| Ashish's is a representative story of many Kashmiri Pandits of his generation, who were forced to move out of the valley during their developmental years. From harried beginnings post their exodus, these young boys grew into adventurous young men who ventured into previously uncharted territory and achieved great professional success. Many of you would already know of Ashish as a key person in the launch of ICL (Indian Cricket League) and for his management of several other brands and businesses. I hope that you like Ashish's story and feel proud of his achievements. In case you have your own story to share, which could also be inspiring to others, please email it to us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Ashish, please tell us about your growing up in Kashmir and early influences.
I was born in good old Jammu and the first phase of my childhood and schooling started in Karan Nagar. I went to Kashmir for the first time in 78 in my father’s lap and 8 stitches in my abdomen area. This was just one of numerous injuries that marked my childhood. I completed my Higher secondary education between St. Joseph's Baramulla, Marry Montessori School Anantnag and Islamia Hanfia College Anantnag. Latter on the regular MBA and other advanced courses here and there. For a significant part of my life I was unaware of the cultural, social and religious diversities due to the secular, liberal and multi-cultural fabric of our clan. Till late 80's the world for me was one big family and everyone out there was a part of the family with the 6 degrees of separation. The tales of our homes and flourishing carpet businesses in Abottabad, Karachi, Peshawar, Ranchi etc and following the partition of India, the escape from Pakistan and our settlement in Calcutta were the tales I remember my illustrious Grand Father Pt. Shyam Lal Kaul narrating. Not just secularism but also my deep belief in my religion were deeply rooted by the fond memories of him waking me up at 5am and dragging me to Ved Mandir in Karan Nagar, Jammu. My teens saw my secular, liberal yet religious roots deeply planted due to influence of my illustrious maternal 'Kilam" ancestry. The stories of my maternal Grand father and ever loving Uncles were those of power, heritage and the opulence since on wane due to discriminatory policies largely against the ruling Jagirdar clans of Kashmir. The most amusing of these stories, reflecting the irony of the changing times was the never ending case in the courts of Kashmir about usurping of the rare and the only Grand Chevrolet (gifted by Maharaja Gulab Singh to our family, there were two ordered by the Maharaja and the other was for his use); by the most prominent politician family from the valley on pretext of elections. I believe the case is still pending in Kashmir courts. Apart from my firm belief in my heritage, culture, religion and secularism, the biggest influence on my life has been my Father, Mr. Rattan Kaul. It was and still is very rare to find a Coach in your father for Cricket. I believe that I had tremendous potential and there would have been no stopping me to play the International circuits and most of it goes to my father for his support during the days when a career in sports was unheard of. It was not just support for sports but also giving me a true sense of direction without ever telling me what to do. Amongst life's toughest lessons was the one where I learnt to be a man. My father is no hero but the best friend I ever had; he was the one to sacrifice a meal, clothes, shoes and his own comforts to see a smile on my face. It will be tough to even become a fraction of his shadow.
Would you be able to share with us about your family and some personal tidbits?
The irony is Kashmiri Pandits are becoming more like many French living in the south of France, which is probably one of the most beautiful parts of the world, full of elderly people with dogs for companions but children in Paris. Similarly, we leave our Parents in Jammu and strive for our achievements elsewhere. Currently, my Parents are in Jammu while others in my family like me make ends meet in the big city. It is difficult to cede to our parents on their slow indulgence and comfort among relatives and friends in Jammu as compared to the pacy, impersonal and lonely life to be had in a metro like Bombay. I do look forward to having the good fortune of serving them whenever they move to Bombay, which I hope will be sometime soon. My wife Monika and my daughter Ananya aka Shereen are responsible for all the sanity in my life. My inlaws are from Moradabad, the brass capital of the world.
Grand parent & Father
Monika is the daughter of Dr. B.N.Kaul & Pushpa Kaul. Dr. Kaul is a renowned mathematician, author of several scary books on advanced mathematics, holds a PhD in Mathematics, is an eminent academician and former Dean of Hindu College. If I could give a life to sincerity and ultimate honesty then it would be nothing but my father-in-law Dr. Kaul. The tales of his honesty, sincerity and commitment to education are the stuff of legends. To be his son-in-law is a matter of great pride for me. As a matter of fact, all his brothers share the same DNA for love, affection, sincerity and honesty. In my in-laws I have received the best ever relatives and friends I could ever seek. In the modern day hyper-active life and constantly changing status quo of relationships , the love and affection of my In-laws has only grown with every passing day. Monika is following the footsteps of her illustrious family of academicians and works with G.D.Goenka Trust which runs one of the most prominent and respected chain of Schools and colleges in the country. If there is someone in the world who can make me change my will then it is my daughter Ananya and my mother who has always been an anchor in my life. Ananya though in 7th Standard has already charted a future path for her, to be in the coveted Indian Foreign Services (IFS). My elder paternal uncle, Mr. Jawahar Kaul formerly from Shital Nath Sathu ( Habbakadal ) is an accomplished Contractor in Kashmir and now resides in Jammu as the ultimate Head of our clan.
Great Grand Father and his brothers
Coming from Kashmir, what has been your path to Mumbai?
