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About Sobhag

The reason of this write up is to inform the readers the reason of starting this website and where it ended up. I always had plans to write up my life history informing the audience about when we moved, how we moved, my businesses and the houses we lived in. I gathered collections throughout the years. This is very similar to what lots of people do and I am not any different than them and I did the same thing. A time came where I wanted to write a book about me. Then I realised that people may not have time to read the book. The idea was to write my biography book about my life history but the 2nd thought was from my experience that not many people will be interested in reading the book. I realised having pictures with small captions in the bottom would be better from my knowledge at the Gandhi exhibition. Hence I decided to do a photobiography. It would be nice to have a website where it can be easily accessed and seen. People can see the categories that they are interested in. This was my idea to establish my website.
I had the intention to do something about my biography but it was getting very prolonged. It happened to be last year, my grandson Shrey really asked me “ dada I understand you have done a lot of things in your younger days and I would like to come and listen to about your history and how I can things I can work on and how can I be like one of you. It made me realised it was an important point and t encouraged me to be serious about the website. For the last 1 year, I have been trying to set up the website. It has been difficult. I took help from several people in India but it was still difficult. It happened recently during the lockdown where Jay, “my Sadubhai“ is free and the best part is that he is prepared to help me. It has given me a boost that let’s get started and get it over and done with. It is decided that every time we should be complete. The plan was to open the website last week but it was not fully complete hence we delayed it by a week or two.
In my life when I talk to people, I find that they get great interest because it is something different done by me, the way I express it and tell them. I thought that rather than a few people getting an idea, why not pass my experiences and knowledge onto a larger crowd. The most important part is from the time I was born in Kenya, I have got lots of contacts in India and the spent several years n the UK. It is not as really young or old, but 70 years of history. Life was completely different 70 years ago. The younger generation will benefit by knowing what it was in older times. Going back to the people whom I left in Kenya, for them to know what I am doing nowhere which is very important. Through this website, it becomes much easier for my children and my grandchildren, all of them to see my accomplishments (dada has done). My bibliography will include my friend circle, the places where we moved the experience I had and what encouragement I had. This could be beneficial for relatives and others to read. In this website, I thought of getting other people’s opinion of what they think of me because sometimes I feel I, it would be better to know myself from others rather than knowing it from myself. As I told my wife sometimes I have not shaved but I wouldn’t know it because I can’t see myself till I go and see in a mirror, she would tell me that I need to shave. In the same manner, I would like people to talk about me, what am I and it’s not necessary to give positive comments, it can be negative too but this will give me an insight of what kind of person I am. Another example, I am working and listening to a recorded program which I was involved in. I heard the recording and realized that I was speaking very fast. I would not have realized that I was talking too fast until I heard my own
recording. I’m sure it must be the same thing applies with the majority of people. They do not realize what they are doing until they are told by someone or they can see/ hear their recording as I did.
This story is not something that you can see in pictures but it’s a personal experience of what I went through. My life starts in 1950 when I was born, and I will try to explain the surrounding. The place I was born was a very small village called Meru in Kenya. My village was a very small village with only one street. There was no electricity, no gas, no running water. To get water, we had to go to a stream at the back of the buildings. To make fire, we used to burn timber to warm up the hot water for a shower. For cooking food, we used cow dung and pieces of charcoal leftover and combine them into a ladoos.
Prior to my birth Muktaba was present and she told me, that ladies would not go to the hospital to give birth. The delivery would take place at home. They would try to get help from relatives at the time. During my birth, Muktaben (Babu bhais eldest sister) came to help my mum to look after her after my birth. Soon after my birth at the age of one and a half months, my elder brother Naveen, and my motibaa Muriben came from Kenya as well. I was lucky to have my first sister’s birth Bena and followed up by my second sisters’ birth Surbi in 1954.
