Friday, September 5, 2014

Raj - A family legacy!

People often ask me whether I am from Bengal when they hear my surname.  Their mistake is understandable, because 'Nath' is not a surname that traditionally originates in the region where we are from.  It was adopted on a whim by my great grandfather, who, as I have heard, was a whimsical and interesting man.  Before we became the 'Nath's, we were 'Aggarwal's, claiming descent from King Agrasena of the mythological Solar Dynasty.  Raja Agrasena's stronghold was near Hisar in Haryana, and his people were essentially traders and businessmen, categorised over the centuries as banias. My great great grandfather Genda Rai ji graduated from Mission College, Lahore and eventually settled in Ludhiana. Later, he was admitted to the Civil College of Engineering in Roorkee.  On qualifying he was inducted into the service of the British Empire and worked in the Public Works Canal Department. He rose steadily in his work and eventually became involved in the building of Lutyens' Delhi.  He retired as a Superintendent Engineer and was conferred with title of 'Rai Bahadur', which the British Government presented to its meritorious Hindu subjects as an equivalent of the OBE.

The next in line was Prem Nath ji, my great, grandfather.  He was an 'armchair lawyer', in the sense that he never practised his law, but still went to Court to attend sessions and dispensed advice to other lawyers.  Genda Rai ji's legacy had made him financially very secure, and he was generous with his wealth. He supported the education of all his cousins' and the children of distant relatives. Next was the great philanthropist of our family, my grandfather - the stylish, handsome and sophisticated Rajeshwar Nath.  He was the eldest son of Prem Nath ji. When my grandfather showed no inclination for pursuing a legal practice, he was given a full and final inheritance of Rs. 25,000.  With this money, he set up a spinning mill in Panipat in 1939, hence laying the foundation for Raj Group.  My grandfather faced severely tough and difficult times, but he was supported through all this by my indomitable grandmother, Shakuntala Nath. 

While my grandfather was an entrepreneur of his times, my grandmother did not lag far behind. She decided to empower some of the housewives from the local villages in Panipat and established a knitting unit. Knitting and sowing are an integral part of the Indian culture and every girl is taught the craft at a young age. Since the skill already existed in these women my grandmother decided to use it for a commercial venture. The cardigans knit in this unit were exported to Europe for almost a decade and my grandmother travelled across the globe to understand various market trends.
My grandparents created a legacy for Raj Group, the fruit of which we still reap.  They were both successful entrepreneurs and they championed the cause of education and empowerment.  My father, Deepak Nath, Rajeshwar Nath ji's eldest son, was sent to study in Australia when he was still a teenager; he came back with new ideas that galvanised the business with new processes and techniques.  He returned with a sense of progress that spilled on to me and my brothers.  . His marriage to my mother was perhaps the perfect blend that our family needed.

My mother Vasundhara Nath hails from one of the royal families of Gujarat. Her simplicity, humility and grace enabled her to understand my grandfather’s championing cause for the need of good educational institutions in Panipat. Through his guidance and support she successfully established a school by the name of Bal Vikas. With a graduate degree from Oxford and an indomitable spirit she progressively developed the school from kindergarten to middle school and then towards high school. While there were many challenges to be faced, she continued undeterred. Today Bal Vikas is one of the leading schools of Panipat. The school has taken upon itself the philanthropic effort of empowering women; and educating and feeding children from local slums. After my grandfather the gatekeeper to his legacy is my father Deepak Nath.  His interest in the arts, culture, architecture, design, education and innovation all come from the upbringing and learning he received from my grandparents. 

In his and the present generation, two strands of the family have come together to take the reins of the business to even greater heights.  Anil Nath and Ajay Nath - my Uncles, have been solid pillars in the company from the start of their working careers.  The business has diversified into many branches, creating a wide range of fine products being retailed in different parts of the world, with my elder brother Sumeet helming the exports along with our uncle Ajay.  My eldest brother Uday is also an intrinsic part of the business, bearing the responsibility of planning the finances of many of its individual members. As the wheels of time turn, and the younger generation take over, the family is witnessing a few of us diversify into completely alternative careers.  My cousin Aman and I are the first from the family to take strides into the Music and Film industries in Mumbai; while my cousin Avni is finding her feet in the business at Raj Group. As we all continue in this legacy of 75 years, we carry the same pride bestowed upon us by our rich heritage.

Text contributed by Vasant Nath

1 comment:

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