To appreciate the secret of Shri Ramjibhai’s refined cultural background, it is necessary to know a little of his past.
At the base of Mount Shetrunj, on the banks of the sacred confluence of three rivers, at the edge of Girnar, there is a small village called Dhari. The lush greenery of Gir, which is a balm to one’s eyes, also starts from here. In Dhari, there lived a Dasha Shrimali Sthanakvasi Jain family. The head of the family was Vashrambhai Kamani, but he was affectionately called Vashrambapa by everybody in the village. The family was well known in the field of agriculture.
Vashrambapa had three sons – Raghavjibhai, Devshibhai and Vasanjibhai. Devshibhai also had three sons – Laxmichandbhai, Paanachandbhai and Tribhovanbhai. Laxmichandbhai was also blessed with three sons – Hansrajbhai, Kapurchandbhai and Kalyanbhai and in turn, Hansrajbhai also had three sons – Ramjibhai, Narbherambhai and Girdharbhai. Thus there seemed to be a tradition of three sons being born in each generation of the family for four generations. Following Vashrambapa’s tradition, the Kamani family are still involved in agricultural activities, suited to today’s age. Industrial activities were added to this profession. As we have already seen in the first chapter, the seeds of this industry were sown on the auspicious day of Dhanteras in 1940. From these seeds grew a vast tree whose branches have spread far and wide. The founder of these activities was Shri Ramjibhai.
Ramjibhai’s grandfather, Shri Laxmichand, was a very pious person. One of the leading figures in his community, he was also very compassionate. In Shivar, a village near Dhari, Shri Laxmichand owned a lot of land. This village was inhabited by Kohlis. Paanachand used to look after his elder brother, Laxmichand’s land. Once, during a small argument, a Kohli labourer attacked Paanachand and split open his skull with an axe, causing Paanachand’s death. Some Kohlis are easily roused to anger, even over small matters. In normal circumstances, the Kohli who killed Paanachand in a fit of anger would have been sentenced to death, but Laxmichand felt so sorry for the poor, uneducated man that he tried his best to ensure that he was given the minimum punishment.
As Laxmichand’s family was growing, Hansrajbhai decided to live independently after he got married. He had married Dudhibahen, the daughter of Gopalbhai, from the Gandhi family. After his wedding, Hansrajbhai rented a house in Dhari itself and started a grocery business, which did well.
Shri Ramjibhai was born on Tuesday, the 21st February, 1888 – on the ninth day of the month of Phagun in the 1944th year according to the Hindu calendar - in this rented house. He spent his childhood in Dhari. The religious tendencies of both his father and grandfather were firmly instilled in him. He was firm in his convictions and naturally followed the rigid principles of the Jain religion - not eating root vegetables, chewing betel nut or smoking bidis - throughout his life. Even when he went abroad he never abandoned these religious principles. Ramjibhai was a gentle, straightforward, sociable person. He had quite a large group of friends. In school one of his friends, Sakarlal Bhimji was the leader of their group, and everybody in the group had to follow his orders. All the boys would go to school and then, goaded by Sakarlal, use the excuse that they had forgotten to bring their fees and get themselves excused from their classes. They would then wander off towards Mount Shetrunj, where they would frolic in the river Dhuna, and have a lot of fun before going back to their respective classes. Saying that, ‘Father was not home, so I couldn’t get the fees,’ they made fun of their teachers.
Ramjibhai’s childhood passed happily and uneventfully. He respected his elders at home and his teachers in school and nobody had any complaints against him.
Amongst his friends in school, there were two who call for special mention. One is Shri Chhaganlal Pathak and the other is Manilal. When Shri Chhaganlal retired from his job as a teacher, Ramjibhai gave him a position in his factory in Jaipur. His two sons, Dhirajlal and Kantilal succeeded him, and were working in the factories in Mumbai and Jaipur, respectively.
There is a saying - Vyapare Vasati Laxmi (in business resides wealth) – Hansrajbhai’s business prospered and he was able to buy his uncle Tribhovandas’s house. However, after this, trade started declining, so Paanachand’s son Harjivanbhai called him to Mumbai.
