Wednesday, January 5, 2011

An old story to inspire new women entrepreneurs

It is for you dear friend to decide whether the tale I am about to relate is true or otherwise. Long ago we were a prosperous middle class family with five shops in a land near Hong Kong.

One day my father died without leaving a will. The case went to court for the division of the property my dad left. The judge ruled the division be: 50% to my uncle who was a partner with my dad. 25% to the widow (my mom). The balance 25% be divided equally among three children (my two sisters and myself).

Business prospered. Every year we showed a profit, except for 1932, the year my father died. That year we showed zero profit. But the next year we showed double profit. So I figured my uncle had cooked the balance sheet. Anyway everything was fine till the day the Japs bombed Pearl Harbor, Manila and other places. Business declined, till the period (3 Feb - 14 Feb) that the Japs set fire to Manila (and three of our shops). Nothing was to be seen other than ashes.

My younger sister U has in 1942 married her cousin A. At first the marriage went okay because A's company was the biggest foreign company operating in India. Their nearest competition was Burmah-Shell.

One fine day, A who was a weak character, took to drinking. As is that were not enough, he drove under the influence. One evening he drank and drove over a poor man sleeping on the footpath (a beggar). Frightened, A ran home and related his adventure. At that time, A's family had living with them a blind sadhu who listened to the story and declared "Kuch nahin hota". And really nothing happened. Are the police going to waste their time over the death of a beggar? They promptly closed the file.

A's company had a broad-minded policy. They believed that drinking was a problem that needed medical attention and not punishment. But the middle managers believed differently. They went after A hammer and tongs. Called A to Delhi 5, 10, 15, 20 times and questioned him. A cracked under the incessant questions. He had been advised by his family "Stand firm. Admit nothing. Do not sign any paper!" A cracked under the hundreds of questions and signed the papers. And one of them turned out to be his letter of resignation. Resignation means no salary coming for a while. The family lived on its savings.

But U started worrying. And she remembered her 8 and 1/3 share in the Manila shops. She would not believe me when I tried to explain that the shops had been burned down and only ashes were left. She bought a ticket and went to Manila. And what did she find. She found the elder sister running a small shop in an out-of-the-way place. Barely enough money coming to pay the simple home expenses. Elder sister defends herself thus: I gave her shelter, fed her all those years. I did not charge her a single paisa.

U did not lose heart. She borrowed her elder sister's sewing machine and started stitching. She stitched bedsheets, pillow cases, pyjamas, you name it, she stitched it. Slowly, her work got better and better until one day she invented something called a brassiere cut… A coatee so tight-fitting the wearer did not have to wear a brassiere underneath. When the ladies in Hong Kong found out what she could do, they beat a path to her door, "Please U, my daughter's wedding is on such and such date. Please, please stitch her trousseau". A little sister never said no. Her income got better and better. From her income, she married off one daughter, she educated two sons, she purchased a flat in Worli, which some years later was said to be worth 73 lakhs.

The day came that she retired from Manila and came to Worli and continued her stitching. The ladies from Hong Kong to Manila came to Worli and asked her to stitch her daughters trousseaus. She is now fully retired and lives with her daughter in Miami.

- The writer who is now over 90 years old, prefers to remain anonymous, so as not to hurt the sentiments of family members described in this story. His aim in sharing this story is to inspire other young women to start their own businesses.

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