Big Indian cities such as Mumbai, Delhi, Kolkata, and Chennai were at one time symbols of Indian industrialization. Today they cannot be called industrial cities in the traditional sense. There was a time when these cities as also many others, boasted of sprawling sheds dotted with office buildings and a sprouting high chimney emitting smoke, signifying existence of labor intensive production units. Sirens used to blare accompanied by bee-hive like activity of workers clad in khaki near the gate indicating the start, break or closure of a production shift.
India became independent in 1947. Its industrial growth since then has had two phases.
The first phase lasted till 1991 when the economy was fully controlled literally styming all efforts by industrialists to try and grow. All this changed in 1991, when a non-Nehru –Gandhi member of Congress took over as the Prime Minister of the country with the economy in shambles. He brought in a non-political professional economist as the finance minister of the country and ushered in a liberalization process which is still continuing.
This is a story from the era of control exercised by politicians, bureaucrats and labour leaders under the garb of Socialism which was called the ‘License Raj’ and pertains to the two decades of 70’s and 80’s.
Indian industrialization had few important engines with Textiles being a good example. With its partiality towards labor it was one of the largest employment providers in olden days till other industries started came into existence. Being a mass consumed produce the proliferation of textile factories was not guided by any geographical or raw material availability restrictions. Few cities in India however became famous for their factory clusters with Mumbai, Ahmedabad, Kanpur and Coimbatore being prominent.
Two important things happened in the textile industry in the two decades of 70’s and 80’s of last century which has an important bearing on this story.
First was called the Doctor Datta Samant effect which totally changed the textile industry forever.
A brief write up as follows on Dr.Datta Samant is provided to understand his role in changing the face of textile industry of the country and Mumbai in particular.
Samant belonged to a middle-class Marathi family which lived in the Ghatkopar area of Mumbai. He was a doctor by profession, but became actively involved in trade union activities amongst mill workers.
In the year 1972, he was elected to the Maharashtra assembly on a Congress ticket. Due to his militant trade unionism he was arrested in 1975 when emergency was declared and released in 1977.
Datta Samant as he was better known, enjoyed success in organising strikes and winning substantial wage hikes from companies, starting with Premier automobiles, the makers of Fiat/Premier cars.
In late 1981, Datta Samant was chosen by a large group of Bombay mill workers to lead them against the Bombay Mill Owners Association .The unions chose Samant as their leader and rejected traditional unions which had political backing and had always represented the mill workers till then.
Samant started a massive strike in 1982 forcing the entire industry of the city to be shut down for over a year. It is estimated that nearly 250,000 workers went on strike and more than 80 textile mills were shut in Mumbai permanently.
Samant demanded that, along with wage hikes, the government scrapped the Bombay Industrial Act of 1947, whereby the traditional union, called RMMS would no longer be the only official union of the city textile industry holding exclusive rights to negotiate with mills on behalf of workers.
Even whilst fighting for the textile workers, Samant tried to capitalize and establish his power and control on the entire trade union scene in Mumbai.
Samant's control of the mill workers made the leaders of the ruling party in the state fear that his influence would spread to the railways, port and dock workers and make him the most powerful union leader in India's commercial capital.
The government rejected Samant's demands and refused to negotiate despite the huge business losses suffered by the city and the industry.
As the strike progressed through the months, Samant's militancy in the face of government obstinacy led to the failure of any attempts at negotiation.
Dissatisfaction over the strike soon became evident and many textile mill owners started moving their plants outside the city. After long confrontation, the strike collapsed. In spite of the long duration of the strike, no concessions were obtained by the workers. The majority of 80 mills in Central Mumbai closed during and after the strike, leaving more than 250,000 workers permanently unemployed.
Datta Samant slowly faded from the scene of active trade unionism.
On the morning of 16 January 1997 Samant was gunned down and murdered outside his home in Mumbai by four gunmen, believed to be contract killers.
The second important development was the fight between two big business houses of the country.
