Success Story in Delhi
By DAVID L. COHN
IT CAME about in a curious way. If I had not forgotten the telephone number of the beguiling Indian lady whom I had met at dinner the night before, I should not have come upon the success story of Baghittar Singh Bawa — “Great Business Magnate.”
And this was as it should have been; for, born myself in the drowsy South, I have always felt that those who adhere to the sterile doctrine that a straight line is the shortest, distance between two points — salesmen, say, and engineers and chiropractors and ambitious mothers of debutante daughters — are a dark patch upon the earth and shall surely perish before their time, if indeed they have ever lived.
It follows, therefore, that since a man is the sum of the suns that have shone upon him, the earth that has nurtured him, and the tides of circumstance which have lapped him, I found myself quite at home in India without becoming a tearoom mystic or contemplating my navel — a practice which is not only aesthetically unrewarding but requires in the novitiate a high degree of physical exertion to which I am too lazy to give myself. Thus, unlike so many of my more practical countrymen who constituted the India-Burma theater of operations, I liked the tangential, dilatory, far-wandering ways by which Orientals conduct their affairs with accompaniments of teaor coffee-drinking and polite, stylized, ceremonious evasions of the matter in hand. Consequently I was the more pleased that I had come upon Baghittar Singh Bawa, whom I have never met, by the indirect intervention of a lady whom I had met only once before.
Thumbing through the Delhi telephone directory for the lady’s number, I ran across a full-page advertisement devoted to the business achievements and philosophical meditations of Baghittar Singh Bawa, — a handsome old man as his picture attested, — founder of the Bawa Glass Company. It began with a statement startling to American eyes long accustomed to the sign-thecoupon-now technique of our advertisers: “A brief review of his Life’s sketch taken out of his autobiography as detailed in his valuable and literary writings ‘Vachitlar Gita’ and ‘Dundakari.'”
I vainly tried to imagine Mr. Many of Many’s, Mr. Ward of Montgomery Ward, or Mr. Procter of Procter & Gamble, beginning an advertisement designed to sell shirts, ice-cream freezers, or soap, with a recital of their personal views on the desirability of wife-beating or chinning oneself twelve times before breakfast. Yet here was the president of the Bawa Glass Company using paid space to air, not the virtues of his product, but his personal views on the life of the spirit — a commodity distinctly non-bankable even in India.
But I could not dismiss him as a fool, for he is an eminently successful businessman who was forced to become an executive at a time in his life when boys of well-to-do American families are attending Kent and writing letters to the remote Heloises of Farmington. “His father,” I read, “died one month before his birth, and when he was at school his elder brother too died and left upon him the burden of his big family and hereditary Timber business in critical position at Ferezepore (Punjab). Within a very short period, however, he proved himself capable and the foremost businessman in his line.”
I now knew that in India, where anything can and does happen, even the formulae of Horatio Alger Singh may be reversed. This was no case of Phil the Fiddler rising from rags to riches because he worked hard, saved his money, and was kind to others; but of the rich young man making good, the young man who had sense enough to choose wealthy parents and increase his inherited wealth. The career of the Great Business Magnate was in refreshing contrast with that of our magnates, who invariably boast of their lack of prenatal sagacity, and I was disposed to buy anything he offered for sale even if his advertisement had not satisfied a longing in me which is never satisfied by our native advertisers. It is the longing for a touch of intimacy between vendor and vendee.
All my life I have been buying things from anonymous corporations such as the A&P, Swift & Company, and Remington Arms. We are, they tell me, intimately bound up together. They exist solely for me, the Consumer. Their lives are dedicated to pleasing me and — such is the effect of a daily dose of hyperbole — I am their Boss. One would suppose, therefore, that we are on the friendliest terms; that we often exchange letters and ask one another around to the house to have a cocktail with the family.
But not at all. For all our alleged bow-and-arrow relationship, useless one without the other, they remain the anonymous sellers and I the anonymous buyer. I am distressed that I have never met the president of any corporation which I support by my purchases, but encounter him only through the impersonal agency of his local representative, who himself has never met his employer and cannot satisfy my curiosity about him.
