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Why Madhusudan Refused to Play it Safe
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Why Madhusudan Refused to Play it Safe

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Devesh Kapur, D Shyam Babu and Chandra Bhan Prasad

Born to an indentured laborer father in a Dalit family where food mattered more than studies, Mannam Madhusudan Rao began as a construction worker. Today, he runs his own construction company that is completing a township worth Rs 250 crore. This is the story of how he took this remarkable journey – the colossal risks, successes and failures through which he has persevered, all the while fighting the stigma of caste and entrepreneurship in a culture that values a job, preferably a safe government job, over independence.

The wide road leading to Jubilee Hills is difficult to navigate with its heavy motor traffic and unwieldy dips and turns. The near absence of pedestrians on the road points to its being an exclusive residential area in Hyderabad, sought by those with the means to afford its dramatic hilltop views and discreetly nestled mansions, a luxury anywhere in urban India.

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Mannam Madhusudhan Rao, founder of the MMR Group. Photo courtesy Mannam Madhusudhan Rao

The major artery, Road Number 86, slices through the heart of Jubilee Hills, servicing the numerous mansions and apartment complexes that have mushroomed on its hilltops. The rich and famous of Hyderabad – film stars, politicians, contractors, big-time moneylenders, industrialists and bankers – have laid claim to the hills. Their homes provide a convenient getaway from the heat and chaos of the city below, while remaining close enough to keep tabs on their business preoccupations. So it is with Mannam Madhusudan Rao, known as MMR, who occupies a prized apartment on the hilltop.

In his late thirties, MMR owns and runs the MMR Group of Companies, involved in construction, including infrastructure projects. He is racing to complete an entire township in Rajahmundry, a project worth Rs 250 crore.

MMR’s route to his coveted hilltop address began with a dinner party in September 2011 at a country club in Jubilee Hills. “That’s a dinner I didn’t relish,” he now admits. “It was more about drinks than food!”

Several guests drank heavily and a discussion on caste ensued. The previous week, Damodar Raja Narasimha, a Dalit politician, had become the state’s deputy chief minister. No one in the party knew that MMR was a Dalit. Mostly an upper caste crowd, some spoke disparagingly of Dalits. ‘Good thing Jubilee Hills has no Dalit resident,’ said one, with apparent satisfaction.

“Pretending that I too was drunk and tired, I left the club immediately,” recalls MMR. “Those words had hit me like shrapnel.”

That night he became determined to buy a house in Jubilee Hills. Within weeks, MMR zeroed in on a duplex apartment that stood on a hillock on Road No 86. He purchased the apartment for an undisclosed sum.

“It was certainly worth Rs 2.5 crore when MMR bought it,” says his colleague Sampat. The state’s revenue minister is MMR’s immediate neighbor.

The apartment’s kitchen measures 450 square feet. “That’s exactly half the size of the house we were born in,” says MMR’s eldest brother Peda Mala Kondaiah.

Kondaiah has had a difficult past. Born to illiterate parents, he has seven siblings. MMR is the fifth child of their parents. Their father Peraiah, now seventy years old, hadn’t inherited any land or business from his parents. Instead he inherited his father’s position as an indentured laborer, and replaced his ageing father Ramaiah when he could no longer work. Traditionally, landlords would not plough land or harvest the crops. The hierarchies of feudalism created clear demarcations between those who did manual work and those who lorded over them. Outside the house, in the field, manual labor was performed by Dalits while inside the house the women in the landlord’s household would perform the domestic chores. In addition to working on the land, the landlords would need labor to tend the many bullocks, cows and buffaloes, by fetching fodder to feed them and disposing of their dung. In this way a Dalit family would be tied with a landlord’s family for generations. Thus, Peraiah replaced his father to serve the landlord for the rest of his life. His work was the only means of feeding his eleven-member family, which included his eight children, his wife and his father. His wife and grown-up children would take up odd jobs elsewhere when the landlord did not require their labor. With the need to earn a living for the family, the three eldest children never attended school. “Food mattered more than studies,” says Kondaiah. “More often, the family lived on boiled jowar (sorghum) and red chillies.” A coarse cereal, jowar is eaten by cattle and farm workers. Jowar would be boiled and left in a pot overnight to be fermented. The next morning, the water would be drained and the jowar would be eaten with red chilli chutney.

