When 27-year old Sarathbabu graduated from the Indian Institute of Management, Ahmedabad ], he created quite a stir by refusing a job that offered him a huge salary. He preferred to start his own enterprise -- Foodking Catering Service -- in Ahmedabad. He was inspired by his mother who once sold idlis on the pavements of Chennai, to educate him and his siblings. It was a dream comes true, when Infosys co-founder N R Narayana Murthy lit the traditional lamp and inaugurated Sarathbabu's enterprise. Sarathbabu was in Chennai, his hometown, a few days ago, to explore the possibility of starting a Foodking unit in the city and also to distribute the Ullas Trust Scholarships instituted by the IT firm Polaris to 2,000 poor students in corporation schools. In this interview with rediff.com, Sarathbabu describes his rise from a Chennai slum to his journey to the nation's premier management institute to becoming a successful entrepreneur. This is his story, in his own words. Life – Up’s & Downs
“Mother is the greatest word in the world”
The young man in question is Sarat Babu, born in a slum in Madras/Chennai into a family of five children, who were solely dependent on their mother, the sole breadwinner. Sarat Babu has two sisters elder to him and two brothers younger to him. His mother, who had studied up to the tenth standard, was able to get a small job in a Government school connected with the Government Mid-day Meal Scheme. Her salary was thirty rupees a month – believe it or not that is less than a dollar for an entire month! And she had to support all her children and herself on that! So she had to earn extra money and that she did by making idlis [a breakfast item] at home and selling them. Even that was not enough and so in the evenings she participated in an adult-education programme that fetched a little bit more; thus three different jobs, and still the earning was far from sufficient – that is what poverty is all about.
Sarat Babu felt deep anguish to see his mother struggle so hard and firmly resolved to do all he could to come up in life and lift his family out of dire poverty. He studied hard, got good grades and worked his way up to the tenth standard. There were two more years of school but for studying in those classes, he had to pay a special fee of two thousand rupees. Imagine that! His mother was making just thirty rupees a month in her main job and had to take on two more jobs to feed her five children. Where was this young boy going to produce two thousand rupees from?
This is where firm determination comes into the picture. Sarat Babu was determined, come hell or high water, to pull himself and his family out of the rut. So during the summer vacation he did book-binding work and managed to earn some money. In fact, at times business was good and he was able to employ 20 other kids and give them employment too! As he now says, “That was my first real job as an entrepreneur.”
Hard work always pays, and Sarat Babu was not only able to complete school but come out as a topper. He now began to set his sight higher. A classmate told him about an Engineering University named Birla Institute of Technology and Science [BITS] in Pilani in the State of Rajasthan in North India . BITS is a well-known institute and entry is tough even as the fees are high. Thanks to his high marks, Sarat Babu managed to get into BITS but fees? The tuition fee alone was Rs. 28,000/- per year; added to that was the hostel and other fees. In all it came to Rs. 40,000 /- an astronomical sum really, for a boy, whose mother’s main income came through the sale of idlis.
But nothing would stop Sarat Babu. He applied for a Government scholarship, which he secured, and that helped some. However, it was not enough. His sister pitched in by pawning some...