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Unable to continue his education, the young Hari Kishan Pippal worked as a labourer in three different companies in Faridabad. That was before he used to make Rs.60 a month at the Agra airport spraying khas-curtains with water in scorching sun. His father suffered a stroke when he was in Class X. To earn money, he borrowed a cycle rickshaw from a cousin and plied in the evenings, covering his face with a cloth so that no one recognized him. Later, he found work in an Agra auto unit, earning Rs.80 a month.

It was a terrible life for the Dalit in Agra - a life shared by innumerable Dalits. But Harish was gritty - as well as hard working. One day, he took a bank loan of Rs.15,000 and plunged into shoe business. It changed his life forever. Today, in Agra, his People's Group owns a hospital, a shoe export factory, a Honda dealership and a publication house. Their annual turnover is around Rs.10 crore.

Harish's remarkable success story is one of the 15 fascinating and moving accounts of Dalits who made it big - battling the greatest of odds. The stories are an eye opener on the struggles the Dalits wage even today, and the sheer determination amongst some to succeed but without deviating from the path of honesty.

Then there is Ashok Khade whose father mended shoes at Dadar, Mumbai. His mother worked in the field -- for 12 annas a day. Determined to come out of poverty, Khade showed raw courage where others may have folded up. He is now managing director of a company that makes huge platforms to extract crude oil from the sea. It has a turnover of Rs.140 crore, Today, he visits his village in Maharashtra in a BMW, driving along the same tracks where he walked barefoot 40 years ago.

Kalpana Saroj worked at a hosiery factory at Dadar for a miserable Rs.2 a day. After being tortured by her husband's family, she tried to commit suicide but survived. She moved to Mumbai where she got a job for Rs.60 a month, increasing later to Rs.225. It was the first time Kalpana saw a 100-rupee note! Today, after years of struggle, Kalpana runs a business empire of Rs.1,000 crore and owns a British-style stone building in Mumbai.

Bhagwan Gawai's mother worked as a labourer at construction sites in Nasik. He would do the same work during his summer school vacations. Now the same Gawai owns a business worth Rs.100 crore - and is a director on the board of more than 10 companies in Abu Dhabi and India.

Each story in the book is gripping - and a testimony to what can be achieved if one has will. Some of the 15 entrepreneurs in this book faced humiliation at the hands of upper caste Hindus; some were lucky. Author Khandekar says it was no coincidence that most of the Dalit millionaires started their business after 1991. The economic liberalization proved a boon for them.

Khade feels Dalits don't need concessions - their need is connections. Opinion is, however, divided on the reservation policy. But each industrialist here is emphatic that while nothing is impossible in life, success should be wedded to integrity. What is your success mantra, each is asked. "Hard work and honesty," says Sanjay Kshirsagar, who, after lots of struggle moved into a skyscraper from a Mumbai chawl. This is a good read.

(This book has been reviewed by M.R. Narayan Swamy can be reached on narayan.swamy@ians.in)

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