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Mannam Madhusudhan Rao, founder of the MMR Group.

 “Sometimes, the same stuff would be eaten for weeks together,” recalls MMR.

As farm wages were often paid with grain or other items, the family was always short of cash. MMR’s mother, Ramulamma, finding it difficult to watch her husband’s suffering, decided to chip in. The family lived in Palukuru, a village some 12km away from Ongole, the headquarters of Prakasam district. As a center of tobacco production, Ongole city has a booming cottage industry, involving grading tobacco leaves, trading them, and making cigars. Together with her eldest daughter Varalakshmi, Ramulamma would walk to Ongole each day in search of work in tobacco units. Varalakshmi was hardly fifteen when she started working.

‘They wore no slippers or shoes and had no tiffin boxes. I never saw them carrying water bottles, either. They ate red chillies mixed with jowar paste and drank water in the morning and in the evening after they returned from Ongole,’ Kondaiah narrates with moist eyes. With the mother-daughter duo joining the workforce, some cash flowed in. Together they would make Rs 50 a day.

The cash flow, little though it was, meant an education for Madhavarao and, three years later, for his younger brother MMR.

“Putting us in school was the driver,” says Madhavarao, who did his BTech and later got a job in the government-owned telecommunications company, BSNL. “Coming out of the clutches of the landlord was also a driver,” adds Kondaiah.

Ramulamma once heard the story of a relative’s son who rode a bike. Born in similar conditions as hers, the boy got a college education, which fetched him a government job. “They saw a spark in education that could uplift the entire family,” says Madhavarao.

After clearing the fifth standard, Madhavarao joined a junior high school some 10km from Palukuru. He was put in a government welfare hostel in Singarayakonda, where meals were free. MMR, too, followed suit. Both the brothers did well in school.

When Madhavarao was in the tenth standard and MMR in the seventh, they came home to attend the wedding of their eldest brother Kondaiah.

For the wedding, all four brothers wore new clothes. Kondaiah was in the traditional groom’s attire. But most surprisingly for the visiting brothers, their father wore a dhoti till the toes.

Dhoti till the toes!

Sampat explains that in those days the upper castes wouldn’t allow Dalit men to wear a dhoti till the toes. Dalit women were not permitted to button their blouses; instead, they would tie the two front ends.

“Part of the breasts would go uncovered,” he adds. “But Dalits were allowed to dress like the upper castes for weddings in the family. That exemption was partial, though.”

As part of the wedding preparations, a structure was erected alongside the house. “I couldn’t quite understand why my parents were putting up shades along the outer walls of the house,” recalls MMR. “I thought they were building extra rooms,” says Madhavarao.

The day after the wedding Kondaiah returned with his bride and the family had a feast. “There was so much meat to eat,” recalls Madhavarao.

That night, the purpose of the newly built structure became apparent. Dozens of empty fertilizer bags were stitched together to form a large covering, which was mounted on the outer walls and supported by sticks. A tent-like structure had sprung up – the whole family slept in this tent. The house was reserved for the new couple to sleep in.

“That’s when I realized where the family stood,” recalls MMR. “My brother and I were now determined to make it big in life.”

A week later, Madhavarao and MMR walked back to their hostel. “We talked through the distance of 10 kilometers,” MMR says. “We talked really big.”

“We will buy metal pots for cooking. We will buy bicycles. We will buy fishing nets.”

“Education became the answer to all our woes,” says Madhavarao. He had passed the twelfth standard with a first division and got admission in a BTech course.

“My village folk didn’t know what BTech meant,” MMR adds. “My sisters thought that our brother had already become an officer!”

MMR, meanwhile, passed the tenth standard with a first division in 1991. Two years later, he passed the twelfth standard, again getting a first class. He was entitled to admission in a BTech course. But instead he enrolled for a three-year polytechnic course because it was cheaper.

