|Mittal, Kareena: The organiser and the entertainer
London, Nov. 5: Lakshmi Mittal pitched a marquee in the gardens of Kensington Palace Gardens on Tuesday last week and gave a party for 400.
Some thought it was to celebrate his successful takeover by Mittal Steel of Arcelor earlier this year but the real reason was much more personal -- it was to celebrate the 80th birthday of the man to whom he owes everything: his father.
Right from the time Lakshmi was a young commerce student at St Xavier’s College in Calcutta, his father, Mohan Lal Mittal, gave him the work ethic. Today, although the steel world rings with the name of his much more famous son, it was Mittal Senior who taught his son all he knows.
The father is justly proud of his son, as he has told The Telegraph: “Now I like to be known as the father of my son. If you don’t feel proud, you are wrong father. If son gets credit, father gets credit automatically.”
A man endowed with a rustic sense of humour and who delights in saying “I’m not an educated man”, M.L. Mittal likes telling a favourite joke: “Jawaharlal did barristry but Motilal was only an advocate. A case was going on in high court. The other side was barrister. ‘What do you know, Mr Motilal, you are only an advocate. I am a barrister.’ Motital said, ‘You’re a barrister. I am father of a barrister. I know better than you’.”
It was the sort of joke which only Indians will understand -- and there were plenty of them at his 80th birthday party. Some were relatives who had come from India; others were the Indians who turn up to every big party in London. But given the son’s global connections, there were many Europeans, too, for whom the hosts had to make provision of “salads”.
The party was organised by Varti, daughter of Lakshmi’s younger brother, Pramod.
One guest could scarcely remember the range of the menu: “There was plenty of Mughlai, lots of kebabs, shammi kebab, spicy lamb chops, biryani, pista dum aloo, chicken marinated with ginger. I saw the Hinduja family there led by SP (Srichand); I didn’t see (Lord) Swraj Paul but his (twin) sons, Ambar and Akash, were there. I saw Adi Godrej and Lord Bagri. The reception was in the Orangerie (a well known landmark in Kensington Palace Gardens, which adjoins Mittal’s residence).”
Bollywood entertainment was provided by Kareena Kapoor and Akshay Kumar.
One man who could not be spotted was Guy Dolle, former chief executive of Arcelor. It was over dinner at his residence at the start of 2006 that Mittal slipped him the all-important question along the lines of: “Do have some more gulab jamun, they are delicious with vanilla ice cream. By the way, can I buy your Arcelor'”
Whether Dolle choked is not recorded but later he recovered to make the one comment for which he will merit a footnote in history: Mittal Steel, a company full of Indians, made cologne; Arcelor, full of Frenchmen, made perfume.
Ispat Steel was founded in 1975 by Mittal Senior in Calcutta. A year after his retirement in 1994, Mittal Senior shifted to London where he could divide his time between his two elder sons, Lakshmi, 56, and Pramod, 49. There are forays to India to see his youngest son, Vinod, 48. He says that like all traditional Hindus, he strongly believes in the joint family system and treats his sons as “best friends”.
“If I can’t bring unity to my family, how can I bring unity among Hindus around the world'” he jokes. “Family is more important than money.”
The Ispat steel empire, now Arcelor-Mittal, now spans the globe. Mittal Senior is into Hinduism in a big way (unlike his son): “I have made enough money and travelled the world but now want to do something for the Hindu community. I regret I did not do this sooner.”
While he finds it reassuring that Hindus in Britain are “more Hindu than Hindus in India”, he is concerned that those in many other countries knew little about their religion and were suffering a loss of identity. “Something has to be done.”
Mittal Senior says he was a poor villager born penniless in Rajasthan. He attributes his business success to “the kindness of God”. “It’s possible to make £100,000 with hard work but to get into the billions, you need God.”
He describes how he inculcated the Hindu work ethic into his sons. “In our joint family system, both teaching and working were taught. Teaching means good education as well as working. Lakshmi did graduation from St Xavier’s, commerce section, which started at 6.30 in the morning till 10.30 am in Calcutta. At 10.30 am, he directly has to come to the office, can’t go home. And he has to lunch with me in the office, then go home for study. I say, ‘If you don't come, I won't have lunch’. He has to come to the office and work two hours in the office. Started at the age of 15 and a half, 16. He did graduation at 19.
“Sometimes, (his) mother feels, ‘You are pressing too much’. But ultimately he got accustomed to that. Today also, he works 16 hours a day. If my sons are not better than me, my business is finished. Lakshmi is better than me, and Lakshmi’s son, Aditya (now 31), is even better than him.”
Between generations, there has to a move upwards: “If the next generation is not better than you, if my sons are not better than me, whatever I made will not stay. Second generation can reach the sky if they are capable. I started from zero. If my sons are not better than me, it will be finished there itself.”