Wednesday, May 1, 2024


Satyen was a conscientious employee and had spent close to a quarter century in a private bank. A devoted family man, he found solace in his cosy two-bedroom flat, sharing life's journey with his wife and adult children. Life, with its inevitable ebbs and flows, tested him as it did everyone else, but Satyen firmly believed that resilience in the face of adversity was the key to happiness.

Meanwhile, Amit, Satyen's son, carved his path in the financial world. Armed with degree in Statistics and Economics and a post-graduate degree in Business Management, he navigated the realm of mutual funds as an analyst with an asset management company. Collaborating closely with Tushar, his affable colleague from marketing, they forged a bond beyond the confines of the office, nurturing dreams of entrepreneurial success. Their friendship blossomed over shared meals, movie nights, and spirited debates during IPL matches.

And this is when, given the bond that had developed between them, they decided to venture out on their own. They reasoned that with Amit's analytical skills and Tushar's marketing prowess, they would start a financial advisory business and if they were able to scale up operations, then the ultimate aim was to launch an equity fund of their own.

Amit sounded Satyen about their plans to start a new venture and was pleasantly surprised that Satyen, though having no entrepreneurial experience himself, was enthusiastic about it. Amit was probably not aware that deep within Satyen too had wanted to venture out on his own. But, probably lacking the risk appetite or not wanting to rock a steady boat, he never worked on it.

As Amit and Tushar delved deeper into planning their venture, resigning from their current jobs to focus wholeheartedly on their newfound endeavour became inevitable. Striking a balance between professional commitments at work and entrepreneurial aspirations became increasingly taxing, prompting them to take the leap of faith. They put in their papers a few days apart, hoping the company's management would not read too much into their departure.

That Satyen was enthusiastic about this new venture, as Amit realised later, was an understatement. At a family get-together, he spoke to close relatives freely about Amit's new venture. Not only did he speak about Amit's plans but also about how the mutual fund industry was poised to grow adding that presently people preferred investing their savings in Equities and Mutual Funds rather than parking them in safe havens such as Fixed Deposits, Government Bonds and Debentures.

The responses that Satyen received were not entirely to his expectations. Whilst his siblings and their spouses were polite and unhesitatingly wished Amit "All the very best", there was a 'but' in their tone. They spoke of exercising caution and about the high failure rate in start-ups. He was also queried whether Amit had a well-paying job, and if so, why was he throwing it away. Some even inquired about their source of funds for the office rentals, salaries and administrative expenses, and if Satyen had the financial means to back Amit if required. On reflection, Satyen felt that his extended family did not share his excitement about Amit's leap of faith and his aspirations. He thought it best not to talk about it socially and let Amit's work speak for itself.

Amit's notice period was coming to an end, and one evening, leaving office early he decided to visit his father at work. As they chatted over a cuppa in Satyen's cabin the Vice President of the Bank, Mr. Shenoy, passing by, taking notice of Amit, stepped in. "How are you, young man? So, what have you been up to lately?" he asked in his usual affable voice. The VP too, was with the bank for several years and knew family members of his close associates well, having interacted with them at dinners and get-togethers organised by the bank.

Amit, hesitant at first, let him know of his plan to embark on his journey in the world of finance. The VP looked at him enquiringly, nodded his head,  then invited both of them to his cabin.

As they seated themselves on the sofa in his spacious cabin, the VP enquired of Amit how he planned to go about his new venture. Having heard Amit patiently, the VP now focussed his attention on his partner, Tushar. He asked Amit what kind of business Tushar achieved monthly and whether he was able to meet company targets. Having satisfied himself that Tushar had good connections and the drive to scale up the business, he turned to the administrative essentials. He enquired about the proposed location of their new office, what type of staff they proposed to have, and finally about their finances. Along the way, he also offered his views and helpful tips that he had acquired over the years working in the world of finance whilst emphasizing the trials and tribulations of entrepreneurship. But, he then added, "this is how all great businesses are built". The rock-solid foundation of business is the founders' strong sense of self-belief, a can-do attitude mixed with a large dose of perseverance.

