In the summer of 1985, just after my ICSE exams, I started working for my Nana’s (Mom’s Dad) transport business in Mumbai.
Someone had suggested to him that he accept the contract of supplying ‘potable water’ to ONGC rigs off Mumbai High and without much contemplation, he accepted.
It was a disastrous business. ONGC was a tough client and the water came from BMC and private well owners in and around the docks; both of whom were unpredictable suppliers – so we got squeezed from both sides.
Added to the pain was that our tankers had to move in and out of the Mumbai docks – because ONGC had its base inside the docks. And The Mumbai Port Trust is a deadly animal to deal with.
But, this blog is not about the lessons I learnt from that business.
This is about the admiration I have for Shashi Ruia – a person who impacted me very early on in my life and to whom I owe a lot because of this incident.
The ONGC receiving base for potable water was located in Victoria Docks in South Mumbai (I think it was 12 VD).
In the first few days after we began supplies, I went along with one of my tankers to unload it at the ONGC station.
There was a rather strict ONGC inspector ( I just can’t remember his name – it was either a Malhotra or a Tandon) with a thick mustache who climbed on top of the tanker (on that slim vertical ladder meant to walk on on the top) to inspect the supply via opening the lid and checking if the tanker was full or not.
I can’t remember what happened exactly on top of that Tanker, (it was 27 years ago) but I said ‘YAAR’ to him in a comment.
Yaar is a very casual and informal greeting that Indian youth exchange between themselves. It’s not spoken ever in business exchange.
When Mr. Inspector heard this, HE FREAKED OUT.
He began screaming and shouting and said, “who the hell do you think you are – you bloody water supplier to call me Yaar”.
Imagine me – a 16 year old trembling with fear on what I had done.
No apology worked for him.
Post that incident, that man made life difficult. He would not co-operate with us and the business became miserable.
I tried to explain and apologize to my Nana, but my Nana is a living GOD – he just smiled and said ‘doesn’t matter’. He is one of the rarest of rare people I have met in my life who is ready to sacrifice anything and everything for his family members’ happiness.
However, I was feeling wretched and told my Mom about this incident in a passing conversation.
What I did not know at that time was that my Mom was very friendly to Shashi Ruia’s wife and they were in regular touch. Shashi Ruia is the Chairman of the ESSAR group.
A couple of days later, my mom called me and told me. “Alok, I have spoken to X and she has just asked you to call Shashi Uncle and explain the problem.”
Now, what’s the connection between ESSAR and ONGC?
A major one. Most of the ESSAR Offshore Supply Vessels (OSV’s) were servicing ONCG rigs at that time and ESSAR was (and probably is) one of ONGC’s biggest drilling support partners. In fact that water I used to unload at the ONGC receiving station was directly unloaded into an ESSAR offshore vessel docked at the station.
I was very nervous but gathered the courage, called up Shashi Ruia and arranged to meet him in his huge and elegant office in Nariman Point (again it was one of the Maker Chambers).
I explained to him what happened.
And then, he picked up his landline and said something in Tamil. I did hear that name of that ONGC Inspector in that conversation.
A few minutes later, the landline rang.
This was the conversation – starting with Shashi Ruia speaking:
“Hello Mr. Inspector?”
“Yes. Who is this?”
“This is Shashi Ruia of ESSAR”.
“Sir, what can I do for you? What made you call me?”
“ARREY YAAR – I have this Bacha (kid) in front of me and he tells me that you don’t like him being called Yaar and you are punishing him for his mistake. Please let him be, YAAR”.
Shashi Ruia called him YAAR twice.
You can imagine what happened after that. ONGC treated me as if I was a Ruia myself.
This incident impacted me deeply:
– It taught me that mistakes are made by the young, but the mature should forgive.
– Even the biggest and the busiest people like to help others if approached.
– It takes guts to go to the Gods to ask for help, but what’s the harm?
Thank you Shashi Ruia. You made me learn a very important lesson early on in my life, and I am indebted to you for that.
The ESSAR Team showed Shashi Ruia the blog!!
Check this out!
UPDATE: OCT 6, 2013: Met my tween hero Shashi Ruia and thanked him once again!!