From Coolie to Entrepreneur Inspiring Success Story
విజయం ఊరికే సొంతం కాదు. కష్టపడాలి, మనస్సుపెట్టాలి, అదే జీవితంగా బతకాలి, నిద్రాహారాలు మాని ఎన్నిఆటుపోట్లు వచ్చినా ఎదురెళ్లి ‘ఢీ’ కొట్టాలి.. అప్పుడే విజయలక్ష్మి వరిస్తుంది. మనం అనుకున్న కార్యం సిద్ధిస్తుంది. ఊరికే ఎవరూ పారిశ్రామికవేత్తలు అయిపోలేరు. అది కూడా నలుగురికీ ఆదర్శంగా నిలబడగలిగే స్థాయి రావడం అంత సులువైన వ్యవహారమూ కాదు.
తాపీ కూలీగా, వాచ్ మెన్ గా, కేబుళ్ల కోసం గుంతలు తవ్వే కూలీలా జీవితాన్ని ఆరంభించిన ఓ 22 ఏళ్ల కుర్రాడు.. తానో వంద కోట్ల టర్నోవర్ చేసే కంపెనీకి ఛైర్మన్ అవుతానని ఊహించగలడా? మారుమూల పల్లెల్లో రెండు గ్లాసుల దురవస్థను అనుభవించిన ఆ యువకుడు.. ఇప్పుడు సమాజంలో ఓ ఉన్నతమైన స్థానానికి చేరుకోగలడని విశ్వసించగలడా ? సాధారణంగా అయితే ఇది సినిమాల్లో మాత్రమే నిజమవుతుంది. ఓ పాట అయిపోయేలోపు ఫాస్ట్ ఫార్వర్డ్లో హీరో పూరి గుడిసె నుంచి బంగళాలోకి మారిపోతాడు. కానీ రియల్ లైఫ్లో ఇలాంటి ఘటనలు అసాధ్యమే.. అయినా అక్కడక్కడా.. తారసపడొచ్చు. మీరు ఇప్పుడు చదవబోయేది కూడా అలాంటి కథనమే. కేవలం డిప్లమా చదివిన వ్యక్తి.. అష్టకష్టాలు పడి.. ఇప్పుడు అంతర్జాతీయ సమాజం గుర్తించే స్థాయికి ఎదిగాడు. రూపాయి రూపాయి పోగేస్తూ.. కష్టాన్ని నమ్ముకుని.. ఒక్కో ఇటుకతో కలల సౌధాన్ని నిర్మించుకున్నాడు. అతనే మన్నెం మధుసూధన్ రావు. MMR Group ఛైర్మన్. ఓ కుగ్రామం నుంచి వచ్చి కార్పొరేట్ రంగంలో తనకంటూ ప్రత్యేకమైన స్థానాన్ని సంపాదించుకున్న సక్సెస్ఫుల్ అండ్ ఇన్స్పైరింగ్ ఆంట్రప్రెన్యూర్.
మధుసూధన్ రావుది.. ప్రకాశం జిల్లా.. కందుకూరులోని పాలుకూరు గ్రామం. తండ్రి పేరయ్య, తల్లిరాములమ్మకు పుట్టిన ఎనిమిది మంది సంతానంతో ఐదోవాడు ఇతను. ఊరికి దూరంగా విసిరేసినట్టు ఉండేది.. వీళ్ల పూరిగుడిసె. మగాళ్లెవరూ మోకాళ్లను దాటి పంచెను కిందికి కట్టకూడదు.. ‘ఏరా.. ఓరేయ్.. ఒసేయ్.. ఇవీ’.. వీళ్లకు ఊరిజనాలు ఇచ్చిన పేర్లు. తండ్రుల నుంచి వారసత్వంగా వచ్చిందేమైనా ఉందీ.. అంటే.. అది పేదరికం, పాలేరు పని, తాపీపని.. తల్లి పొగాకు గ్రేడింగ్ కూలీ. ఇంట్లో అంతా పనిచేస్తే తప్ప.. పూటగడవని స్థితి. ముప్పుటలా తాగేది, తినేది.. గంజి, జొన్న సంగటి మాత్రమే. అలాంటి వాతావరణంలో పుట్టిపెరిగాడు మధుసూధన్. ఆరవ తరగతి వరకూ ఊళ్లోనే చదువు. అంత మందిని సాకడం.. ఆ తండ్రికి భారమైంది. ఇంట్లో నలుగురు ఆడపిల్లలు. అయినా సరే.. ఇద్దరు కొడుకులనైనా కనీసం చదివించాలనే కోరిక తల్లిదండ్రులది. అందుకే ఇంట్లో మిగిలిన ఎనిమిది మందీ.. చేసిన త్యాగం మధుసూధన్ను.. అతని అన్న మాధవ్ను చదివేలా చేసింది. ఇంట్లో తిండికి కూడా ఇబ్బందికావడంతో అన్నాదమ్ముల మకాం సంక్షేమ హాస్టళ్లకు మారింది. అక్కడైనా ముప్పూటలా తిండి దొరుకుతుందన్న వీళ్ల ఆశ అడియాసే అయింది. ప్లేట్లో మజ్జిగ పోసుకుంటే.. పురుగులన్నీ బయటకు తేలేవంటూ అప్పట్లో తన దుర్భర జీవితాన్ని గుర్తుచేసుకున్నారు మధుసూధన్. వేరే గత్యంతరం లేక అక్కడే చదువుతూ టెన్త్, ఇంటర్లో ఫస్ట్ క్లాసులో పాసయ్యాడు. ఆ తర్వాత బిటెక్ చేసే అవకాశం వచ్చినా.. ఆర్థిక పరిస్థితి సహకరించలేదు. అన్న అప్పటికే బిటెక్ చుదువుతుండడంతో తాను ఆ అవకాశాన్ని వదులుకుని పాలిటెక్నిక్ చేరాడు. మెకానికల్ ఇంజనీరింగ్ పూర్తిచేశాడు.
తాపీ చేతపట్టాల్సి వచ్చింది
పాలిటెక్నిక్, బిటెక్ అయిపోయి.. హైదరాబాద్ రాగానే.. ఉద్యోగం కన్ఫర్మ్ అని అన్నాదమ్ములు అనుకున్నారు. కానీ అదంత సులువు కాదని అప్పుడే అర్థమైంది. అలా అని ఊరు వెళ్లలేని పరిస్థితి. కొడుకులు ఇద్దరూ పట్నం పోయి ఏదో ఒకటి సంపాదించి అందరినీ ఆదుకుంటారని అక్కడ వాళ్లంతా వేయి కళ్లతో ఎదురుచూస్తున్నారు. ఇక్కడేమో ఉద్యోగం దొరకని స్థితి. రోజులు గడుస్తున్నాయి.. చేసేది లేక ఇక్కడే కూకట్పల్లిలో నిర్మాణ కూలీగా ఉన్న అక్కాబావల దగ్గరికి వచ్చారు. ఆ ఇంట్లో సరిగ్గా ఇద్దరు కూడా కూర్చోలేరు.. ఒకరు పడుకోలేరు. అలాంటి దీనస్థితి వాళ్లది. ఎలాగోలా వాళ్లను ఒప్పించి కొద్దిరోజులు అక్కడే ఉండి కాంపిటీటివ్ పరీక్షలకు ప్రిపేర్ అయ్యారు. ఫలితమేదీ లేదు. చేసేది లేక తమకు వచ్చిన తాపీ పనిలో దిగారు. అక్కాబావతో కలిసి కూలీకి వెళ్లి రోజుకింత సంపాదించుకున్నారు. చదివింది బిటెక్, పాలిటెక్నిక్ అయినా.. మొహమాట పడలేదు. తమ గురించి ఊళ్లో ఎదురుచూస్తున్న కుటుంబానికి ఎంతో కొంత ఇక్కడి నుంచి పంపించాలనే తపనే వాళ్లలో కనిపించింది. అలా తన ప్రస్థానం తాపీ కూలీగా మొదలైంది. తినడానికి తిండిలేదు. ఉండడానికి జాగాలేదు. నిర్మాణం కోసం పెట్టిన ఇసుకలో సిమెంట్ సంచీలు వేసుకుని రాత్రిళ్లు పడుకున్నాం. రోజులో ఒకే పూట భోజనం. అది కూడా మధ్యాహ్నమే తినేవాడిని ఎందుకంటే.. అప్పుడైతే రాత్రిపూట ఆకలి అంతగా ఉండదని. మే నెల ఎండల్లో చెప్పులు లేకుండా ఎన్నిసార్లు.. ఎన్ని కిలోమీటర్లు నడిచి ఉంటానో లెక్కేలేదు. ఊరికి వెళ్లలేము. ఇక్కడ బతకలేము. ఎలారా భగవంతుడా.. అని గుండెపగిలేలా ఎన్నిసార్లు ఏడ్చానో నాకే తెలుసు. ఇప్పటికీ ఆ రోజులు తలుచుకుంటే.. ఏదో తెలియని బాధ, ఆక్రోషం వస్తుంది.” అని అప్పట్లో తన దుర్భర జీవితాన్ని అప్పడప్పుడు గుర్తు చేసుకుంటారు మధు సూదన్ రావ్.
