The wrist-watch I wear at present has a picture of Dada Jashan Vaswani, with his quote, “The greatest tragedy of a man is that 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 and whosoever left his impression upon my person, needed to be acknowledged, and what better way to do so. It has also helped the non-Sindhis see us in the right perspective
A renowned businessman, and an accomplished litterateur, we today have with us Dr Ram Buxani who is the Group President of ITL Group – Cosmo. A rare class of human beings as he is one who has reached to peak of both, successes in reaching the ultimate height of wealth as well as recognition from the society.
*What made you move to Dubai from Baroda, as it is said that in those days even water was rationed in Dubai?
I was employed in Baroda in those days, but just like every Sindhi has this desire to get into business, my blood too has the Sindhwarki ethos and there was a wish to be associated with a company having its base outside India. Dalamal, Chotirmall Dhanamal, Kishinchand Chellaram etc. were famous Sindhwarki firms of those days. By chance, I saw an advertisement of Chotirmall. They wanted a person for their Dubai office. I applied for it immediately, 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 intent. I replied that it was unwise to miss the right opportunity, many others were also living in Dubai.
* I recall a verse that would reflect on the perseverance, hard work and intelligence by which you tided over your unfortunate days : “raat jitni sangeen hogi, subah utni hi rangeen hogi” (The bitter the night, the sweeter the morning that follows) What did you learn from this entire experience?
Once Khalil Jibran said that “There is no elevator to success, you have to climb stairs”. It means, that hard work is a must for success and there are no short cuts to it. Happiness and sorrow are part of life. A single moment of happiness comes sandwiched between two sorrows. Definitely, there are more sorrows in life. One has to learn to live and cope.
* When did you begin writing for ‘Sabhyata’ magazine?
I used to write when I was living in Baroda for the magazine ‘Sabhyata’ which was an organ of Sindhu Samaj. I was secretary of ‘Sindhu Samaj of Baroda’ and Dr Lakhmichand ‘Prem’ was its President. Another weekly, ‘Jagrti’ was also published in those days which was not a magazine, in the strict sense of the term, but more of a ‘tabloid’. Both publications and also ‘Hindvasi’ carried my articles from time to time.
* Sometimes you write and at other times you perform live on the stage. What has been your inspiration behind all this?
People experience mixed feelings, happiness as well as sorrow at different times and a person with an artistic bend of mind feels an urge to express himself. Some express this by speaking, others by writing or performing. I derive pleasure in writing and performing, though I don’t count myself as a writer, but, I do feel elated expressing myself.
* You have been through a difficult phase and it was sheer hard work and honesty which saw you through the harsh days of poverty. Can you share your experience of those struggling days with us?
There is a saying in English, “Pain is inevitable, suffering is optional”. It emphasizes the inevitability of pain but how do people react to it, varies from person to person. Life is like a sandwich. A moment of happiness is bound between two moments of sorrow and to experience the pleasure of that sandwich, you need both layers of bread. Sorrows in fact make people humble.
* It is said that the mother is the manifestation of God and they are fortunate who receive blessings from their mother. You have received abundant love and affection from your mother, in whose memory you have instituted ‘Ishwaribai Buxani Award.’ Besides this, what else made you initiate these awards?
There is no motive other than keeping the name of my mother alive. There is a lyric by some unknown poet, which translates as “The new generation abandons parents, discarding diamonds, mistakenly as pieces of glass”. I wanted my mother’s name to last forever, whether my name lasts or not.
* You have tried your best to lobby for the problems of NRIs with the government of India; whether it is education, estate duty or free port. Can you elaborate on these efforts?
All these problems are not limited to the interests of Sindhis alone. These are related to all Indians living abroad. 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 deceased. Though it is prevalent worldwide, in India it was highly exorbitant. Rajas had to dispose of their palaces to settle their 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 taxation laws, the government of India could collect only Rs. 220 million annually during the days of late P.M., Mrs. Indira Gandhi. A story of an Indian dying in Dubai will be of much interest to you. When he died in Dubai, his accounts in India were frozen and the question arose about which government should levy the 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 a competent finance minister of India, 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 his 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 said that now we can die peacefully in India without worrying about the payment of estate-duty!
* You had also pleaded for privatisation of education and a free port with the Prime Minister of India. What were your experiences on these attempts?
Even today, Indians go to foreign shores like America, England and Australia for higher education. Indians, Chinese and Japanese jointly pay nine billion dollars to America for the education of their children. In America, most of the students as well as teachers are Indian and the money spent is also Indian only the soil is American. Can’t it be arranged in India? We Indians have not been able to fortify the foundations of education in India. The number of educational institutions in India do not have the capacity to cater to almost one billion Indians. The schools should be privatized. The people, who can afford the fees of private institutions can admit their wards in such institutions and those who cannot, can send their children to government run institutions. I had raised this issue from the platform of FICCI, is an association of the business community. It was sympathetic towards this issue. As a matter of fact, education should be given the status of Industry. The economy has been liberalized but a lot is to be done in the field of education as it is still in shackles. Now, our demand of a free port. You must be aware of the fact that Hong Kong has been a window to the outside 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, Subramaniam Swami was the Indian Commerce Minister. A committee was set up 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, Kandla and Goa and after that we suggested the name of Goa for a free port. Though our proposals were accepted in principle, the rapid changes of government put the issue in cold storage and in the present circumstances the issue seems superfluous as the whole country has already become literally duty free.
* A fatigue has seeped in today’s man. He has lost the desire to move towards his goals. What would you suggest to such a man?
If we evaluate our life it would seem, “yeh zindagi bhar ki saudagiri, insaan ko ek kafan ke siwa kya de sakti hai” (All the hard work of a lifetime eventually leaves a man with just a shroud). But at the same time if someone feels depressed or weak he should remember, “Birds fly, elephants don’t!”