Around 1957 we moved into a stone house, it’s a privilege to move from the timber house into a stone house. The stone house was a double floor building with a shop underneath and the flat at the top. This is where I got a chance to make friendship with Sudha and Vipin who was older to me and they were our neighbours. In 1957 at the age of seven, I started school, unlike the modern times that the children would be getting their potty training at the age of two and a half in my case, up to the seven years old, still was not potty trained. The studies these days the children use computers and mobile phone and know everything. However, when I started school, I had a board (patyu) that we used to write(gutwa) the letters and numbers. The next most important part of the first two years, standard 1 and standard 2, I did not have a classroom, I had to study under the tree and that was my classroom. When it rained, we had to go to the corridor of the school. During that time, our school was made of metal tins which later in the years, it was made into a stone building. When I was seven years old, I attended a relative’s marriage and I found out that my picture was captured within that particular marriage ceremony. This was my first picture captured and that’s when I found out how a picture is captured. I would like to write about my achievements and disaster in my life. I want to inform you about what made me stronger and how I found solutions to come out of these difficult times. I was only the age of 12 years when my mother passed away. During those times, 12 years is a very, very young age not compared with now. Currently, children are more mature at the age of 12. I found it very difficult to live without my mom. I tried to seek love from others wherever I got affection I would take it For my secondary education I was enrolled in the Duke of Gloucester hostel where the students were much older than me. I was in form 1 coming from a village. There were an elder student living in a hostel too. I found it difficult to stay with older students, especially with the head prefect. This made me stronger. Duke of Gloucester was one of the best schools in Nairobi. It was very good and a large school and I made lots of friends. I was a shy person during that time. After completing 2 terms at Duke of Gloucester, I moved to Visa Oshwal boarding school. I was keen to go to that school because of the food served there. I once again was in the company of older student. My father gave me a limitation on finance. He gave me a book to calculate my finances. For three months I was given sixty shillings which are not even a pound in this modern time, and I had to keep a record. I used to smoke at that time so I would have to buy the cigarettes. But how would I write it down in my book? To keep it hidden from my father, I had to calculate exactly how many packets of crisps and peanuts are required to make it balance. This indirectly taught me how to do accounting.
In 1965, while I was in boarding, I had an opportunity to go to India when I was in form 2. I went to India with about 40 students from Mombasa via a ship to Seashells in Goa than to Bombay. From Bombay, we took a train going all the way up to North Jamnagar, Shree Nagar, Delhi, Kolkata and Kanyakumari and back. I remember that I had spent about 600 rupees which is more or less six pounds in modern times. I’m sure the value of the rupee was much, higher during that time. It gave me the opportunity to meet with Radha Krishna and Indira Gandhi as well. I was only the age of nine when Babu Bhai came from Karathina or Nairobi to come and join us in Meru to work with us in the shop. The good part was in 1966, Babu Bhai got married to Kanta Bhabhi. They stayed with us for at least two years during. Having a female figure in the house really improved my upbringing taught by her that I had missed out for many years. She taught all the good qualities of how to be courteous, kind and not to get angry or upset. I will never forget that.
The next most important part of my life was My brothers Naveen got married to Nimu. I was in boarding at that particular time, Nimu would come and visit me every now and then which made me feel so nice as we used to always wait for relatives or visitors to come and meet us. It is difficult for modern children again to understand, but while leaving she might give me 20 shillings which at the time was 17 pence or 15 pence of the modern times, but I would really, really appreciate the 20 shillings that were given to me At the age of 17/18 I thought of joining my father in the shop rather than going for further studies. After joining the shop, I realized I needed the skills of typing and bookkeeping hence after 1 term I went back again to Nairobi to learn typing and bookkeeping at college. It’s very surprising that I took interest in typing but bookkeeping was not much of an interest as it was very easy for me. I asked my teacher if I could skip some of these exercises and she refused. It became very boring so after finishing three months, I went back to Kenya and told my father to teach me how to do bookkeeping. He taught me in Gujarati. “Jamma Udhar” means debit and credit which was written on the cash book. This is how I learnt the easy method of writing books which helped me later on when I went to Nairobi. In Nairobi, the bookkeeping is the same except the only difference