The Ambani Matron Saint

Hamare paas maa hai: Kokilaben with Anil and Mukesh

It does not matter whether the Brothers Ambani – Mukesh and Anil – will do the business tango or not. As the family got together for the memorial of Dhirubhai on his 80th birth anniversary, it was obvious that the Reliance empire is still holding on to Ba’s apron strings. Mother Kokilaben has shown great business acumen earlier and she seems to run the family in just such a corporate manner. Mukesh and Anil may address share-holders, but when it comes to making definitive statements, whether it is about her late husband or her sons, it is the matriarch whose word counts. It may be a mask, but with the sanctity that Indians have for the mother figure it gains extra currency.

She has seen the building of one of the major players in the country; she was with Dhirubhai during his struggling days, the days he fought to find a place, the days he manipulated the System, the days he became his own System. The Ambanis were the envy of many industrial houses because they were together. Dhirubhai did what most corporate patriarchs do not – he reposed faith in his sons. He knew who was good at what and delegated the tasks accordingly. It was not quite equal, but it was just. Just to his shrewd eyes. And that is what mattered. It was left to Kokilaben to be the General Manager or a sort of bureaucrat who knows more about the files than the politician who signs the papers and takes the credit or gets the flak for them.

Bahus can dance saala: Tina and Nita

So, when they met at the village Chorwad in the mansion they have built, it was all about carefully-planned sentiment. The media was allowed to shoot in what was a private ceremony. We caught glimpses of the brothers doing the dandiya, and the bahus playing traditional daughters-in-law as opposed to their more glamorous avatars when in Mumbai and their silent rivalry – Nita with her school, Tina with her art, both doing it for the benefit of society, of course. This was all about custom and it was custom-made. There was uniformity about the clothes, the camaraderie, the smiles.

Who cares whether or not it is good for the economy if the two brothers get together. It may certainly be good for their business, but again it is not an equal game. Kokilaben wearing bright pink spoke before the cameras, she said, “Agar pyaar nahin hota tau saath kaise hote (If there was no love, then why would they be together).” No one would dare to ask why they were together now (though they performed the havan at different timings) and for how long and what would happen once they reached their respective homes and went on their separate holidays.

That is not the point. This was the matriarch’s diktat and a clear signal to the business fraternity and stakeholders: When you buy one, you pay for the other too.

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