Last week, one of our city’s few ‘creative’ industrialists, Shabir Vagh of MAS Furniture, called me and said, “I have an interesting person you should meet.” When Shabir says someone, or something is interesting it usually is. So, I accepted his invitation and landed up at an industrial shed on Hunsur Road yesterday afternoon.
The factory had a modest board outside that read ‘Craftizan.’ As I walked in, I wondered, “what were they crafting?” I stepped into the shed and the answer stood tall… about 25-feet tall.
Before me stood a 25-feet-tall bottom half of a rocket! The same kind of rocket I had seen lift off to the moon carrying Vikram lander. I then looked around and realised they were crafting space crafts, albeit replicas.
As I approached the chamber of the man Shabir wanted me to meet, I heard crisp Karnatak music flowing out of his office. I stepped in and saw an elderly man bent down with a pen studying CAD drawings of a train.
I stood quietly looking around the office. There were models of rockets alongside pictures of Gods. The presence of science and spirituality next to each other got me wondering if faith is for inner engineering and science for outer engineering, just then I heard a cheerful voice — “Hello I’m Ramanathan” said the elderly man, standing up.
I apologised for having disturbed him. He replied, “No no I am just preparing measurements to make some train models that will be displayed at International Railway Equipment Exhibition next month in Delhi.”
Fondly called Ramji by his friends, 79-year-old Srinivasan Ramanathan went on to tell his story, and it is one that will inspire us towards entrepreneurship.
Ramji’s grandfather had moved from Tamil Nadu to Mysore in 1922 to teach. Later, his father who studied engineering in Bangalore, moved to Pune. Ramji studied Mechanical Engineering in Pune. He then got married and moved to Bangalore where he started an interior design business. He informed me proudly that the interior of the iconic Oberoi Hotel in Bangalore was done by him.
After retirement, Moiz Vagh of Hunsur Plywood Works (Hunsply), his friend, asked Ramji to move to Mysore and pursue his passion of making miniature models. He started making model trains in his garage. But then he started getting requests for purchase so he hired a help and started making a few models to sell. Soon, the business picked up.
Speaking of model trains, Ramji says, “In 2013, we had done very good working train models for the Mysore Railways but unfortunately it is locked up in a room at the Mysore Railway Station platform 1. You can see only the board outside the room ‘Railway Gallery’ but the room remains locked, very unfortunate.”
But how did he start making models for ISRO and how the factory came about is what I wanted to know. It seems, once Ramji made a model rocket which was presented to then ISRO Director N. Sudheer Kumar who was impressed and called Ramji to make such models for all ISRO Offices across India. To do this he needed space which he did not have.
Ramji then approached his friend Moiz Vagh’s nephew Shabir Vagh to help him set it up. The Vagh family made space in one of their factories and ‘Craftizan’ was born.
Ramji says his first project for ISRO was ‘ISRO on wheels’; an ‘Educational Bus’ filled with models of satellites and rockets which were driven from city-to-city to evoke interest among students in aerospace.
Apart from ISRO and a few online retailers like Indic.com, Ramji says his biggest buyers are Private Universities. I was surprised to learn that Savitha University from Chennai was building a museum which will house large rocket models to encourage aeronautical engineering. So also, PSG College of Technology in Coimbatore and Science City in Ahmedabad.
I asked if Mysore University had placed any orders to which he replied “No they have not contacted. Maybe they don’t know. But I am wary of taking State Government projects as payments never come. But the Central Government, especially ISRO, the payment has been on time.”
Which was difficult to design, trains or rocket models, Ramji says, “In real life rockets are much harder of course, but when it comes to models, trains are harder as they have too many parts while rockets you just create the outer shell.” He then adds, “But brass satellite models are difficult to make as they have very tiny components.”
Speaking of popular models, he says ‘GSLV’ is the most popular model that people buy because that is the one that carried ‘Chandrayaan.’ The next popular model could be the ‘Gaganyaan’ which they are already making. Asked if he’s planning to design anything other than models he says, “we’re planning to make engineering toys, hopefully it should get youngsters interested in engineering.”
It seems Ramji always had a mechanical bent of mind, but it was his father who nurtured it . As proof, he pulled out a mechanical toy called ‘Meccano,’ which his father had bought for him in 1952! I could not believe he had preserved the set, along with its manuals.
When I expressed my shock to have seen a 71-year-old toy in playing condition in these times of ‘use and throw’ he said, he had also kept the first drill his father had got him to practise carpentry in 1962!
Intrigued, I asked him why he, who was studying mechanical engineering, wanted to learn carpentry, he simply said, “to make train models.” He then proceeded to pull out a book about making train models that his father had got him in 1960.
What keeps him inspired? He just says “I love making models. It was a hobby since I was a child, now it’s just turned into a business.” I was reminded of what Google Founder Larry Page said — “You never lose a dream; it just incubates as a hobby.”
As 79-year-old Ramji spoke about his three daughters who are settled in Bangalore and about his grandchildren, I was left fascinated. At a time when society expects the elderly to retire and spend time dabbling in spirituality and pampering grandchildren, this elderly man started a business at the age of 75 and made a success of it.
Lesson: It’s never too late to be an entrepreneur.
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