Successful individuals these days are prone to penning their lifestory for posterity. Most such works though are boring and self-adulatory, written mainly to fulfil a belief that their lives are both extraordinary and edifying. Some such works, however, are indeed exceptional and end up as bestsellers.
Diamonds Are Forever…, a biography of diamond merchant Govind Dholakia, fits somewhere in between. Undoubtedly about an extraordinarily successful individual, the lifestory would have been more compelling had the narrative not been so disjointed, like a series of recordings stitched together to somehow make a whole.
Diamonds are Forever, however, has its appeal despite its shortcomings. It would have been just another of those tedious life histories had it not been for the belief systems the book propounds. It is not so much Dholakia’s rags-to-riches story as the associated compendium of values involved that provide an interesting insight into the world of a highly successful Indian businessman. Dholakia was born in a small, tile-roof house in the rugged and parched land of Kathiawar in Gujarat. He grew up in Dudhala, a village of 700 souls. A source of inspiration since childhood was the local priest, Atmaram Bapu, and the Bhagavad Gita which he memorised by the age of sixteen. He quit school very young and went to Surat with his brother to become a diamond cutter with a salary of Rs 103. To cut a long story short, from there Dholakia would go on to become a billionaire employing 5,000 people and earning over a million dollars a month! Quite an ascension.
A life-changing moment for Dholakia was his chance encounter with Shree Ramchandra Dongreji Maharaj, a renowned Surat-based narrator of the Sreemad Bhagwat. “I was mesmerised by his voice and his trance-like way of talking,” recalls Dholakia. “There was no preaching, except a gentle inducement in a loving kind voice.”
“Dongreji Maharaj spoke about the importance of giving respect to others. He said that if you wish for respect, you must first respect the other person. He gave an example of the echoing mountains of the Himalayas… Next day onwards, I started calling everyone with respect. Colleagues teased me, some thought I had lost my mind, but I responded only with a smile. And it was as if I experienced a miracle, from that day onwards, nobody ever humiliated me. This was a taking-off moment of my life. I could see things unseen to others, like a satellite in orbit.”
He subsequently moved to Bombay and got into the diamond trade on his own. That story itself is fascinating as are a myriad other accounts including his first trip to Antwerp, the centre of the global diamond trade, which marked his entry into the big league. His religiosity remained dominant even during his first foreign trip where he had a dream of Goddess Lakshmi asking him what his goal in life was and what he wanted from her. “I said, ‘O’ Mother, give me spiritual enlightenment.’ The Goddess smiled and said, ‘Had you asked for Dhana Lakshmi, I would have established you here controlling a quarter of the Diamond Quarter. Nevertheless, you asked for Adi Lakshmi, so go back home. I will always be with you, giving you enough for all your good works. Do whatever charity you want to do without any fear.’ When I took the return flight to India the next day, I was a different person.”
Over the decades that followed, Dholakia made huge sums of money but was equally generous in his charity. One of his mentors, Asitbhai ‘Munnabhai’ once told him: “Generally, people, upon making money, start creating bubbles around them. They hide themselves in big mansions, move around in big cars and create a wall of personal staff around them, which at times stops even their family members from approaching them, forget about old friends. However, you are different. You are taking care of your extended family so very well, your employees, and your old-time friends. I am indeed very happy.”
After reading the biography, one is left marvelling at the obvious wisdom of this singularly successful individual, who spawned a sprawling enterprise and an equally large extended family comprising about 1,500 members! The book is about what made him different and contains nuggets of sagacious counsel for the aspiring.
He says one reason why people fail to make it in life “is because they secretly enjoy the comfort and coziness of the present life. Even if it is bad, they do not want to change it. If one needs progress, one needs to go out of his comfort zone. Somehow, they like the prison; the idea of freedom scares them.”
In the end, there is always God. “I want to put God-centred devotion at the core of all my business activities,” writes Govind. “Work is a form of bhakti, a way of serving God through serving one’s fellow humans.”It is this value system that sets apart many Indian businessmen from their global counterparts. In India, the gods are in every machine, enterprise and successful individual.
Diamonds Are Forever, So Are Morals
By Govind Dholakia
As told to Arun Tiwari and Kamlesh Yagnik
Penguin Random House
pp. 380, Rs 699...