As soon as Hansrajbhai came to Mumbai, his life changed. He took up a job as an accountant in the office of an Aghakhani Khoja businessman. After six months he rented a small room at Dongri and arranged for his family to come from Dhari. He admitted his three sons, Ramjibhai, Narbheram and Girdharlal, to an Aghakhani school. Then eight months later, there was a new development, Hansrajbhai was sent to Calcutta and pleased with his work, his boss also increased his salary. So his family had to go back to the village. Hansrajbhai had no difficulty settling down in Calcutta. He was a sociable, religious person. He was also very conversant with the subject of religion and an avid reader of religious texts. When the Jain families in Calcutta came to know of Hansrajbhai’s wealth of religious knowledge, they requested him to give public discourses on the Jain religious texts, to which Hansrajbai agreed. He had a powerful but melodious voice and was in the habit of reading aloud. He had also mastered the art of captivating his audience with his reading, so his discourses were well received. Due to his ability to give interesting and enlightening discourses, the Jain community insisted on Hansrajbhai staying permanently in Calcutta, and started to make arrangements to absorb him into business there.
To this end, Purshottamdas, was called to Calcutta. Purshottamdas was the younger brother of Shri Ratanshi, who was working in a small firm, Devidas L. Variyavala, in Porbundar. As soon as Purshottamdas arrived in Calcutta a firm was established at 45, Izara Street, in the name of Purshottam, Hansraj Company. The firm dealt in spices and condiments. Hansrajbhai’s younger brother was entrusted with the job of purchasing the spices from Cochin and Kananur. He was skilful at bargaining and acquiring the finest goods at the best price. Unfortunately, however the climate of Cochin did not suit him and he fell sick, so the work of procuring the spices had to be handed over to a commercial broker. Hansrajbhai continued to run this business for a year, before going back to visit his family in Dhari. At that time Ramjibhai was twelve years old and was studying in the second standard in an English school in Amreli. At the same time as he passed out of the second standard, a reception was arranged to honour two prominent young men, Harilal Govinji Parikh and Mohanlal Virjibhai, who had just cleared the LLB examination. Ramjibhai attended this function and was inspired to want to go in for higher studies. He expressed this desire to his father, and Hansrajbhai agreed to take him to Calcutta. Ramjibhi’s life took a totally new turn and his identity underwent a sea change. His traditional attire was replaced by new, city style clothes. He now wore a Bengali dhoti with a silk border, a white alpaca coat and a cap of the style wore in Bangalore. At that time he used to wear gold earrings, and still wearing his earrings with his new clothes he left for Calcutta. His clothes were totally fitting for Calcutta but the earrings looked very odd, so Ramjibhai stopped wearing them. Ramjibhai was enrolled in a High School in Calcutta. In 1905, after working for about five years Hansrajbhai retired and went back to his village. Ramjibhai was now alone in Calcutta, he started to take his meals in the same hotel that his father used to. It can be said that Ramjibhai’s true personality or more correctly his progress in life started from this hotel.
Let us see how.
Many years after it was established, Jivanlal Aluminium became famous as a company that manufactured utensils of excellent quality and for making steel ingots and other articles for Mukund Iron and Steel Company. The head of this company, Jivanlal Motichand Shah used to stay in Calcutta and eat at this same hotel. At that time he did not own any factory, but was working in P.E. Gazdar and Company, a jute press in Calcutta. It was in this hotel that Jivanlal and Ramjibhai first met each other. Over time this acquaintance blossomed into a fast friendship, that was to last a lifetime, ‘Saman, shileshu, vyasaneshu, sakhyam’ (Friendship will blossom only if persons have similar tastes and lifestyles) - Jivanlal and Ramjibhai were cultured, young, emotional and ambitious. They were both fond of reading, and used to not only read magazines like ‘Praathkaal’ and ‘Mahakaal’, which were published in Baroda, but sit together and study them. As this camaraderie grew, they came to know each other very well. Due to the fact that they both had similar natures and beliefs, came from similar cultures, and had the same aims and ambitions in life, the friendship deepened even more. They trusted each other implicitly, and when Jivanlal suggested to Ramjibhai that he take up the post of an accountant in P.E. Gazdar Company, Ramjibhai did so without the slightest hesitation. He worked in the company for a short time.
