The Birlas go through ups & downs, blessed by Gandhi

Written by Sudipta Datta | Kolkata | Updated: May 2 2011, 04:58am hrs
The Basant Birla family, Rajashree Birla included, descended on Kolkata on Saturday for a special occasion, the 69th wedding anniversary of Sarala and industrialist Basant Birla. A biography, Life has no full Stops, written by Rashme Sehgal and published by Amaryllis, was released by veteran actor Dev Anand to mark the day.

It was a union blessed by Mahatma Gandhi, who, says Sehgal in the biography, was convinced that Sarala had imbibed the best of both eastern and western education and recommended her strongly as a match for Basant Birla.

On his part, Basant Birla had stepped into the shoes of GD Birla, his legendary businessman father, pretty early in life, but their backgrounds were poles apart. Sarala, daughter of an Akola businessman Brijlal Biyani and a Gandhi follower, was a bit of a tomboy who loved sports and was a kho-kho and badminton champion. A student of Punes famous Fergusson College when Gandhi and Ba (Kasturba) oversaw their engagement at his Sewagram ashram, Sarala created a flurry in the conservative Marwari Birla home in Calcutta by writing a letter to Basant Birla in English. But after her marriage, she adjusted to the Birla household, which observed purdah, as she had given her word to Gandhi.

The book, full of lovely anecdotes and pictures, has one that revolves around the late Priyamvada Birla. This goes back to 1943, decades before her purported will giving away her share to the Lodhas led to a bitter battle between the Birlas and Lodhas, which is still in court. On November 14, 1943, soon after Aditya Birla, Sarala and BK Birlas eldest child, was born in Delhi, Basant Birla wanted to rush to look in on his wife and child. His grandmother, Badi Ma, sent a stern message, recounts Basant Birla, that he should stay away for a period of confinement. His sister-in-law Priyamvada came to his rescue, and arranged a meeting with Basant Birla and his child for a few minutes everyday, warning him of Badi Mas impending arrival with a coughing bout. Later, in Calcutta, when it was time to send Aditya Birla to school, the parents felt nothing was suitable and started a Montessori of their own, thus triggering the Birla familys long association with education.

In the book, the couple talk about their three children, Aditya Vikram, Manjushree and Jayshree; their love for the arts, music both played the violin in childhood; their philosophies, largely inspired by Gandhi. They recall many moments from their inspirational lives, the ups and downs, particularly the loss of their son to cancer in 1995. Earlier, in 1986, after a rather bitter family division of wealth and assets following GD Birlas death and a frustrating political environment, Basant Birla wanted to give it all up and retire in Benares. To which Sarala Birla put her foot down: Ups and downs are a part of life. What will you do sitting at home all day long You will get bored.

Basant Birla seldom disagreed with Sarala on important matters, and thats why, even at 91, he still goes to office daily, looking after the affairs of flagship Kesoram Industries and other group companies. Life has no full stops for the patriarch of the R10,000-crore BK Birla group, happily with Sarala Birla firmly by his side.