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Mofatraj Munot’s coun­te­nance bears a dig­nity that comes with ma­tu­rity, but he is sport­ing, pos­sesses a ready smile and photographs like a charm. A tall man, he ex­udes a con­fi­dence that can be in­tim­i­dat­ing, but it be­comes crys­tal clear, right from the off­ing, that he is a great con­ver­sa­tion­al­ist. I ask him a ques­tion that he has been asked many times be­fore: why not call his company ‘Munot Prop­er­ties’? “Back then, there were the Ra­he­jas, Ad­va­nis, Mit­tals, but I felt that the in­sti­tu­tion is more im­por­tant than the in­di­vid­ual,” replies Munot, who will be turn­ing 70 in Oc­to­ber this year. Why ‘Kal­pataru’? His in­ci­sive an­swer gives me an in­sight of his keen, log­i­cal mind: “Be­cause it’s a beau­ti­ful name,” he says, adding, “Be­sides, it has been bor­rowed from Jain­ism and is aus­pi­cious—the kal­pataru or kalpa vruk­sha, be­ing a wish-ful­fill­ing tree—and it is eas­ily pro­nounce­able.” “Are you spir­i­tual, too?” I ask, and he warms up: “Claim­ing to be spir­i­tual is not cor­rect; I feel that there is a lot of met­tle in it …. spir­i­tu­al­ity isn’t some­thing you can wear like a coat; it is in­built; it’s a part of you, your swab­hav ... ” After all, if he had qualms, he would not be sit­ting across from me, leav­ing the spot at the head of the ta­ble empty, at Ashoka, the main board­room on the tenth and top­most floor of the swank Kal­pataru Syn­ergy, the head­quar­ters of the Kal­pataru Group, at San­tacruz, in Mumbai.

The be­gin­ning

Munot’s story is the stuff that the In­dian dream is made of. He grew up at Pi­par City in Jodh­pur, a town mas­querad­ing as a city, where there was no elec­tric­ity or run­ning wa­ter, and which, in fact, is so non­de­script that even Google throws up limited in­for­ma­tion. Then they moved to Mumbai where his fa­ther Pukhraj Jain was in­volved in the prop­erty trad­ing business with his brother-in-law Cham­palal Kothari. “I started early, and there’s a his­tory be­hind it. My fa­ther was 42 years old when I was born. He had lost a lot of chil­dren,” he opens up, adding, “I joined him when I was not even 17, but I was cre­ative and liked the idea of con­struc­tion rather than trad­ing. It was a de­vi­a­tion from our fam­ily business but I said, ‘I want to do things this way’,” con­tin­ues the bil­lion­aire with a ghost of a smile, and you get the feel­ing that the chair­man of Kal­pataru Group was never afraid to stand up for what he be­lieved in. One of their “silent part­ners” at the time was Ram Kumar Ba­tra, the founder of the Ba­tra Group (which founded Band­box, one of the largest chains of dy­ers and dry-clean­ers in the coun­try) and later the sher­iff of Bom­bay, as it was known back then. Munot trained for one year in all as­pects of con­struc­tion—ar­chi­tec­ture, mu­nic­i­pal­ity rules, etc— un­der Ba­tra’s chief en­gi­neer, Jaswant Singh. The year was 1961, and his days were 14 to 15 hours long. He would take a bus from his home at Tardeo to the site at 7am in the morn­ing and then hop onto Singh’s scooter to visit many sites around Mal­abar Hill for the re­main­der of the day. An hour of tu­itions about the “tech­ni­cal as­pects and en­gi­neer­ing terms, for­mu­lae and equa­tions, math­e­mat­ics and sci­ence” would follow. “It was in­tense and ex­actly what I needed to sup­ple­ment my hands-on ex­pe­ri­ence and build my foun­da­tion, as I didn’t have an en­gi­neer­ing back­ground,” says Munot, of his crash course some 53 years ago. “In fact, to­day, I am tech­ni­cally more com­pe­tent com­pared to var­i­ous coun­ter­parts be­cause of this train­ing,” he as­serts.

A pos­i­tive at­ti­tude and an abil­ity to glean the best out of the worst sit­u­a­tions shine through when Munot thanks the re­ces­sion, stat­ing that it taught him to be more ef­fi­cient

How­ever, Munot was in for a shock. After he had par­tic­i­pated in the gru­elling train­ing for about six months, his un­cle and fa­ther de­cided to sell his labour of love—

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