One of the most popular members of the Tuli family in Nagpur, hotelier Mohabat Singh Tuli, owner of Hotel Tuli International at Sadar and Tuli Veer Bagh in Pench, is known for his chilled out attitude. With his business acumen, he expanded his business empire from a budget hotel ‘Skylark’ at Central Avenue to the famous Tuli Group of Hotels and Resorts. Apart from being a successful businessman and a cricket enthusiast, he has keen interest in palmistry too. In a candid chat with Nation Next, the hotelier shared his tragic partition story, his early life and his close friendship with former Maharashtra CM late Vilasrao Deshmukh and former Maharashtra CM Sushilkumar Shinde. In a conversation with Mohabat Singh Tuli…
Your family relocated to Nagpur from Amritsar post the partition. Please share with us the experience…
I won’t say it was an India-Pakistan partition; rather it was the division of Punjab because no Muslims left Delhi, Uttar Pradesh, etc. Punjab previously comprised Himachal Pradesh, Haryana, part of Rajasthan and Punjab (present-day Pakistan). So, during partition, Muslims vacated the entire Punjab (present-day India) and shifted to Pakistan. When we migrated to India, we were allowed to occupy any vacant house we wanted. This is how all the occupants became owners of the residences. We came across refugee camps in Amritsar from where we literally walked down to Jalandhar, as there was no means of commute. While on our way, we witnessed heaps of dead bodies. There was an announcement made that no flowing water should be consumed because it had become poisonous. There wasn’t a single house where a member or two weren’t murdered. Some even lost their lives while crossing the border. From Jalandhar, we came to Delhi where we stayed in Daryaganj. Then, we went back to Punjab (present-day Haryana). We were given a land there in lieu of the land we had in Pakistan by the Indian government. We had 500 acres of land in Pakistan, for which the Indian government gave us 50 acres as compensation. In fact, we had five villages in Pakistan. We had hundreds of acres of land in Haryana, Delhi and NCR, for which we got Rs 57,000 from the Government of India as compensation.
What was your family’s occupation in Pakistan?
We were basically agriculturists and we owned a transport business too. Also, we had a cotton mill in Pakistan. But when we came to India, my father carried only Rs 1600. I feel the biggest reason why all the Sikhs who had migrated from Pakistan to India are prospering is because they have seen the worst. Now, they are all over in the world, doing so well.
You made a humble beginning by establishing a budget hotel Skylark at Central Avenue in Nagpur. How did Tuli group of hotels come into being?
We are the pioneers in the hospitality industry in Nagpur. All the actors and celebrities right from Yash Chopra, Mohammad Rafi, etc., would stay at Skylark. Our hotel would have 140% occupancy then because of which we would use our only hall in the hotel to accommodate the waiting guests. All the guests and their luggage would be kept there and whichever room would be vacant during the day would be allotted to the guest. It was fun working in such a set up. Skylark’s first guest was industrialist Rahul Bajaj. He had come to visit Wardha so he wanted to stay overnight in Nagpur. But, hotel’s opening was scheduled for the next day. So, we allotted him a room for Rs 35. I bought a table lamp for Rs 35 as a return gift for him. We would earn profit from alcohol with a margin of 250%. We would sell chilled beer bottle worth Rs1 for Rs 2.5 to our guests! I loved taking orders personally from our guests then. We would try to attain maximum billing by insisting on soups and ice creams, as it had the highest margin. We would literally identify, target and gather around our potential customers by insisting them for ice cream and soup. The salary of our senior receptionist in 1973 was Rs 170 per month. This is how we gradually came up with Tuli International.
During your initial days, while driving a truck and doing all sorts of jobs, you still lived life king size. Even then you enjoyed your alcohol and tandoori chicken everyday…
One should never work in stress. I had planned my itinerary such that I would attend college from 7 am to 10 am; take bath under the hand pump at my petrol pump, finish my bank work and would anxiously wait till 4 pm. I would then go to Hislop College’s ground where I would run for an hour. I was be a regular at Ashoka restaurant (which was earlier Ashoka Tea Palace) at Sadar, where I would have my tomato soup, and tandoori chicken at Moti Mahal, Sadar, every single day! After going home, I would again relish non-veg and rotis. By 9 pm, I would leave and visit my petrol pump.