was the direction of writing. The information written in the right was now written in the left and vice versus. I did not attend a special college or university to learn bookkeeping, but I leant it myself. In September 1968 my nephew (brothers’ son) Nishit was born. There was so much excitement as it was the first child in the family after many years. We as a family made sure he was brought up well. we had a big celebration for his first birthday in 1969 while we were in Nairobi. In those times it was called a big celebration. We made the food at home and took it to Mahajan Wadi for the guests to come and enjoy. The most upsetting part or disaster in family’s life occurred in 1968, where we received a Quit notice. A quit notice means we were noncitizens and we could not continue with the business in Meru. Hence, we were asked to close the shop. I was born there, my father started his business there, it was our origin hence It was very disappointing to move. We had to close down and sell everything and move to Nairobi. It was one of the biggest disasters at that particular time or we felt it was not that easy. But I will tell you later that whatever has happened is for the better. Each and everything in my life as I think of it has happened for the better. This is the attitude that helps us to the next goal. In June 1969 we moved from Meru to Nairobi. My father was in partnership with paper bags, so he had a job immediately. It was decided for me to go to the UK and I applied for the visa. I would get £17.50 a week and I would be very well settled by going to the UK. For the visa, I must have kept my passport in a very secure place which I did not remember it myself and I lost it. It was very difficult
for me to tell my father that I have lost my passport as I would get a beating at that time. I had to go through the whole process of renewing my passport done, from filling the forms and taking it to the police station and taking it to the British High Commission to get it sorted out. It took me six months. It was a benefit that the process for me to move to the UK was delayed as we got an opportunity of starting a shop which was my ex-father inlaw. We started the shop by the name of Jtex. Jtex is a clothing shop for ladies’ gents and children wear. We did not have the slightest idea of the different types of clothing like what a cardigan was and what sizes are required. I had no knowledge from universities like in modern times while going into this profession. Each and everything in my life I’ve done is with critical experiences going to it, learn it, and then get on with it. When I started the shop in Kenya, there was no self-selection store. I was the first person to start this business. in all of Nairobi. In Kenya, it was uncommon for people to have Denim. I launched Denim in a big way in Kenya. I came to the UK and got large quantities of denim jeans jackets, dungarees, skirts, waistcoats. I advertised the above and made a signboard that displayed that we had denim at Jtex. I started with music at the shop as well which was common to have music in a shop. I got a Normandy tape recorder which had 8 tracks from Germany. At the age of 18/19, I was running my own store without any experience you will see that my whole life, it’s just full of that because there is no education, no training.
From running the first shop JTex, I got an idea. As it was getting a bit difficult to look after people, customers to do the marketing, to motivate the staff for the sort of things and I thought of starting my own system of keeping a stock control, I divided 1700 square feet by the number of staff who would look after them. They were initially very reluctant, but I had to force it. I kept a record such as if a member of staff was given 100 shirts if they sold two, they should be 298 remainings and after a certain time when you find out it should be 55 shirts remaining and if they were not there then we would deduct it out of their wages. At the same time, to encourage them we would give them commission as well, so they are responsible. This is a modern system currently utilized in the supermarket. This keeps control of stock and what needs to be replaced and gives an accurate number of pieces sold. For example, if someone says I am selling so many shirts, it is difficult to calculate the specific number. If it’s 200 shirts sold, it is numbered. It also gives me an idea of the time required to sell the shirt. 200 shirts would take roughly take 3 months to sell.
I no longer needed to be in the shop, so I had time to invest in other shops. I bought Tito, Tidbit, wonder wear. I had a fifth shop as well, but it ended up being materialized. I had the capacity of running all these shops starting from scratch. Setting it, fixing the furniture, stockings. I had more power to buy the materials whenever anyone would get anything, I was able to buy the total quantity from them to make my products unique within the country and make it easy to market and sell it. In 1973 at the age of 23, I got married to Bena and within 11 days of my marriage, my brother Naveen had to leave from Kenya to the UK due to some immigration problems. I was left on my own to run the shop. Once again having a positive mind is imperative. Imagine having 2 people to run the store previously and suddenly one person leaves make it difficult especially when it’s 11 days since marriage.
