan Baba that attracted you towards his path that today you have developed such a strong bond with him. Do you see the glimpse of God in him?
H. Makhijani : In 1978 - 79, Narayan Baba came to Lagos. In Lagos, one of his devotees’ father had been saved by Baba from undergoing open-heart surgery. That boy had invited Narayan Baba to Lagos to come and install a small 12 inch idol of Sai Baba at his home. Guruji had known that boy since childhood and came to Lagos on his invitation. For one or two days in Lagos Guruji conducted Bhajans on Sai Baba of Shirdi. I went and heard him. He then returned to India. His secretary had informed me that they had an Ashram in Panvel where they intended to build a Sai Baba’s temple in 1981 – 82 and any form of assistance would be welcome. I asked my manager to give him Rs. 1,00,000 from the Trust.
Later Guruji felt why not establish a Sai Baba Temple in Lagos. So he sent a 3 feet idol of Sai Baba made of marble. That boy, whose name is Sunil Thadani, suggested that a place be taken on rent and then later on he would collect donations from Sindhis. Guruji told him that there is one Makhijani, you should call him up and he will help you. I had never met or known Sunil Thadani, but his boss was my friend. He asked his boss whether he knew me and after taking my telephone number from his boss, he called me. Then Guruji came to Lagos and told me that they intended to establish a temple of Sai Baba there. Prior to that I used to keep going to Shirdi. Whatever assistance Sunil Thadani needed, I and my friends gave him and we established the Sai Baba temple in Lagos which still exists. Guruji went back. Then they informed me that they wanted to establish their small ashram in Shirdi. I told my wife to go for the Bhoomi Pujan and donate whatever you want. My wife gave the donation and that ashram is still there in Shirdi. I heard a voice in my heart that whatever Narayan Baba is saying about Sai Baba of Shirdi is all true. I have only seen the film. That inner voice prompted me to help him.
R. Jawhrani : This means that his personality, his sermon and his thoughts influenced you so much that you felt that he is the real messenger of the Lord.
H. Makhijani : Yes, till date he calls himself as ‘Sai Sevak’. When Sai Baba was alive, whatever work he used to do, he used to utter ‘Allah Malik’. Till date wherever Naryan Baba has established temples he keeps preaching the necessity of social service. Like you said that everyone has his own needs and thoughts, but you have to draw a line somewhere. One day we shall die, then all the wealth which we collected here, where will all this go? It is better to utilize it in a better way, while you are alive. Today my children have their Trust. They know that their father has created a Trust for them, so whenever I and my wife make a donation anywhere, they do not interfere. I have written in my will that, at whichever places where I have been donating, they should keep helping them even after I am gone. This is because after I die, the Trustees of my Trust will be my children. But do remember that all this is given by the Lord. We do need his grace and blessings. I have seen so many of my friends who have earned billions and billions and are still earning, but when we go to them asking for donation, they reply, we shall think about it. I say what is there to think about, just remove your cheque book and give a donation. But everyone has his own limitations. That blessing of the Lord is utmost necessary, or else without it you won’t be able to donate a penny also.
R. Jawhrani : This means till the grace of the Lord is not there, no one can find the right path. This can be due to the Karmas and the influences of the previous births. Do you believe in previous-births?
H. Makhijani : Yes. Today whatever I am today is due the fruits of my Karmas in the previous births due to which I am able to do all that I am doing. I have the blessings of my parents and my Guruji. I do believe in the Karmas of the previous births which are carried forward to this life.
R. Jawhrani : You are absolutely right in saying so. There is a proverb in Sindhi that as long as you are alive, learn. We keep learning till we die, and all the knowledge acquired in this birth will be helpful in the next life. It was very nice talking to you, understanding your thoughts and feelings. You mentioned that you don’t have a son. A person desires a son to carry on the family name. But I can tell you with full assurance that whatever social service you have done and the blessings you have acquired of all the needy people you have helped, will definitely keep your name alive and immortal forever.