ఒకరోజు ఉద్యోగ ప్రయత్నాల్లో ఉండగా.. ఓ కంపెనీ ఇంటర్వ్యూకు వెళ్లారు ఎంఎంఆర్. అక్కడా నిరాశే. కానీ ఓ ఇద్దరు వ్యక్తులు మాట్లాడుకుంటున్న మాటలు చెవిన పడడం.. అతని జీవితాన్నే మార్చేస్తాయని అనుకోలేదు. తాము చేస్తున్న టెలికాం కేబుల్ పనికి కూలీలు దొరకడం కష్టంగా ఉందని, దీని వల్ల పనులు బాగా ఆలస్యమవుతున్నాయనేది ఆ మాటల సారాంశం. తమ ఊళ్లో, ఇంటిదగ్గరా.. చాలామంది పనిలేక ఇబ్బంది పడడాన్ని గమనించారు మధుసూధన్. వాళ్లందరినీ తీసుకువచ్చి నేనే ఆ పని ఎందుకు చేయించకూడదు అని అనుకున్నాడు. వాళ్లు ఏమనకుంటారు, అసలు తనను నమ్ముతారో లేదో.. అనే సంశయం ఏదీలేకుండా.. తనకు ఈ పని అప్పగించమని ఆ కంపెనీ ప్రతినిధులను కోరారు. ముక్కూమొహం తెలియని తనకు ఆ పనిని ఇవ్వడం కుదరని వాళ్లూ తెగేసి చెప్పారు. అయినా పదే పదే అడగడంతో సరేనన్నారు. అడ్వాన్స్ ఏమీ ఇవ్వబోమని.. రాత్రికి కూలీలను సైట్కు తీసుకువస్తే చూద్దామని చెప్పి పంపించేశారు. జీవితంలో తానేదో పెద్ద ప్రాజెక్ట్ చేపట్టబోతున్నాననేంత ఆత్మవిశ్వాసం.. ఒకవైపు.. రాత్రికి కూలీలందరినీ అడ్వాన్స్ లేకుండా ఎలా తీసుకురావాలనే ఆందోళన మరోవైపు.
ఇప్పుడా నగరంలో తనకు తెలిసిన వాళ్లు ఎవరైనా ఉన్నారా అంటే.. కేవలం అక్క మాత్రమే. ఆమెను ఓ మూడు వేలు సర్దమని, రాత్రికల్లా పేమెంట్ వచ్చేస్తుందని ఒప్పించే ప్రయత్నం చేశాడు. తమ్ముడిపై నమ్మకంతో.. ఓ పదిమందిని అడిగి కేవలం 900 పట్టుకొచ్చింది వాళ్ల అక్క. అదే తన వ్యాపారానికి మొదటి పెట్టుబడి. ఇక ఆలస్యం చేయకుండా.. ఓ చిన్న వాహనాన్ని అద్దెకు తీసుకుని.. దగ్గర్లో ఉన్న బస్తీలకు వెళ్లి ఓ పదిహేను, ఇరవై మందిని ఎలాగోలా పనికి ఒప్పించాడు. వాళ్లను సైట్కు తీసుకువచ్చి రాత్రిపూట భోజనం, టీ ఇప్పించాడు. ఇప్పుడు తన పనేంటంటే.. ఆ కూలీలతో రాత్రిపూట గుంతలు తవ్వించి టెలికాం కేబుళ్లను లాగడం. 100 మీటర్ల ఆ పనికోసం ఆ రాత్రంతా తానూ పనిచేశాడు. స్వతహాగా మెకానికల్ ఇంజనీర్ కావడంతో.. ఆ పనులన్నీ వెంటనే పట్టేశాడు. మొదటి రోజు తాను చేసిన ఆ పనికి మధుసూధన్కు వచ్చిన ఆదాయం రూ.20 వేలు. ఖర్చులుపోగా బాగానే మిగిలింది. ఆ రోజే తొలిసారిగా అక్కతో కలిసి కడుపు నిండా భోజనం చేశాడు. చాలాకాలం తర్వాత..!
మధు పనితనం నచ్చి.. టాటా టెలీసర్వీసెస్ పనులు చేసే ఓ కాంట్రాక్టర్ సబ్ కాంట్రాక్ట్ పనులు ఇవ్వడం మొదలుపెట్టాడు. కూలీలను సైట్లను తీసుకువచ్చి వాళ్లతో పనులు చేయించడం ఇతని పని. మెల్లిగా ఒక్కోటి నేర్చుకుంటూ.. ఆప్టికల్ ఫైబర్ కేబుల్ లేయింగ్లో పూర్తిస్థాయి ప్రావీణ్యత సంపాదించారు. అప్పట్లోనే టాటా సహా.. అనేక టెలికాం కంపెనీల సబ్ కాంట్రాక్ట్ పనులు చేయడం మొదలుపెట్టారు. ఇక వెనక్కి తిరిగి చూసుకునేది లేకుండా.. దూసుకుపోయారు. ‘ఎక్కుతొలిమెట్టు.. కొట్టు.. కొండను ఢీకొట్టు’ అనేంత కాన్ఫిడెన్స్ మధులో కనిపించింది. వందల మంది కార్మికులను ఊళ్లు, పల్లెల్ల నుంచి తీసుకురావడం.. వాళ్ల బాగోగులు చూసుకుని.. వాళ్ల పొట్టకొట్టకుండా న్యాయంగా సంపాదించడం మొదలుపెట్టాడు. అలా 20 వేల కాంట్రాక్టర్ స్థాయి నుంచి రెండేళ్లలోనే రెండు కోట్లకు ఎదిగారు. ఈ లోపు మధు అన్నకు కూడా బిఎస్ఎన్ఎల్లో మంచి ఉద్యోగం లభించింది.