I found in Baghittar Singh Bawa a warming intimacy because he is a man who tells you all about himself with few reservations and no coy modesty. Thus, in 1932, “he entered into a partnership in a Glass business firm at Delhi and soon created a miracle in Glass business in the whole of Northern India.”By 1938 he had left the partnership and set up on his own. Blandly and innocently, in a manner horrifying to us, he confesses not only that he had achieved a near-monopoly of the glass business around Delhi, but that he wanted a complete monopoly and hoped to get it by going to Japan and setting up offices there!
“In the very first year,” he tells us, “this firm ranked first among the equals, leaving behind all the other old colleagues and gained the monopoly of more than half of the Glass business in Delhi. . . . Two months before the declaration of the present war, brisk preparations were complete for the voyage to Europe and Japan to establish permanent offices there . . . and secure the first-rank position among the traders of the world. But the war clouds forced him to postpone that programme to a later date.”
Baghittar Singh Bawa is no ordinary man. It is true that his “marvellous talents in business attracted the entire business community of Delhi,”so that he headed almost every committee in town you could name; but he also “has been taking keen interest in and presiding over various Hindu, Muslim, and Sikh deliberations held in Delhi.”Yet he is not one to overdo things politically and find himself perhaps in a British jail. “ He is a staunch nationalist as well as law-abiding.” He is, we are told, “an apostle of Hindu-Muslim unity,”and as befits a man of his eminence and public spirit has counseled with the highest in the land and “has discussed this question with Mr. M. A. Jinnah and Tara Singh several times.”
Up to his ears in business and polities, Baghittar Singh Bawa has nonetheless found time to “edit a holy and literary book ‘Vachittar Gita’ in which he has exhaustively depicted his personal experiences to purify the soul and to reach Him while engaged in worldly affairs.”It is not true, then, that one cannot serve two masters? It is possible for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven? There is nothing irreconcilable between monopoly and mysticism, so that one mounts to the stars on wings even as one rises in the esteem of one’s stockholders?
The Christian community has long been torn by these conflicts, the echoes of which still resound occasionally in luncheon club speeches, but Baghittar Singh Bawa has serenely resolved them and announced his meditations to the world not, in the approved orthodox way, from a cave or a mountaintop, but in an advertisement in the Delhi telephone directory. If this should offend the pious or cause the skeptical to raise their eyebrows, let them remember that the gods are everywhere, they reveal themselves variously, and in their infinite wisdom they speak to men in whatever manner they may be reached, whether through the winds, the music of flutes, or paid space in a telephone directorv.
Firmly believing that the life of the spirit and the life of the flesh may go harmoniously together, and first having shown his customers how to achieve the beyond, Baghittar Singh Bawa then shows them how to be successful here in “another equally valuable book ’Dundakari ‘for the benefit of business people.” Based upon his experiences as a “great business magnate, landlord, and banker,” it is “most valuable for the failed or new business people and serves just like Aladdin’s Magic Lamp.” There is a legend abroad in the world that it takes money to make money, but it has, according to our comforting mentor, little validity. “Financial aid usually brings about success but this book teaches how to achieve success without that aid.”
Here, then, is a success story without parallel. A rich young man, despite the handicap of wealth, becomes richer. As he does so, he discovers that one may simultaneously store up wealth on earth and merit in heaven, while he teaches the penniless How to Make Money Without Money. And, being a lover of mankind, desirous that all should be able to do what he has done, he has had his books “printed in thousands for free distribution and those who need them may have a copy from Bawa Glass Co., Fathepuri, Delhi.” Suppose, however, that you find it inconvenient to go to the offices of the Company? Suppose you would like to meet the Great Business Magnate and saint for a personal consultation about your affairs? In that case you are invited to go to his residence, 6 Hailey Road, New Delhi, where you may get copies of the books or “seek personal advice.”
I commend the example of Baghittar Singh Bawa to all our presidents of corporations, chairmen of boards, directors of sales, and writers of advertising copy, as one who has achieved heaven and earth, mass production and individualism, profits and poetry, the aloofness of the stars and the warming human touch. May his ship always proceed safely around Taprobane and white birds sing in his garden.