Dhirubhai - The Man - Childhood Days

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Childhood Days

Dhirubhai was born at Chorwad, in the district of Junagarh in the western Indian state of Gujarat. Chorwad was then, as it is now, a small village about midway between the historic fort of Diu to the south and the fishing port of Porbandar to the north. Porbandar is the birthplace of Mahatma Gandhi. (Incidentally, the Gandhis and the Ambanis come from the same stock or gotra, the trading community of Modh baniyas.).

Dhirubhai's father, Hirachand Govardhandas Ambani, earned little as the village schoolteacher. He was, however, a man of simple habits and lived a measured life. Dhirubhai's mother, Jamanaben, was a thrifty woman and knew how to stretch every paisa a long way. Long years of hardship had taught her to handle with great care whatever little money Hirabhai gave her every month on the pay day.

But even her thrifty ways often failed to pull her growing family through the month. On such occasions she had to borrow small amounts of money from neighbours. She did not hide such day-to-day stark realities from her children, for she did not want to give them a false start in life.

Overall, Hirachandbhai and Jamanaben lived a life of impoverished dignity with their two daughters and three sons--Trilochanaben, Ramnikbhai, Jasuben, Dhirubhai and Natubhai. (The Gujaratis customarily add ben or sister to all female names and bhai or brother to all male names.). Dhirubhai was the favourite child of both Hirachandbhai and Jamanaben despite his being an enfant terrible.

He was from his very babyhood days extremely demanding, robust of health and difficult to placate. As he grew up to boyhood, he became even more vigorous, unyielding and irrepressible. He possessed immense gusto and enormous energy and was always determined to do what he wanted to do in exactly the way he wanted it done, come hell or high water, as the phrase goes. But Hirachandbhai was a fond father and seldom, if ever, spoke harshly to his children, especially to his favourite one.

Dhirubhai was precocious and highly intelligent and also as highly impatient of the oppressive grinding mill of the school classroom. Formal education was not his forte, he realized very early in life. He was essentially an outdoors boy. When asked to chose a task at home, at school or at the boys' hostel, he always chose the most strenuous task that called for immense physical energy and stamina. Not that he was poor in doing his school lessons but just that he did not enjoy all the mugging up and learning by rote which school education required those days.

As his elder brother Ramnikbhai and he grew into boyhood, Jamanaben began exhorting them to help supplement their father's meager income. "Begin earning some money," she nagged them. That angered Dhirubhai. "Phadia, phadia su karo chho," he snapped at her, "paisa no to dhanglo karees." (Why do you keep screaming for money? I'll make heaps of money one day.). Just to show that that was not an empty boast, he once procured a tin of groundnut oil on credit from a local whole seller and sold the oil in retail sitting on the roadside, earning a profit of a few rupees that he gave to his mother. Next, he began setting up bhajia or onion and potato fries stalls at village fairs during weekends when his school was closed.