Kalpana Saroj, popularly known as the original ‘Slumdog Millionaire,’ is Dalit entrepreneur born in Roperkheda village in Maharashtra. Despite having been brought up in penury, a troubled marriage and a hard life in the slums of Mumbai, her indomitable spirit saw her wriggle herself out of seemingly insurmountable problems to go on to become the CEO of Kamani Tubes in Mumbai. She extricated the company from bankruptcy and turned it around.  Today her company is worth more than $100 million and provides livelihood to hundreds of people. HMTV Chief News Coordinator Virahat caught up with the recipient of Padmasri award along with ‘Coolie’ Jyothi Reddy, who is also a symbol of emancipation of abject poverty.


Excerpts from the interview:

 
Please tell us about your family background
 
My grandfather was a farm labourer earning about one rupee a day. He educated my father up to Class X with great difficulty. Later my father became a police constable. I am the daughter of a havaldar.
  
How was your childhood?
 
Childhood is always pleasant. There is a Marathi proverb that it is always good to be childhood forever. My childhood was spent in penury. My father used to find it difficult to give us bread with morning tea. 
 
Why did you get married early?
 
Oh! Mine was a late marriage. My mother was married at 9. My father thought of educating me up to Class X. But due to pressure from my uncle, he married me off.  
 
Being a Dalit woman, how did you face discrimination?
 
I used to live in police quarters. But whenever I would visit the house of my friends, they used to frown if we entered their kitchen. But I saw the discrimination whenever I went to my grandfather’s village. 
 
Ambedkar was born in Maharashtra. Did you read his works? Did he influence you?
 
When I was young I did not know Ambedkar. After coming to Mumbai after marriage, I came to know him and studied him. Then I realized how caste discrimination restricted our lives. Then I decided to travel on the way he showed us and achieve success in life. 
 
You came from a family which struggled to provide bread. Now you have risen to the position of an entrepreneur worth Rs 300 crore.  How did you achieve this?
 
I worked hard. The ideals and thoughts of Ambedkar and Jyothibau Phule inspired me. I learnt about life and realized that nothing would come your way if we work hard to achieve our goals. In the path shown by Ambedkar, we proved that people born in low castes are not inferior to anybody and we could also achieve success and rise to great heights. I reached this stage.
 
On happy & sad moments in life
 
I went through a lot of difficulties and sad moments. I always thought of finding a way to get away from difficult situation. Whenever I succeeded, I was happy. I did not study much. But my daughter is doing hotel management in London. My son wanted to be a pilot. Hot trained in Germany and working for Air India as pilot now. I am happy that I could give my children the education they wanted.
 
How did you feel after receiving Padmasri?
 
My happiness knew no bounds when they conferred Padmasri on me. A girl who did not know how to get in to a local train achieved such a big award? I felt as if I conquered the world.
 
Why are you called Lady Don?
 
I do not know that I am called Lady Don. This is first time for me to hear this. There were attacks on me twice. I have a licensed revolver for self protection. I am a Buddhist and never harm even an insect. 
 
Do you plan to venture abroad?
 
Yes, if I get an opportunity, I would set up business in other countries also.   
 
Why do you want to meet America President Obama? 
 
To discuss about social activities. There are a lot of people in America, Canada and London who admire and follow Ambedkar. There was a function to mark 100th anniversary of Ambedkar’s admission in Columbia University.  I was felicitated when I was there. 
 
You are called Real Estate Queen.?
 
The prices of real estate are very high. Selfishness is driving the people to spill blood for getting real estate. That is why they say Mumbai plots want blood not water. 
 
How did you get the idea to help more than 2,000 poor people under the Maaki Chaav scheme?
 
I am inspired by Ambedkar to take up this programme. 
 
How did you happen to become a friend of Jyothi Reddy?
 
I met her at a function in Tirupati. Our thoughts were compatible and we became good friends. She came back from America to help poor people here. We are running DIKKI for the benefit of dalit women. It encourages the products of dalit women. Even, Tata came forward to buy their products. Minister Gita Reddy is also helping us. 
 
Why you took over loss-making firms and paid all the past dues?
 
Human feeling. I did not take it up to earn profits. I wanted to help the workers who were rendered jobless due to closure of companies. 
 
How are they doing now?
 
They are profitable and doing fine. They have a turnover of about Rs  300 crore and about 500 workers are employed. 
 
Do you use your revolvers?
 
Kalpana: I have only one revolver.
 
Jyothi Reddy: Sten Gun
 
Kalpana: It is from military. I went to visit border during Kargil war. The Colonel there appreciated my bravery. 
 
Do you have any plans to join politics?
 
No, I like social activities. But Jyothi Reddy wants to join politics. 
 
What is your message to women?
 
They should venture in business. They should not hesitate. They have the capability.