In 1975, at the age of 25, I become a Kenyan citizen. Becoming a Kenyan citizen game, me a lot of encouragement to expand my potential further. In 1975 at the age of 25, my first son Deep was born. In 1976 at the age of 26. I bought my own property which took me only five minutes to negotiate in 4th parklands and I got the property, On 28th of December 1976, we celebrated our first son Deeps birthday. That was again the biggest
joy. Now I can understand why the majority of the time we celebrate the children’s 1st birthday. In 1977 at the age of 27, I got my second son called Biju. It was another big excitement for me.
At the age of 27, I was running 4 shops in the city centre of Nairobi. Those people who have lived in Nairobi may remember it was called government road. It is one of the greatest achievements to have shops on this road. It is as good as saying that we had 4 shops running on Oxford Street in modern times. That was not enough! I decided to go to industry. I decided to start an industry of metal tins. I decided to make metal tins for coca-cola, filling juices or fruits and particularly supply to Thika. This is how I went for a trip to the UK, Germany, America and Canada to look for the machinery. We found out the machine was very expensive. It was difficult to start in the industry of metal tins. And that’s how the company was registering under metal tins. I did not give up because I made up my mind to go for the industry. When we came back, somebody told us that there is an industry for sale for manufacturing of plastic, which is going to be the manufacturing of crates, so we decided to go for it. We were told it will cost 16 lakhs at that time and as it was a reasonable amount. We made an enquiry that we were interested that’s when we were told that the company is no longer for sale. I would not like to really boast but a thought came into my mind that it was for sale now it is not for sale so what could be the reason why it doesn’t be meet people. Thinking about it now, what would you think if somebody tells you that is it is not for sale. Straight away anybody would say, since it is not for sale, let’s try to look for something else. But it’s only me who thought about going to talk to the sellers and identifying the reasons for not selling. My father in law Bhagwanji Bhai, had given me very small advice, that is stuck in my mind and that’s what I try and apply everywhere. His point was if he just moves around and doesn’t do anything you will not get anywhere, till you start something and that’s the time when you will get somewhere. Secondly, he said “Have a very big vision”, don’t think small. Just to give an example, somebody might think 500 square feet is enough for me and there’s what their start with and then in six months’ time the 500 square feet is not enough but they can’t do any more expansion because there is no enough space. So on those ground when we started this factor, I thought of getting 3 plots of 3 acres each which are nine acres, nobody would ever dream that you can have such a big piece of land and that’s the thought that came into my mind because of my father. Going back to the discussion with the people selling the plastic industry. I was always told if you want to start, get on with it, otherwise, you will not get anywhere. Hence, I arranged a meeting with the people selling the industry. The meeting was arranged at the Boulevard Hotel. We met in the evening, and the discussions started with, saying that I understand you want to sell the factory or the machine, which is 16 lakhs and they said it is not 16lakhs it’s 25lakhs. The point was because we had that encouragement from my father in law we got to start somewhere. I started negotiating a good price with them. Within five minutes we met in the middle and agreed to 21 lakhs. To tell anybody that it takes only five minutes to negotiate for a factory and then you make a decision is over and done with is difficult, but this is then coming because of my father in law, which has moved us forward. The existing machine of this plastic was on Fonzie road on an industrial area which was part of their own compound where we were running this factory and where we started. We were supposed to look for our own place and that’s when we purchased nine acres of land located further. We had to build a new building at a location where there were hardly any roads leading to the location, no electricity, no gas, no sewage connection going there. I would like to ask it the modern generation, would anybody think of taking a risk or going in a place where there are no facilities, you do not have the experience you do not have the money and starting a plastic factory? The answer will be definitely No, nobody would think on those grounds. It must be surprising but only had that courage and positive mind that I’m going to succeed and I’m going to make it. Without the road, we struggled a lot and getting cement was very difficult. We had to use influence from Mombasa to contract to bring 40 tons of. We would use 20 tons for ourselves and 20 tons for himself. That’s how we got the building built. We did not have electricity once the building was built. We got generators to try to fix some doors and other machinery. Additionally, there was no sewage connection for the toilets. Somebody suggested for us to dig a hole and get a metal tank, which is normally you get it from the petrol station, it is worn out and they normally want to throw it away. We bought it for 3000 shillings. We put the tank into the hole and set up the sewage connections and the toilets were now in service. Somebody came up to us and said that the tank will get filled up within two months’ time. What are