Around the same time Hansrajbhai’s cousin, Gordhandas Juthabhai was engaged in the cloth business in Dhari. Hansrajbhai had made up his mind that if Ramji wanted to return and settle in Dhari, he would place him in Gordhandas’s shop. As soon as Ramjibhai returned to Dhari from Calcutta, his father told him about his plan. Ramjibhai did not oppose the idea out of respect for his father and immediately started working in Gordhandas’ shop. But over and above the cloth business, Gordhandas was also involved in the buying and selling of raw cotton. Once when Ramjibhai had gone by cart to the place where the auction of raw cotton was held, the person in charge, Shri Motilal, asked Ramjibhai, “ Ramji, you left Calcutta and came to Dhari, what scope do you have here? Would an enterprising person choose to go from a small pond to the sea or to leave the sea and move to a shallow pool? Why have you come back to this place?” Motilal’s words were a major blow to Ramjibhai. He was fully convinced that if he wanted to succeed in life and prove himself to the world, he had to go abroad. Nothing was going to happen here. It was an inherent trait in Ramjibhai’s nature, that once a thought arose in his mind and he decided on something he would rest only after achieving it. Early the next morning, with only Rs.15 in his pocket, Ramjibhai slipped away without telling anyone. He went to Kukavav from where he caught a train to Mumbai. He stayed at Dongri with Tribhovandas, who dealt in spices. At that time Hansrajbhai was in Calcutta, and was working as a broker in the sugar business. Ramjibhai wrote to him, saying that he was coming to Calcutta. He borrowed the money he needed, from Jivanlal and left for Calcutta immediately.
Just like Jivanlal in Mumbai, Ramjibhai had another good friend in Calcutta, Ranchhodas Nathabhai. The latter was working in the firm of Janmahmud Zakaria. This firm had a branch in Colombo, and Ranchhodas asked Ramjibhai whether he would be interested in working in this office. He was offered a salary of Rs.425 per year, a good amount in those days, but how could he take a decision to go abroad without asking his father? So he asked his father. His father had gauged his son’s mettle and although he had arranged Ramjibhai’s engagement, he didn’t see it as a hindrance and immediately said, “Go to Colombo happily.”
As soon as he got his father’s permission, Ramjibhai went to Colombo. There he met Harishankar Jani who was from Mundra. Harishankar was working as a supplier of provisions to the workers and clerical staff in Ceylon’s tea gardens. Ramjibhai and Harishankar became such fast friends, that once when Ramjibhai’s cook had gone on holiday, Harishankar took him to his house and cooked for him himself. Ramjibhai had been trying to subsist on rotis and raisins, this not only turned out to be successful, but he also put on weight.
Ramjibhai had not even been working in Colombo for a year, when he received a letter from his father calling him back to Dhari, as his fiancee’s parents were eager to have the wedding as soon as possible. At that time Zakaria’s was making a loss, the manager of the firm, a Brahmin, had left and a new manager, a Memon by caste, took his place. According to his contract, Ramjibhai could not leave the Colombo firm for three years, but the new manager gave Ramjibhai permission to do so. After visiting some of the well known places in Ceylon, Ramjibhai reached Amreli, where he married Jadavlakshmi, the daughter of Gopalji Harakhji, from the Panchmiya family, who was well known in Kundla. Ramjibhai was twenty three and Jadavlakshmi just thirteen. The year was 1911.
Since the facilities in the house at Amreli were limited, Ramjibhai rented a house, at a monthly rent of Rs.1.25, and began his married life.
After the wedding, Hansrajbhai went back to Calcutta. Quite a lot of money had been spent during the wedding, so Ramjibhai also took a loan of Rs. 55 and left for Calcutta with his wife.
It turned out that Shrimati Jadavben was very lucky for Ramjibhai. The monetary uncertainties he had been facing were coming to an end. A new course was about to open up in Ramjibhai’s life. Starting on that path was the dawn of Ramjibhai’s distinguished career.