కుర్రాడి దూకుడు చూసి.. ఓ వ్యక్తి చేరదీశాడు. నీకున్న కెపాసిటీకి చిన్న ఆర్డర్లేంటి.. నాతో చేయి కలిపితే స్టేట్ మొత్తం దున్నేయొచ్చని నమ్మించాడు. ఇందుకోసం ఓ కంపెనీని ఫ్లోట్ చేద్దామని చెప్పడంతో.. మధు కూడా పూర్తిగా నమ్మేశాడు. అడిగిన చోటల్లా సంతకాలు పెట్టేయడం.. తన డబ్బంతా.. అతడికి అప్పగించడం చేసేశాడు. తీరా ఏడాది తర్వాత.. ఒకసారి డబ్బు అవసరముందని.. వెళ్తే.. కంపెనీ నష్టాల్లో ఉందని.. పైసా కూడా ఇచ్చేది లేదని చెప్పడంతో.. అతని కాళ్ల కింది భూమి కదిలినంత పనైంది. ఇంతకాలం పడిన కష్టం మొత్తం ఒక్కమాటతో చెదిరిపోయింది. ఎక్కువ మాట్లాడితే.. ఏమైనా చేయగలమని బెదిరించాడు. దీంతో ఇంట్లో వాళ్లంతా బాధపడి.. చేసేదిలేక మిన్నకుండిపోయారు. అంగబలం.. అర్థబలం రెండూ లేకపోవడంతో చేసేదిలేక వెనుదిరిగారు.
వాళ్లు చేసిన మోసంతో నేను కోల్పోయిందేమీ లేదు. నా కష్టమే పోయింది. పోతేపోయింది. వయస్సుంది.. తెలివి ఉంది. ఆ మాత్రం సంపాదించుకోలేనా? లేబర్కి ఇవ్వాల్సిన డబ్బులంతా సెటిల్ అయిపోయింది. నష్టపోయింది నా లాభమే. ఇది జీవితంలో పెద్ద అనుభవం. అందుకే ఎవరినీ ఊరికే నమ్మసేయొద్దు అనే ఖరీదైన అనుభవం తెలిసొచ్చింది.
మళ్లీ జీరో స్థాయికి
డబ్బూ పోయింది. దీనికి తోడు బెదిరింపులు. ఒక్కసారిగా పరిస్థితి మొత్తం తారుమారైపోయింది. ఎక్కువకాలం బాధపడితే ప్రయోజనం లేదని.. బెంగళూరులోని ఓ కంపెనీలో ఉద్యోగంలో చేరాడు. అక్కడ పదివేల రూపాయల జీతం. అది కూడా టెలికాం కంపెనీలకు చెందిన కేబులింగ్, మెయింటెనెన్స్ పనులు చేసే సంస్థే. అతి తక్కువ కాలంలోనే.. మేనేజ్మెంట్ మనసు దోచాడు. పది రూపాయల్లో అయ్యే పనిని ఏడెనిమిదికి చేసి చూపించి వాళ్లకు నాలుగు రూపాయలు మిగిలేలే చేసేవాడు. ఐదారు నెలలకే జీతం 23 వేలకు పెరిగింది. ఈ లోపు జీవితంలో ఓ తోడు కావాలని వివాహం చేసుకున్నారు. అయితే ఇంట్లో మాత్రం తనకు 16వేలే జీతమని చెప్పారు. ఎందుకంటే.. ఆ ఏడు వేల రూపాయలను దాచి తన సొంత కంపెనీ పెట్టుకోవాలనే ఆలోచన అప్పట్లోనే ఉండేది.
అయితే, ఆ తర్వాత ఈ కంపెనీ వాళ్లు కూడా చెప్పిన జీతం సరైన సమయానికి ఇవ్వకపోవడం.. ఎంత పెద్ద పనిచేసినా.. మెచ్చుకోకపోవడంతో సంతృప్తి లేక ఉద్యోగం మానేశాడు. ఈ లోపు సమర్ధులైన సిబ్బంది లేకపోవడంతో ఓ కాంట్రాక్ట్ పని మధ్యలో ఆగిపోయే స్థాయికి వచ్చింది. అది అండర్వాటర్లో కేబులింగ్ చేసే పని. ఇందులో ఎంఎంఆర్ దిట్ట. ఎక్కడైతే ఎక్కువ కష్టం ఉంటుందో.. ఎక్కడ నాలుగు డబ్బులు ఎక్కువ వస్తాయో.. ఆ పనులనే ఛాలెంజింగ్గా మధు చేసేవారు. చేసేది లేక మళ్లీ మధుని పిలిపించారు. ఈ కాంట్రాక్ట్ మొత్తం తనకే ఇస్తే చేస్తానని ఈసారి ఆయన తెగేసి చెప్పారు. అప్పుడు వాళ్లు అందుకు ఓకె చెప్పడంతో.. మళ్లీ కాంట్రాక్టర్ అవతారమెత్తారు. ఇది లైఫ్లో మేజర్ టర్నింగ్ పాయింట్.
ఇలా జీవితం గడిచిపోతే ప్రయోజనం లేదనిపించింది. తన దగ్గరున్న డబ్బు, భార్య తరపు వాళ్ల సహకారంతో మూడు లక్షల వరకూ పోగేశారు. 2005లో మళ్లీ కంపెనీ ప్రారంభించారు. ఇదే మధుసూధన్ రావుకు సెకెండ్ లైఫ్. అప్పటికే అనేక ఆటుపోట్లను ఎదుర్కోవడంతో జీవితానికి సరిపడా అనుభవం సంపాదించేశారు. కుటుంబంలోని వాళ్లకే కొన్ని కీలక బాధ్యతలను అప్పగించారు. బంధువులనే నమ్మారు. ఒక్కో టెలికాం కాంట్రాక్టును కైవసం చేసుకుంటూ పోయారు. ఇప్పుడు ఎంఎంఆర్ గ్రూప్.. 8 వేల కిలోమీటర్ల అండర్ గ్రౌండ్ కేబులింగ్, 20 వేల కిలోమీటర్ల ఫైబర్ ఆప్టిక్ మెయింటెనెన్స్ చేసే స్థాయికి ఎదిగింది. టాటా టెలీ, వొడాఫోన్, రైల్టెల్, ఎయిర్టెల్, విఎస్ఎన్ఎల్, జిటిఎల్, అమెరికన్ టవర్స్.. ఇలా దేశంలో ఉన్న టాప్ ఎంఎన్సి కంపెనీలన్నీ ఇప్పుడు అతని క్లైంట్లు. ఆంధ్ర, తెలంగాణ సహా.. వివిధ రాష్ట్రాల్లో దూసుకుపోయారు. ఒక్క రిలయన్స్, బిఎస్ఎన్ఎల్ మినహా.. దేశంలో ఉన్న అన్ని టెలికాం కంపెనీలకూ.. పనిచేశాడు. అయితే దళిత్ కార్డ్ ఉపయోగించి.. ఈ కాంట్రాక్ట్లన్నీ పొందాడని ఎవరైనా అనొచ్చని.. ఇంతవరకూ ఓ ప్రభుత్వ కాంట్రాక్ట్ కూడా చేయలేదు. చేసినవన్నీ పూర్తిగా ప్రైవేట్ సంస్థల పనులే. ఇప్పటికీ రోజుకు 18 గంటలు కష్టపడి చేయడం.. తన తల్లి రాములమ్మని చూసి నేర్చుకున్నట్టు చెప్తారు. చిన్నప్పటి నుంచి తనకు అలవాటు మూడు పూటలా ఉన్నదేదో తినడం అలవాటని..ఇప్పుడు కూడా ఉదయం, మధ్యాహ్నం, రాత్రి భోజనం చేస్తానంటూ చెప్పడం అతనిలో ఉన్న ఆ మట్టివాసన పరిమళాన్ని, స్వచ్ఛతను తెలియజేస్తోంది.
