Sunday, June 22, 2008


(A series on childhood memories)

Mohamed Ali, the chairman of Mfar Group of Companies at Kochi, exhibited fearlessness throughout his childhood

By Shevlin Sebastian

One day, when Mohamed Ali was returning home from school, he saw a gold chain lying on the ground. “I picked it up and started playing with it,” he says. “A neighbour’s wife saw this, realized the value, and immediately took the necklace to my grandmother, Umhani.”

Umhani passed the information to the owner of the village grocery shop, where everybody congregated for evening shopping. He pasted a notice stating that a necklace had been found.

It turned out that a woman had borrowed the necklace to wear it for a wedding and it had slipped from her neck. “She was on the verge of committing suicide, because she could not bear the loss of the necklace,” says Ali.

The chairman of the Mfar Group of Companies gives an impression of quiet confidence, as he sits in his spacious office at the Le Meridien Hotel at Kochi. Through his wall-length glass-paned window you can see manicured lawns and a cool blue swimming pool. This environment is a far cry from Ali’s beginnings in the remote village of Talikulam in Thrissur district.

“Our family was better off than the other villagers in terms of land holdings,” he says. “So, there were plenty of mango, coconut and cashew trees.”

His father was a farmer, and the main source of income was coconuts. But the drawback was that there was not much of liquidity. “Sometimes, when we needed money desperately, it was not there,” he says. “Those were hard times. But my needs were limited. So, I never asked for money.”

There was not much scope to spend it. Interestingly, at that time, family members, especially children, were discouraged from eating from outside. “There was a certain taboo attached to it,” he says.

But that did not mean Ali did not have fun. Groups of children – neighbours, friends and classmates – would wander around, plucking mangoes, climbing trees, going for swims and playing all sorts of games like kolu kalli.

“I was always the winner,” he says. “I was brave and fearless and unafraid to take up challenges.”

Ali says his father was like this. “So, maybe, I have inherited these traits,” he says.

His fearlessness was well known in the family. So, whenever there was a need to call the midwife in the middle of the night and even though he would have to cross two graveyards to reach her house, it was Ali who set out.

“During those times, there was a lot of talk about ghosts and demons,” he says. “So, nobody dared to walk through a graveyard at night, but I had no fear.” In fact, he never even carried a light, and would find his way with the help of the moonlight.

Like the previous personalities who have appeared in ‘Rare View’, Ali also feels he has had a better childhood than his children. “We were in direct touch with nature and experienced life in the raw,” he says. “We walked barefoot to school and got wet in the rain. Our parents did not get upset, like they do today.”

In contrast, Ali’s children grew up in Muscat. “In a city, you have a house and a compound and the children have to wander about there,” he says. “We did not have the gadgets that children have today, but I think we experienced more enjoyment.”

What was also a source of joy were the rare occasions when he got a chance to travel in the only car in the village: a black Chevrolet owned by a man whom everyone called ‘Uncle’.

“We would hire this car whenever we would have to go for a wedding,” he says. “I remember that at least thirteen people would fit inside the car.”

Like the top-quality Chevrolet, Ali was always in the top five in the class. Asked who had been the biggest influence on him during his childhood, Ali says, “My grandmother. She had tremendous leadership qualities and had the final say on many occasions, especially during emergencies.”

Sadly, she died when Ali was only seven years old. But he says, he is not a forceful leader like her. “I am softer,” he says. His grandfather and his father were kind people, and he says he is more like them.

His brother-in-law M.M. Abdul Basheer confirms this: “Ali treats everyone – whether rich or poor – with the same degree of respect. He also has a sharp and analytical mind, and a powerful memory.”

All these traits, which made its first appearance in his childhood, have combined to make Mohammed Ali, 59, the successful businessman he is today.

(Copyright: The New Indian Express, Kochi)

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