It sounds clichéd when we hear people discuss their rags to riches tales. But, when Nagpur’s one of the most successful businessmen Gurjeet Singh Narula narrates his awe-inspiring story of how he started out dirt poor, he only reinstates the belief – ‘Nothing worth having comes easy!’ From a puncture repairer to a prosperous businessman, Narula has come a long way. His son Sundeep is the brain behind the successful apparel store – Brands Republic – in Nagpur, which has emerged a hot favourite among Nagpurians. Gurjeet Singh Narula speaks to Nation Next about his rags to riches journey, his wife Babbu who’s his pillar of strength and why he’s still indebted to his cousin and top cardiologist of Nagpur Dr Jaspal Arneja and his family. In conversation with Gurjeet Singh Narula…
Your family migrated to India post India-Pakistan partition. How difficult was it for your family?
My parents belonged to Pakistan. Nagpur was the first city my parents came to, from Pakistan. My mother, whenever she traveled to Pakistan, would get nostalgic after seeing her house, which was occupied by other people after partition. But, Pakistanis welcomed my family with open arms. My sister often said that Pakistanis love us. They (Pakistanis) always thanked us for giving them our houses for free of cost. Bhaag Milkha Bhaag movie has perfectly depicted the after effects of partition.
My parents witnessed heaps of dead bodies. My mother would say that she had come to heaven when she migrated to India after partition, because when they got separated, they were treated like animals in Pakistan during the partition. Out of his seven brothers, my father came to Nagpur with only one brother. My father was clueless about his brothers’ whereabouts till he died! It was after his death, we gradually learnt about his brothers who were settled in different corners of the world like Singapore, USA, etc!
You started as a puncture repairer. Please tell us something about your initial days…
In 1976, when I was in the eighth standard, I came home from my school only to find that my house was locked. My neighbour informed me that my mother and sister had gone to watch the movie Kabhi Kabhie, at Jayshree theatre. And, in the same breath, I was told that my father was serious. I immediately rushed to his small puncture shop called ‘Delhi Cycle’ in Sitaburdi.
After seeing my father struggle to even speak, I asked my mamaji, who owned a scooter shop near by, to accompany me and get my father admitted in a hospital. In the meanwhile, I went to Jayshree theatre to inform my mother and sister about the same. I kept screaming in the theatre to reach out to them but to no avail. Left with no option, I went to the projector room and cried out to the projector in-charge about my father’s deteriorating health and how I wanted him to help me convey the message to my mother and sister. He agreed. The projector in-charge projected a customised message on the screen. So, they both came to know about the incident and we immediately left for my mamaji’s shop, where we were told about the whereabouts of my father, who was admitted to the Mayo Memorial Hospital.
Fortunately, he recovered the very day. My mother asked me to skip school for few days, as there was no male member during any emergency. Few days later, my father again fell ill and had a continuous attack of hiccups for two hours. He was given a shock treatment, whose sight was dreadful for us, something that still haunts us. Unfortunately, he died. I didn’t resume my schooling since then. I started taking care of my father’s puncture shop. I got a lot of cooperation from my in laws, my maternal uncle and my father’s friends because I was extremely young. I got support more so because my father was a good-natured man. My nana took good care of us then because they were no elderly male members at our house. My nana then got the Government Medical College of Nagpur constructed, and my mamajis would drive their trucks. Today, they are multi millionaires of Nagpur; they are none other than Arnejas. Today, my brothers, both Jaspal Arneja and Ravi Arneja are renowned doctor and Income Tax Commissioner respectively. I’m still indebted to Jaspal Arneja’s family.
You even manufacture ice cubes on a large scale…
I gradually set up the business of ice cubes manufacturing where we would manufacture 60-70 kilos of ice cubes daily. We even started supplying water. We would supply all our ice to Hotel Centre Point. I realised that this was a profitable business, which required lesser hard work compared to my puncture repairing work, so I quit my latter business. We eventually started supplying water to caterers. In fact, we even provided water at Rahul Dravid’s wedding. By this time, I was comparatively financially stable.
Your son Sundeep is the brain behind the popular apparel store ‘Brands Republic’…
My son Sundeep once came across a clothing store, ‘Just Casuals’ in Pune. So, he asked me for five lacs, which was a big amount for me then. I gave him the money and told him that this is all I can give you because I spent all the money I had, on your education in Australia. Sundeep then met the proprietor of Just Casuals for a business venture in Nagpur but nothing could materialise as they already had a shop in Nagpur by then. Just Casuals would provide all the surplus products of exports to all the stores in Nagpur and Pune then. Sundeep asked his cousin to open a Just Casuals store in Chandigarh and supply him garments as they (Just Casuals) rejected Sundeep’s business proposal. Sundeep would then travel extensively to multiple cities to find out the origin of the garment distribution. He put in lot of hard work and gradually Brands Republic was conceptualised.
What is your future plan of expansion and diversification?
Our USP is quality, quantity, pricing and Sundeep’s business acumen. We recently introduced women’s footwear. We plan to introduce lingeries, laces, fabrics and gents shoes too. We even expanded and renovated our stores at Dharampeth and Civil Lines.
Did you ever feel you would make it this big one-day?
I always thought I would. My wife comes from an affluent family. She and her family supported me through thick and thin. The only reason why my in laws got me married to their daughter was because of my hard working nature. They even offered me money to start a business but out of self-respect, I never accepted the money. They encouraged me a lot. I owe everything to my wife, who prays for hours for my well being even today. I feel her footsteps for my family have been extremely lucky. She’s my lady luck!
Yours is an absolutely a rag to riches story. How do your affluent friends take this?
Even today, I’m the same old Gurjeet for all my friends. They feel I’m still a 20-year-old boy. I feel proud of the fact that I’m connected to all my friends. I can never take my family and friends for granted, because they were my backbone during my struggling days.
Are you still in contact with your friends of low times?
Unfortunately, I’m not because I would work at the roadside and use foul language. Once Sundeep made me realise that this behaviour and habit of mine wouldn’t help me grow in business. Earlier, I would behave rudely with my work persons because I would think whatever I did was right.