18TAKE ME HOMEA FEWGOOD MENNand Kishore Chaudhary – Jaipur RugsJaipur (Rajasthan)In 1978, a young graduate went into the carpet businessin Churu, Rajasthan. Today, Jaipur Rugs is India’s biggestexporter of hand-knotted carpets, employing 40,000weavers in villages across India.
A FEW GOOD MENIt is a universally acknowledged fact that a young Marwarimust be in search of a business. Generations of Marwarisfound their fortunes in Bombay, in Calcutta and distant landsbeyond.Nand Kishore Chaudhary is different. He started his dhandhafrom Churu, in the heart of Marwar. Starting with 2 carpetlooms and a few weavers, all from the ‘untouchable’ caste.“Parivar aur aas pados ke log mujhe samajh nahi paaye –meri soch kuch alag thi.” (My family and neighbours couldnot understand my way of thinking.)But Nand Kishore never wavered in his beliefs – in himself,in his business.Over the next 20 years, Nand Kishore created a huge networkof weavers, working from their own homes in villages andtribal areas. From a contractor, he became an exporter in hisown right.From one among hundreds of exporters, he became aglobally acclaimed ‘case study’ in social entrepreneurship.“Maine likhne laayak kuch aisa kiya hi nahin (I haven’tdone anything worth writing about),” he protested when C KPrahalad first approached him.And surely, Nand Kishore did not set out to create a socialenterprise. Every action he took – from reducing the role ofmiddlemen to improving the lives of his weavers – came froma simple line of thought.“If my weavers are happy, they will do good work. Good workis good for business.”And being good to people is in itself important. No matterwhat their caste, class or social status.At the company headquarters in Jaipur’s Mansarovarindustrial area, Nand Kishore dazzles me with world-classdesigns. From jute carpets which retail for 250 to finestquality silks which fetch 10,000 a piece.From the poorest hands to the richest feet – Jaipur Rugsis a bridge. A bridge built on humanity, strengthened by thesweat of family. Connecting villages to the world.19
20TAKE ME HOMEA FEWGOOD MENNand Kishore Chaudhary – Jaipur RugsJaipur (Rajasthan)Nand Kishore Chaudhary was born in Churu, a district town inRajasthan.“I did my BCom from Lohia College in Churu and joined my father’sbusiness.”The business was a chhoti si dukaan (small shop) which soldbranded shoes. At the age of 22, Nand Kishore secured apermanent job as a cashier at the United Bank of India. Toeveryone’s surprise and dismay, he refused the job.“I decided not to join service because I knew I wanted to dobusiness. Mujhe apna kuch karna hai aur kuch badaa karne hai.”(I wanted to do something on my own, something big.)The shoe shop did not have much of a future. Churu was a smalltown where people didn’t have much money to spend on fashion.So what was a young man to do?Around this time, Nand Kishore got acquainted with Ilay Cooper, ayoung writer and photographer from England. Cooper’s obsessionat the time was the study of Shekhawati paintings. The two youngmen shared a love for the villages and the deserts – they quicklybecame good friends.
A FEW GOOD MENMeanwhile Nand Kishore spent long hours contemplating themeaning of life and work. He read Osho, the Bhagvad Gita, thewritings of Mahatma Gandhi and Tagore. And spent long hours indiscussion and introspection with the Englishman.“I thought about it deeply, that what kind of person am I? Whatbusiness should I get into?”In the course of his research he heard about the carpet business.A friend who was in the transport line remarked, “The demand forcarpets is very high but supply is less Why don’t you set up aloom?”The idea appealed to Nand Kishore – he went to Jaipur to find outmore. The facts were startling: Rajasthan produced 45% of India’sraw wool but the majority of carpets were produced in UP. With itsblend of economic and aesthetic appeal, Nand Kishore decidedthe carpet business was the right business for him.The year was 1978. The young man borrowed 5000 from hisfather and set up 2 carpet looms in the courtyard of his house.“I employed 9 people who had been trained by the governmentbut had no work.”The weavers belonged to the ‘chamar’ community – the so-calleduntouchables. The family was aghast.“My father, my mother, my neighbours, all used to say, ‘Yeh kyashuru kar diya hai tumne?’ ” (What is this useless thing you havestarted?)“The people we do not mingle with, do not allow in our homes, areworking with you? They are even visiting your house!”Nand Kishore was immune to these taunts.“From childhood, I could see that our society is full of hypocrisy.Main jaat-paat nahin maanta.” (I do not believe in the castesystem.)The weavers were nimble and worked hard. Initially, Nand Kishorealso employed a ‘master’ from Benaras to supervise the work. Butthe master was also an ustad (expert) in money matters – his maininterest in life was getting ‘advance’.21
