Chandra narrates with aplomb the story of his childhood: of how the cousins played “House” where the boys happily hugged girls, because they thought it was the done thing. You see, the large sized joint-family in which they lived did not offer privacy, and they had watched Dad hug mom. Of how his father taught him English and math at home, though by his own confession, Chandra even today speaks in a broken halting manner. Of how he joined the RSS even as his Dadaji, at whose feet he learnt the rudiments of accounting, seriously objected.
How to bribe...
His bravado as a teenager who works to pay off a family debt is mind-blowing. He goes to the mandi-bazaar to broker deals where no one is willing to do business with a monetarily disgraced family. Later, Chandra, now a dal mill owner, shows chutzpah in suggesting to FCI how they should adopt a new process. When the clearance happens, Chandra bags the deal. It’s a case of win-win. Other stories include how he learnt to drink, and to bribe. How he would leave key lines in the FCI tender unfilled, which would upon opening be clandestinely filled by the FCI guys.
.... and to dupe
At times Chandra comes across as two-faced. He refuses to marry a lady because her family came to his village to do a social-standing check on him. But it was perfectly okay for him to have his Dadaji live a few days in the house of his future wife to know how she cooked! He strikes an export deal with the Russians, courtesy Dhirendra Brahmachary (Swami) and this brings him in contact with Rajiv Gandhi. When he realises that the Russians didn’t know the difference between 1st and 2nd grade basmati, he supplies 2nd grade without trying to educate them! He talks of on one occasion the Swami swallowed Rs 2 crore of Chandra’s money without fulfilling an obligation.
Chandra is quite bold in calling names. Some of these are veiled and many are direct. He talks of what he thinks was unethical practice of Hindustan Lever to book the entire output of his factory and then not take delivery thus stopping their competitors from taking the 60 million order of laminated paste tubes that he produced.
The story of the trials and tribulation of the land he bought blindfold on which later he built ESSEL World, the theme park destination; how 26 years they still haven’t received municipal water; how the government revoked a Bombay High Court judgment and how it was only in 2014 that the Supreme court restored parity are well told.
At some point Chandra decides to get into broadcasting. He meets with Star TV but their head Richard Li was not willing to do a JV with him. When Chandra indicated that he wished to rent a transponder, Li wanted 5 million dollars against the market rate of 1.2 million. When Chandra stumped him by accepting the offer, Li still refused because the market report about Chandra wasn’t good. However, a year or so later, Star had to come calling on Z as the latter had started doing well.
The broadcasting attempted by Z in the early years was actually illegal. Chandra talks of how he overcame the odds; of how Bollywood producers refused to do business with him; how he looked for outside talent and created heroes out of zeros; how Rajat Sharma showed rank unprofessionalism while exiting; and how Smriti Irani welcomed viewers when the programme began and said good night at close!
One of the rare smiles of Narasimha Rao
There are other interesting stories as well. An unfortunate spoof close to the elections on Prime Minister Narasimha Rao that had the prime minister laughing and the Enforcement Directorate scowling. How he called Star TV’s bluff by being the first to end their arrangement. How, when Star was ready to exit India ,Vajpayee pushed them to stay on lest Z TV becomes larger than life.
He sacked his CEO overnight on the perception of a difference in vision. He asked a star CEO to leave because people under him refused to work with him. He funded Ketan Parekh when the latter went through bad times. He believes that both Jagmohan Dalmia and BCCI showed rank unprofessionalism during bidding. There is also a part, which has Chandra’s version of the controversial meeting between steel baron Jindal and two senior editors of Z TV.
Essentially Subhash Chandra comes across as a bouncy businessman who knew how to cut corners and favour friends.