The economy is down, but thats a trend all over the world. Its a kind of a cycle. We are now going through bad times, how long it will last we cant say, says Birla, better known as Basant babu.
But he also points out that, even with the economy in a state of turmoil, most of the industries are making profits, maybe less compared to the peak.
As he talks to us with wife Sarala Birla by his side at their sprawling south Kolkata residence, we ask him about his grandson, Kumar Mangalam Birla, who, like grandfather Basant Birla, also had to take up the reins of the company at a young age; about Priyamvada; succession plans; his interest in the arts; and last, why did he choose to stay on in Kolkata when many opted to leave.
We start by asking him whether cash-rich corporate India should be less ostentatious like Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has suggested.
I entirely agree with the PM. We should be simple. I am not saying one should lead a life of poverty but lead a simple life. In my eyes, if you are arrogant, you are nobody, he says, and explains: We are old-fashioned. You may think we are fools but thats how we have led our lives.
We wont go out and have lunch or dinner for Rs 5,000, he says.
At 88, Basant K Birla says he has clearly laid out his succession plans. Jay Shree Tea will go to our daughter Jayashree, everything else, including Kesoram Industries, Century Enka and Century Textiles, will go to our grandson Kumar Mangalam, he says.
As for our other daughter Manjushree, we gave her a big tea garden in the south last year, some other things will go to her as well. Everything is in my will. Everything is clear, says Birla.
A lot of other things are sorted out as well, like the cross-holdings in group holding company Pilani Investments.
I hold 57% in Pilani Investments, he points out and then, with a twinkle in his eyes, asks: Do you know who holds 25% in Pilani Investments And answers himself: RS Lodha.
With the Priyamvada issue hanging in the air Sarala Birla even points to Priyamvadas home next door: she used to live there we were one familyBasant babu tells us: In my family, I dont think anyone will fight.
Has the Priyamvada issue pained him In a way it has pained us; in a way not. Priyamvada was her own boss. She is entitled to give her property to anyone. She had no children, so she had to make a choice. She made a choice which we thought wasnt good. We are not very happy about that, says Bansant Birla.
Both Basant and Sarala Birla talk at length about their grandson hes humble and has very good habits he is expanding and will expand a lot more. we are very proud of him about the Birla Academy and why they are so attached to it; how they like to lead their lives.
Before leaving, he tells us why he never left Kolkata. I was born here. I love Kolkata. I dont want to go anywhere from here.