I completed my professional education in and around Delhi, a city that I hold dear to my heart. Delhi brought out the best in me and in more than one way contributed to my professional transformation. Having to walk for miles and miles scouting for odd jobs in the brutal July heat! I still remember the blisters in the soles of my feet, they would burst, bleed and leave deep wounds - but I had a dream. All the pain went went away with my first cherished salary of Rs.1728 p.m. I used to walk up to Safdarjung airport DTC stop from Green Park to save one rupee and use it towards tea to compensate for Lunch. Those days were outstanding, baptism by fire, which laid the foundation of the professional life I was to lead. Having to live in Delhi for one full month with Rs. 33 was the ultimate challenge to my ‘being’ and in the September of 1994 my beliefs were tested and hardened in this ultimate battle deep within. Eventually I was picked up as an Executive with SVC Superchem which was establishing India's 2nd largest Purified Terepathalic Acid (PTA) plant in North India. Subsequently, I had the honour of being handpicked for Hinduja Group by the then former Vice Chairman of the Group and was transferred to Mumbai in the fall of 98. Eventually I went on to be with Zee and Essel Group for about a decade heading the Corporate Brand Development function as Executive Vice President ( Group). It was these years with Mr. Subhash Chandra, the Chairman of Zee that shaped my professional identity and gave me the honour of playing a key role in launch of the most pioneering and path breaking businesses like Dish TV, Playwin, Agrani Satellite, Indian Cricket League, DNA Newspaper, Zee Sports and many more. I also had the privilege of being Country Manager for key Middle East countries for Bajaj Group (Bajaj Herbals), based out of their International HQ in Sharjah. I again joined Hinduja Group as Vice President in 2012 and now I am back in Bombay.
What brought you to Mumbai? What makes you stay?
If ever I had a professional dream, it was working out of Bombay. Bombay is one of the toughest tests of professional endurance in an extremely fast paced impersonal and lonely environment. With my traditional background I was all set to quit and return to Delhi on the 3rd Day in Bombay and I most certainly would have moved back to Delhi or Jammu had it not been for some of friends who continued to inspire me to stay on. It was their belief in me that made me stay on and the rest became history. Bombay gave me the honour of being the youngest achiever in all spheres of my professional assignments. I owe all my accomplishments, public honour to this city of dreams called Bombay. Not that the city is not tough now, but the professional standards, infrastructure, safety and convenience that the city offers don’t just let you go.
Amitabh Bachchan and Ashish Kaul
From Bajaj to Zee to the Hinduja Group, please share some of your most interesting experiences and achievements.
In my own limited and narrow vision, I was pretty much sure that the biggest achievement in life would have been to retire with the designation of a Manager. Having surpassed that, I always felt confident and was happily able to accept bigger responsibilities. I accepted every challenge and life blessed me with far more than I deserve. My travels, which include the small joys of having worked in Afghanistan, Yemen amidst raging battles, a crazy 1200 Kms drive to Paris while soaking into much of world History, seeing the deserts of Saudi Arabia and modern skyscrapers of the western world have been very interesting. However, there is nothing to beat the experience of driving your family on the Jammu Kashmir highway! Once on the highway, almost like magic, one feels the intense call of the Valley and right through the Pirpanchal range you start to see the valley of yore through moist eyes.
Many of our readers would like to know about your work in the entertainment and glamour industry. Would you be able to share your insights?
It just seems like yesterday that a “school boy” landed in the big bad and unforgiving world of Indian Media & entertainment Industry. It will be 20 years in few months and I am happy to have come this far. The biggest achievement for me has been to have been a part of the revolutions that changed the face of Indian media and entertainment Industry. From the launch of Cable networks, the birth of MSO's, first private entertainment group in television, first movie, music, news channel, the first DTH platform called Dish TV, first on-line gaming & lottery called Playwin, the first wave of Out of home entertainment infrastructure called Fun Republic, the largest entertainment trade magazine, FM radio stations, DNA News paper that achieved in just 2 years what the largest publication in this part of the world achieved in over 100 years and above all the launch of India's first International Cricket League. It has been and will always be the greatest honour to have lived and worked in the times that saw the greatest pioneering businesses in the media and entertainment being launched. I have believed that India is the most under valued marketplace. With almost 62% of the Indian population being under 37 years, India is the destiny that awaits the world. India is poised to be the biggest unified consumer goods market in the world. We have tremendous challenges though in the areas of quality control, infrastructure development, health and sanitation among others but I am sure it will all fall in place. The coming elections could lay the foundation of a progressive government that will rise above partisan politics and lead India into the realm of all-round growth.
Please tell us about the Corporate Affairs Leadership Award that you received earlier in this year. Tell us also about your works in the socio-cultural domain.
Awards and public recognition eventually land in showcases or may dull down but these are also inspiring and above all, a great responsibility. Most of the public encouragement that I have received has been for creating fastest growth in wealth, both tangible and intangible, for various businesses that I have been a part of. It has been my honour to receive commendation from Governor of Maharashtra and the Honourable Prime Minister Dr. Manmohan Singh for my social initiatives. Apart from professional involvements, I am also engaged with various NGO's working towards creating better lives for children living in slums or those who are homeless. It is also vital to provide opportunity and support for the girl child and I am actively involved with organizations working for this cause.
