SAD MP Naresh Gujral on dressing Lady Diana and making his first million
Different Strokes: Gujral started out as a solo chartered accountant with a one-room office, an AC that didn’t work and a phone that never rang.Updated: Apr 14, 2019 12:34 IST
Had it not been for Princess Diana, Naresh Gujral’s garment export firm would, perhaps, have remained just one of many. But a pattern of Scottish checks caught Diana’s fancy and she wore a Gujral dress on a visit to Australia.
With that she broke a golden rule — that the British royal family, when travelling abroad, would only wear clothes made in the UK. This dress had been designed and made in India by SPAN, a company that Gujral founded when he, as he puts it, had “nothing better to do”.
Diana’s choice sparked controversy but it helped Gujral’s label immensely. SPAN became the Indian brand that once dressed Princess Diana.
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Counted among India’s better-known politicians, Gujral was hell bent on making his millions before settling down in politics: “I wanted to make money: lots of it. It was a dream I was chasing,” he says. It took a few years, but when he actually gave his mother wads of currency notes to buy a new car, she got suspicious.
“She told my father to check what I was actually doing and where I got the money,” he says. “It took her quite a while to believe that that kind of money could be earned.”
Naresh was not born with a silver spoon in his mouth. In fact, he had seen his family struggle, as many post-Partition refugees then did. He started out as a solo chartered accountant with a one-room office, where he installed an air-conditioner that did not work and a phone that never rang.
“It was actually a dummy phone because it was not easy to get a phone connection in those days,” he says. “But these props were important to give the impression that we were in business.” The truth is the ramshackle office was more of an adda, or den, for his friends.
Had it not been for an income-tax raid at a friend’s house, Naresh would perhaps have remained an accountant without work. He was roped in to check the books and that is where his first few hundreds came from, until of course he took a detour and partnered with a garment exporter.
“I knew nothing about clothes except that I was good with colours and instinctively knew what would work. More importantly, I knew that in the clothes business, you could make it big,” he says. And he did. Within three years, he made his first million rupees. It was his yuppie moment. The day his finance officer said they had a surplus of Rs 2 lakh in the bank, Naresh bought a first-class ticket around the world and took a two-month break. He wasn’t yet 30.
Naresh, currently a Rajya Sabha MP, is perhaps the least-known in a family of well-known people: his father, Inder Kumar Gujral, was former Prime Minister of India; his uncle Satish Gujral is an eminent painter; and his grandfather, Avtar Narain Gujral, was member of the Constituent Assembly of Pakistan.
Naresh knew that it would be politics for him too, but not before he made his millions. Today, he is easily among the richest politicians in India and lives in a posh home in Lutyens’ Delhi.
Politics taught him to give up fancy shoes, trendy clothes and branded ties. All that went to his staff. “As a politician I learnt to dress down,” he says, “so now I dress very simply.”
First Published: Apr 14, 2019 12:34 IST