you going to do after two months’ time? The important part was at least for two months, we are safe. Now, we will look into it in two months’ time. In the meantime, we were trying to find a better alternative to this concern. Somebody gave us an idea to make several holes in the tanks so that the water gets absorbed into the ground so the tank can last longer without any problem. The important part is that move forward, rather than putting problem first and continue with complaining about the problems, get on with it, and that’s how things had been happening. After one machine was bought for Kenpolly that the time we were building a new factory we needed more machines. We came to the UK and found out that these machines can be purchased from anywhere else at a much cheaper price. We got an opportunity to learn a lot from this machine. We gradually built contacts with manufacturers in Sheffield and the secondhand machines. We went to Germany to buy secondhand machines. It was very surprising to ask the question, if there is an industry and we are buying secondhand machines then why are they selling the machinery? This is when I found out, that the company moves forward with modern technology. In four years’, time, the machine gets replaced, the machine still works but new machinery has better productivity. Additionally, the cost of Labor becomes less, and the times is more efficient. The machine uses reduced electric power and becomes more economical. Due to our situation in Kenya, we were happy to purchase a slower machine even if it consumes more electricity still that was fine as the price was much, much cheaper. I designed the factory myself. I did the architectural scale drawing on a squared sheeted paper. I planned that the office block should be at the front and there should be a car park and after that there would be three holes. I left extra space empty it for the future extension so that the existing building does not get disrupted. It was designed in a way that the goods enter the premises from one end of the factory exit at the other end. I organized to manage the staff. To manage the payroll, I tried to get them on the Kalamazoo system, three or four other systems in place. I designed my own system without any education without any experience without going to university and purely practical. A transformer is required in the factory. Straightaway I planned to install one transformer but in future, we might require additional transformers hence we allocated extra space next to the existing transformer. For electric supply, we fitted additional wires so that we don’t have to go and do it again after many years. That was again forward-thinking is what was suggested by my father in law, but he had not gone into the details, telling us about each and everything, how you deal with. But it is understood that when you apply the formula you apply it everywhere. That’s what you will see in my whole life. That’s what I am trying to do. I have not learned anything about marketing, everything that came to my mind, I try to put it in practice and that becomes marketing. There was once upon a time, a truck that was being loaded, and I could see from far away that there was a bundle at the top of the truck fell down and straight away I thought that whole of the bundle, the plastic basins must be all broken into pieces. I went and checked, and I couldn’t see any sort of damage in any of the plastic basins. That’s when I told the staff, can you give me a measuring tape I would like to see what was the height and till today when I still remember it was 12.5 feet so I started marketing saying that you can throw our basins from 12.5 feet, and you will see none of the basins are going to be damaged. Another experience was we were travelling in a car, and I saw my basins sold on the side of the markets on the road. The color of our basins (green color) was very distinct and we know it has been manufactured by us because from the color we can make out that particular shade of green. In the market, there was other companies (our competitors) basins next to our basin and we could see that their color has become faded. This gave me an idea that we can talk to our shopkeepers from where we supply that goods that our basins are of good quality and the color will not fade out compared to our competitors. During those years it was very common for me to travel upcountry once in a month for trading. I hardly used to take orders from the shopkeepers. Most of the sales were done upcountry as I would communicate with the people well and try and understood what they need. The shopkeepers used to get upset with me as I would just order things for them, did not even talk to them but soon after that they would say, Can I have some more of those buckets, basins and the mug cups. It was a good relationship and faith built between customers and me. I did not have to scream and shout that I need my money back when I went for collection. In situations where the shop keepers did not have enough money, I would say it’s not a problem, I’ll come and collect the money next time. While I was in town, somebody would look for me once they have got the money to give.
