Tuesday, March 09, 2010

The Manikram Havelichand story (The secret basement)

This is a true story from the city of Lucknow. Lucknow is an old Indian city in Northern India where the remnants of the British Raj collide with the remanats of the Islamic rule in India. Sporting a large Muslim population the city is an interesting mix of a variety of indo-afghan cuisines that are not on offer elsewhere in the country. In a place like this there are few businesses that bustle on the money-making front. This is a story about Manikram Havelichand a small time farmer who entered the flavor ingredient business in a big way. Manikram (name changed) was a small time farmer born and raised outside Lucknow by hard working parents. He never got an education and could barely read and write. Manikram was very enterprising and on one trip to Lucknow discovered that there was potential for the trade of flavor ingredients in the city and around the country. He started with a small shop and over the years expanded at a ridiculously fast pace adding products to his portfolio like they were running out of style. The uniqueness about Manikram was that he never let success get to his head. He still lived in his small farmhouse with his Mercedes parked next to his fleet of cows and horses. He would take the time to feed his farm animals while he would aggressively push competition out of the marketplace. Manikram also gave a lot to the community. His unfulfilled dream of being educated was manifested into a school for which he donated both land and time and money. Mankiram had two sons both very actively involved in the family business both living away from home. All of a sudden, this success story was to come to a very strange conclusion. One fine morning out of suspicion of hidden assets the Income tax sleuths raided the premises and offices of his company. Manikram was heartbroken. But, there was more to the story. For nearly 40 odd years Manikram had kept a dark secret. A sachet of cash in a hidden basement room in his family home. No one, not even his wife knew about this room. He would secretly for years together find himself alone at home and deposit part of his savings into the basement and make a quick exit. It was amazing that no one, not one of the staff that worked at his house, the cleaners, cooks none ever remotely close to discovering this chamber. When the IT sleuths entered this room they found a net of Rs.200 crore in cold hard cash ($50 million). This has been accumulated over the years. Manikram was in the practice of not bothering about the denomination, he just put them money in the room and ran out. By the time this cash was discovered about 1.5 Crore of it ($300,000) was eaten up by termite ! Some of the notes of cash in the stack were from the pre-independence era and some of them had been decommissioned by the government years ago. All in all, the whole sum was confiscated as undeclared income. Manikram was charged for criminal evasion of tax (several counts). Manikram maintained that he was innocent. He maintained that he did not trust the banks and based his lack of trust on some incident of bank fraud that he had faced years ago. Manikram, an old guy at 65, walking with a stick, decided to defend himself in court. He would walk up to his court dates and argue his case without an attorney. One day during a court session he suffered a heart attack and died. Now, the sons have to bear the burnt of this. They're in court defending this court case. 

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