“The very thought of putting two brothers in BTech frightened the family,” says MMR. “Where would the money come from?”

Of the three sisters, Vijayalakshmi dropped out of school after the fourth standard. Bhulakshmi dropped out after the fifth. The youngest, Chaithanya, studied till the tenth.

“They made big sacrifices for us,” MMR and Madhavarao recall. “They all worked as farm laborers so that the two of us could complete our studies.”

Madhavarao completed his BTech in 1997 and in the same year MMR completed a diploma in civil engineering.

According to the rules, students needed to vacate the hostel once they had completed their courses. Madhavarao and MMR now had to leave their hostels with no jobs in hand. A government job would take anywhere from one to two years to secure, from the initial vacancy notification to a candidate getting the appointment letter.

Having no recourse, the brothers returned home. As no newspapers were delivered to their village, they would walk to a nearby town to see if any suitable vacancies appeared.

In the village, meanwhile, the two brothers had become the object of curiosity. Having lived for years in a town, they had embraced an urban lifestyle. They wore trousers and shoes. They brushed their teeth and groomed their hair differently. Most villagers thought that the brothers had already become government officers.

“See how government officers look,” the villagers whispered. “Many came just to see them,” recalls Kondaiah. But months passed and the brothers still lived with their parents.

Soon the villagers began to have doubts. “Why would the government give them months of leave?” they wondered. Even their parents, brothers and sisters began to get nervous, for their hopes that the duo would get government jobs were fading with every passing day.

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The brothers couldn’t see a way out. They were overcome by guilt and shame but without knowing what they were guilty of or what they ought to be ashamed of. Unable to face the villagers’ inquisitive eyes, they withdrew indoors.

An answer to their joblessness had to be found. MMR took the lead. He had realized that the government job would not materialize if they stayed in the village. They would have to be in a town. But which town?

“Vara was to be the answer,” MMR says, referring to his eldest sister Varalakshmi. She was married to Heera Laxmiah who was illiterate and landless. After their wedding, they moved to Hyderabad. MMR had an ‘idea’ of Vara’s life there. They would be living in a house with at least a room to spare, he thought.

The brothers took Heera’s address from a postcard he had once sent them. Their sister loved them enough, they reasoned, to give them shelter for a few months, or till one of them got a job.

In March 1998 the brothers boarded a train to Hyderabad. As first-timers in the big city, they were lost and had trouble reaching Bhagat Singh Nagar in Kukatpally. There they found themselves in an area with buildings everywhere and piles of sand, cement and sundry construction material lying about. The air was thick with dust.

“We had the address confirmed twice,” says Madhavarao. They wondered how a family could possibly live in that place. Indeed, their sister lived there. Vara greeted them with all the affection at her disposal.”She was surprised to see us,” remembers MMR, “because we had not informed her of our arrival.”The brothers were astonished by the makeshift hut the family lived in, which was on a construction site where most of the laborers lived. The builder had put up tiny huts for his workers. The roof was made of cheap plastic and the floor was, well, the bare earth. He had made provisions for water.

The help the brothers had hoped to find at their sister’s home was not to be found. They were dejected but Vara consoled them, “Don’t worry; you are in the right place.” She also promised to take care of them.

MMR had made up his mind. He told Madhavarao to prepare for the competitive exams and said that he would earn money. “I knew only he, with his degree in engineering, could become an officer,” recalls MMR, “and after all, I just had a diploma.”

That evening, both the brothers slept on the sand meant for construction. Helped by neighbors, Heera had quickly got half a dozen bags of sand and spread them out to form a ‘bed’ near their hut.

“The sand-bed strengthened our resolve,” MMR says. “We had to succeed.”

Within a few days, the brothers got themselves organized. Vara and Heera had advised the brothers not to reveal their educational qualifications, remembering the unpleasant experience in the village.

MMR took up a part-time job, which entailed splashing water on the newly built walls. That required an hour each in the morning and evening. He was paid Rs 10 a day. Madhavarao would buy two newspapers – one English and the other Telugu – with the hope of finding vacancies advertised.