ఇప్పుడు 100 కోట్ల టర్నోవర్ చేసే కంపెనీ
Inspiring success story of Mannem Madhusudana Rao
రాజా స్కాం తర్వాత మెల్లిగా టెలికాం రంగంలో జోరు తగ్గడాన్ని గమనించారు. ఇలా ఉంటే.. ప్రయోజనం లేదని.. తన వ్యాపారాన్ని డైవర్సిఫై చేశారు. కన్స్ట్రక్షన్, మైనింగ్, పవర్ ప్రాజెక్ట్స్, ఫుడ్ ప్రాసెసింగ్, ఐటి స్టాఫింగ్, ఆగ్రో.. 11 రంగాలకు తన కార్యకలాపాలను విస్తరించారు. 15 కంపెనీలను ఫ్లోట్ చేశారు. రాజమండ్రిలో 50 ఎకరాల్లో టౌన్షిప్ నిర్మాణం, చెన్నై మెట్రోలో కొన్ని కీలక పనులు, వైజాగ్లో 11 ఎకరాల్లో వెంచర్ నిర్మాణం వంటివి తనకు కన్స్ట్రక్షన్ రంగంలోనూ మంచిపేరు తెచ్చాయి. ఈ సంస్థలన్నీ ఇప్పుడు వంద కోట్లకు పైగా టర్నోవర్ చేస్తున్నాయి. త్వరలో దక్షిణాఫ్రికాలో టెలికాం కంపెనీలకు అవసరమైన సేవలను అందించాలని చూస్తున్నారు. ఇప్పుడు దేశవ్యాప్తంగా 3జి నుంచి 4జి కన్వర్షన్ అవుతున్న నేపధ్యంలో దానిపై అధికంగా దృష్టి కేంద్రీకరించారు. పూణెలో ఐటి స్టాఫింగ్ సేవల కంపెనీని ఏర్పాటు చేశారు. ఆరుగురు ఐఐటి విద్యార్థులతో కలిసి ఓ ఐటి ప్రాజెక్టుపై కసరత్తు చేస్తున్నారు. ఇప్పుడు ఎంఎంఆర్ గ్రూపులో 300 మంది పనిచేస్తున్నారు. పరోక్షంగా ఇప్పటివరకూ ఓ ఏడెనిమిది వేల మందికి ఉపాధిని చూపించి ఉంటారు. రాబోయే ఐదేళ్లలో తన గ్రూపు టర్నోవర్ను ఐదువేల కోట్లకు పెంచాలనేదే తన ఏకైక లక్ష్యం. కనీసం ఐదు వేల మందికి ఉపాధిని చూపించాలనే ఆరాటం.
ఇప్పుడు ఎంఎంఆర్కు నలభై ఏళ్లు. మరో ఏడేళ్లలో రిటైర్ అయిపోదామని అనుకుంటారు. అప్పుడు మెంటార్గా ఉంటూ.. తన ట్రస్ట్ ద్వారా సేవ చేద్దామనే ఆలోచన ఆయన బలంగా ఉంది. తనలా ఎవరూ తిండికి ఇబ్బంది పడే పరిస్థితి రావొద్దని నిశ్చయించుకున్నారు. పాతికేళ్ల నుంచి కుటుంబంతో సరిగా గడపలేకపోయానని, టెన్షన్లతోనే ఇంతకాలం సాగిపోయిందని.. అప్పుడైనా కాస్త రిలాక్స్డ్గా ఉందామనేది ఆలోచన. ఈలోపు లక్ష్యాలన్నీ పూర్తిచేసుకోవడం తనముందున్న కర్తవ్యమని చెప్తారు.
తన కోసం కష్టపడిన కుటుంబ సభ్యులందరికీ భూమి, ఇళ్లను కొనిచ్చారు. వాళ్ల పెళ్లిళ్లన్నీ చేశారు. కొంత మందిని కంపెనీలో డైరెక్టర్లుగా చేశారు. ఇప్పుడు మధు అన్న బిఎస్ఎన్ఎల్లో జూనియర్ టెలికాం ఆఫీసర్. భార్య కూడా జెటిఓనే. తాను సెటిల్ అయి.. అందరినీ సెటిల్ చేసే ప్రయత్నంలో ఉన్నారు.
పూరిగుడిసె నుంచి జూబ్లిహిల్స్
తాపీ పని చేయడానికి జూబ్లిహిల్స్ వచ్చినప్పుడు అక్కడ ఇళ్లను చూసి అతని మది చెదిరిపోయింది. ఒక్కరోజైనా ఇలాంటి ఇళ్లలో పడుకోవాలనే కోరిక బలంగా ఉండేది. అలాంటిది ఇప్పుడు జూబ్లీహిల్స్లో విశాలమైన, అద్భుతమైన సిటీ వ్యూ కనిపించే ఓ ఖరీదైన ఫ్లాట్నే సొంతం చేసుకున్నారు. దళిత్ ఇండియన్ చాంబర్ ఆప్ కామర్స్ అండ్ ఇండస్ట్రీకి ఏపి అధ్యక్షుడిగా ఉన్నారు. ఆయన గురించి ‘DEFYING THE ODDS’, ది రైజ్ ఆఫ్ దళిత్ ఆంట్రప్రెన్యూర్స్ అనే పుస్తకంలో ప్రధానంగా ప్రచురించారు. స్వీడిష్ ఆథర్ ‘ఇండియా అవేక్స్’ పేరుతో ముగ్గురు అత్యంత ప్రభావశీలురైన వ్యక్తులపై డాక్యుమెంటరీ రూపొందించారు. వాళ్లలో ఎంఎంఆర్ కూడా ఒకరు. ఇప్పటివరకూ ప్రముఖమైన విదేశీ పత్రికలు ఎన్నో ఇతని సక్సెస్ స్టోరీని ప్రచురించాయి. ఆశ్చర్యకరంగా తెలుగు వారెవరికీ మధుసూధన్ రావు గురించి పెద్దగా తెలియదు. మొట్టమొదటి సారి యువర్ స్టోరీ ఈ స్ఫూర్తిదాయకమైన కథనాన్ని మీ అందరికీ పరిచయం చేస్తోంది.
నేను విద్యార్థులకు చెప్పేది ఒక్కటే.. మీ ఊరు కానప్పుడు.. ఏ ఊరైనా మీకు ఒక్కటే. ప్రపంచంలో ఎక్కడైనా వెళ్లి పనిచేయండి. అవకాశం మీ దగ్గరికి ఎప్పుడూ రాదు. మీరే అవకాశాన్ని వెతుక్కుంటూ వెళ్లండి. ఏదైనా కంపెనీ పెట్టేముందు ఆ రంగంలో కనీసం ఏడాదిపాటు ఉద్యోగిగా పనిచేసి అనుభవం పొందండి. మీ కంపెనీలో ప్రతీ పనీ మీకు వచ్చి ఉండాలి.
Jubilee Hills is Hyderabad’s most coveted address, and a drive past the mansions here reveals why. Some houses look elegant while many are hideous, but all are quite large. Jubilee Heights, the lavender-and-pink apartment block on road number 86, is not imposing. Neither is the first floor duplex apartment, the home of Mannam Madhusudana Rao. There is a stuffed toy tiger and a doll in a blue dress on a shelf. A picture of Shirdi Sai Baba hangs on the wall, below a flat-screen TV in the living room – familiar kitsch found in many a middle-class home. Yet, the house is a powerful symbol of having arrived.
“I had come to this area earlier, when I was in the eighth or ninth grade, to help my brothers who were working as masons at the house of the Nagarjuna Constructions chairman (AVS Raju),” says Rao, founder and managing director of MMR Infra Projects. That’s when he started dreaming about living here, his assistant Kumaraswamy interjects. Rao corrects him. “I decided to live here only now. When I was working here, I could not even dream of it,” says the soft-spoken entrepreneur dressed in an ill-fitting brown jacket and trousers with a slight sheen and a pale yellow shirt. He says he got the house “cheap” four years ago, paying “2.5”. I must have looked puzzled because he immediately adds, “2.5 CR (Rs 2.5 crore), madam.” The house measures 4,000 square feet, he says, with a hint of pride.
Published by Random House, the book profiles success stories of 21 entrepreneurs
Finally, the much awaited book Defying the Odds: the Rise of Dalit Entrepreneurs is out and available globally. Published by one of the largest publishing companies in the world, Random House, the book profiles success stories of 21 Dalit entrepreneurs.
