Inspire yourself with these 5 rags-to-riches stories
On some days, we all need something to inspire us – let these stories be the something you need today. All of these stories share the same thread – no matter what your situation in life, if you put efforts, nothing can stop you from achieving your dreams!
“I was born in a Dalit family in a village in Akola. When I was 12, everyone pushed my dad to get me married to a man, 10 years my senior, who lived in Mumbai. My dad didn’t want to, but because of societal pressure, I was married off. I came here and learned that his family lived in one room in a slum and he didn’t even have a job. I was treated horribly – if there was extra salt in the food I cooked or any mistakes I made, I was beaten up by my in-laws... It was my personal hell.
After 6 months, my father visited me – he couldn’t recognize me. I was in ragged clothes and I’d lost my smile. He fought with my in-laws and took me home. He told me to forget about it like a bad dream. But people started blaming me. I even tried to commit suicide and they still said that I was giving up because I HAD done something wrong, not the other way around. It was then that I realised that if I was going to be blamed in any case, I’d rather live.
With this new leaf turned, I returned to Mumbai and started out as a tailor. That was the first time I saw what Rs. 100 looked like. I rented a room in Kalyan with my savings and called my family here. We were managing fine, but when we couldn’t afford to save my sister’s life, I realised that I needed to make more money for my family. So I took a government loan and began my own furniture business. It was doing well and we began living a better life.
But there were so many out there struggling, just like I used to. So I started an NGO to help them get loans and inspire them to achieve everything they want. Sometimes, I helped them out of my own pocket and slowly built a good reputation for my social work, which is why the workers of Kamani Tubes asked me to help save their company. It was tied up in 140 litigation cases, with a debt of 116 crores. Everyone told me that it was suicide – but 500+ families were starving! So I chose to help, wanting nothing but justice for them in return. I spoke to the finance minister and he got the debt reduced. I gathered a team and shifted factories. Everything I tried was new – but there was no fear left in me.
In 2006, I became the chairman. We were told to pay off the bank loans within 7 years. We did it within 1 year and managed to pay the workers as well. Slowly and surely, things changed and today, the turnover is more than we could dream of. I was even awarded the Padma Shri in 2013 for my contribution. I’ve had an unbelievable journey, from a Dalit child bride to an owner of a multi-million dollar company. It’s been tough, but I’ve made sure to never let the fear of challenges overpower me. It took me a long time to learn that, but now that I have, I can’t choose to face life without having full faith in myself.”
“I grew up in a mud house, in a village in UP. We were a family of 17! So, I knew I had to struggle for a better life. Dad was a farmer, and we were barely scraping by. He started borrowing money to fend for us. As the debts piled up, he hid from the moneylenders.
Despite all these challenges, Ma would inspire us by saying, ‘Padhoge toh hi iss jagah se nikaloge.’ She even took up an odd job, and finally moved me and my younger brother closer to the city. To sustain us, I started tutoring kids. By 20, I had graduated with an Economics degree, but I didn’t get jobs because I’d studied from a vernacular medium. With my broken English, I only got a security guard’s job. And I took it, the salary of Rs 6,600 was a lot for me!
But I wanted to do more–I’d look at people entering the offices and wish to be one of them. To work towards it, I learnt English by watching Hollywood movies. My seniors noticed my improvement and promoted me to office coordinator. I started paying attention to the work everyone was doing. Once, I actually fixed an analyst’s problem! People realised that I might not know the language well, but I knew my work–they started consulting more often.
And then, 3 years later, something absolutely crazy happened! One of the analyst’s referred me for an interview with Goldman Sachs. He said, ‘Degree toh hai, language sambhal lena.’ I prepared for that interview for days, in fact, I even bought a suit using my savings just to appear ‘smart’.
And after several rounds of interviews, one more complex than the other, I cracked it! That was the moment my life changed–for good! And man, I was over the moon! The job was so good, I felt respected when I entered the office! My communications skills were also getting better by the day.
A few months later, I brought my parents to visit Bombay–they were so proud of me. With time, I paid off all the debts. Papa saying, ‘Thank you, now I don’t have to hide my face from moneylenders,’ meant the world to me.
But I wanted to keep learning, so a few years later, I enrolled for an MBA through my office’s scholarship program. I went to Chicago for it! I was living a life I had not even dreamt of. But I ensured I made the most of this opportunity. I studied hard and networked with the right people. And when I graduated – I flew my parents down for the ceremony. When my mom saw me receive my degree–she cried!
I continued with Goldman Sachs for 3 years before starting my own fitness company at 36. That was 2 years ago, and the company’s doing good. I go back to my village often, now I’ve built a pakka house for my family–everyone stays comfortably. Who would have thought that a security guard would one day run a company? But that’s the thing about dreams – when you believe in them and inspire yourself, they come true!”
"I was 5 when my father stepped out of the house and didn’t come back. We never found out what happened to him, but our lives changed drastically. My uneducated mother had to pick up a job immediately in order to take care of me and my sister. For the first couple of years, we continued living in a joint family, while my mother took up all kinds of jobs to make ends meet.
When I turned 16 the families separated and we were left to be on our own. I rotated between the houses of my uncle and friends, while both my mother and my sister were at different jobs and stayed in hostels. It became my biggest dream to give us all a home to live together again. My college life was extremely hard—I would go to class during the day and work in hotels at night. Transport, too, was difficult, with little to no money, I could only afford a train and walked the rest of the way.
When I got to my 3rd year in college, there was no money left, and I had to drop out. Tired of struggling and being homeless, and with only my mother and sister in mind, I decided to join an Indian company working on an oil platform offshore. It was a job nobody wanted— we risked our lives everyday. Transport to the ship was a helicopter and we were about 100 miles from land— we were trained to stay alive in emergencies.