A brief write up about which is as follows:
Mumbai’s two business hubs are in the southern part of the city. Ballard Estate was the older business hub compared to Nariman point a new reclaimed parcel of land.
In the most well-known battle of Indian corporate history, Indians witnessed old tenants locking horns with the nouveau rich, with Nusli Wadia representing the old who looked down on any newcomer with disdain and Ambani, the new face from Gujarat.
The Wadias were traditional ship builders until they set up Bombay Dyeing a large textile mill. Ambani made his fortune selling synthetic yarn in the 70s.
In 1980 Ambani's company Reliance reported sales of Rs 209 crores while Bombay Dyeing was trailing behind at Rs 111 crores. Since then, Reliance has raced ahead.
Apparently Wadia believes Bombay Dyeing would have grown faster if its applications for expansion had been cleared by the Government. While he had to contend with bureaucratic delays, Reliance had important connections in Delhi - and the right attitude.
The owner of Reliance had apparently said once that one has to sell ideas to the Government and to do that one should be ready to salute anyone in the government.
It is rumored that in the 60s when Ambani was trying to establish himself, T.A. Pai (then chairman, Syndicate Bank and subsequently Union Finance Minister) helped. Subsequently R.K. Dhawan and Pranab Mukherjee are also rumoured to have helped proposals from Reliance to sail through the bureaucratic maze. Wadia's connections in the Government were negligible, probably on account of carrying the cross of being the grandson of Mohammed Ali Jinnah, the founder of Pakistan.
Di-methyl terephthalate (DMT) was the vital raw material for Ambani’s Reliance Company, making polyester yarn.
In 1977, Reliance went public, and Bombay Dyeing applied for licence to manufacture DMT which it received only in December 1981, four years after the original application was made.
Bombay Dyeing imported a second-hand plant from an American company, for manufacturing DMT.
Soon there was a newspaper report that the plant was "junk" and would only produce inferior DMT. The Wadia camp believed the reports were planted by Ambani.
Being the sole manufacturer of PFY, Reliance persuaded the Government to slap an "anti-dumping duty" on imports, which helped them to dictate domestic prices.
Reliance used to meet its DMT need, partly by import and partly by buying it locally, from a government owned company.
In 1984, Bombay Dyeing's Rs 70-crore DMT plant went into production.
Between March and May 1985, the Government hiked duties on DMT from 140 to 190 per cent and placed its imports on the restricted list.
To contain costs, Ambani would have been forced to buy DMT only from domestic suppliers - including Bombay Dyeing.
Days before PTA was moved to the restricted list, Reliance, working on a tip-off, placed letters of credit worth Rs 114 crore for importing PTA.
Reliance thus had had all the PTA needed for the next one year and did not have to buy from the domestic market.
Due to lack of orders, the Bombay Dyeing DMT plant was forced to close down in 1986.
Indian Express, headed by doyen of Indian journalism-Ramnath Goenka, in a series of front-page stories, highlighted the various concessions bestowed on Reliance and alleged that the company had smuggled in a PFY plant, evading duties of Rs 120 crore.
‘Googling’ will give tons of additional information and details for those who are interested in knowing more about Datta Samant the labour leader or the corporate war fought between Ambanis and Wadias.
For people interested in getting a bird’s eye view of Indian Textiles, on which this story has been based an appendix at the end of the book is attached.
This is a story inspired by the events which took place in that period. It has no relevance to actual events of that period and is purely imaginary in all respects. None of the characters, figuring in this story are in any way connected or inspired by anyone living or dead.
The road leading to Chowpathy from where the famous Marine Drive takes off was overflowing with people on both sides. They were waiting for mortal remains of Kakaji to. They had started assembling from morning though the procession was expected to pass by at about two in the afternoon. Traffic had been stopped by police and diverted to nearby arterial roads.
The procession had about five thousand people participants.
