Millennium Post

"Harilal & Sons" | Seven decades and beyond

‘Harilal & Sons’ is truly a tale of aspiration and resolve, writes Kavya Dubey

Price:   699 |  22 April 2017 3:37 PM GMT  |  Team MP

Seven decades and beyond

What more does a boy need when he already has his father’s shop to take over some day? Harilal is barely twelve when he decides to break out of this complacent fate that awaits him.  Nothing deters him from embarking on a journey that many fail to accomplish. His hometown of Shekhawati is ravaged by the worst drought in decades and food grain is much dearer than money that an idea as absurd as making an impossible road on sand is considered for a bowl of bajra as a wage.

An unmistakable aspect of traditional Indian capitalism is admittedly a continuing practice of a caste group for livelihood. Harilal’s father unapologetically expresses that when the weather is clement, people rejoice, food is there in plenty and so it is cheap. It is at this time that a bania pays for the loss which the people gain from. So then why curse a bania for hoarding and hiding precious grains and selling them off for the city at a higher price when people are starving and dying in his village? His priority is the favourability of his trade and wellbeing of his family. Business is no charity after all, and work is worship. 

With the characteristic opportunism of a bania, Harilal begins to strike his first real deal with Hemraj, virtually his ticket to Calcutta. Deftly playing out some classic manipulation, while out to fetch a local ojha for his fever-struck sister, he goes to Hemraj stating a favour his father asked of him (which he never did!) After having extracted a favourable response, Harilal returns home with the news of the offer Hemraj made to take in Harilal as an accountant because he was in need for one. But why must a bania’s son be a servant working for another trader (in a far-away land) when his father has a shop and does reasonable business? Harilal breaks out of the constraints of hand-me-down notions and announces that his proposed idea will not be mere service but apprenticeship until he sets up his own establishment – all at the tender age of twelve. Not even his wedding is allowed to distance his dream. 

Beginning to live his dream is no easy feat. He, along with his wife, sets out alone to traverse the breadth of the subcontinent.  Harilal’s ambition and determination to find better prospects beyond Rampura take him all the way to Bengal. “There is much to buy and sell,” Hemraj had said, “and a hundred ways for a good bania to make money. Once a boy has learned the ways of Disavar, he starts out on his own.” But Harilal is a boy sent out before his time. And his share of toil and hardships encounter him in an elaborate series – from Shekhavati to Calcutta. 

The massive fortune of Seth Daulatram is the result of a childhood insult by his employer that he was very loyal to. “Your father was a fool to name you Daulatram-calling a boy wealthy does not make him so”, the employer had said. And that turned a poor ten-year-old Daulatram’s life around. His exuberant establishments stand as testimony to his determination to build his own empire. Harilal works for him and aspires to be like him someday. But he is just a twelve-year-old boy and there isn’t much he could do beyond running errands. Nine months down the line, he realises that he just manages to make ends meet and has no savings to set up his own shop. From here is a journey full of twists and turns that spans over seven decades. This is a life story. 

In this fictionalised tribute to his grandfather, Sujit Saraf presents the long and eventful life a person and his transition from a resolute, ambitious boy to a thorough businessman with unwavering determination. Besides, Harilal’s story is a comprehensive glimpse into the staunchly professional Marwari community. 

Several generations down, most of the descendants are still devoted to the pursuit of ‘Harilal & Sons’. 

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