Paperback edition, 336 page, and priced at Rs299, the book was launched at Delhi’s India Habitat Centre on July 19, and is co-authored by Prof Devesh Kapur, D Shyam Babu and me.
A political scientist, Kapur is the director, Centre for the Advanced Study of India (CASI), University of Pennsylvania. He is doing pioneering researches on the changes taking place in the lives of Dalits, and the very caste order that is losing its grip over Dalits.
Shyam cleared his civil service examination in 1992 but didn’t join. Instead, he left for the US for studies. Upon his return to India, he joined journalism and later moved to academics. At present, he is a senior fellow with the Centre for Policy Research (CPR), Delhi. Shyam is a Dalit from Andhra Pradesh.
And I, Chandrabhan Prasad, liked hunting field rats in childhood.The book has been endorsed by some of top minds Random House had approached:
“This important and insightful book should be read by all thinking Indians,” says historian Ramachandra Guha.
“A profoundly important account of what the struggle for social and economic mobility means in India,” says Professor Pratap Bhanu Mehta, president of CPR.
“The heart rendering stories of success in this book offer possibilities on how we may eradicate inequalities that exist in our social fabric,” says iconic business leader Keshub Mahindra.
“An emotionally powerful book. The authors share inspiring stories of remarkable individuals who overcome adversity to preserve and create a new path of possibility for the Dalit community and India itself,” says Chip Kaye, CEO of Warburg Pincus.
Arranged alphabetically, the book begins with Thomas Barnabas of Tamil Nadu. With Rs15 crore in turnover, Thomas’ KJN Enterprises deals in plastic waste recycling. He faced extreme poverty and caste discrimination in childhood. “We starved so often,” admits Thomas.
Delhi’s NK Chandan did his diploma in 1994 and joined a company with a salary of Rs800 a month. In 2013, Chandan bought the same company for Rs3 crore. He has set up a state-of-the-art industrial safety helmet factory in the tronic city Ghaziabad. One of the biggest business houses in India is planning to buy one third stake in Chandan & Chandan.
Dr Umesh Chaudhary and his wife Dr Jayanti of Faizabad, Uttar Pradesh, have set up a super speciality hospital named Chiranjiv Hospital in the town. Thirty nine years old Dr Chaudhry’s father was a postman.
An IITian, Sanjeev Dangi manufactures plants that produce electricity from solar energy. Born in a business family, Dangi studied in Rajasthan’s famous Mayo College. Dangi was in news for buying a flat in the Commonwealth Village complex for Rs4.1 crore.
Rajendra Gaikwad has a pest control company GT Pest, which is worth Rs20 crore and has operations in Singapore. Orphaned at a young age, Gaikwad drove an autorickshaw in Pune, and later worked as a fumigation boy.
With turnover at $40 million, Bhagwan Gawai’s Saurabh Energy is based in Dubai and deals in oil and gas business. Born in 1955, Gawai lost his father in 1964. His mother worked at construction sites and till he was in Class VIII, Gawai was raised in construction sites in Mumbai and elsewhere.
With Rs80 crore turnover, Malkit Chand began his career as a tailor and was later promoted as a master cutter in a hosiery factory in Ludhiana. His Jangal Exports manufactures T-shirts, which are exported to European and African countries.
DICCI chairman Milind Kamble has a Rs80 crore turnover too. His company Fortune Constructions builds roads, tunnels, residential and commercial towers in Pune. In his forties and born in Latur district of Maharashtra, Kamble’s father was a school teacher and mother a home maker.
CEO of DAS Offshore Engineers Private Limited and employer of 5,000 workers, including over 150 BTech engineers, Ashok Khade was born in a village in the Sangli district of Maharashtra. His father was a cobbler.
Ahmedabad-based Ratibhai Mackwana group company’s turnover is Rs750 crore. His Gujarat Pickers paid Rs30 crore in taxes in 2012-2013. Born in 1940, young Rati worked with his father in a home-owned tannery. Gujarat Pickers manufactures milk pouches that dairies use all over India.
Born to illiterate farm worker parents in Prakasham district of Andhra Pradesh, Mannam Madhusudan Rao (MMR) is completing a township at the cost of Rs272 crore. Aged 37, MMR began his career as construction worker in Hyderabad and lived in huts. He now resides in Hyderabad’s elite locality Jubilly Hills.
Murali Mohan of Bangalore manufactures pickled gherkins and exports to markets in US and Europe. His Victuz Exports ships two containers of gherkins every week. Born to illiterate farm worker parents in the Karnataka countryside, Murali got to wear sleepers when he entered intermediate school. He worked as a help during high school to support his education.
The wide road leading to Jubilee Hills is difficult to navigate with its heavy motor traffic and unwieldy dips and turns. The near absence of pedestrians on the road points to its being an exclusive residential area in Hyderabad, sought by those with the means to afford its dramatic hilltop views and discreetly nestled mansions, a luxury anywhere in urban India.
The major artery, Road Number 86, slices through the heart of Jubilee Hills, servicing the numerous mansions and apartment complexes that have mushroomed on its hilltops. The rich and famous of Hyderabad – film stars, politicians, contractors, big-time moneylenders, industrialists and bankers – have laid claim to the hills. Their homes provide a convenient getaway from the heat and chaos of the city below, while remaining close enough to keep tabs on their business preoccupations. So it is with Mannam Madhusudan Rao, known as MMR, who occupies a prized apartment on the hilltop.
In his late thirties, MMR owns and runs the MMR Group of Companies, involved in construction, including infrastructure projects. He is racing to complete an entire township in Rajahmundry, a project worth Rs 250 crore.
MMR’s route to his coveted hilltop address began with a dinner party in September 2011 at a country club in Jubilee Hills. “That’s a dinner I didn’t relish,” he now admits. “It was more about drinks than food!”
Several guests drank heavily and a discussion on caste ensued. The previous week, Damodar Raja Narasimha, a Dalit politician, had become the state’s deputy chief minister. No one in the party knew that MMR was a Dalit. Mostly an upper caste crowd, some spoke disparagingly of Dalits. ‘Good thing Jubilee Hills has no Dalit resident,’ said one, with apparent satisfaction.
“Pretending that I too was drunk and tired, I left the club immediately,” recalls MMR. “Those words had hit me like shrapnel.”
That night he became determined to buy a house in Jubilee Hills. Within weeks, MMR zeroed in on a duplex apartment that stood on a hillock on Road No 86. He purchased the apartment for an undisclosed sum.
“It was certainly worth Rs 2.5 crore when MMR bought it,” says his colleague Sampat. The state’s revenue minister is MMR’s immediate neighbor.
The apartment’s kitchen measures 450 square feet. “That’s exactly half the size of the house we were born in,” says MMR’s eldest brother Peda Mala Kondaiah.
Kondaiah has had a difficult past. Born to illiterate parents, he has seven siblings. MMR is the fifth child of their parents. Their father Peraiah, now seventy years old, hadn’t inherited any land or business from his parents. Instead he inherited his father’s position as an indentured laborer, and replaced his ageing father Ramaiah when he could no longer work. Traditionally, landlords would not plough land or harvest the crops. The hierarchies of feudalism created clear demarcations between those who did manual work and those who lorded over them. Outside the house, in the field, manual labor was performed by Dalits while inside the house the women in the landlord’s household would perform the domestic chores. In addition to working on the land, the landlords would need labor to tend the many bullocks, cows and buffaloes, by fetching fodder to feed them and disposing of their dung. In this way a Dalit family would be tied with a landlord’s family for generations. Thus, Peraiah replaced his father to serve the landlord for the rest of his life. His work was the only means of feeding his eleven-member family, which included his eight children, his wife and his father. His wife and grown-up children would take up odd jobs elsewhere when the landlord did not require their labor. With the need to earn a living for the family, the three eldest children never attended school. “Food mattered more than studies,” says Kondaiah. “More often, the family lived on boiled jowar (sorghum) and red chillies.” A coarse cereal, jowar is eaten by cattle and farm workers. Jowar would be boiled and left in a pot overnight to be fermented. The next morning, the water would be drained and the jowar would be eaten with red chilli chutney.