The cortege of Late Deshpande fondly called Kakaji was placed on top of an open mini truck so that maximum people could get a glimpse of the mortal remains. Kakaji had been an enigmatic and mysterious man. He had single handedly churned the history of Mumbai’s industrial scene upside down - more specifically the textile geography of the city and country as a whole.
When he joined the textile industry of the city as a technocrat no one knew of him. Gradually Kakaji had etched out a name for himself in the textile sector of the city and country as well. Only future historians, especially those with economic leaning would be able to judge and make pronouncement on the actual contribution of the man and tell whether it was for the good or bad for the industry and country. All others who knew him would vouch that he had no time, patience or interest in history. Neither did he care about what the future generation would think or be told of him. He was man who lived, believed and had died for the present.
There were many in the crowd who had suffered due to the various agitations launched by the man. The sufferings had culminated in loss of livelihood, breakup of marriages, families, and friends - an endless list. Interestingly they had no grouse against the man. Kakaji was considered to have been a noble soul, born to try and help people overcome their misery from exploitation. He was accepted and revered as an honest leader who had only the condition of the workers in his mind and whose welfare he wanted to better. This was believed to be his one and only goal in life. To meet this end he had sacrificed his own family life. He was revered. No one doubted his intentions with most believing in what he was saying though they were not necessarily willing to agree.
The truck was covered with yellow marigold garlands interspersed with roses, folded mango leaves, Tulsi, yellow, pink and white jasmine garlands presenting a colour collage. The sides of the truck were draped in flags with the symbol of hammer and sickle even though the man had not been a practicing communist and had never professed his faith in the movement. Somehow all labor unions seem to believe that what they are or were seeking was always under the gambit of Marxism even though very few even understood the basics of Marxism. It suited the Marxists to play along rather than correct this misconception believing that in the end this translated into votes during elections.
Few faithful colleagues of Kakaji who had been part of his action filled life for the past twenty years sat next to the body. His wife and son were following in an open jeep, wearing white indicating that they were in mourning. Though leading separate lives, death had brought them together for one last time.
A group of people were marching behind the jeep carrying placards with photos of the deceased. From time to time they would raise their voice and cry out
“Kakaji Amar Rahe”
“Kakaji Amar Rahe”
(Long live Kakaji)
Leading the funeral procession was a group of people in a jeep carrying large baskets of rose petals. The persons in the jeep would synchronise the cry with a shower of petals on the truck, leaving a rose petal decked road as the procession moved to its destination.
The funeral site was in one corner of the Chowpathy beach area. A raised temporary platform had been erected where the cremation was proposed. The platform was decked with marigold flowers so that the wooden planks were not visible.
It had been tough to decide the cremation venue. Leaders from the textile industry were keen that the funeral be held in the Dadar area which was in proximity to many textile labor colonies. His wife wanted the affair to be quickly done with and proposed a private cremation in an electric crematorium. She was forced to agree for public cremation after her son was convinced by the labor leaders about the desire of lakhs of workers and their families to give a grand farewell to their beloved leader.
The next obstacle faced by the cremation committee was the special permission required from the Municipal Corporation to conduct the ceremony at the Chowpathy beach head. The place was not used for cremations. In recent times the place was reserved and used only for immersion of Ganesh idols after festivities. There was a general view prevalent that the same place should not be used for cremation. The labor leaders had approached the leader of a local political party who took it upon himself to prevail upon the chief minister to arrange for a special dispensation for conducting the cremation.
* * *
Coming towards Chowpathy from the Nariman point along the Marine drive are many high rise buildings, facing the Arabian Sea, probably one of the oldest clusters of modern residences in the country. Over years some had got converted from pure residential quarters to house multi natured commercial activity. Out of the many there was one building, famous since it boasted a revolving rooftop restaurant and on the day of funeral a small meeting with five participants was going on inside. They had assembled at the behest of Guptaji who had called for the meeting.
