Tuesday, 14 May 2013

A Loan Repaid

    I first met Zaheer at Motiram's garage where he often whiled away his time. He was unemployed like many other youths then. He helped me to get a chicken that I was desperately looking for, as we were expecting guests for lunch.
           Nazira, a sleepy nook in the late seventies, was grappling with the requirements of the oil personnel who were posted here from diverse Indian regions. Earlier it was a content little town evolving from the many tea gardens that surrounded it. With the discovery of  oil-fields around it, it was only natural for the ONGC to set up a colony here. 
          The means of meeting the household needs were the  co-operative store just outside the colony gates and other small kiosks. In the evenings, a “haat” sprung up selling local produce of vegetables, fruits, fish, poultry and eggs. The vendors’ cries mingled with the smell of kerosene flames as the people peered at the wares and poked the fish to check for freshness. This was the only time and place to stock up. That should explain my desperation when I met Zaheer. For it is sacrilegious to offer a meal to guests without the fish and the meat in any self respecting Assamese household.
            Assam  was in a turmoil with discontent brewing like a bubbling cauldron. The Student’s Agitation was gaining momentum. The youth across the state were swept away in its currents like the Brahmaputra ruthlessly eroded chunks of land when in spate.  To them the out-siders were exploiters looting away the resources of the place while the locals were left penniless.
     I met him outside  our colony gate one evening.
“Hello Zaheer! How’s everything? ”
He came up to me with an embarrassed look and gazed straight at me, “Can you help me to get a job, dada?” I was taken aback.
“Why a job? Why don’t you do something on your own?”
“Dada, I don’t have the money to start on my own and I cannot ask abba."
        I discussed Zaheer with my wife Moni. He seemed a nice lad to me. There was something latent in him, restless with caged energy.
“Why don’t we help him?” said Moni quietly, “ I've some savings, you know.”  I called him the next day.
“My wife and I thought about it, Zaheer. If you are serious about it, we will give you a loan of fifteen hundred rupees which is my wife’s savings actually. You can repay us once you make headway.”
    He was speechless. “You could start with a bakery since there isn't one here. Things like bread, cakes, biscuits…There would be a demand for them in the colony” said I.
Zaheer’s face lighted up as he saw the idea taking shape.
 I've a friend who has a bakery in Sibsagar. You could begin by sourcing  the products from there” I said.
“Yes, I can tie up to get the stuff by the early morning State Transport bus,” said Zaheer his eyes shining.

    And so began Zaheer’s shop T-fin. Every morning his wares would arrive in a black tin box by the first bus from Sibsagar. Initially these barely managed to cover the shelves that his carpenter friend made. Breads, biscuits, puffs were suddenly available in Nazira. People started trickling in, first out of curiosity and then out of habit.
  After a long tenure at Nazira  I was posted to Madras, now renamed Chennai.   
   The next time I met him was during our home town visit when he came to take us to Nazira. 
    "Zaheer, you have done well for yourself" I said.
"Allah has been kind, dada!" said he.
 I saw a T-fin, all spruced up and swanky being handled by Bulbul, his brother.  Next to it was an electronics showroom flaunting gadgets from small transistors to televisions. 

"But I have had my moments of doubts as well" said he with a smile. 
"I took up a job with the Accounts department in ONGC for a couple of years leaving the bakery with a manager, thinking of a secured future."
This was news to me. 
"And now you are back to business again. Why?"
" You know I had five sisters to be educated and married off. I needed money fast and the salary was not enough for this. When I finally decided to leave the job everyone thought I was mad. They dissuaded me, counselled me...But I knew what I wanted and how to get it. No, the salary was not going to tide me over. " Zaheer laughed. We were sitting in his office room catching up after a long time.  
     After leaving the job he plunged into business building up from what he had. Zaheer, I learnt, had forayed into construction business soon after.  He built a reputation for himself for his quality of work and soon it was flourishing. 
Assam in 1990s had a parallel murky goings-on with the surrendered militants of ULFA demanding a fees for applying for tenders. And once you got the tender they were expected to be given a commission. This was eating into the business man's profit. 

"In such a situation, the quality of work would have to be compromised for I couldn't work on a loss. I spent many sleepless nights. My reputation was at stake. That was when I decided to give it up. I gave up my flourishing business of construction. It was tough but there was no other way" said Zaheer with a grimace. Just then the phone rang. Zaheer excused himself to attend it.

    Right from the beginning it has been a constant struggle. But Zaheer was a fighter.
I looked out of his office at the showroom. He had a couple of more branches. It was bristling with customers and salesmen.
"Your showrooms are also doing well" I said when he looked around from his call.
" Dada, I've realised that it is better to change route once you hit a dead end. So when I see a particular venture not doing well or not giving the expected returns, I start something different" said Zaheer, "something that I believe I can give my best to. Come dada, lets go for lunch. Manju is waiting for us."

      A young lad who was once scouring for employment now fed many homes. A reputed businessman, Zaheer never forgot his own humble beginnings. At a time when his contemporaries were fumbling to find their bearings, Zaheer realised his calling.  

      Every time I went back to Nazira, I saw him grow. He had long paid me back the loan. What I witnessed now was the interest.  I couldn’t have asked for a better repayment.

I wish to get my story published in Chicken Soup for the Indian Entrepreneurs Soul in association with BlogAdda.com


  1. good people always win in the last, wonderful read

  2. a nice little piece of great inspiration :)


  3. A very inspiring post! Pleased to have read this, Ilakshee

  4. I love going through your words

  5. I love going through your words!

  6. Well written. First time you are writing in first person as a male.( so far l have read)


Your words keep me going :)