The name Kokilaben Dhirubhai Ambani conjures up images of a strong-willed, determined woman who steadfastly stood behind her husband in all his endeavours and is believed to have played a major role in his success.
Yet, Kokilaben guarded her privacy fiercely and consistently shied away from requests for interviews. Now, the matriarch shares her thoughts on life and her family. This is Kokilaben in her own words.
GUIDANCE: Kokilaben Ambani with her late husband, Dhirubhai Ambani
Excerpts from an interview:
I spent my childhood in Jamnagar, which was not as developed those years as it is now. We were a middle-class family. I would do all the household chores that girls of those days were expected to do. I would also do sewing and embroidery work. Our elders believed that girls should be well versed in domestic chores.
In those days (in the 1940s), there were government schools. So, there were no fees. I did my matriculation in the Shri Sajuba Girls High School in Jamnagar. I was fond of reading and loved singing too. I would mostly sing devotional songs and prayers. Somehow, I had an affinity for chanting Sanskrit shloks.
My father Ratilal Jasharaj Patel was a simple man who led an austere and honest life. We were three sisters and two brothers. My father took a keen interest in our studies. My mother Rukshmaniben was an ideal homemaker. She managed the house so well on my father*s frugal income that we never felt any scarcity at all. In fact, she did manage to save money and help others in need.
Change is the law of life, but I think our generation has seen a great deal of change. Earlier, women mostly stayed indoors and the onus of household responsibilities and daily chores fell on them. Nobody educated them, simply on the premise that eventually women would be in charge of the kitchen. Yet, today, see what they have done with the opportunities available to them. Girls outclass boys in the field of education.u00a0Today*s women have opportunities to showcase their talents and this is a positive change. Women have broken stereotypes, sent age-old myths flying out of the window. Today*s women have reached space and also touched the pinnacle of the spiritual world.
When I got married to Dhirubhai Ambani in 1955, I had not even dreamt that my life would change so much. I saw Mumbai for the first time. While going to Aden, (a city in Yemen) I marvelled at the steamer, which was to take me there, once again, it was a first for me.u00a0 Life in Aden (where Dhirubhai lived for some time) was so different compared to Jamnagar or other places but Dhirubhai was my guide. Aden was a turning point in the real sense for me. I became a mother for the first time. Mukesh was born in Aden (Anil, Dipty and Nina were born in Mumbai).u00a0 All four of them were married in Mumbai. Today, ours is a family of 19 including two daughters-in-law, two sons-in-law and our nine grandchildren.
When I rewind to my earlier years, a number of anecdotes come back like the time when I was in Chorwad (in Gujarat) living there after my marriage. Dhirubhai had written a letter to me from Aden, which said, Kokila, I have bought a car and I will come to fetch you in that car.u00a0 Can you guess what is the colour of the car? He then added, *it is black, like me.* I liked his sense of humour the most. He came to pick me up in that car when I reached Aden. So it was a bullock cart at Chorwad, car at Aden and plane and helicopter in Mumbai.
Immediately after coming to Mumbai my life changed rapidly. We were in the post-Independence phase, Dhirubhai was making headway.
Once Reliance was set up, newer directions opened up for us. Dhirubhai was going up step-by-step and what is interesting is that he would keep me with him on every step, shoulder to shoulder.
He would always keep me apprised and updated on his new projects and I would attend theu00a0 inauguration of every plant.
He would insist on me accompanying him to every party and function. He would often say meeting others would add to our general knowledge.
Even when some dignitaries dropped by at our house, he would insist on me joining him.
Even though I had studied in a Gujarati school, I had started learning English immediately after coming to Mumbai. This was also thanks to Dhirubhai*s foresight. A tutor used to come in to teach English to the children.
Dhirubhai said, Kokila why don*t you learn English? I jumped at the suggestion.
He would take me to five-star hotels so that I could cultivate a taste for Chinese, Mexican, Italian and Japanese cuisine. Even when we went abroad, he would fill me in with information about the places we visited and even asked me to read about them. In short, he moulded me so well, that I would not feel out of place anywhere. I constantly adapted to change.
Often, I would wish I were born late in the world, so that I could have reaped the benefits of new inventions in science and technology. I sometimes rue that when I was in Chorwad and Dhirubhai in Aden, letters exchanged between us would reach so late. It would have been so much better in the age of rapid communication. Again, when I was going to Aden by steamer, I was alone, longing for my parents and siblings. I often think if I had a mobile then...I do use the computer, i Phone with ease now, but I want to learn to make a greater, more efficient use of the computer.
When I am asked about modern women and their time management, their dexterity in handling several responsibilities at once like family, home, children, I would say that the modern woman herself is worth emulating. Speaking for myself, I would say that I am a student of the Dhirubhai Ambani University - I have learnt immensely from my late husband.
I would like to finish by saying that my belief in God is so strong, I do not think even a leaf can move without His sanction. My mother would often say, if it works out in our favour it is God*s blessing and if it does not, it is His wish.
The Ambani saga continues to hold the city in its thrall. A rags to riches story that could make fiction pale in comparison, two warring brothers, a mammoth empire, a quiet matriarch, visible wives ufffd who needs soap operas.
A new book on the Ambanis, Ambani & Sons a sequel to the highly controversial The Polyester Princeu00a0 has hit Indian bookstores. The Polyester Prince: The Rise Of Dhirubhai Ambani written by Hamish McDonald had met with legal injunctions. Ambani & Sons written by the same author has already hit bookstores and is selling well.
" We have asked for 100 copies from Roli books who are the publishers but there is a shortage. So far only 20 copies have arrived," says P M Shenvi, manager Strand bookstall in South Mumbai.
"We have sold 50 copies in just two days," says a spokesperson at the Crossword bookstore in Kemps Corner. Oxford bookstore in Churchgate says, "We have ordered for more copies."
In spite of injunctions on The Polyester Prince, pirated copies of the book are everywhere.u00a0 Says Shenvi: "Even the book The Polyester Prince is very popular. We got original copies of the book and sold them. In fact, in the last one year we have sold some 700 copies."
News agency reports stated that McDonald, writer, *Ambani & Sons*, had said that the split in the Reliance Empire has been good for India as it unlocked a lot of value. "Overall, it has been better for India. The split has been good for the share market, it has unlocked a lot of value and helped entrepreneurship," McDonald said at an event for the book*s promotion in the city.
After the split in 2005, younger brother Anil went to the backward areas and Hindi belt, while elder sibling Mukesh went out and bought assets abroad, McDonald said.
"It was good for Reliance as well...it could focus on its key businesses and the split also took it back to its strengths," McDonald said.u00a0 In a lighter vein, McDonald added, "It*s better for two brothers to watch the outside world rather than watching each other."u00a0