“Sometimes, the same stuff would be eaten for weeks together,” recalls MMR.
As farm wages were often paid with grain or other items, the family was always short of cash. MMR’s mother, Ramulamma, finding it difficult to watch her husband’s suffering, decided to chip in. The family lived in Palukuru, a village some 12km away from Ongole, the headquarters of Prakasam district. As a center of tobacco production, Ongole city has a booming cottage industry, involving grading tobacco leaves, trading them, and making cigars. Together with her eldest daughter Varalakshmi, Ramulamma would walk to Ongole each day in search of work in tobacco units. Varalakshmi was hardly fifteen when she started working.
‘They wore no slippers or shoes and had no tiffin boxes. I never saw them carrying water bottles, either. They ate red chillies mixed with jowar paste and drank water in the morning and in the evening after they returned from Ongole,’ Kondaiah narrates with moist eyes. With the mother-daughter duo joining the workforce, some cash flowed in. Together they would make Rs 50 a day.
The cash flow, little though it was, meant an education for Madhavarao and, three years later, for his younger brother MMR.
“Putting us in school was the driver,” says Madhavarao, who did his BTech and later got a job in the government-owned telecommunications company, BSNL. “Coming out of the clutches of the landlord was also a driver,” adds Kondaiah.
Ramulamma once heard the story of a relative’s son who rode a bike. Born in similar conditions as hers, the boy got a college education, which fetched him a government job. “They saw a spark in education that could uplift the entire family,” says Madhavarao.
After clearing the fifth standard, Madhavarao joined a junior high school some 10km from Palukuru. He was put in a government welfare hostel in Singarayakonda, where meals were free. MMR, too, followed suit. Both the brothers did well in school.
When Madhavarao was in the tenth standard and MMR in the seventh, they came home to attend the wedding of their eldest brother Kondaiah.
For the wedding, all four brothers wore new clothes. Kondaiah was in the traditional groom’s attire. But most surprisingly for the visiting brothers, their father wore a dhoti till the toes.
Dhoti till the toes!
Sampat explains that in those days the upper castes wouldn’t allow Dalit men to wear a dhoti till the toes. Dalit women were not permitted to button their blouses; instead, they would tie the two front ends.
“Part of the breasts would go uncovered,” he adds. “But Dalits were allowed to dress like the upper castes for weddings in the family. That exemption was partial, though.”
As part of the wedding preparations, a structure was erected alongside the house. “I couldn’t quite understand why my parents were putting up shades along the outer walls of the house,” recalls MMR. “I thought they were building extra rooms,” says Madhavarao.
The day after the wedding Kondaiah returned with his bride and the family had a feast. “There was so much meat to eat,” recalls Madhavarao.
That night, the purpose of the newly built structure became apparent. Dozens of empty fertilizer bags were stitched together to form a large covering, which was mounted on the outer walls and supported by sticks. A tent-like structure had sprung up – the whole family slept in this tent. The house was reserved for the new couple to sleep in.
“That’s when I realized where the family stood,” recalls MMR. “My brother and I were now determined to make it big in life.”
A week later, Madhavarao and MMR walked back to their hostel. “We talked through the distance of 10 kilometers,” MMR says. “We talked really big.”
“We will buy metal pots for cooking. We will buy bicycles. We will buy fishing nets.”
“Education became the answer to all our woes,” says Madhavarao. He had passed the twelfth standard with a first division and got admission in a BTech course.
“My village folk didn’t know what BTech meant,” MMR adds. “My sisters thought that our brother had already become an officer!”
MMR, meanwhile, passed the tenth standard with a first division in 1991. Two years later, he passed the twelfth standard, again getting a first class. He was entitled to admission in a BTech course. But instead he enrolled for a three-year polytechnic course because it was cheaper.
“The very thought of putting two brothers in BTech frightened the family,” says MMR. “Where would the money come from?”
Of the three sisters, Vijayalakshmi dropped out of school after the fourth standard. Bhulakshmi dropped out after the fifth. The youngest, Chaithanya, studied till the tenth.
“They made big sacrifices for us,” MMR and Madhavarao recall. “They all worked as farm laborers so that the two of us could complete our studies.”
Madhavarao completed his BTech in 1997 and in the same year MMR completed a diploma in civil engineering.
According to the rules, students needed to vacate the hostel once they had completed their courses. Madhavarao and MMR now had to leave their hostels with no jobs in hand. A government job would take anywhere from one to two years to secure, from the initial vacancy notification to a candidate getting the appointment letter.
Having no recourse, the brothers returned home. As no newspapers were delivered to their village, they would walk to a nearby town to see if any suitable vacancies appeared.
In the village, meanwhile, the two brothers had become the object of curiosity. Having lived for years in a town, they had embraced an urban lifestyle. They wore trousers and shoes. They brushed their teeth and groomed their hair differently. Most villagers thought that the brothers had already become government officers.
“See how government officers look,” the villagers whispered. “Many came just to see them,” recalls Kondaiah. But months passed and the brothers still lived with their parents.
Soon the villagers began to have doubts. “Why would the government give them months of leave?” they wondered. Even their parents, brothers and sisters began to get nervous, for their hopes that the duo would get government jobs were fading with every passing day.
The brothers couldn’t see a way out. They were overcome by guilt and shame but without knowing what they were guilty of or what they ought to be ashamed of. Unable to face the villagers’ inquisitive eyes, they withdrew indoors.
An answer to their joblessness had to be found. MMR took the lead. He had realized that the government job would not materialize if they stayed in the village. They would have to be in a town. But which town?
“Vara was to be the answer,” MMR says, referring to his eldest sister Varalakshmi. She was married to Heera Laxmiah who was illiterate and landless. After their wedding, they moved to Hyderabad. MMR had an ‘idea’ of Vara’s life there. They would be living in a house with at least a room to spare, he thought.
The brothers took Heera’s address from a postcard he had once sent them. Their sister loved them enough, they reasoned, to give them shelter for a few months, or till one of them got a job.
In March 1998 the brothers boarded a train to Hyderabad. As first-timers in the big city, they were lost and had trouble reaching Bhagat Singh Nagar in Kukatpally. There they found themselves in an area with buildings everywhere and piles of sand, cement and sundry construction material lying about. The air was thick with dust.
“We had the address confirmed twice,” says Madhavarao. They wondered how a family could possibly live in that place. Indeed, their sister lived there. Vara greeted them with all the affection at her disposal. “She was surprised to see us,” remembers MMR, “because we had not informed her of our arrival.” The brothers were astonished by the makeshift hut the family lived in, which was on a construction site where most of the laborers lived. The builder had put up tiny huts for his workers. The roof was made of cheap plastic and the floor was, well, the bare earth. He had made provisions for water.
The help the brothers had hoped to find at their sister’s home was not to be found. They were dejected but Vara consoled them, “Don’t worry; you are in the right place.” She also promised to take care of them.
MMR had made up his mind. He told Madhavarao to prepare for the competitive exams and said that he would earn money. “I knew only he, with his degree in engineering, could become an officer,” recalls MMR, “and after all, I just had a diploma.”
That evening, both the brothers slept on the sand meant for construction. Helped by neighbors, Heera had quickly got half a dozen bags of sand and spread them out to form a ‘bed’ near their hut.
“The sand-bed strengthened our resolve,” MMR says. “We had to succeed.”
Within a few days, the brothers got themselves organized. Vara and Heera had advised the brothers not to reveal their educational qualifications, remembering the unpleasant experience in the village.
