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Bringing back the glory

Charities, friends and grit helped Musaffi Rohe make the journey from a suddenly impoverished trader family in Old Kalyan to a plush office in a top firm in Andheri in the thriving tourism sector, says Aarefa Johari.

mumbai Updated: Feb 22, 2011 02:11 IST
Aarefa Johari

Behind the shine and fresh paint of Rohe General Stores and Rohe Opticians in Old Kalyan is a double rags-to-riches story, of family fortunes made, lost and won back.

In the 1970s, a young man built for himself a thriving optician’s business, a home and a reputation through sheer hard work and egotistical resolve. It all came tumbling down after a family quarrel, the year his first son was born.

Today, that son, 27-yearold Musaffi Rohe, has repaid old family debts, resurrected the business and restored glory to the house, all with his power to dream big and an education he was determined to gain despite all odds. “I always knew that education was the key to a good life,” said Musaffi, whose name means ‘intelligent’ in Arabic.

Musaffi is a 2008 post-graduate from Bandra’s Rizvi Management Institute. His MBA opened up possibilities that would have been difficult to fathom in his father’s days — Musaffi landed a job as a marketing executive with Mahindra Hotels and Resorts on the very day he got his first-class result.

From the old-world Muslim neighbourhood in Kalyan’s Ghas Bazaar to his plush office in Andheri, his struggle has been long and slow. When the Rohes’ optician’s shop closed down, Musaffi’s father, Mohammed Ali, opened a small kirana store in 1984. Its profits were barely enough to feed the ninemember family and maintain the two-storey Rohe Manzil, the first cement-and-concrete house in an enclave of old wooden homes, which Ali had built at the height of his success.

Ali’s five children, who might have schooled in English had their circumstances not fallen, had to study up to Class 12 at the state-funded National Urdu High School next door, where uniforms were the only expense.

Among the brothers and sisters, the lean, mild-mannered Musaffi emerged as the most passionate student, always aware of his larger goals. “He would say he wanted to climb up in life, beyond the general store,” said his mother Haseenas, 52. “We needed more than one source of income to improve our situation, but he was the only one who believed he could make it happen.”

At a time when the Rohes were burdened with debts and expenses for their eldest daughter’s wedding, Musaffi chose higher education over working at the general store, a path he knew would bring higher returns in the future.
He joined the governmentaided

Chandibai Himathlal Mansukhani College in Ulhasnagar for a BSc degree in physics. It was a financial strain on the family, and with a daily allowance of Rs 5, Musaffi had no option but to be frugal. “I would carry one instead of two biscuits for a snack, and I often walked the two kilometres to Kalyan station for my train,” he said.
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College was a different world, flooded with English, and Musaffi remained afloat with the backing of his keen desire to learn and the short English classes he had invested in after Class 10. Today, his crisp English betrays none of this history.

For seven months after graduation, Musaffi worked as a sales executive at HDFC Bank. But he soon realised that a salary of Rs 7,000 would do nothing for his family; he had to aim higher. His boss suggested an MBA; his parents brushed off the idea. “I told him we did not have the status for it, but he said he would arrange for the funds,” said Mohammed Ali.

Musaffi sought a loan from the government’s Maulana Azad Education Trust for minorities, but the elaborate procedures and paperwork made him give up. The funds for his first year at Rizvi — Rs 1 lakh as fees besides money for books, field trips, suits and blazers — came from five neighbours who believed in him. “We are a respected family and they wanted someone in our house to progress,” said Musaffi.

In the second year, four community trusts came to the rescue, of which two, MESCO and Roge, loaned him a total of Rs 90,000. The pressure to perform well was high, and Musaffi had no time for the leisures of college life. But today, as the family’s golden child, he has no regrets. His job at a “big branded company” — he would settle for nothing less — paid him enough in two years to repay his loans and family debts, renovate the house and, in November, gift a new optician’s shop to his 65-year-old father.

It’s a job that promises much more in the rapidly growing travel and tourism sector (see box ‘Economy’).

While his parents shower him with affection on his rare day off from work, Musaffi gazes warmly at his younger brother, Muttaqui, 25, who left studies after Class 12 to help at the general store. “He sacrificed his education for mine,” said Musaffi. “Now the store is his baby to take forward.”