“We used the newspapers as bedsheets each night,” recalls MMR. “It was fun spreading newspapers on the sand.”

A week later, MMR got a job as a night watchman at the same construction site. He was earning a salary of Rs 300 a month. Since he was free all day, he looked for extra work. A month later, he became a tutor in a nearby locality. He taught seventh standard students and made another Rs 900 a month.

“I sent my first salary to my father back home,” beams MMR. “I asked him not to tell anyone.” He didn’t want to give the impression that he and his brother had become officers and raise people’s expectations.

Meanwhile, Madhavarao had found a vacancy in a central government office. Something was waiting to happen – and it did. A construction worker informed MMR of a lucrative job opportunity.

After the telecom sector was opened up to private players, companies competed for contracts to lay cables. In Hyderabad, a contractor was laying telephone cables for the Tatas.

The job at the construction site was lucrative because the six-foot-deep digging was to be done during nights only. MMR quit as night watchman to work at the cable-laying site.

 “They paid Rs 400 a night,” says MMR. Being a diploma-holder in civil engineering, MMR quickly learnt the technical aspects of cable laying. Three months later, he learnt of a vacancy at G. Srinivas Reddy & Company, which specialized in cable laying. They were holding walk-in-interviews at the Hotel Grand Kakatiya in Somajiguda.

While MMR stood in the queue waiting for his turn, he overheard a conversation between two men standing nearby. A contractor, dark, plump and short, was yelling at a lean young man. Speaking in Hyderabadi Urdu, the contractor was scolding him for failing to bring enough workers the previous night.

MMR got involved in the conversation and introduced himself. He offered to bring enough workers, provided they paid some money in advance. “Workers won’t move without some advance,” he told them. As he was not known to them, the contractor was reluctant to give him an advance, so MMR didn’t insist on the payment. With a promise to get twenty-five workers by ten o’clock that night, he rushed home.

MMR borrowed Rs 3,000 from his sister. “It took hours to convince Vara,” recalls Madhavarao. With his first investment, MMR hired a mini-truck, a Tata-407, meant for ferrying workers. He then reached the village Tarapur, some 10km outside the city. MMR was sure that the workers would respond to him. His hope had a reason.

Digging manually involves risk. In one accident, a worker from Tarapur village was injured. MMR had demonstrated his kindness and had taken the worker to a hospital. He had also persuaded the contractor to pay the medical bills of the injured worker and half the salary till he recovered.

“The workers were fond of me,” he recalls. “That’s the confidence I had.”

MMR then reached Manikeshwara Nagar, close to Osmania University. The villagers were surprised to see a mini-truck rolling into their basti. It was around four in the afternoon, and some workers recognized MMR. After all, he had been working with them the previous night. They welcomed him as most of them knew of how he had helped a fellow injured worker. MMR was heard with patience. “They all empathized with me,” he says.

But there was a problem. Most of the workers had been booked in advance by another company for a site elsewhere in the city. But luckily, of the fifty workers booked, twenty had not taken any advance. Fifteen agreed to forego the other job and join MMR instead. One suggested that MMR drive to a nearby village where over a dozen workers would surely be found. MMR agreed and upon reaching the village, he was able to hire thirty workers more. With forty-five workers, MMR headed to the site.

“I sat next to the driver,” says MMR. The rest of the workers rode in the back of the truck. The workers were delighted that they were being transported by truck. The contractor came to the site to see how truthful the young man was. He saw dozens of workers waiting for him. He was delighted and bought food for them all.

Overnight, MMR’s men dug a 100-meter-long channel, laid cables and covered the trench. The contractor was pleased. He gave MMR Rs 20,000 and asked him to bring a hundred workers the following day. MMR had made a profit of Rs 13,000.

“It was fantastic!” recalls MMR. “I had never seen that much money before.”

