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Remembering Dhirubhai

January 23, 2007

Text: Sheela Bhatt

Intimations of mortality can have a strange effect on people. Memories locked up in the attics of the mind begin to emerge stealthily.

On the one plane, they hold the promise of companionship, on the other, they have a different impact altogether. For, memories, even if they are of pleasures of the past, may well end up adding to the loneliness of life.

Manubhai Phulchand Sheth is no exception. Undoubtedly, he has lived life king size. His business saw him travel to more than 40 countries. He wallowed in luxury. He stayed in the most opulent suites at the world's best hotels. He drank the choicest cognac. And at 66, he still relishes the pleasure of smoking.

But the cheerful memory of Reliance Industries founder Dhirubhai Ambani, his mentor, his boss, and his idol is also somehow the source of his pleasure... and pain.

Manubhai -- alias 'Mama' -- was the first employee of Reliance Industries.

Following his return to India from Aden, Dhirubhai founded Reliance Commercial Company to handle spices export. In 1958, Manubhai drew a princely salary of Rs 20 per month in Dhirubhai's first proprietary company.

For people actually involved in business it is obvious that achieving success often becomes a kind of religion. Tremendous successes are rare and that's why they make great stories. But Dhirubhai's fantastic success story, by any yardstick, was the stuff legends are made of.

But there can be a flip side to an amazing business story too. The sheer magnitude of the success completely subsumes the human debris that it creates by often wrecking the emotional world of the people who helped make the success possible. Yet, on the balance sheet such people don't even figure when zeroes queue up behind zeroes.

Photograph: Manubhai Sheth with Dhirubhai Ambani. Photographs courtesy: Manubhai Phulchand Sheth
Also read: Dhirubhai Ambani: In Memoriam


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