22TAKE ME HOME“One day, he misbehaved. I told him, ‘You can go now, I have learnteverything you know’.”Quietly observing the ustad, spending day and night with theweavers, Nand Kishore had picked up the nuances of the trade.The quality of a carpet rests chiefly on its knots.“Funde ki nau barabar ho, lachche ki jod barabar thuke, taadi katension barabar ho. Yehi basic cheezein mujhe samajh mein aagayi.” (The shape of the knot, the joint of the loop and the tensionof the thread – these are the basic things you need to get right.)But the single most important aspect is the number of knots persquare inch. The more the knots, the more the detail, the morevaluable is the carpet.Nand Kishore also forged a close relationship with the weavers.He would sit with them, talk to them, eat with them.“Unke upar mera vishwas badta gaya.” (My trust in their abilitieskept increasing.)And that trust was rewarded when the very first carpet wascompleted. It was made to order for a large Jaipur-based exporter.The buyer was so delighted by the quality, he called his ownkarigars (artisans) to inspect it.“This boy is new in the carpet business but look at the fantasticpiece he has produced!”In September 1980, an article written by Ilay Cooper appearedin the prestigious Inside Outside magazine. Titled, ‘More thana Revival’ it featured a full-page photograph of Nand Kishore’sfirst carpet. The article also talked about the bright future of thehandmade carpet industry and why it needed young men likeNand Kishore.“Meri soch hamesha se hi alag thi.Parivaar wale kabhi mujhe samajh nahinpaaye.” (My thinking was always different,my family could not understand me.)
A FEW GOOD MEN“Ustad ko dekh dekh kar main khud ustadban gaya.” (Observing the master atwork, I too became a master.)“I got a lot of confidence and decided to expand.”In addition to acclaim, the first sale netted Nand Kishore 4000and more jobwork. In 2 years’ time, with 6 additional looms, thebusiness was thriving. The contractor supplied raw material, NandKishore supplied finished carpets. After accounting for labour andtransport, he was making 30–40,000 per month – a big sum in1980.“I reinvested what I was earning into buying more looms*.”However, this time he went outside Churu, to nearby villageslike Ratangad, Sujangad, Laxmangad and Jodhpur. The mainchallenge was identifying and training good weavers. Peoplewere desperate for work, yet Nand Kishore was careful in hisselection.“I wanted those who have a passion for this work, some discipline.Achha aadmi hona bhi zaroori hai.” (He must also be a goodperson.)Good weaving requires team effort. 4 weavers working on a single8 x 10** high-quality carpet would take 3-4 months to complete thejob.As the number of workers and sites grew, Nand Kishore createda rudimentary management system. One of the weavers wasupgraded to ‘quality supervisor’. The man was given a motorcycleand his job was to go from loom to loom, checking the work. Hisjob was to compile a PPR, or Production Progress Report.This supervisor noted the square feet of weaving per artisan. Healso made payments to the workers, accordingly.***A loom cost approximately 3000 in 1980.The quality of a carpet is determined by the number of knots per sq inch.23
24TAKE ME HOMEAfter 8 years of working as a contractor, the business hadtouched 15 lakh with more than 300 weavers and 100 looms. Butsomething was missing.“Mere andar aur badiya kaam karne ki ichcha thi. Magar exporterke liye paisa hi bhagwan tha.” (I had a desire to excel in my work.But the exporter cared only for money.)And Nand Kishore’s entire business rested on his greedy shoulders.This disturbed the somewhat idealistic Nand Kishore. In 1986, heparted ways with the exporter and decided to enter the exportbusiness himself. A new company was formed in partnership withhis brother.Nand Kishore shifted to Jaipur, where he took a house on rent. Heset up additional looms as well as invested in raw materials. But itwasn’t that simple to start exporting.“Initially, I supplied to other exporters in Jaipur and Delhi. After 3years, we got our first direct order, from a German customer.”The first order was worth 10 lakh and more followed. Clearly, therewas a big opportunity. But could handmade carpets be producedon a large scale?“Iss kaam ko bade roop main kaise karein?” How is one togrow big?Around this time, Ilay Cooper was commissioned by INTACH todocument the monuments of Diu, a former Portuguese enclave onthe coast of Gujarat. He also travelled extensively across Gujarat,including the tribal belt.“Can I get weavers in Gujarat?” Nand Kishore asked his friend.Ilay replied, “Yes – why not. Tribals are artistic as well as loyal, ifyou treat them with respect and love.”“Weavers ke saath mera itna lagaav hogaya ki dopahar ka khaana bhi loom parbaith kar hi khata tha.” (I bonded somuch with the weavers that I wouldeat my lunch with them.)