As the meeting was in progress there was a tap on the door. On getting permission Gupta’s secretary entered and said something in his ears, hearing which he broke into a big grin. He could not contain himself and getting up escorted his secretary towards the door all the while passing some low decibel instruction. The secretary soon walked back into the room rolling in a trolley which had two bottles of champagnes in the ice bucket with six long stemmed tall glasses normally used for serving the bubbly.
The four others in the room looked up at surprise seeing the trolley with its contents. Guptaji took it upon himself to open one bottle with a pop sound which was eerie and reminded one of a gunshot. Once everyone had a glass in hand, he picked the fifth glass leaving the sixth on the tray.
“My secretary has just confirmed that the funeral pyre has been lit and the flames have engulfed the whole body. That signals the end of Kakaji. Friends let us raise a toast and wish a safe journey to the soul of our departed friend Deshpande alias Kakaji. He was a good man. Unfortunately he had outgrown his usefulness and become a pain. Whatever had to be done has been done with. Let us hope our industry is now free from all threats of any strikes.
“You will notice that one filled champagne glass is still on the tray. That glass belongs to our departed friend who unfortunately cannot join us in our celebration. But then we cannot forget him as we toast our victory.
“I had on behalf of each of you sent a wreath to be placed on his body before they started the cremation process. Do not look bemused as the florists’ bill will be separately sent to each of you. Make sure you settle it since I do not like unsettled accounts. None of you may know that even the creditors of Varanasi, who had written off what I had borrowed before disappearing, got their money back once I started making money in Ahmedabad. ”
The way Guptaji was enthusiastically refilling the empty glasses demonstrating his happiness made them realise why he had insisted on that day’s meeting. The meeting did not continue after the third bottle had been ordered, received, opened, served and emptied. All the five were happy in their own way as they slowly left the restaurant.
A black BMW silently came and halted in front of the building. Guptaji got in and deciding to call it a day, asked his driver to take him home.
Kakaji was from Sholapur, known for its textile industry especially its Chaddars as one called the thick bed sheets produced by the weaver households in many villages around the city.
For villagers living within a radius of fifty kilometers from Sholapur, textiles and agriculture went hand in hand. Most of the households had one or two looms depending on their financial capacity. These were essentially handlooms and the modus operandi was simple. The farmers would collect dyed yarn from textile dealers, weave it into clothes and return the finished product .They would be paid a mutually agreed weaving rate.
With looms inside the house, work was shared by all members of the family. During peak sowing and harvesting period when the men folk were busy in the fields, women would takeover to ensure work continuity. Trade did not face any availability shortage and business moved smoothly.
Kakaji belonged to the Deshpande family who were well to do and respected in the city of Sholapur. Kakaji’s father was a leading Textile merchant and his mother was the principal of a well-known English school. Kakaji was second of the six siblings in the family.
His father had been a very successful textile trader having more than quadrupled the business he had inherited from his father. His ambition was to set up a textile mill in Sholapur. With this in mind he wanted his three sons to pursue suitable educational careers so that they would complement each other functionally in efficiently running a textile mill.
His father was a meticulous planner. Thus the eldest was asked to pursue a career in Finance and second in textile engineering. The third was scheduled to go abroad and learn art of modern marketing.
Kakaji, was named after his maternal grandfather, who was still alive at the time of his birth. The family, as was customary those days, had to avoid using it so that there was no disrespect to the elder in the family with everyone calling the name. No one knew who gave him the name Kaka but the name was soon used by everyone and this got stuck forever.
As per plans of his father Kaka joined VJTI (Victoria Jubilee Technical Institute) in Mumbai to learn and master textile technology and production. Unfortunately for Kaka’s father things did not work out as planned. His business started facing problems and he found it difficult to meet planned cash generation and profits which proved to be a clog in the dream to set up a textile mill in his native place.
When Kaka was in second year his father had a massive stroke and became bedridden. His dreams and plans to set up a mill too went for a toss. The family was not poor by any standards and the studies of Kaka were not disturbed. But with the plans for setting up a mill being abandoned he had to start thinking of career options after completing the degree in textiles. It was the professor and guide of his dissertation, who suggested textile research and development. It took the professor two days to convince him so that he could still specialize in textiles and fulfill the dream his father had for him in the textile field albeit in a different way.