MMR took up a part-time job, which entailed splashing water on the newly built walls. That required an hour each in the morning and evening. He was paid Rs 10 a day. Madhavarao would buy two newspapers – one English and the other Telugu – with the hope of finding vacancies advertised.
“We used the newspapers as bedsheets each night,” recalls MMR. “It was fun spreading newspapers on the sand.”
A week later, MMR got a job as a night watchman at the same construction site. He was earning a salary of Rs 300 a month. Since he was free all day, he looked for extra work. A month later, he became a tutor in a nearby locality. He taught seventh standard students and made another Rs 900 a month.
“I sent my first salary to my father back home,” beams MMR. “I asked him not to tell anyone.” He didn’t want to give the impression that he and his brother had become officers and raise people’s expectations.
Meanwhile, Madhavarao had found a vacancy in a central government office. Something was waiting to happen – and it did. A construction worker informed MMR of a lucrative job opportunity.
After the telecom sector was opened up to private players, companies competed for contracts to lay cables. In Hyderabad, a contractor was laying telephone cables for the Tatas.
The job at the construction site was lucrative because the six-foot-deep digging was to be done during nights only. MMR quit as night watchman to work at the cable-laying site.
“They paid Rs 400 a night,” says MMR. Being a diploma-holder in civil engineering, MMR quickly learnt the technical aspects of cable laying. Three months later, he learnt of a vacancy at G. Srinivas Reddy & Company, which specialized in cable laying. They were holding walk-in-interviews at the Hotel Grand Kakatiya in Somajiguda.
While MMR stood in the queue waiting for his turn, he overheard a conversation between two men standing nearby. A contractor, dark, plump and short, was yelling at a lean young man. Speaking in Hyderabadi Urdu, the contractor was scolding him for failing to bring enough workers the previous night.
MMR got involved in the conversation and introduced himself. He offered to bring enough workers, provided they paid some money in advance. “Workers won’t move without some advance,” he told them. As he was not known to them, the contractor was reluctant to give him an advance, so MMR didn’t insist on the payment. With a promise to get twenty-five workers by ten o’clock that night, he rushed home.
MMR borrowed Rs 3,000 from his sister. “It took hours to convince Vara,” recalls Madhavarao. With his first investment, MMR hired a mini-truck, a Tata-407, meant for ferrying workers. He then reached the village Tarapur, some 10km outside the city. MMR was sure that the workers would respond to him. His hope had a reason.
Digging manually involves risk. In one accident, a worker from Tarapur village was injured. MMR had demonstrated his kindness and had taken the worker to a hospital. He had also persuaded the contractor to pay the medical bills of the injured worker and half the salary till he recovered.
“The workers were fond of me,” he recalls. “That’s the confidence I had.”
MMR then reached Manikeshwara Nagar, close to Osmania University. The villagers were surprised to see a mini-truck rolling into their basti. It was around four in the afternoon, and some workers recognized MMR. After all, he had been working with them the previous night. They welcomed him as most of them knew of how he had helped a fellow injured worker. MMR was heard with patience. “They all empathized with me,” he says.
But there was a problem. Most of the workers had been booked in advance by another company for a site elsewhere in the city. But luckily, of the fifty workers booked, twenty had not taken any advance. Fifteen agreed to forego the other job and join MMR instead. One suggested that MMR drive to a nearby village where over a dozen workers would surely be found. MMR agreed and upon reaching the village, he was able to hire thirty workers more. With forty-five workers, MMR headed to the site.
“I sat next to the driver,” says MMR. The rest of the workers rode in the back of the truck. The workers were delighted that they were being transported by truck. The contractor came to the site to see how truthful the young man was. He saw dozens of workers waiting for him. He was delighted and bought food for them all.
Overnight, MMR’s men dug a 100-meter-long channel, laid cables and covered the trench. The contractor was pleased. He gave MMR Rs 20,000 and asked him to bring a hundred workers the following day. MMR had made a profit of Rs 13,000.
“It was fantastic!” recalls MMR. “I had never seen that much money before.”
He reached Bhagat Singh Nagar by autorickshaw. He had to pay the driver Rs 100. He requested Vara to get the money from the hut. Reluctantly, she went inside. As MMR was waiting for Vara to return, Heera noticed the auto parked outside his hut. Curious, he rushed to the spot. MMR had meanwhile gone into the hut to find out why his sister was taking so long to get the money.
“Why that much money?” asked his furious brother-in-law.
MMR told him that he had agreed to the huge fare because he was carrying Rs 13,000 in his pocket. He wanted to reach home at the earliest and safely.
MMR’s explanation pacified Heera but his brother-in-law was still wary. “I have been in this city for years but have not seen this much cash,” he confided to his wife. “Please keep an eye on your younger brother’s activities.”
That evening, MMR hired three Tata-407 mini-trucks. The previous day, he had risked lives by putting forty-five workers in one truck. He collected the workers from the two villages that he had visited the day before and reached the site rather early. MMR offered food to all the workers. After their meal, they had at least an hour to relax as work would start at ten o’clock that night.
The contractor arrived at around eight and was thrilled to see a hundred workers at the site. He asked MMR to come to his home early the next morning to collect wages for the workers for that day, and also some advance. “One lakh,” the contractor whispered into MMR’s ears. “I stood for about half a minute with my eyes shut,” MMR recalls. “God has heard my cries.” MMR appointed a worker as supervisor to oversee the work, while he took an autorickshaw back to his sister’s place so he could request his brother and brother-in-law to join him at the site the next morning. He wanted them to be with him when he received the large cash payment and also see how legitimate his business was. Both agreed and he returned to the site.
The next morning, as MMR was supervising the boarding of his men into the trucks, Madhavarao and Heera arrived. The three drank tea at a roadside shop and left for the contractor’s house.
An hour later, they reached their destination. The contractor came out and complimented MMR on his efficiency. He gave him a bundle of currency and told him it was Rs 1 lakh!
MMR then took the contractor aside and whispered something to him. The contractor gave a nod of approval immediately.
MMR, Heera and Madhavarao were taken into a room where they ‘dressed’ themselves in currency notes. They took off their trousers and using pieces of cloth that Heera had brought, tied rupee notes around their waists. Dressed again, they walked 17km to reach home. They didn’t want to take any chances.
“Pickpockets roamed freely in city buses,” explained MMR.
Once inside the hut, they heaved a sigh of relief. Vara had cooked chicken and rice. They relished the lunch and debated where to keep the money. It was a real risk keeping such a large amount in their hut.
“What if the hut catches fire,” Vara feared. Finally, they decided to ask Narahari, the contractor on whose site Heera and Vara worked, to keep the money for them. “He has known us for over two years,” Heera said. “He will agree.”
Vara was asked to leave the hut while they ‘undressed’ the money, which they then placed in ten packets. Each packet contained Rs 10,000. Meanwhile, Heera was sent to seek the consent of Narahari.
Heera was back within half an hour. Narahari had agreed to keep the money.
“Have you all won a lottery?” Narahari asked in a lighter vein.
Before leaving for Narahari’s house, MMR showed the money packets to his sister as well. She was allowed to hold the money in her hands for a while.
“With currency packets in her hands, she looked at me with disbelief,” MMR said. The story was overwhelming for Narahari as well. He had nothing but praise for MMR.
That evening, MMR reached the workers’ villages with fifty kilos of laddoos. He took three truck-loads of workers to the site.
“All of a sudden, things turned upside down,” recollects MMR. The contractor was virtually in tears because a court had banned the work at the site. Someone had petitioned the court against laying the cables and the court had stayed any activity till further orders.
MMR paid the workers their full wages and sent them back in the trucks. The following day, he took the remaining money from Narahari and headed to the contractor’s house.
The contractor refused to take the money back. “You may have already spent a lot,” he told MMR.
“He wanted to keep me in good humor,” recalls MMR. Work could start at any time.
With the dream run ending abruptly, the brothers returned to their village for the Sankranti festival. They had bought clothes for the entire family. “We carried a trunk,” says MMR.