A FEW GOOD MEN“My interest of living in villages andclose to nature made it easier toconnect with the tribals.”He added that Gujarat was also a very safe state for women.“Women have a lot more freedom – it will be a good environmentfor your daughters and wife.”What’s more, the state government had schemes to train tribalsin carpet weaving. The district administration had even formedco-operative societies and provided free looms. But when NandKishore went from village to village, he sensed a problem. Thetribals were good weavers but poor managers.This was an opportunity for an entrepreneur like Nand Kishore.“In 1990, I decided to make Gujarat my big production base.”Leaving his 200 looms in Rajasthan in the hands of trustedlieutenants, Nand Kishore shifted, bag and baggage, to Valsad.His 3 daughters and 2 sons enrolled in the local school. Worktook Nand Kishore to distant villages, where the tribals lived. But,initially, it was not easy.“Tribals are not very friendly towards outsiders. But I rememberedIlay’s words and I knew, slowly, I will be able to win them over.”It took 3 years to develop a rapport, to become a mentor and‘bhaisaheb’ to them. Nand Kishore began training tribals, with afocus on quality of weaving. He was especially impressed by thewomen.“I saw the tribal women manage home, food, children, budget andstill find time to weave carpets. They are probably some of the bestmanagers in the world!”Working in far-flung villages also brought practical problems.Without a phone, fax or Internet, how do you keep track ofproduction? The solution came in the form of a wireless set whichNand Kishore spotted at an exhibition in Ahmedabad.25
26TAKE ME HOME“We installed one repeater (tower) on top of a hill calledSapatura and 15 wireless and fixed stations were set up, costingapproximately 6 lakh.”To carry quality inspectors over rocky terrain, he invested in 2 jeepsand 20 motorcycles. As in Rajasthan, the supervisors went fromloom to loom, delivering raw material and payment to weavers.Gradually, production scaled up, with a truckful of carpets beingdespatched to Jaipur every week for inspection, prior to export.But now, there was another problem. Nand Kishore’s success inworking directly with weavers was slowly eliminating the role ofthe middleman.One morning, a politically powerful contractor came to his office,waving a gun.“You better leave Gujarat!”Nand Kishore did not take the threat seriously.“I knew it was the frustration of his failure I was doing good workand had support of the tribal community.”By 1999, Nand Kishore had trained 10,000 tribal weavers withover 2000 looms in Gujarat. That same year, Nand Kishore andhis brother decided to go separate ways.“Phir shuru hua jo main bolta hoon University of Hard Rocksof life (laughs).” (That’s when I entered a phase which I call asUniversity of Hard Rocks of life.)Nand Kishore started a new firm by the name ‘Jaipur Carpets’.The trouble was he had spent his whole life working with theweavers at the grassroot level. He had little idea about how to runthe business. All he had were some looms in Jaipur, the looms inGujarat and 20 years of goodwill.“There are 60 processes in carpetmaking, right from buying raw wool tothe final delivery we have a qualitycontrol at each level.”
A FEW GOOD MEN“Jo bina padhe-likhe hain unke andarek alag talent, ek alag wisdom, ek alagexperience hai.” (Uneducated peoplehave a different kind of talent,wisdom and experience.)“Mera weaving ke kshetra mein bahut naam raha.uska marketmein kuch fayda mila.” (I enjoyed a lot of respect in the field ofweaving and that helped me.)From a blank slate, Nand Kishore was able to take the exportsto 4 crore in the first year itself. But then, problems began pilingup. Finance and HR were Nand Kishore’s two biggest bugbears.To handle these aspects, he hired professional managers.But handling their expectations and egos was another newheadache.“The business suffered, we started making losses.”At one point it seemed like the company would have to be shutdown.Once again, Nand Kishore turned inwards – reading the scriptures,attending satsangs and c