Despite not being the eldest of all the brothers, you come across as the troubleshooter of sorts for the Tuli family….
I have always been a troubleshooter for everybody. I remember, it was Manoj Jayaswal’s son, Abhijeet’s wedding in Udaipur. We all were put up in a five star hotel and we all were ‘whiskey-lovers.’ All my whiskey-lover friends started worrying because they knew that it was a Marwari wedding so there was no question of alcohol. And there I was, carrying three bottles of whiskey! (Laughs) You see it’s very important to be stress free in life.
There seem to be lot many controversies around the Tulis. Why do you think it is so? How do you deal with it? Many say that the Tulis are the most popular and controversial. Why?
You can’t be popular if you aren’t controversial! (Chuckles) How does one become popular? It’s when people oppose you. Bad name and bad reputation travels faster, so you become talked about and popular. A good name doesn’t reach people quickly. Having said that, if people don’t talk bad, how would they know your good side?
From Vilasrao Deshmukh to Sushilkumar Shinde to many others, you have been thick of friends with many senior politicians and Chief Ministers. Why didn’t you join politics?
I was the General Secretary of Indian Youth Congress and Nagpur Secretary for Student Union when I was studying in Law College, Nagpur. If Vilasrao Deshmukh, Sushilkumar Shinde and I would ever be in Nagpur, we would make it a point to always meet up to maintain our good friendship. In fact, Satish Chaturvedi had once asked me that why don’t I get settled in Mumbai as I could easily earn Rs 400-500 crores because of my proximity towards politicos like Vilasrao Deshmukh and Sushilkumar Shinde. I told him that if I had used my connections with them, they wouldn’t have considered me as genuine as they consider me now. So, I never did any such thing. I wasn’t interested in politics as such because when Indira Gandhi was assassinated in 1984, I was quite active in Congress. Unfortunately, at that time, politicians would get conscious if I’d visit their place because I was a Sikh. I realised that if this is the mentality, it’s better I don’t waste my time in politics. Politics is not the only field to become popular. You can make a mark in your field and you can earn fame.
Everybody is coming up with resorts in the Madhya Pradesh side of Pench. For a change, you have set up a resort, Tuli Veer Bagh, in Maharashtra despite no forest being properly maintained. How’s the response? Has this risk paid off? Why did you choose Maharashtra over Madhya Pradesh?
The government is at fault. All they can see is Tadoba. Even the newspapers always mention Tadoba and not Kuswanda Gate. In fact, tigers roam everywhere and sighting is prevalent. The forest officials have to maintain a proper record about visitor’s sightings and experiences. The government is not interested; hence they aren’t paying attention towards Maharashtra forests. We have better forests than Madhya Pradesh’s. The density of our forests is quite high but the problem is that we only focus on tigers and forget the potential Maharashtra forests have. If people say that Madhya Pradesh is better, then they should prove it. Ultimately, it’s one forest, which has been divided into two. Madhya Pradesh has improved roads though but even we are making good roads now. Tuli Veer Bagh is a property, which is going to exist for hundreds of years and so are the forests. It’s only going to be expanded because of the awareness of wildlife and the good response we are getting.
You were recently charged for land grabbing case in Godhani through forgery, on complaint of Sameer Siddiqui Parvez…
Sameer Siddiqui Parvez is a partner with Rishi Tekriwal, who is the brother-in-law of BJP MLA Sameer Meghe. Meghe played a game by lodging a false complaint against me. It’s Sameer’s constituency (Hingna). No way are we involved in this. We were just cultivating the land since past 14 years; we are not the owners of the land. What are we going to do with six to seven acres of land when we have 300 acres of land in the city? If at all this is true, under section 420, it is a non-bailable offence. So, why haven’t the police arrested me yet? They just wanted to get the land vacated so they filed a case. This is cheap politics by the BJP. There can’t be a single case against me. If you roam in a Mercedes, would you steal a scooter? What is their status as compared to mine? Sameer Meghe’s definitely going to help his brother-in-law, isn’t he? The Tulis have never done such things and we don’t need to them as well.