He reached Bhagat Singh Nagar by autorickshaw. He had to pay the driver Rs 100. He requested Vara to get the money from the hut. Reluctantly, she went inside. As MMR was waiting for Vara to return, Heera noticed the auto parked outside his hut. Curious, he rushed to the spot. MMR had meanwhile gone into the hut to find out why his sister was taking so long to get the money.

“Why that much money?” asked his furious brother-in-law.

MMR told him that he had agreed to the huge fare because he was carrying Rs 13,000 in his pocket. He wanted to reach home at the earliest and safely.

MMR’s explanation pacified Heera but his brother-in-law was still wary. “I have been in this city for years but have not seen this much cash,” he confided to his wife. “Please keep an eye on your younger brother’s activities.”

That evening, MMR hired three Tata-407 mini-trucks. The previous day, he had risked lives by putting forty-five workers in one truck. He collected the workers from the two villages that he had visited the day before and reached the site rather early. MMR offered food to all the workers. After their meal, they had at least an hour to relax as work would start at ten o’clock that night.

The contractor arrived at around eight and was thrilled to see a hundred workers at the site. He asked MMR to come to his home early the next morning to collect wages for the workers for that day, and also some advance.”One lakh,” the contractor whispered into MMR’s ears. “I stood for about half a minute with my eyes shut,” MMR recalls. “God has heard my cries.”MMR appointed a worker as supervisor to oversee the work, while he took an autorickshaw back to his sister’s place so he could request his brother and brother-in-law to join him at the site the next morning. He wanted them to be with him when he received the large cash payment and also see how legitimate his business was. Both agreed and he returned to the site.

The next morning, as MMR was supervising the boarding of his men into the trucks, Madhavarao and Heera arrived. The three drank tea at a roadside shop and left for the contractor’s house.

An hour later, they reached their destination. The contractor came out and complimented MMR on his efficiency. He gave him a bundle of currency and told him it was Rs 1 lakh!

MMR then took the contractor aside and whispered something to him. The contractor gave a nod of approval immediately.

MMR, Heera and Madhavarao were taken into a room where they ‘dressed’ themselves in currency notes. They took off their trousers and using pieces of cloth that Heera had brought, tied rupee notes around their waists. Dressed again, they walked 17km to reach home. They didn’t want to take any chances.

“Pickpockets roamed freely in city buses,” explained MMR.

Once inside the hut, they heaved a sigh of relief. Vara had cooked chicken and rice. They relished the lunch and debated where to keep the money. It was a real risk keeping such a large amount in their hut.

“What if the hut catches fire,” Vara feared. Finally, they decided to ask Narahari, the contractor on whose site Heera and Vara worked, to keep the money for them. “He has known us for over two years,” Heera said. “He will agree.”

Vara was asked to leave the hut while they ‘undressed’ the money, which they then placed in ten packets. Each packet contained Rs 10,000. Meanwhile, Heera was sent to seek the consent of Narahari.

Heera was back within half an hour. Narahari had agreed to keep the money.

“Have you all won a lottery?” Narahari asked in a lighter vein.

Before leaving for Narahari’s house, MMR showed the money packets to his sister as well. She was allowed to hold the money in her hands for a while.

“With currency packets in her hands, she looked at me with disbelief,” MMR said. The story was overwhelming for Narahari as well. He had nothing but praise for MMR.

That evening, MMR reached the workers’ villages with fifty kilos of laddoos. He took three truck-loads of workers to the site.

“All of a sudden, things turned upside down,” recollects MMR. The contractor was virtually in tears because a court had banned the work at the site. Someone had petitioned the court against laying the cables and the court had stayed any activity till further orders.

MMR paid the workers their full wages and sent them back in the trucks. The following day, he took the remaining money from Narahari and headed to the contractor’s house.

The contractor refused to take the money back. “You may have already spent a lot,” he told MMR.

“He wanted to keep me in good humor,” recalls MMR. Work could start at any time.

With the dream run ending abruptly, the brothers returned to their village for the Sankranti festival. They had bought clothes for the entire family. “We carried a trunk,” says MMR.

Family members and villagers concluded that the brothers had indeed become government officers.