Kaka did not return to Sholapur after completing his Textile engineering. He used to go to Alliance francaise center in Bombay to see French films every month as they were touted as real adult films at about this time. For a college going youngster this was considered to be normal behavior. It was during one of his visits that he saw a notice that University of Lyon was offering scholarships for pursuing a research career in Textiles. Lyon was famous for silk in the entire world and Kaka became determined that he would somehow get the scholarship. There was however a catch as the applicant had to possess basic knowledge of French language.
Kaka was disappointed but not prepared to give up.
The following day he went to the institute and met the counselor who was looking after the various courses. The counselor gave a patient hearing to Kaka’s questions and responded positively. He suggested that Kaka could apply and while his application was being processed join the Intensive French course which was of two months duration and starting the following week.
Kaka was grateful for this suggestion and enrolled himself for the course. The course was of four Hours duration daily - Monday thru Friday. The four hours at the institute had to be supported by eight hours of homework. Studying had never been an issue for Kaka and he topped the course and also found himself liking the language. He started to read nursery class children’s book in French, with the help of a French to English dictionary after two weeks of the course so that his grasp of the language would grow.
As luck would have it there were only three applicants for the scholarship. When the interviews and tests were conducted over a period of two days he came to meet the other two candidates, and after meeting them felt confident that he was way ahead of them.
He was not surprised to find himself topping the list of candidates having been shortlisted for the scholarship. Kaka was an extremely happy man. He was confident of passing medical, the only obstacle which now stood in his way in getting the scholarship. In a matter of few days even this was cleared and Kaka was asked by Lyon university authorities to be in touch with French consulate in the city who would take over the process of giving suitable visa and issue of travel tickets to France.
He left for Sholapur to share the good news with his parents. His father was very happy to hear this and his eyes were filled with tears. His mother was also happy for him, but she wanted that he got married before going to France. Somehow Kaka was able to convince his mother that he was not ready to settle down and wanted to be employed before marrying.
His stay in France lasted nearly eight years, even though he completed his doctoral thesis in three years. After completing his research he was offered a job by DuPont in their R&D cell, which was very much in line with the thought process of Kaka.
During the eight years he visited Sholapur only twice. The first was immediately after completing the first year as he was feeling homesick. The second was to attend the funeral of his father which happened a year after he had got his doctorate. Kaka was visibly upset that he had not visited his father immediately after getting the doctorate. He knew that if there was one person who was looking forward to Kaka completing his doctoral thesis, it was his father. Unfortunately when the DuPont offer came and required that he join them immediately he had sacrificed his plans to visit India not knowing how that decision was going to leave a tinge of regret for the rest of his life.
He quit DuPont when they wanted to shift him to America. If there was one country he hated it was America. He hated Americans for their money power, arrogance.
Around the time he was in France the country was going through student’s movements which saw street battles between French students and police on a regular basis. The world was also witnessing dramatic events. There was the never ending war being fought by the Americans in Vietnam, the erstwhile French colony and hence looked down by French intelligentsia. The legend of Che Guevara was growing larger than life as he was creating a niche for himself having moved outside the shadow of Fidel Castro. He was particularly attracting and influencing the thought process of youth with stories of his audacious deeds. In China, Mao was revolutionising the communist thought process and giving it a new shape and direction. Hoards of Chinese youth were seen marching in the streets of Peking proudly waving a small red book, said to contain the teachings of Mao. Being involved in research Kaka used to interact a lot with young students. Their thought process left deep impression on Kaka. It was natural for him to be partial to students and sympathetic to their ideas and views.
DuPont was not interested in losing him as he was a good scientist. However somewhere along the line the management was not happy with what was perceived as his leftist leanings. They decided to release him when he refused to relocate to America.