How have you influenced younger people who may have chosen to follow your path?
I am not sure if I have a good enough body of work to influence the nextgen. I am sure the future generation will be far more stronger and capable of doing greater work. I never thought of my work as a source of inspiration for others. I just wanted to deliver unparalleled achievements for my shareholders and employers. I wanted my work to measure against the benchmarks of successful performance and it so happened that in some cases my work itself became the benchmark. However, if at all I have been successful or not is something I am not sure of. There is only one thing that I am sure of which is that I have always exhausted my best for every single assignment I have handled. If there is anything that I would want the nextgen to take from me is not to follow anyone and not to have role models - I never followed anyone and never had a role model and never will. Professional world is now clearly divided into the ordinary and the extraordinary and for me to be extraordinary my work has to speak for myself. In this hyper competitive world where companies, businesses and brands are launched in dozens, by the hour- if people remember the brands and businesses that I have been a part of, then I believe that I have done a job well.
With Jian Shen, Managing Director of Shineworks Media China and Manjit Singh, Managing Director SET, Set MAX, (SonyTV)
With Mukesh Rishi, Actor
I do want to share some of my disappointments with India’s nextgen. They want to admire my success, they want to live my accomplishments, they want to partake from the adulation - they see the life of an accomplished successful professional; they see my interviews and read about me and instantly want to be in my place. However, no one wants to realise that I have worked and toiled for 19 years for this seemingly overnight success. They don’t realise that for this day’s feast I had to go without food for days just because I had no money to even eat a proper meal post exodus from Kashmir. For nearly a year I have slept in a slum with my head 12 feet away from the railway track because I could not afford the luxury of a room in a hostel. When it comes to eating the bread made out of the sweat from your brow - no one wants to do it. They live in a make believe world of gadgets and devices where they feel in complete control and they start confusing life's devices and twists to be those of an Xbox or Playstation game. It is disappointing to see many young adults getting plagued with depression, consuming drugs, alcohol and even disgracefully engaging in prostitution for maintenance of a lifestyle. I wish the nextgen of Kashmiri Hindus wakes up to realise that our community does not have the luxury of numbers and soon our race will exist only in history books. I believe death is not only physical but you also die dreadfully when your language, culture, heritage and traditions die. Unfortunately we are a race galloping towards extinction and it is now upto the nextgen to decide the future of our race.
Actor Jaya Pradha, Bhawna Sommaya - former Editor Screen, other actors from BolBachchan movie and Amitabh Bachchan with Ashish Kaul
What does the future hold for you? Anything you would like to add or a message that you would like to send to Shehjar’s readers?
I am not too sure if at all I can decipher the future but if my wish were to be granted then I would want to work towards establishing a chain of institutions and research centres across the world for preservation, restoration, upliftment and promotion of Kashmiri literature, culture, language, manuscripts and studies. It must have degrees and courses in our language and heritage and create a pool of 'scientists' who will be custodians and guardians of our race.
If you look around, there are many minorities that have done well for themselves. Not only have they emerged as strong power centres in India but internationally. Immense credit goes to the communities which have converted their tragedies in a meaningful manner to emerge stronger.
Kashmiris perhaps may have faced the worst genocide but we are India's punching bag. For some we are beggars riding on elephants, for some we are agents of India and Congress, for some we are rubbish that no one wants and for many we are just cowards with no honour and pride. What greater tragedy can befall a race when our own ethnicity belittles us with ridicule and snort. Some of our own blood feel ashamed of being called a Kashmiri and even shun the heritage and pride that shone bright as an endearing beacon of spiritual light and knowledge to the entire world. In the real world as it exists today, a person dies physically but an entire race dies when its values, heritage and culture dies. Tragically, we as a race are on the precipice of doom.
We live in an age where technology and media plays the key role of positioning issues and ways to redemption. When I say so, I look up to what the Sikhs, Jews, Sindhis, Multanis, Christians and the Muslim world has achieved through instruments like Al Jazeera and God network. In the modern world perpetrators are victims and I think Muslim world post Gujarat is an ideal example. For us, our own race ridicules our cowardice in the form of Kashmir Times, whose owners portray us as unwanted dirt.
My dream is to be able to develop a platform especially for Indians with the sole objective of rediscovering our pride. The intention is not to demean others but set a few wrongs right and to begin from our own Kashmiri Hindu community. Broadly the platform will seek to achieve the following :
- Develop Kashmiri folklore, shows, movies, soap operas etc to reconnect with the masses
- Revival of our culture and heritage
- Develop affinity for our language
- Revive our ancient manuscripts, texts and scriptures
- Documentaries about our Saints and religious seats
- News and current affairs shows giving a unified voice to our issues among many others
There are people who want to work in these areas and they have already approached me for but their motives are to control and command individually which is not acceptable to me. I want this dream to be lived by all of us for the entire race under an expert governing council as a trust and a guardian and not as a private company.