The VP then fell silent letting Amit soak in all that he had said. After a few moments of silence, he spoke again. "Amit, I am proud that you have taken the bold step of venturing out on your own. If you require any assistance which is within my means to provide, I would be very happy to help. Good luck, my boy!" 

As the father and son duo left the Vice President's office, Satyen could not but contemplate the contrast between the response of his relatives and that of his boss to the news of Amit's new business venture.

Armed with newfound encouragement and a mentor's blessing, Amit embarked on his entrepreneurial odyssey with renewed vigour, and the knowledge that now not only did he have his father's unwavering support but also that of a true well-wisher on whom he could count for guidance and invaluable insights.

Saturday, February 3, 2024


It was “Open Interview Week” and the university campus was filled with excitement as industry leaders sought outstanding talent with promising offers. Though the final exams were two months away, clearing them was deemed a mere formality for this prestigious institution attracted the brightest minds.

Anand Raj exuded confidence that he would secure a significant opportunity. Armed with an engineering degree and two years of work experience in a major Indian industrial conglomerate, he believed an MBA would provide him with a comprehensive view of company operations.

A week earlier, as upcoming interviews and group discussions loomed ahead, the students busily prepared with guidance from the university's placement cell. Upgrading wardrobes became a priority, considering their casual attire over the past sixteen months.

As anticipated, Anand aced the interviews with the two companies of his choice among the seven visiting the  university. One of the companies was a snack and beverage MNC whilst the other was a consulting and transaction services firm. Both were impressed, offering him lucrative positions with substantial pay and jaw-dropping joining bonuses. Anand preferred the consulting and transaction services firm, envisioning it as a stepping stone to understanding diverse businesses for his future venture.

After informing the HR manager of his decision, Anand was surprised to learn about a final interview with senior management before formal induction. He had assumed the selection process was complete, but the HR manager assured him it was a mere formality.

Anand excelled in his final semester and, after a brief farewell getaway with classmates, returned home to prepare for the last interview. Confident of leaving a lasting impression, he entered the President's cabin with self-assurance. The President, accompanied by the HR Head, the head of the department he was to join, and a lady in charge of the Corporate Social Responsibility, conducted the interview.

The interview proceeded as anticipated, with the department head seeking Anand's insights on his team’s current project. The President maintained a more relaxed tone during their interaction. However, it was during the HR Head's inquiry into Anand's family background that he opened up about the challenges he faced in his formative years.

Anand shared the poignant story of losing his father at the tender age of three, leaving his mother, with their limited savings, to take up employment. Despite exhaustion from her work, she tirelessly managed all household responsibilities to ensure Anand's education remained unaffected. Additionally, she often took on extra assignments to supplement her income, covering the rising costs of Anand's tuition and extracurricular activities. Hoping to convey his determination to overcome adversity, Anand provided this detailed response, with the President's expression seemingly reflecting an understanding of his resilience.

As Anand perceived it, the interview concluded when the President, turning his gaze towards the others, silently inquired if anyone had additional remarks. At that moment, the lady, who had quietly observed the proceedings, posed an unexpected question: "Throughout all those years when your mother laboured tirelessly every day to ensure you lacked nothing in your upbringing, did you regularly assist her with the daily household chores?" Anand felt a sudden jolt as her inquiry hit him like a surprise revelation sending a hushed stillness through the room.

Initially, he stared at the lady, his gaze eventually shifting to a distant, contemplative look. A stiffness set in, and his demeanour underwent a noticeable change. Words eluded him as he sat in silence, flooded with memories of his mother's tireless efforts. The late-night work, early morning preparations of proper meals, bedtime stories, and assistance with homework flashed before him. His mother never flinched when he requested new clothes or obliged without hesitation to fund school trips. It dawned on him that he rarely witnessed his mother buying a new dress or socializing with friends. The only times she indulged in movies were at his insistence.