When Kaka landed in India he had a good qualification and work experience to go with it. He was offered an opening in one of the leading textile mills of Bombay as the second in command of their R&D cell.
By now his mother was keen that he got married and settled down. He was thirty two years and barring him all others in the family had married and settled down. Finally his mother’s efforts paid off and Kaka got married to a girl from a wealthy Marathi Brahmin family.
His professional work was well appreciated and his married life too was blissful. His wife was understanding and did not seek much information from his work front. She was a graduate but as was typical of Indian women of her time considered her job to be of taking care of the family and be a good homemaker.
* * *
Kaka’s work required regular interactions with the workers union whenever some new production changes were to be implemented. Most of the workers and their leaders always looked upon any and every change essentially as a labor reduction program rather than as a production or quality improvement effort. Workers and their leaders who started meeting him frequently saw his sincerity started respecting him and he was gradually accepted as one amongst them.
Being liberal by nature and impartial he was able to sync with the workers issues better and wherever necessary voiced his concerns and views freely. It was not long before management started looking at him with a degree of concern and suspicion. He was accepted as a top man as far as work was concerned but an unknown factor in other areas. There was a growing feeling that to some extent he was not reliable when it came to protecting interests of the company if pitched against labor. Soon Kaka started feeling the pressure in his relationship with his employers and it was a matter of time before they gave him notice to quit.
Before quitting Kaka had already become Kakaji. His reputation soon started growing outside his mill. Labour leaders were generous in acknowledging that he was a man of substance and honesty. Workers and unions from other mills were not averse to approach him for taking advice on issues specific to them.
The city’s textile unions were controlled by leaders backed by either Congress or one of the two communist parties. Growth of Kakaji’s popularity was looked with suspicions by the entrenched labor leaders. Initially he received discreet messages and invitations from political parties to join them. However when they noticed lack of inclination towards any existing party, silent campaign was started to discredit him in the eyes of the workers. He was called a stooge and a plant amongst workers by the mill owners. He was sent threatening letters and once attacked by unknown miscreants, which the police dismissed as the work of some hoodlums.
The reputation and respect for Kakaji amongst labour continued to grow. Many small mill union leaders started to listen to him more than the established union leaders or their party bosses. One mill union though affiliated to one of the political parties chose to call him to represent them in their discussions with the mill management when some production lines were planned to be closed and required redeployment of redundant workers. With his technical acumen Kakaji was able to advise both the mill management and workers impartially so that what was a problem turned out to be a win-win situation for both workers and management.
This was followed by another similar situation. There was a problem in a mill, where the workers and management were on opposite sides due to falling quality standards of production. The mill management was accusing the workers of deliberately sabotaging production quality as their demand on some canteen related issues were yet to be resolved satisfactorily. The mill labor leaders approached Kakaji and apprised him of the problem. Kakaji had a meeting with the management to understand the real issue. It was not long before he found out that one of the suppliers had played truant by dumping sub-standard materials on the mill in connivance with a store clerk in exchange for consideration. The issue was resolved satisfactorily, much to the satisfaction of both the management and workers.
Slowly more mill unions started using his services as an expert, much to the discomfort of both managements and existing union leaders. Many mill managers were openly criticizing his previous employer for having let a loose cannon amongst them instead of keeping him under the leash of employment contract.
It was not long before workers of three mills joined hands and elected Kakaji as their president and threw out the leaders with political affiliation who had till then held sway over them.
Being a labor leader does not give any remuneration and the economic situation at Kakaji’s home front started deteriorating. His wife who had been a silent spectator to the travails of her husband’s employment career tried to speak some sense into Kakaji as any home loving housewife would. However Kakaji paid no heed to her suggestions and it was not long before she decided to go back to Sholapur and stay with her parents.
Kakaji was unhappy that his wife left him. But he was content that she chose to stay with her parents and would be taken care of. Their son who was with the mother would get uninterrupted schooling. He was feeling free from the burden of family life. He felt as if a huge responsibility had been lifted off his shoulders. This gave more time for his work, as he was now inundated with visits by workers and their leaders requesting intervention and guidance.
