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.
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—