Overwhelmed with guilt, Anand, who had planned to accept the job, stood up, expressing his gratitude but requesting time for reflection. He needed a few days before giving his final response, as he felt compelled to return home and be with his mother.

As he prepared to leave, the President understanding Anand's predicament, expressed that they would be happy to have him on board whilst acknowledging his need to be with his mother for the time being.

Tuesday, January 23, 2024

Laughing Through Surnames: A Parsi Comedy of Suffixes

As Bombayites, or now Mumbaikars, we live amongst the largest congregation of Parsis anywhere in the world. And, most of us must have noticed, with some amusement, the funny surnames some of them bear. Probably, the first such surname that comes to mind is Sodawaterwalla. Well, it is a no-brainer that it was given to a Parsi gent in the carbonated water business. Much before colas were invented, we had Raspberry, Orange, Lemon and Pineapple flavoured carbonated drinks. This surname was fictionally elongated to Sodawaterbottleopenerwalla by Adi Marzban in his popularly funny Parsi Nataks.

The next one sounds a bit embarrassing – Boywalla. Whilst in today’s lingo it sounds quite Gay, it has nothing to do with one’s sexual preferences. This surname comes from the Boi ritual which involves feeding the sacred fire in a fire temple with fragrance and fuel. And the persons who performed it were referred to as Boiwala or Boywalla.

A Ginwalla would probably be the lucky bloke dealing in liquor. Sadly, no. On the contrary, those who were referred to as such were textile mill employees in charge of the Ginning machines. Similarly, the highly erotic-sounding Screwalla surname was suffixed to those whose job was quite boring – overseeing loads of fluffy cotton pressed tightly into bales by a screw-operated mechanism. And, while Daruwalla indicates liquor trade, the word Daru was also used to refer to gunpowder.

Fanibanda may tickle your funny bone but it refers to Parsis from a place in Hubli (Karnataka) called Faniband. Similarly, Dhondys were residents of Daund near Pune. While Parsis are known anglophiles and have anglicised surnames like Cooper, Nicholson, Driver, Doctor, Engineer, etc., a few even had European-sounding surnames like Petit, Sinor and Italia. Not that they have any connection to France, Spain or Italy. Petit is the French equivalent of the Parsi-Gujarati Nalla meaning short or small, whilst Sinor and Itala are villages in Gujarat! Another village that has given a rather unpleasant-sounding surname is Gharda, meaning old in Gujarati.

A lot of Parsis made their money in the 18th,  19th and early 20th centuries due to their business links with the British in India, though this association was not confined to cities like Bombay, Calcutta, Surat and Madras. Many Parsis travelled to, and later settled in, military cantonments at Deolali, Nagar (Ahmednagar), Belguam, Poona and called themselves Deolaliwalla, Nagarwalla, Belgaumwalla and the most famous of all since Covid, Poonawalla. And from one such cantonment in Karachi comes the story of a particularly derogatory but laughable surname. A Parsi contractor desperate to win a contract for military supplies adopted such patronising behaviour towards a particular British officer in charge of procurement, that the hassled official told the contractor that he would consider his proposal if he changed his surname and the name of his company to Bumsuckerwalla! Evidently, the Parsi complied!!

The Bumsuckerwalla family of Karachi

And finally, when it comes to the most famous Parsi surname of all, TATA, which is associated with their fair treatment of employees, their commitment to the nation, and winning the trust of its customers in India and abroad, one would be surprised to know that it is a corruption of the word Tartar, meaning hot as in hot-tempered, referring to an ancestor of Jamsetji who, so it seems, was quite irritable!

PS: I was inspired to write this piece after attending a talk on Parsi surnames by Kaevan Umrigar at Khaki Labs in Fort, Mumbai. Burjor Daboo’s compilation of Parsi surnames on has also been a point of reference. The image is from









Satyen was a conscientious employee and had spent close to a quarter century in a private bank. A devoted family man, he found solace in his...