Jan. - Feb. 2002   
  Vol. 2 No.1   
Message from J. N. Godrej
Know Your Founders Oddities, Eccentricities, Etc. Interviews Of Enduring Interest Archival Interest Corporate Commentary Corporate Concerns Back to Main Page Editorial



Once someone asked the wellknown industrialist, S.L. Kirloskar, how he felt at 79. Aptly and truthfully, S.L. Kirloskar replied: “I feel fine. The old machine is still running faithfully. After all, it is a Kirloskar product.”

No doubt, Cactus & Roses, written in the first person singular, is “an important book by an important man.” More importantly, it makes for fascinating reading--how building on the sound foundations laid by his father, S.L. Kirloskar developed the small venture into a gigantic group of companies, with interests ranging from oil engines and electric motors to machine tools and tractors, hotels and consultancy services.

Like most industrialists, S.L. Kirloskar hoped that after Independence our government would establish a Golden Age for industry and the country as a whole. He found he was mistaken on two counts. One, the then prevalent flawed ideology took insufficient notice of economic realities and, two, inordinate delays which wasted precious resources, caused enormous losses in production and sometimes doubled the cost of essential schemes. “As an engineer, I call each part of the machine by its rightful name; and it should surprise no one if, as an economic or political critic, I call a spade a spade. But the bluntness of my criticism has sprung from a sincere wish to help our country, its citizens and their varied activities, and the Government we have elected to guide and direct us. Never have I aimed at hurting any man in his individual or private capacity.”

Yet this man whose life is a great success story, and who made a name for himself as a pioneering and highly successful industrialist, was found unfit, as he himself recounts in one of the many anecdotes in his autobiography, to be appointed even to a district organisation, leave aside a public sector undertaking!

It happened like this. In 1964 on being elected Vice-President of the FICCI, a common friend introduced him to a senior North Indian Congress leader, a man who had spent decades in politics and had risen to prominence in this organisation. He it was who gave young Kirloskar his clearest insight into India’s two-faced political system. This is how Cactus & Roses describes the encounter :

Kirloskar had known that in their private capacity these politicians would confess their ignorance in economic matters, their lack of experience in managing the country’s economy and their incompetence to operate the new technology. But in their public utterances, they would overplay socialism simply in order to promote their political image.

Asked about their frequent declarations in favour of socialism, a classless, casteless and secular society, the Congress leader frankly admitted: “We have to write such things in our manifestos, mention them in our speeches and emphasize them in our writings. Actually, they do not mean much to our voters; possibly a few educated persons believe in them, but they live in large cities and elect at most one or two persons on this basis. At any rate, what we did a century ago in our societies, we still keep on doing.” Then, turning to Kirloskar, he said: “You are a very inconvenient man. You keep asking for facts and figures.”

“Supposing,” the common friend who had introduced Kirloskar to the politician enquired, “Karl Marx and Lenin had been Indians and applied for tickets as candidates ...?”

“We would have sent them to the Rajya Sabha,” the politician replied. “They would never have got elected to the Lok Sabha; our voters don’t like men without acceptable castes. Neither Marx nor Lenin ever dreamt of the special variety of ‘Indian Socialist’, who must have a proper caste. Our Socialists, in or out of Congress, could hold a training camp for Marx, Lenin, Mao or anybody else, to train them in our Indian variety of Socialism ...”

“What about public sector undertakings?” the friend is quoted as enquiring.

“Same rule. Also, you must know the right men. It is quite all right if you don’t know your job--but you must be ‘acceptable’. Kirloskarji cannot be appointed. He has two disqualifications: he is a Brahmin and he knows his job. He will never promise he can make an engine for a big ship ..... By the way, can you?”

Kirloskar replied frankly he couldn’t, not in his present factory.

“The Public Sector must promise to do something even when it cannot be done,” the man declared. “Supposing we say you are going to be appointed as a Chief of a Public Sector factory on condition that you will promise to make a 3000 or 4000-h.p. engine for a ship. Will you promise?”

“No,” Kirloskar said. “For that I shall need special foundries, forge-shops, machine-shops ...”

“Wait a minute,” our political leader interrupted. “You are already out. We can’t consider you. You must say, ‘Give me a large allocation and I will make an engine as big as this room’. You may never actually make one, but you must at least promise and get the allocation.”

