I did my education in various countries. My very first education was in Spanish in Cuba, where I was born. Then I went to France for a while. But most of my formative years were spent in Morocco at Casablanca. For my higher studies I went back to France where I did my MBA. Then I went to Latin America — Mexico and Brazil — for internship, which lasted for about a year. Later on I went back to France for a brief period and came to India during 1969-70.
Love at first sight
With India it was love at first sight. In Mexico during 1965-66 I was involved in movement for peace in Vietnam and in 1968 I was part of the French students’ uprising — both left-backed. In fact a journalist friend of mine, who was with me in both these movements, was coming to India to study the Leftist movement that was unfolding in some parts of the country — mainly Kerala and West Bengal. I accompanied him. He left after one month but I stayed on.
After he had left, my connection with politics got severed. But I travelled extensively in south India — mainly the rural areas — the villages. In fact what I liked and still like about India is her people. I fell in love with the people of India. I applied for Indian citizenship in the year 1984 and became one in 1990.
My entire work career has been in India. My first job in India was in Mumbai. As my background was trade and commerce I was taken as the commercial attaché to the French Embassy but was posted in Bombay, now Mumbai. Later I came to Delhi.
The Indian journey
What I do today is more conservation than tourism. Tourism has come as secondary to the fact that we were interested in conserving the past — as much as it could be conserved. I had always been interested in archaeology, history and antiques and such things, since childhood. When I realised that in India there was a lot that had to be looked after, it became almost like a mission to work on. And then I had worked in a region in Rajasthan — the Shekhawati area — from where many Marwaris had moved to Kolkata. I spent a lot of my weekends and short holidays there and co-authored a book with Aman Nath on the frescos of Shekhawati. And then went on to do a book on the arts and crafts of Rajasthan, during the course of which we came across some old ruins. We took over and worked on that. Thus, Neemrana started. We had no plans to do hotels. It came later.
What is success?
If you ask me what my motto for success is, I would say this: When people ask me, ‘Are you successful?’ I say, ‘I am successful in the sense that I live where I like to live, with the people I like and the way I like.’ This I consider a success in life. Otherwise you would be unhappy. For me success is not money, certainly not money.
Appetite for success
We are in the process of looking at more opportunities. There’s no stopping us. Once you have got the feel of a profession you want to carry on. So I would say, to convert the small chain (of hotels) that we have created, which now includes about 20 properties, to a bigger entity, is our goal.
Work. Workaholism. You have to work hard to become successful. There is no other way.
Advice to young people
First know yourself well so that you can choose the right direction for yourself, and then work towards that end.
Francis Wacziarg As told to Pranab Ghosh