February 26, 2015

A story about how my grandmother - Kamala Devi - became a businesswoman


Pencil sketch by Usha A S Rao
27 February 2015
My ammamma - Kodalapuram Kamala Devi - was a very courageous and accomplished woman. She belonged to Madanapalli and went to college in Madras, living in a hostel in those days. Tall, stately and beautiful, she had proposed to my grandfather - Kodalapuram Bhima Rao - who was more than double her age, and married him. She was a freedom fighter and later, a Member of Legislative Council in Karnataka. After my grandfather retired from the Horticulture Department in Karnataka, my mother's family moved to Hyderabad, where she eventually started a business venture.

This story, told by my mother Jaya (a lawyer and social worker), about how ammamma started her business with ACC (formerly The Associated Cement Companies Limited), Bombay. 

Hopefully more family stories will follow. 

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How Kodalapuram Kamala Devi became a businesswoman
Jaya V H Rao, 4 Feb 2015

On that fateful day   8th May 1954 – we left Bangalore for good. We boarded the train to Hyderabad, the dream city of my mother Kodalapuram Kamala Devi. She took the decision to move the entire family from Bangalore, the family consisting of herself, her father P. Krishnaswamy Rao, her mother Subbamma, her husband K Bhima Rao and her seven children – Jaya (myself), Seetharam, Saraswathi, Usha, Yashodhara, Mohan and Ramgopal. We reached Kachiguda station on the morning of 9 May 1954 with very few belongings. One Mr Sekhar received us at the station and we stayed at Hotel Vasant Vihar near Abids, almost as guests of the proprietor Narasimhachar whom we did not even know. In a few days, we moved to No 10, Mahabhoopal Manzil near Moazamjahi Market as neighbour to Narasimhachar, courtesy, Sekhar. We hired some furniture as we had nothing, and started our life.

Hyderabad was new to us. We wanted to see and explore. Cycle rickshaws were in abundance. It was a new experience to sit in one. You got a feeling that you are riding high!

The day we arrived, the temperature was 109o F….it was too…hot! We poured buckets of water on the floor and walked barefeet. Slowly we got used to the heat.

Amma had moved to this city because her father had worked at Vanaparthy and knew Hyderabad a little. She also wanted to explore the possibility of getting employment (she was only 42 years old), as she was from Madanapalli and ‘Vishalandhra’ state was in the offing.

Initially she took up a job as a teacher in Savitri Kanya Pathasala in Maharajgunj, close to Jambagh. There was one teacher by name Parvathamma who became a good friend. Another teacher by name Rajyalakshmi later became my colleague in AG’s office, where I joined as an auditor (UDC) on 6 April 1955.

Appa had a friend by name Mehdi Nawaj Jung who was a minister in the Hyderabad State. He was related to Sir Mirza Ismail, the then Diwan of Mysore. He also knew Mrinalini Chattopadhyaya, sister of Sarojini Naidu and their brotherHarindranath Chattopadhyaya. Mrinalini lived in Basheerbagh; Sarojini Naidu’s son Dr Jayasurya lived in Ramkot. Dr Satchidanand’s sister Leelamma and her children were known to us. She used to work in Central Bank of India. Shyamala is her eldest daughter.

I had just graduated from Maharani’s College, Bangalore. I wanted desperately to continue my studies. I wanted to do M A in English but change of faculty from Science to Arts was not allowed. For want of anything better to do, I joined the Law College (only evening classes at that time). This gave me an opportunity to work during daytime.

When Amma was a teacher in Savitri Kanya Pathasala, there was a lane opposite the school where there were dealers in used cement bags. There were agents and sub agents who collected bags and sent them back to ACC, Bombay, for recycling. Only those that could be reused were accepted by the company. The other bags were restitched whereby two cement bags were converted into one, and used for storing paddy. Women workers were employed for this purpose. In the lane opposite the school, the women workers used to work. Their wages were very low. They were agitating for increase in their wages. They wanted to approach the Labour Commission and give an application. They came to the school where Amma was working and requested the teachers to draft an application. None of the teachers obliged. Amma not only drafted the application, she also approached the commissioner who heard them and ordered that their wages be increased. From then on, the women workers and sub agents who worked for the merchants started coming home to seek Amma’s advice. Some of the sub agents suggested that Amma should get an agency for herself. During this period, my grandfather passed away on 6 August 1955. I had just joined AG’s Office. I was in Ist year LLB. I was active in the college extra curricular activities like taking part in plays and mock security council, shuttle badminton, table tennis and cricket. I was fairly regular to the classes. I made a lot of friends both in the college and at office.

Amma continued to work in the school. A person who was a legislator in Bangalore for two terms, and an active freedom fighter moving about with ministers and chief ministers was a teacher in a small school! It was heart rending to see her like that. She, however, was undaunted. She continued her optimism and was sure there would be a turning point in her life.

I will write about my life during the period from 1955 separately. This narrative is about how Amma became a business person.

While working at Savitri Kanya Pathashala, she applied for a job as a full time caretaker in a women’s rescue home in the department of women welfare. She got the job. She lived in the rescue home taking care of the inmates for about 6 months or so. She had girls serving her there and the job was not too tough. But, she could not stay away from home. She resigned her job. In the meantime, she prepared her ground to jump into business. She met one Mr Rajiah who was a hawker. He would go round small shops collecting empty cement bags and sell them to the agents. He approached Amma and promised to work for her if she got an agency. Similarly Dasarath, who had a kirana shop in Himayatnagar, also offered to work for her.

Sir Mirza Ismail, who was a dewan of Mysore before independence, was a friend of Appa. He had a relative Mehdi Nawaz Jung, a minister in the Hyderabad State. Amma and Appa decided to meet him and seek his help to establish themselves and all of us in Hyderabad. We all went to the residence of Mehdi Nawaz Jung in Banjara Hills for breakfast. His house was a beautiful one with a natural rock as part of the wall. We enjoyed his hospitality and he was very nice to my parents. He promised to do whatever he could to help us. Later Amma told Mehdi Nawaz Jung about the agency in ACC. He immediately responded positively. He said he would talk to Ali Yavar Jung who was then Governor of Maharashtra, who in turn would put in a word to Himmat Sinhji, a Prince of a small state in Gujarat and one of the directors of ACC.

On 6 Nov 1962, Appa passed away. I was married at that time.

After Appa’s demise, Amma was called to Bombay to meet Himmat Sinhji in the ACC office. Rajiah and Dasrath accompanied her. My youngest brother Gopi also went along. Amma was received very warmly at the reception by Himmat Sinhji himself. She got the agency for the supply of old cement gunny bags. Mr Kikubhai Desai was in charge. He was extremely nice to Amma. When she told him she had no money, he got her paid Rs 20,000 from the company. He asked her for the name of her firm. She told him offhand, “Balaji Trading Company”. 

Amma’s business venture was thus born with Amma, Dasarath and Rajiah as partners. Years later, it became K K Corporation. 




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