Story 5: Diamonds are Forever
Meghji Damjibhai Shah was a worried man. As Chairman of the Surat Diamond Merchant’s Association, he had faced many tough situations. In any industry, there were always disputes. Between the members, as well as with labour and sometimes, with clients. Meghji had one simple principle in life, which had always served him well.
“Vyaapar se badhkar vyavhaaar”. More important than money, is how you treat people.
His mind went back to his first benefactor, a distant uncle, who visited his native village. Laljibhai was running a small diamond polishing unit, a new business which was growing fast. He offered 16 year old Meghji a job as an apprentice. The boy was thrilled to move to Surat, where life offered many more opportunities than Amreli.
Meghji was a quick learner, and determined to become an ace diamond-cutter. In a year’s time he was earning Rs 1000 per month, most of which he sent home, to support the family and pay off long-standing debts. That’s why, when his mother brought up the topic of marriage, he was hesitant. Would his wife be willing to live this a frugal life in the big city?
Rakshaben was just the life partner he could have hoped for. Not only did she manage the house on his small income, she decided to supplement it. As a girl, Raksha had mastered the art of papad-making, which few in the city had time for. She started a small business and as demand grew, enlisted the ladies in the neighbourhood, to join her.
A couple of years later, Laljibhai decided to send his nephew to Antwerp. It was a whole new alien world, dealing with the Jewish traders who controlled the diamond business. They did not take kindly to these strange new Indians, entering their territory. But the Palanpuri Jains were clever. They picked up the smallest diamonds, which no one was willing to cut and polish.
“Give us a chance to show what is possible,” said Meghji to prospective buyers, in broken English.
One day, Meghji went to show some samples to Rosnovski & co, one of the biggest in the business. The owner himself inspected a few stones. As he peered through the powerful magnifying glass, Mr Rosnovski snorted and pointed out a flaw. Meghji offered to re-examine each and every stone, and bring a perfect lot the next morning. A painstaking job which took all night.
Impressed by the young man’s attitude, Rosnovski became a trusted client. A few years later, with the blessings (and some capital) from his uncle, Meghji set up his own company. Now, he was running a Rs 5000 crore empire with the help of his brothers, sons and 3500 employees, all of whom Meghji considered as ‘family’. Raksha Gems had offices in Antwerp, Mumbai and London.
But, since the last two months, everything was at a standstill. Coronvirus had shut not just his factory, but all industries in Surat city. More than 10 lakh migrant workers were now jobless, and struggling for two square meals a day. Meghjibhai appealed to the diamond merchant community to open their hearts and their pockets, to donate generously for the cause.
And more than Rs 10 crore had been thus collected. A community kitchen had been set up and Meghji was personally supervising the operations. But they were facing an unexpected problem.
Working in the hot kitchen in the summer heat was a nightmare. There were not enough tawas, not enough cooks… When he confided in Rakshaben, she simply laughed.
“Finally, you men are understanding, what it’s like to work in the kitchen.”
With lightning speed she sent out a message on various Whatsapp groups. Surely, this would strike a chord…
Two weeks later
Barkha Dutt reports on a unique model of community kitchen which has taken over Surat city. Supplying over 150,000 hot and fresh chapatis daily.
“Every housewife in the city is making 5 extra chapatis, to feed migrant workers. I am with Rakshaben, who is masterminding this ‘work from home’ effort….“
Meghji had never been more proud of his wife. For the brightest gems are not in any factory but right here, in our homes.