For the next 4 years, I slogged for 12 hour days on 28 day cycles. With nothing to come back to, I often extended my days and took advantage of every training. I got numerous promotions and slowly began to move up and inspire myself.
In 1996 another oil company in Abu Dhabi noticed my qualifications and gave me a job offer I couldn’t refuse. I not only got a chance to go abroad, but my salary went from Rs. 1,500 to Rs. 40,000! I still remember my first trip back to Bombay—I finally bought a house and moved in with my mother and sister —I put a roof over my family again.
The next two decades transformed my life. I continued to move up in rank, moved up in different companies and travelled extensively. Today I’m the captain of my ship and the sole person to inspire myself. I have a team of 150 under me, and my position is one of the highest paying jobs in the world. I have numerous properties in India and own two of my dream cars.
I don’t emphasise my struggles to my children, but they know my story and know that I expect them to work hard in whatever they do. Maybe I had no choice, but over the years, I really did love my job, especially for all that it brought me, so I really do think passion is a huge part of success. It used to be a luxury to dream at all and today I’ve fulfilled ALL of my dreams. Determination and dedication always guarantees to be fruitful. It didn’t matter how little I had, I just never gave up. This got me where I am today—even with the blood, sweat and tears, it was all worth it. "
“My pita ji was a halwai, so I’ve always been around doodh, mewa, and big kadhais; the rasoi khana was my comfort zone. But I loved going to school. I had a plan – I’d complete my studies and join pitaji’s business. But at 15, I lost maaji and pitaji in quick succession. All of a sudden, I was an orphan responsible for 4 siblings as well as a business I didn’t know much about. That year, I failed two subjects and saw no other option but to drop out. I was at work all day– we had just 700 Rupees in savings. So I took ingredients on loan, made mithais and sold them to our regular customers. I barely slept; my day started and ended in the rasoi khana. I missed having a childhood– bunking school to play cricket, passing notes in class... But what could I do?
Slowly, people took notice and started offering me small catering projects. In 1985, a client asked me to cater for his daughter’s wedding. That was new to me; I was scared of not being able to deliver, but pita ji’s words– ‘Mehnat aur lagan se kaam karo, sab badhiya hoga!’ were there to inspire me and they pushed me to take the plunge. After months of planning when I did deliver, the doors opened!
I always wanted to switch from being a halwai to a caterer. So, after my first successful delivery, I decided to start Munna Maharaj Catering. I was obsessed! Even on my wedding day, I was in the rasoi khana – I was catering 4 weddings that day including mine! My sister had to drag me out in time for the Jaimala.
Soon, we started experimenting with food. A continental spread at an Indian wedding was unheard of, but we made it happen. Our work got recognised and we landed a 3-year contract with Oberoi Hotel. During one of their events, we got the opportunity to cater to Michael Jackson! We cooked Rajasthani food with ghewar for dessert, it was a hit! Never in my dreams had I imagined the dancing legend tasting my food and then saying, ‘Real good,’ to me!
But my career defining moment was when I was invited to Paris to cater for Mittal Ji’s daughter’s wedding. I couldn’t believe I was trusted to pull off such an important event! Immediately after, international projects poured in– I’m the first East Indian caterer to have done a wedding abroad. This one time, a guest asked for ‘fried ice-cream’; I was just as confused as my team, so we literally fried the ice-cream for him– he loved it! On our return, we made it a Munna Maharaj special! That’s what sets us apart from the others; we constantly evolve and inspire to do better.
42 years ago, I started out in a 100 sq ft room as Munna Halwai and today, after having a house of my own, receiving a lifetime achievement award and delivering over 1000 weddings, I am known as Munna Maharaj. Who knew an orphan with barely enough money to feed his own family would’ve fed lakhs of people?”
“When I was in the 10th grade, my dad suffered major losses in his business. We had nothing left to our name, we had to shift to a smaller house and cut our expenses; we had no hope. So once when my friend showed me an ad calling out for waiters, with a pay of Rs.250, I didn’t think twice. I knew my parents wouldn’t allow it, so I told them I was sleeping over at a friends’ and left. We needed the money. When I reached the venue, we were told to sleep outside and go to the bathroom in the open. I was barely 15 at the time.
The next morning when the event began, instead of serving, I was asked to collect leftovers, dirty plates and garbage. It hit me hard, but still, I was enamoured by the glitz and glamour of the event and I let that inspire me. The event managers were putting on this huge show and the guests looked so happy. I knew then that that’s where I want to be.
After that I kept taking up odd jobs at events, to sustain. My parents eventually found out, but they supported me because we needed the money. I also managed to save enough to pay for my education. I juggled both work and studies. I still remember one of my first weddings at this 5 star hotel – my only dream was to afford to step in as a guest, someday. Eventually my dad got a job, so I stopped working, focused on my graduation and then landed a job at a finance company. But I didn’t enjoy it -- the image of my 15 year old self, wanting to be a part of the world of events, kept playing on my mind.
So I decided to quit and join events again. I started in logistics and in a few years I managed the wedding of Nick Jonas and Priyanka Chopra, and even an Ambani wedding! That boy who was once a waiter, picking up people’s dirty dishes was now heading events which were on a global scale, managing thousands of people and managing to inspire even more!
Today if you ask me, I’m not ashamed of my past. I’ve always believed that no work that you do,is too big or too small. As long as in the end, it takes you to the top -- where your dreams come true.”
Being India’s largest storytelling platform, Humans of Bombay is all about bringing you extraordinary stories of ordinary people. Today, we bring you these extraordinary stories to inspire you to chase your dreams and never give up! If you’d like to read more such stories, check out our book and dive into the diverse tales of Bombay.