They say Bengalis and Maharashtrians are no good at being entrepreneurs and businessmen, so they say. And you know, they may be right at that. I can’t think of too many large businesses started by Bengalis and Maharashtrians which have successfully weathered the vicissitudes of a few decades and grown and thrived. Sad but true.
However, there are exceptions. And among them, there are a few Bengalis who made it big, but for some reason, have remained unsung heroes. Here, we shall correct that and make them sung, much as Peter Sellers promised to make an untouchable girl very much touchable in one of his early movies.
First of all, let’s take the case of the five Das brothers. All of us are familiar with the wares of K C Das, the purveyor of tinned rosogollas. Many of us, who have never been to Kolkata, had no option but to eat our rosogollas from these tins. And many of us will remember how the faces of our relatives and friends lit up, when we arrived with our suitcases at their homes for a long stay, and handed out tins of K C Das rosogollas as the part of the initial batch of courtesies.
I dare say many of us are not aware of the fact that K C Das had four brothers – all of whom made it big in other countries. You didn’t know, right? Well, read on – I have taken pains to correct your ignorance.
The eldest of the brothers was Addicharan Das. A gifted shoemaker, he decided to ply his trade in Germany. Starting small, he gradually built up a huge empire of sports shoes, which became a global enterprise, which, even today, bears his name, albeit in an abbreviated form.
One of Addicharan’s brothers, Karan, followed him to Europe. He was also a master craftsman, specialising making in pencils and other writing instruments. Moving to Switzerland, he set up a business in writing instruments bearing his name, which over time, became a huge and globally successful enterprise. Again, like in the case of Addicharan, he had to change the name – he frenchified it a bit, but he kept the new name close to his own original, so his parents and siblings would know. Caran d’Ache is not too far away from the original, is it?
Two other brothers went to the US, the home of the brave, land of the free, the cradle of modern civilisation and cheap internet porn. One, Khagen, set up an icecream shop. But who’d want to buy ice cream from an Indian, that too someone from the tropical part of our nation? He rebranded his business Häägen Dazs and the whole thing just took off – people thought he was from Denmark or some other part of the world which ate, drank and breathed ice.
The case of the youngest brother, Madhusudan Das, is the most curious and touching of all. He was an absolute genius in the then new trade of writing computer code. But he was more than just a code writer; he could write products which would make the computer really sit up and beg. He created one masterpiece, but thereafter, sadly, he passed away in mysterious circumstances. However, I am glad and really touched to report that his colleagues, Paul Allen, Bill Gates, and others, have immortalised Madhusudan forever in a unique way: every time we go to MS-DOS prompt, we are reminded of Madhusudan.