At the age of 30, I got my last child Sheena. As we normally say that a girl is the form of goddess Laxmi, I was very excited. In 1980 I changed my name from Sobhagchandra to Sobhag. The reason was, the name Sobhagchandra was confusing for me, was is Chand or Chandra. People might write is as two separate names as well as I got rid of Chandra part of it by deed poll. During 1980 at the age of 30, while running the factory, I wanted to do expansion, expansion and expansion. I travel from Kenya to Uganda, Rwanda, Burundi up to Zahir and had to come back. At that time, it was difficult times to travel but at home I could tell that I’m going to Kisumu and I had gone to these countries. While I was in Uganda, I went with Bhatt od Africa Samachar and Amubhai of Globe cinema. Three of us traveled by car to the following countries. In Uganda, I formed a company named Ken Polly Limited which never took off, but there was intention of starting the plastic there. In 1982, I recall that I went to far East for 6 days. I travelled from Nairobi, to Bombay and from Bombay to far East, and then coming back. We spent one day in Hong Kong to buy machines. And I had negotiated 27 machines at one go within one day. I knew exactly the detail requirement of the machine such as type of machine, size, capacity and other items to be manufactured in those sorts of machines. This is all coming from practical experience, it’s not coming from any university, nor coming from any education what I had or the background or help from anybody else. A few years later, the intention was to start another industry instead of hard plastic like beer crates, toilet seats, basins, and thermos. The company was named Ken Polly. We would manufacture plastic bags, carrier bags, bread bags, wrapping bags and milk containers. It was a polythin company. We got the name registered packaging Industries Limited, in short it was called poly pill. We found out there was an existing, longstanding and well-established factory named Meta Plastics limited. We decided to purchase the factory and luckily, we managed to get it. The Met Plastic was situated on funzi road in the industrial area. We had some more licenses to get some more machines. After a month we decided to expand. It was planned that two partners would go to Italy to get some more machines. While we were at the airport, we heard the news that our factory is on fire. We had to cancel the trip and immediately make our way to the factory. At 2 o’clock in the morning four of us were standing opposite to the factory and we could see the factory burning into ashes. In the morning we realized, all the machinery was gone all the raw material was gone. The building was gone. And everything was gone. It was all ashes. That’s the time I told my three partners who were crying, that tomorrow we will have to decide are we going ahead with it or are we going to forget about it. Next morning the insurance people came in to have a look at the factory. I remember one of the insurance guys told me that you must be very lucky your factory has been burned down. And I got very upset on him that how can I be luck if by factory is burnt down. I will tell you later on what he meant by this. Finally, we decided that we are going ahead with the factory. Since we had the license for the machinery, we just needed to find a suitable place. We found a readymade place in Lunga Lunga where a few go downs were already built. We needed to get a building and purchase more machineries and restart the factory. After 9 months we were settled at the new premises with the new machinery, everything new. And it started in, in a very nice way compared with all the old machinery we previously had. With the old machineries we were always worried about the efficiency and productivity such as slow speed or breaking down. With the new machinery, they worked very well we knew exactly how much production we expected, and the qualities expected. For example, if there is a bundle of hundred, it could be 100 exactly and not 99. All the customers were very happy with the quality and the delivery. Within no time we built up our relationships and reputation with our customers without any problem. In a year or so of running the new factory, there was situation where we were four partners and we were not able to continue because of difference of opinion. We had to decide to either take it over or leave. It just happened to be that we had to take it over. The two partners were asked to leave and replaced by my own family. I involved my father, my brother Naveen, and my nephew Mahesh. With my support and my experience from Ken Polly, it would be easier for them to come and settle here. In May 1986, was the time we bought the Lavington property. Again, this property was negotiated or discussed within a couple of hours and it was just decided and confirmed. And we went on with it. It was one of the best properties in our community. It had 5-7 in-suit bedrooms. It had a swimming pool, garden and river at the bottom. It was a quick negotiation, we did not take few days to think over and decide what to do, it was done there and then it’s over and done with. On second of July 1989, I
left, Kenya permanently to come and settle in UK. And that was a decision made after 54 previous trips from Kenya to UK.