The Indian Female Entrepreneur who defied all odds and proved it to the world that anything can be achieved.
I believe there is a big difference between motivation and inspiration.
Unlike motivation, inspiration is something that touches you on the inside. Whatever that inspires you, leaves a deep impact on you. You feel more excited, purposeful and productive.
Most of the success stories motivate us. A very few truly inspire us. This story is one of them. The story of the Real Slumdog Millionaire.
Kabir Das (renowned Indian mystic poet) once said,
“मन के हारे हार है मन के जीते जीत”
“The defeated mind leads to defeat and the winner mind will win”
And Mrs. Kalpana Saroj has very well proved him right.
Born to a police constable in 1961, Saroj hails from Roperkheda village, located in Maharashtra, India. Although her father wanted her to at least be a ‘matriculate’, circumstances had her drop out of school even before she could make it to the 8th grade.
“In our samaj (community)— girls weren’t allowed to go to school. Since I was a Dalit Buddhist, there was even more resistance. My own family would say, “Usko chulha chakki hi chalani hai (all she has to do is work in the kitchen),”
She says in one of her interviews.
Childhood — A Nightmare.
“Having an unmarried daughter in the house is like stashing a vial of poison.” — One of the elders at her house.
Her father very well understood the importance of education but had no say in the house. No matter how hard he tried, the elders at the house eventually pulled her out of the school and got her married at a naive age of 12.
Infatuated by the prospect of living in the big city, her family overlooked the fact that the boy’s family lived in a slum and that to them a daughter-in-law was nothing more than a slave.
Humiliation And Merciless Beatings
A little girl, from going to school and living happily in a small but decent place, had now been married against her will and sent to the slums that weren’t just filthy but lacked basic amenities.
And if that wasn’t enough,
“They were animals! They made me work like a slave. And for minor mistakes — such as too much salt in the food, not getting a stain out — they would grab my hair, slam me against the wall and beat me up. I used to cry myself to sleep every night.”
After suffering physical abuse at the hands of her husband’s family members, she was rescued by her father, left her husband and returned to her village to live with her parents.
They wanted her to re-join school but everything that had happened to her had made it impossible for her to continue school. She was shattered.
Leaving one’s husband was considered the ultimate sin and the villagers left no stone unturned in taunting her. She could never get over the torture, trauma, and beatings, so…
“ So, I decided to take my own life. There was nothing left to live for”
Saroj says while describing her suicide attempt.
As the house they used to live in was very small and crowded, it was impossible for her to hide the bottles of poison, let alone drink them. So, she decided to do it at her aunt’s place who used to live all by herself.
The same girl who was considered “a vial of poison”, took advantage of her aunt’s absence and gulped down three.
Fortunately, her aunt walked in just in time and rushed her to the hospital where she was saved.
Starting a New life
By now, everything had changed her.
The second chance that life gave her, turned her into an iron-willed lady who no longer cared about people’s opinions and had decided to live her life on her own terms.
At the young age of 16, Saroj decided to move back to Mumbai to live with her uncle. She wanted to join the Police Department but she could not because of her not being qualified enough. Eventually, she found refuge at a humble Gujrati family and found a job at a textile mill.
Although she was paid very less but she tried to save as much as she could.
Back in the village when her father lost his job and her mother was seeking work, she decided to bring all of them to Mumbai to live with her.
They finally rented a tiny house, reunited and became self-sufficient.
The Beginning Of An Entrepreneurial Journey.
One fine day her younger sister fell critically ill. She did everything she could but because of a lack of money, she could not save her.
“She kept telling me she did not want to die… she died in my arms”
Saroj recounts with tears in her eyes.
This is when she realized the real value of money and the incident completely changed her as a person.
Her purpose in life changed overnight. She was now burning with a strong desire, a desire to earn enough money so that no elder sister has to see her little daughter pass away in her arms ever again.
Saroj learned about a Govt. scheme that provided small loans to entrepreneurs and after tirelessly working for more than a year, she successfully secured a small loan of INR 50,000 (~$1000).
With that, she started a small furniture business which she gradually turned profitable.
She immersed herself in business and worked diligently for 16 hours a day. Her determined efforts bore fruits and within a short period, she established herself as a successful entrepreneur.
She was always cognizant of the thousands of unemployed young people around her and to help them out, she established an NGO ‘Sushikshit Berozgaar Yuvak Sangathan’ in 1985.
The main objective of the organization was to help budding entrepreneurs secure loans and unemployed people find jobs.
Because of her relentless social work and efforts of uplifting others, she earned the epithet Tai (‘older sister’ in Marathi).
Striking Gold — Venture 2
Being aware of her generosity, a man in dire need of money, turned to her for help. He offered her his 2.5 Acre plot of land at one-fifth of its market value.
Although her associates warned her of all the legal problems that the land had, she decided to help the man out. She made a down payment and took possession of the land.
The problem was that the land could only be used for farming and moreover, it was a landmine of litigations.
Long story short, after more than 36 months, tons of paperwork and persistent endeavors, she got all the litigations removed from the land and the value of the land shot up by 50 times.
Taking advantage of the situation, she quickly found a business partner, a builder, and started a real estate development firm, Kalpana Builders and Developers.
She never looked back again.
Taking Over and Resurrecting A Dying Company
By now, Saroj had proved her mettle and established herself as a successful businesswoman.
In 2001, workers of Kamani Tubes, a debt-ridden company, approached her to save it. She joined the company’s board when it was nearly going into liquidation.
If the company had gone into liquidation, it would have taken food off the table of 566 families.
She not only revived the company but also turned it profitable.
Today, she owns a business empire worth approximately $120 million.
In the year 2013, she was awarded the Padma Shri (4th highest civilian award in India) for her contributions to Trade and Industry, for valiantly taking on a failing business.
I am inspired beyond measure. I hope you are inspired too.
We all have problems in life but only the defeated mind is destined to fail.
“Whether you think you can, or you think you can’t — you’re right.” — Henry Ford
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Source: Interview in Hindi (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cvvCHMoA3-M) and Google.