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Uniqueness Is Possible
When former Chairman Sohrab Godrej, recalling the life and times of his uncle Ardeshir, told me how, single-handedly, he broke through the stranglehold imposed by the British rulers over the manufacture of Indian goods that could rival theirs, it made for an inspiring story. But when Sohrab went on to tell me how unusual his uncle was, the unusual things he did, going way beyond the eccentricities usually associated with an inventive genius, I found myself facing a crisis of credibility.
Here was a man who gave up law because of his refusal to twist the truth. A man who believed neither in inheriting nor in bequeathing wealth, so austere in his habits that he preferred to use public transport. Whose wife died tragically within a year of their marriage, but who refused on principle to marry again. A highly successful industrialist who, at the height of his career, turned to farming and then, suddenly, shed worldly concerns to take to the spiritual path. A man whose inventive genius made it possible for his successors to create enormous wealth for the nation, but who died indebted — quite heavily, too.
Even as I faithfully recorded all that Sohrab told me, I had the nagging feeling that readers would find it difficult to accept these stranger-than-fiction happenings. And the critics would have a field day dragging out the favourite weapon in their rusty armoury — the word “hagiography”. Half of what I had written about Ardeshir as a man had to be omitted for reasons of space in Godrej: A Hundred Years — for one thing, it would not have been quite relevant in a chronological account of an industrial enterprise and, for another, a balance had to be maintained between Ardeshir, his younger brother Pirojsha and the second and third generations of the Godrej family.
Well, the critics were pleased. But there remained inside me the uneasy feeling of a task undertaken, but not completed. A close family relative of the Godrejs, who had preferred to pursue his own calling instead of working for Godrej, was the first to point out this omission: “You’ve written four books on Godrej. But not a single one on the man who started it all!” I argued that adequate coverage had been given to Ardeshir in the first volume of Godrej: A Hundred Years. “Not adequate enough!” he retorted. I knew he was right, but still hesitated. A fifth book on Godrej would be too much of a good (?) thing.
Then, by a strange happenstance, I met the great-grandnephew of the gentleman who had been the sole benefactor of Ardeshir in his hour of need and who became his lifelong friend. This grandnephew confirmed all that Sohrab had told me about his uncle, adding certain intimate touches to explain Ardeshir’s seemingly erratic behaviour. I could no longer avoid the challenge, to make the incredible at least acceptable, to present Ardeshir as a unique man and to show that uniqueness is possible.
Going through my notes once again, I began to see Ardeshir in a newer, softer light — a recluse, deeply religious, with the confidence of one who had the measure of his task, who chose to tread his own path, attuned to an inner vision. I found further confirmation in the Bhagvad Gita that the two distinguishing characteristics of greatness are a rigid self-discipline and a quite extraordinary self-control — implying the virtues of patience, forbearance, humility, self-sacrifice and self-effacement. Such a man alone is entitled to the accolade of Vijitatma, a man who has conquered himself.