After staying in the village for four days, they returned to Hyderabad and rented a room in the locality where Heera lived. Vara helped them to buy utensils so that her brothers could cook their own food.

In their search for opportunities, MMR met with Colonel Krishnan, under whom he had worked as a laborer for three months. ‘Do you want to work?’ the colonel asked and offered him a job immediately. MMR explained his experiences as a sub-contractor. Krishnan listened to MMR’s full story and educational background.

The colonel gave MMR a contract worth Rs 5 lakh, and was soon impressed by MMR’s work. “Delivering work before time was most rewarding,” MMR says.

The brothers now shifted to a two-bedroom house. MMR hired a separate space to store the digging equipment. He also secured orders from ASTRA Tele Services and ARM Ltd.

Meanwhile, Madhavarao was interviewed by the state-owned BSNL for the post of assistant manager.

The cable-laying business worked on a formula that would be disadvantageous to small contractors. If a contractor laid a cable for 100m, he would receive no advance. He would have to meet expenses from his own pocket initially.

MMR had saved Rs 50,000 from his first job with the contractor, and used that money to do business with the colonel. But when he got a contract worth Rs 10 lakh, he needed to borrow money. He went to Heera’s employer Narahari and sought a loan of Rs 5 lakh. Narahari gave him the money on daily interest. MMR completed the work in ten days, and cleared the debt with interest.

By July 1999, MMR had completed contracts worth Rs 50 lakh. He was doing well. Still, MMR did not have a company and conducted all the transactions in cash.

Colonel Krishnan advised him to form a company if he had the ambition. MMR approached Narahari who had seen him growing from a night watchman to a successful sub-contractor. He knew MMR to be a man with an exceptional ability to mobilize workers, manage them well and execute work before time. He also respected MMR’s integrity.

“Why don’t we form a joint venture?” Narahari proposed. “My wife can be a 49 percent stakeholder.”

MMR agreed readily. He needed someone like Narahari to mentor him. Narahari was trustworthy. Also, he had plenty of money and MMR had the skill.

“I was so happy,” says MMR. “We formed a joint venture company.”

With Narahari’s wife Lakshmi as a partner, Sairam Constructions came into being. With MMR’s efforts, Sairam Constructions got an order from Global Tele Systems (GTS). The task involved laying cables from Kodad to Vijayawada, further extending till Eluru – a 200-km stretch. Billed at Rs 60,000 a kilometer, the whole project amounted to Rs 1.2 crore – MMR’s biggest order till then.

“It was a dream coming true,” he recalls.

Sairam Constructions had to manage two sites. One was in Hyderabad, the main office which handled the routine work and the other at Kodad-Vijayawada. As the team leader, MMR had taken a decision: He had to be on the new site outside Hyderabad, which would have local workers. The experienced ones had to be taken from Hyderabad, as cable-laying is very technical. “We needed to build a mobile colony,” he says.

MMR moved to the new site leaving the Hyderabad operations in the hands of the staff of Sairam Constructions, who had been newly hired. Lakshmi, Narahari’s wife, had no business experience. MMR was executing the work for GTS, which was going well. Every week, GTS would make payments by check to Sairam Constructions. Someone from Sairam Constructions would then carry cash to the site to pay the workers who didn’t have bank accounts.

When the GTS project was completed in 2000, MMR returned to Hyderabad. Meanwhile, the marriage of his third sister Vijayalakshmi had been fixed. MMR gave Rs 50,000 to his parents.

“It was big news back home,” said MMR. “An untouchable has spent so much.”

After his sister’s wedding, MMR returned to Hyderabad and called a board meeting of Sairam Constructions.

“We are running at a loss,” said the men who were appointed on the recommendations of Narahari. MMR was shocked. Where had all the money gone?

MMR had left signed checks with the company to take care of expenses in Hyderabad. Who had stolen the checks worth millions? MMR would not say anything. “Sure enough, Narahari was not the man.”

After completing his largest project – worth Rs 1.2 crore – MMR was back to zero. “There was darkness around,” remembers MMR, “I felt cheated and shattered.”