“You mean, caste considerations and false promises work?” Kirloskar asked him.


“How long will this continue?”

“As long as we have elections and millions of rupees to spend.”

Kirloskar concludes sadly: “It was a disturbing discussion. The man had evidently told me the truth, though perhaps with a little exaggeration. Unlike some others, he never asked me for favours and within a few years he himself fell out of favour and was relegated to a junior position. He was the wrong caste, the wrong age and had basically the wrong temperament for our two-faced political life.”

Courtesy: Cactus & Roses by S.L. Kirloskar. Published by C.G. Phadke and printed by B.D. Sathe at Kirloskar Brothers Limited (Printing Division), Kirloskar Press, Pune - 411 037.

Shakespeare and Now

Doubt if the age would listen to us, were we to write the verse of Milton or of Dante; at all events, not the theatrical age. Shakespeare himself would be cold-shouldered if he came trotting round trying to introduce his wares to us now. He is appreciated, as it is, true; but how much of that appreciation is of understanding, and how much of custom and fashion ?

One can well imagine how a London manager would greet our young friend Shakespeare, coming to him in this year of grace, with the Ms. of Hamlet under his arm. Let us for a moment conjure up the scene. Let us take an imaginary manager, and listen to the brief interview.
HARRIS: (opening and reading letters, and speaking without turning round). Well, my boy, what is it? You must be quick; I’ve only a minute to spare.
SHAKESPEARE : (with a rather meaningless chuckle, nervously twisting his hat the while). Er-er, ‘bout that play of mine, you know. Left it with you ’bout a week ago. Said you’d glance it over, you know, er —
HARRIS : Oh, ah, yes, Prince Claude; or the Castle Spectre. I —
SHAKESPEARE (apologetically) Hamlet; or, the Prince of Denmark, I think I —
HARRIS : Oh yes, so it was. Yes, very pretty thing; nothing much in it, though — undramatic — hardly the thing to suit us.
SHAKESPEARE : (after a pause, speaking with a slight tremor in his voice, and smoothing his hat abstractedly, but with great care). I — I rather thought it would have suited you. I thought it — it — you know strong, you know, in the play scene, and at the grave; and — I, Hamlet, I thought it would have been a good part for you. Just suited your style. A good opportunity for pathos, you know, in the parting with Ophelia, and with the mother, and —
HARRIS : Oh, no, nothing in the part at all; and the speeches are too long altogether, and rambling. We want smartness, you know, my boy, in a play — everything brisk and quick. All those long-winded soliloquies, they’d kill any play.

SHAKESPEARE : I meant them as typical of the character. You see, he’s a very thoughtful, moody man, and all that, and — and — they seemed to me to be — to be what a dreamy, deep-thinking, suffering man would say to himself when his brain and heart were wrecked — with life like a great, cruel wave rising to dash him down, and his puny hands are so powerless, the father that he loved lies murdered in his grave, and the woman — the sweet-loving girl —
HARRIS : (interrupting). Yes; well, I read it carefully through, and I didn’t like it. I haven’t time to argue about it. The ghost business isn’t but all the rest is utterly worthless.
SHAKESPEARE : Then you can’t do anything with it ?
HARRIS : Certainly not. (A pause). The thing’s no good as it stands. If you like to take my advice — I’m an older man than you — you’d cut out all those long speeches, and work in a detective. Something might be done with it then, perhaps, in the provinces.
SHAKESPEARE : What, to track the King down, like ?
HARRIS : Yes, I should think you might make a fair play of it then. Work up the ghost bit more.
SHAKESPEARE : (eagerly). Would you take it then, if I did that ?
HARRIS : No, I couldn’t. I merely threw out the idea to you, as I know something about these things.
SHAKESPEARE : Then it’s no good, of course, my leaving it with you any longer (taking it from the table and looking rather sadly at it).
HARRIS : None whatever, my boy.
SHAKESPEARE : Well, thank you very much for having read it, Mr. Harris.Good morning.
Mr. HARRIS, absorbed in his letters, makes no response, and Mr. SHAKESPEARE, taking up his hat, and trying to fix his Ms. under his coat so that it won’t be seen, goes out, closing the door softly behind him.

Courtesy : Prithvi Theatre Newsletter ( E R. Ranganathan)