| Ambarish Das, or Henry Ford’s great-grandson, pays tribute to a statue of Srila Prabhupada at the Iskcon centre. Picture by Aranya Sen
Ambarish Das is a devout Hindu, married to a Bengali doctor. He is a father of two children and loves cars. He is an active member of International Society for Krishna Consciousness (Iskcon) and lives in Gainseville, Florida. In between temple aartis, chanting mantras, meditating, praying and reading the Bhagvad Gita, he runs his art galleries and attends Ford family board meetings.
For, Ambarish Das is, actually, Alfred B. Ford, great-grandson of Henry Ford, founder of Ford Motor Company.
On holiday in India with his family, Ford took time out to come to Calcutta — his fifth visit to the city — and lay the foundation stone for the Iskcon temple, to be built on Gurusaday Road. The Rs 35-crore temple on a 50-cottah plot will have an air-conditioned auditorium on the ground floor, a temple on the first floor, rooms for monks in residence on the second floor, a roof-top garden, an underground car park and a bell-shaped dome.
Close to it will be an eight-storey guesthouse for Iskcon life members and guests. Fundraising is in progress, and work on the temple is set to begin next year. “This will really be the first big Iskcon temple in Calcutta,” says Ford, in spotless white kurta-pyjama, long white tika on broad forehead.
The project closest to his heart, of course, is the Rs 500-crore Vedic Planetarium at Mayapur, Nadia, of which he is campaign chairman and for which he has personally donated Rs 50 crore. “We have already gathered several million dollars, and hope to unveil the plans soon… It was prophesied to be really grand and, hopefully, it will be. But, possibly, not in my lifetime,” Ford smiles.
The winner of the Friend of India award from the National Federation of Indian American Association was initiated into the Vaishnav faith by Srila Prabhupada in 1975, and was “immediately drawn to it”. His wife, Sharmila, or Svahadevi Dasi, too, is an Iskcon member. “Our two daughters, one 16 and the other eight, are also attracted to Krishna consciousness,” he says.
The philanthropist is the trustee of the Ford Motor Company Fund, a charitable arm of the car company. He has helped build the Pushpa Samadhi Mandir of Srila Prabhupada, the Bhaktivedanta Cultural Centre in Detroit, Michigan, and the Hindu Temple at Hawaii, as well as Ramayan Arts Inc, an East India arts gallery. He also offers financial support to the Oxford University course on Vaishnav literature.
The man on the board of a software company, SoftAD (ever since his own web company didn’t make it), however, admits that he doesn’t understand much about it. “If you give me flowcharts and figures, I am lost. But I don’t like working for anyone. I like having my own business,” he clarifies.
But cars will always remain a passion. “I love them. I don’t know how to fix one, but I love to look at them and drive them,” laughs the owner of a Volvo and a Mustang. “I have always been a little rebellious. But it’s nice to have some choice, now that Ford owns Volvo and Jaguar.”