“He was thoroughly dejected,” said Madhavarao. “He wouldn’t sleep.”

MMR roamed the city aimlessly. He would borrow money from friends and watch movies. “Sometimes he would watch three movies a day,” Madhavarao recalls. “He wouldn’t feel hungry.”

Good news was in store, though. Madhavarao had got a job with BSNL and joined its office in Bihar. “With my brother joining BSNL, I felt reassured,” says MMR.

Months passed and MMR continued to live aimlessly in Hyderabad. “Almost for a year, I did nothing,” he recollects. “Madhavarao would sustain me.”

One evening, when MMR was at a theater watching a movie, he happened to meet his old friend Rameshwaram during the intermission.

After the show, MMR told him his story. Rameshwaram asked MMR to meet him in his office the following day. Rameshwaram, along with his friends, had formed a company named Precision Engineering.

The next day MMR was offered a job at a salary of Rs 10,000 a month. His responsibility was to get orders for the company. Using his old contacts, he got orders worth crores of rupees. As a reward, his salary was hiked to Rs 16,000.

One day while perusing a newspaper, MMR glanced through the matrimonial section and found a promising matrimonial ad for a young Dalit woman who was a government employee.

“A working wife would be a great support,” he thought. “With her assured monthly income, I could take business risks.” A couple of weeks later, MMR approached the young woman’s parents. The young woman, Padmalata, agreed to the proposal on one condition: MMR would never return to business again. “You are a failed businessman,” she reminded him.

Soon Padmalata and MMR were married. But MMR’s love for business hadn’t waned. “He was determined to succeed as a businessman,” says Madhavarao.

“I know it was unethical,” MMR confesses. “But I still saw enterprise as my career.”

Though he earned Rs 16,000 a month, MMR told Padmalata he earned Rs 10,000, keeping the rest for his future business ventures.

The couple had rented a small house in Hyderabad. One day, a postman delivered a letter for MMR while he was away on a business trip. Padmalata didn’t open it as it was addressed to MMR. But she was suspicious as it came from the Department of Industry.

Once back home, MMR had to admit that he had registered a company. It is a testament to his persuasive skills and patience that Padmalata came on board and MMR could openly think of business as his career path.

With his own company registered, MMR approached the managers of GTS once again. They were happy to see him and empathized with the budding entrepreneur.

MMR got an order worth Rs 3 lakh. He went to his employers at Precision Engineering and pleaded with them to relieve him. They were unwilling. To retain him, they even offered him a partnership. Having become wiser on partnerships, he turned down the offer and parted ways.

To complete the GTS project, MMR needed at least Rs 1.5 lakh. He had a third of that and Anasuya, Padmalata’s elder sister, gave the rest. She had been a great help since MMR had married her sister.

MMR completed the work within a month and made a profit of Rs 1 lakh. Even his in-laws were impressed!

In 2004−05, MMR had a turnover of Rs 16 lakh. A Rs 50-lakh contract came his way from Vodafone. He completed the cable laying in a record 45 days. More orders followed. MMR bought a two-bedroom house in 2006 and a small car the following year.

By 2009, MMR had emerged as a lead vendor for the major telecom firms in Andhra Pradesh, including Vodafone, Airtel and Tata Telecom.

By 2010, the turnover of the MMR Group of Companies had crossed Rs 50 crore.

MMR has now diversified his operations to include power projects and townships, in addition to his core telecom business.

MMR’s next dream: to acquire a mansion on Road Number 86! And he did.

This is an excerpt from the book Defying the Odds: The Rise of Dalit Entrepreneurs by Devesh Kapur, D. Shyam Babu and Chandra Bhan Prasad (Random House India, Rs 299).


Devesh Kapur is Director, Center for the Advanced Study of India at the University of Pennsylvania. D. Shyam Babu is Senior Fellow, Centre for Policy Research, New Delhi. Chandra Bhan Prasad is a public intellectual and mentor, Dalit Indian Chamber of Commerce and Industry (DICCI).



[Courtesy: Yahoo News, August 22, 2014]