Government of India, around this time had a scheme whereby they were doing everything to retain Indian scientific talents within the country. The government under the scheme were offering good stipends to qualified scientists till they found suitable placement within the country. Kakaji who was well qualified applied and got the stipend and this was the only income he had at this time. Even out of this amount he would spend major part in providing beverages and snacks for his visitors.
With abundance of time and lack of family constraints, he started spending more hours understanding the travails of the textile industry as a whole. He realized that most of the mills were family owned and many owners were literally practicing absentee landlordism as the erstwhile zamindars had done in the nineteenth century with their agricultural land. Just as the Zamindari system had been abolished, he was convinced that the problems of Textile industry especially in Bombay area could not be addressed as long as the ownership pattern was not changed or the owners made to realize the errors of their way. Unless they paid more attention to business including bringing in new investments in the form of machines and technology to improve production the industry was headed to stagnation and eventual death.
He met mill managements and tried to put forward his views. However most of them in spite of appreciating the good intentions of Kakaji did not deem it necessary to do or even consider what he advocated. There was disillusionment growing in the heart of Kakaji about the future of Bombay’s textile industry and with it the large number of worker families it supported.
He got feelers from mill owners who wanted to close some of the mills not doing well and use the land for real estate business which given the paucity of land in Greater Bombay area offered attractive opportunities. Many even offered substantial kickback to him if he could work out something whereby their endeavors would be accepted by the state government and workers.
Kakaji was at wits end. He realized that the textile scene in Mumbai was going to become messy with strong possibility that the very social fabric of the city knitted by the textile workers who formed a very large majority of city’s workforce was going to be challenged, tested and possibly even irreparably damaged, in a manner which had not been seen in the country ever before. After railway workers the textile workers were the second largest group that had an identity. The railway workers had already tried to be overaggressive in matter of strikes and if textile workers too joined there was every chance that the city of Bombay itself would sink.
Benares, Varanasi or Kashi as the city is famously called is situated on the southern banks of the great river Ganges. The city is one of the holiest for Hindus who form bulk of Indian population. It is said to have been in existence for more than 3000 years, holding the record of being one of the oldest in the world to have been continuously habited by people.
For Hindus a pilgrimage to the city during the life time is considered to be a must. The city holds a variety of other attractions and receives more than two and half million visitors every year which includes foreigners. Tourism was hence a big industry for the city and many people depended on it for their daily livelihood.
Young Gupta was the last child in a Marwari family owning a sweet meat shop near the Kashi Vishwanath temple in the center of the city. The shop was managed by his father assisted by his two sons. Young Gupta found himself to be redundant as far as the shop was concerned.
Till he was attending school he did not know how the days went by. However after twice failing his tenth exams he gave up pretense of being interested in studies and decided to try his hand in some sort of employment which would help him earn some money. He was a darling of his mother who gave him money whenever he asked without asking any question but as he grew older he started feeling guilty to ask or take money from her. Having large amount of spare time in hands young Gupta drifted to the business of guiding visitors to the city. He had few of his school mates working in that line and earning decent amount every day. For someone feeling lost the opportunity to earn some money on his own and meet his school friends regularly proved to be a good attraction.
The business of guide required some specialization. There were four types of tourist who frequented the city. The first were foreigners. In the second category were people who were not interested in any religious ceremonies but wanted to see the temples, visit the Ghats, and attend the evening Ganga aarthi, besides indulging in shopping for famous Benares saris. The third group consisted of people who were interested in only performing religious rights for their near and dear followed by visits to temples. The last category consisted of affluent people who came for religious ceremonies but combined it with other activities like shopping and sightseeing. It was this last group of visitors who interested young Gupta. They were easy to manipulate and usually had money to spend. They were not in a hurry and required the services of the guide from the moment they got off the train or aircraft as the case may be.