Family members and villagers concluded that the brothers had indeed become government officers.
After staying in the village for four days, they returned to Hyderabad and rented a room in the locality where Heera lived. Vara helped them to buy utensils so that her brothers could cook their own food.
In their search for opportunities, MMR met with Colonel Krishnan, under whom he had worked as a laborer for three months. ‘Do you want to work?’ the colonel asked and offered him a job immediately. MMR explained his experiences as a sub-contractor. Krishnan listened to MMR’s full story and educational background.
The colonel gave MMR a contract worth Rs 5 lakh, and was soon impressed by MMR’s work. “Delivering work before time was most rewarding,” MMR says.
The brothers now shifted to a two-bedroom house. MMR hired a separate space to store the digging equipment. He also secured orders from ASTRA Tele Services and ARM Ltd.
Meanwhile, Madhavarao was interviewed by the state-owned BSNL for the post of assistant manager.
The cable-laying business worked on a formula that would be disadvantageous to small contractors. If a contractor laid a cable for 100m, he would receive no advance. He would have to meet expenses from his own pocket initially.
MMR had saved Rs 50,000 from his first job with the contractor, and used that money to do business with the colonel. But when he got a contract worth Rs 10 lakh, he needed to borrow money. He went to Heera’s employer Narahari and sought a loan of Rs 5 lakh. Narahari gave him the money on daily interest. MMR completed the work in ten days, and cleared the debt with interest.
By July 1999, MMR had completed contracts worth Rs 50 lakh. He was doing well. Still, MMR did not have a company and conducted all the transactions in cash.
Colonel Krishnan advised him to form a company if he had the ambition. MMR approached Narahari who had seen him growing from a night watchman to a successful sub-contractor. He knew MMR to be a man with an exceptional ability to mobilize workers, manage them well and execute work before time. He also respected MMR’s integrity.
“Why don’t we form a joint venture?” Narahari proposed. “My wife can be a 49 percent stakeholder.”
MMR agreed readily. He needed someone like Narahari to mentor him. Narahari was trustworthy. Also, he had plenty of money and MMR had the skill.
“I was so happy,” says MMR. “We formed a joint venture company.”
With Narahari’s wife Lakshmi as a partner, Sairam Constructions came into being. With MMR’s efforts, Sairam Constructions got an order from Global Tele Systems (GTS). The task involved laying cables from Kodad to Vijayawada, further extending till Eluru – a 200-km stretch. Billed at Rs 60,000 a kilometer, the whole project amounted to Rs 1.2 crore – MMR’s biggest order till then.
“It was a dream coming true,” he recalls.
Sairam Constructions had to manage two sites. One was in Hyderabad, the main office which handled the routine work and the other at Kodad-Vijayawada. As the team leader, MMR had taken a decision: He had to be on the new site outside Hyderabad, which would have local workers. The experienced ones had to be taken from Hyderabad, as cable-laying is very technical. “We needed to build a mobile colony,” he says.
MMR moved to the new site leaving the Hyderabad operations in the hands of the staff of Sairam Constructions, who had been newly hired. Lakshmi, Narahari’s wife, had no business experience. MMR was executing the work for GTS, which was going well. Every week, GTS would make payments by check to Sairam Constructions. Someone from Sairam Constructions would then carry cash to the site to pay the workers who didn’t have bank accounts.
When the GTS project was completed in 2000, MMR returned to Hyderabad. Meanwhile, the marriage of his third sister Vijayalakshmi had been fixed. MMR gave Rs 50,000 to his parents.
“It was big news back home,” said MMR. “An untouchable has spent so much.”
After his sister’s wedding, MMR returned to Hyderabad and called a board meeting of Sairam Constructions.
“We are running at a loss,” said the men who were appointed on the recommendations of Narahari. MMR was shocked. Where had all the money gone?
MMR had left signed checks with the company to take care of expenses in Hyderabad. Who had stolen the checks worth millions? MMR would not say anything. “Sure enough, Narahari was not the man.”
After completing his largest project – worth Rs 1.2 crore – MMR was back to zero. “There was darkness around,” remembers MMR, “I felt cheated and shattered.”
“He was thoroughly dejected,” said Madhavarao. “He wouldn’t sleep.”
MMR roamed the city aimlessly. He would borrow money from friends and watch movies. “Sometimes he would watch three movies a day,” Madhavarao recalls. “He wouldn’t feel hungry.”
Good news was in store, though. Madhavarao had got a job with BSNL and joined its office in Bihar. “With my brother joining BSNL, I felt reassured,” says MMR.
Months passed and MMR continued to live aimlessly in Hyderabad. “Almost for a year, I did nothing,” he recollects. “Madhavarao would sustain me.”
One evening, when MMR was at a theater watching a movie, he happened to meet his old friend Rameshwaram during the intermission.
After the show, MMR told him his story. Rameshwaram asked MMR to meet him in his office the following day. Rameshwaram, along with his friends, had formed a company named Precision Engineering.
The next day MMR was offered a job at a salary of Rs 10,000 a month. His responsibility was to get orders for the company. Using his old contacts, he got orders worth crores of rupees. As a reward, his salary was hiked to Rs 16,000.
One day while perusing a newspaper, MMR glanced through the matrimonial section and found a promising matrimonial ad for a young Dalit woman who was a government employee.
“A working wife would be a great support,” he thought. “With her assured monthly income, I could take business risks.” A couple of weeks later, MMR approached the young woman’s parents. The young woman, Padmalata, agreed to the proposal on one condition: MMR would never return to business again. “You are a failed businessman,” she reminded him.
Soon Padmalata and MMR were married. But MMR’s love for business hadn’t waned. “He was determined to succeed as a businessman,” says Madhavarao.
“I know it was unethical,” MMR confesses. “But I still saw enterprise as my career.”
Though he earned Rs 16,000 a month, MMR told Padmalata he earned Rs 10,000, keeping the rest for his future business ventures.
The couple had rented a small house in Hyderabad. One day, a postman delivered a letter for MMR while he was away on a business trip. Padmalata didn’t open it as it was addressed to MMR. But she was suspicious as it came from the Department of Industry.
Once back home, MMR had to admit that he had registered a company. It is a testament to his persuasive skills and patience that Padmalata came on board and MMR could openly think of business as his career path.
With his own company registered, MMR approached the managers of GTS once again. They were happy to see him and empathized with the budding entrepreneur.
MMR got an order worth Rs 3 lakh. He went to his employers at Precision Engineering and pleaded with them to relieve him. They were unwilling. To retain him, they even offered him a partnership. Having become wiser on partnerships, he turned down the offer and parted ways.
To complete the GTS project, MMR needed at least Rs 1.5 lakh. He had a third of that and Anasuya, Padmalata’s elder sister, gave the rest. She had been a great help since MMR had married her sister.
MMR completed the work within a month and made a profit of Rs 1 lakh. Even his in-laws were impressed!
In 2004−05, MMR had a turnover of Rs 16 lakh. A Rs 50-lakh contract came his way from Vodafone. He completed the cable laying in a record 45 days. More orders followed. MMR bought a two-bedroom house in 2006 and a small car the following year.
By 2009, MMR had emerged as a lead vendor for the major telecom firms in Andhra Pradesh, including Vodafone, Airtel and Tata Telecom.
By 2010, the turnover of the MMR Group of Companies had crossed Rs 50 crore.
MMR has now diversified his operations to include power projects and townships, in addition to his core telecom business.
MMR’s next dream: to acquire a mansion on Road Number 86! And he did.
Devesh Kapur is Director, Center for the Advanced Study of India at the University of Pennsylvania. D. Shyam Babu is Senior Fellow, Centre for Policy Research, New Delhi. Chandra Bhan Prasad is a public intellectual and mentor, Dalit Indian Chamber of Commerce and Industry (DICCI).