By Akanksha Gupta Last Updated:
Born on December 28, 1932, Dhirajlal Hirachand Ambani, known as Dhirubhai Ambani, had left a significant impact on society with his journey from rags to riches. While he was just an errand runner, in the beginning, he soon used his business acumen and started off with a small firm in Yemen. He then went on to create Reliance Industries, which made its own place in the business world and happens to be one of the biggest multinationals today!
The love and respect that the 'Ambani family' receives today is all because of Dhirubhai Ambani as he played a significant role in the foundation with hard work and struggle. A company that had emerged in a one-room setup is ruling the business world today and it is only because of the vision and struggle of this great man.
Dhirubhai Ambani's journey from rags to riches and his life story has been written and told many times, even Abhishek Bachchan and Aishwarya Rai Bachchan starrer Mani Ratnam film, Guru was largely based on his life, but it was none other than his wife, Kokilaben Ambani, who had known him better.
Dhirubhai Ambani and Kokilaben Ambani were that one power couple, who had never let their success and money affect their grounded nature and humbleness. The simple lady from Jamnagar had not only played a significant role in her husband's journey to success but as the matriarch of the family, she had stood by her values and made a settlement between her warring sons, Mukesh Ambani and Anil Ambani post the demise of Dhirubhai Ambani.
Whenever the names of Dhirubhai Ambani and Kokilaben Ambani come up, we can only imagine two strong-willed, determined and ambitious individuals, who walked together to build an empire, personally and professionally, of their own! Mrs Ambani has always maintained her distance from the media and prefers to stay away from the limelight.
In one of her rare interviews, Kokilaben Ambani had spoken about her life in Jamnagar, married life with Dhirubhai Ambani, her belief in the importance of evolving and her domestic life. In an interview with the Mid-Day, Kokilaben Ambani had begun with reminiscing her childhood memories in Jamnagar and had recalled:
"I spent my childhood in Jamnagar, which was not as developed those years as it is now. We were a middle-class family. I would do all the household chores that girls of those days were expected to do. I would also do sewing and embroidery work. Our elders believed that girls should be well versed in domestic chores."
Speaking of her married life with Dhirubhai Ambani and her life with him in Aden, when they had shifted there for some time, Kokilaben Ambani had said:
"When I got married to Dhirubhai Ambani in 1955, I had not even dreamt that my life would change so much. I saw Mumbai for the first time. While going to Aden, (a city in Yemen) I marvelled at the steamer, which was to take me there, once again, it was a first for me. Life in Aden (where Dhirubhai lived for some time) was so different compared to Jamnagar or other places but Dhirubhai was my guide. Aden was a turning point in the real sense for me. I became a mother for the first time. Mukesh was born in Aden (Anil, Dipty and Nina were born in Mumbai). All four of them were married in Mumbai. Today, ours is a family of 19 including two daughters-in-law, two sons-in-law and our nine grandchildren."
Revealing what she liked the most in her husband, Dhirubhai Ambani and sharing an anecdote of a letter he had written to her from Aden when she was living in Chorwad, Kokilaben Ambani remarked:
"When I rewind to my earlier years, a number of anecdotes come back like the time when I was in Chorwad (in Gujarat) living there after my marriage. Dhirubhai had written a letter to me from Aden, which said, Kokila, I have bought a car and I will come to fetch you in that car. Can you guess what is the colour of the car? He then added, 'it is black, like me.' I liked his sense of humour the most. He came to pick me up in that car when I reached Aden. So it was a bullock cart at Chorwad, car at Aden and plane and helicopter in Mumbai."
Soon, their lives changed when Dhirubhai Ambani had moved to Mumbai and how he had made sure that his wife, Kokilaben Ambani was by his side every time, was indeed inspiring. Praising how he used to keep her with him on every step, shoulder to shoulder, Mrs Ambani had said:
"Immediately after coming to Mumbai my life changed rapidly. We were in the post-Independence phase, Dhirubhai was making headway. Once Reliance was set up, newer directions opened up for us. Dhirubhai was going up step-by-step and what is interesting is that he would keep me with him on every step, shoulder to shoulder. He would always keep me apprised and updated on his new projects and I would attend the inauguration of every plant. He would insist on me accompanying him to every party and function. He would often say meeting others would add to our general knowledge. Even when some dignitaries dropped by at our house, he would insist on me joining him."
Crediting her husband, Dhirubhai Ambani for being the reason behind her adapting the changes in life with ease, encouraging her to learn English, introducing her to different cuisines and filling her up with the information of the places they used to visit, Kokilaben Ambani had remarked:
"Even though I had studied in a Gujarati school, I had started learning English immediately after coming to Mumbai. This was also thanks to Dhirubhai's foresight. A tutor used to come in to teach English to the children. Dhirubhai said, Kokila why don't you learn English? I jumped at the suggestion. He would take me to five-star hotels so that I could cultivate a taste for Chinese, Mexican, Italian and Japanese cuisine. Even when we went abroad, he would fill me in with information about the places we visited and even asked me to read about them. In short, he moulded me so well, that I would not feel out of place anywhere. I constantly adapted to change."
How she wishes things to be different in terms of technology and science back then as compared to now, Kokilaben Ambani had shared:
"Often, I would wish I were born late in the world, so that I could have reaped the benefits of new inventions in science and technology. I sometimes rue that when I was in Chorwad and Dhirubhai in Aden, letters exchanged between us would reach so late. It would have been so much better in the age of rapid communication. Again, when I was going to Aden by steamer, I was alone, longing for my parents and siblings. I often think if I had a mobile then...I do use the computer, i Phone with ease now, but I want to learn to make a greater, more efficient use of the computer."
Speaking about the 'modern woman' and how she had learnt immensely from her husband, Dhirubhai Ambani, Kokilaben Ambani had said:
"When I am asked about modern women and their time management, their dexterity in handling several responsibilities at once like family, home, children, I would say that the modern woman herself is worth emulating. Speaking for myself, I would say that I am a student of the Dhirubhai Ambani University - I have learnt immensely from my late husband. I would like to finish by saying that my belief in God is so strong, I do not think even a leaf can move without His sanction. My mother would often say, if it works out in our favour it is God's blessing and if it does not, it is his wish."
Kokilaben Ambani has given an insight in the life of her late husband, Dhirubhai Ambani in the book she had written, which is titled, Dhirubhai Ambani: The Man I Knew in the English version and Dhirubhai Ambani: Maara Jeevan Sathi in the Gujarati edition. Mrs Ambani had described the story of Dhirubhai Ambani's life and his meteoric rise in business as well as personal life. She had also elaborated on her life with the man, who, in her belief, was born to be a legend in his own time. She had written:
"During all those years, I had never seen him in a miserable or a desperate state of mind. That does not mean he never faced difficulties. But when engulfed by difficulty, he used to resolve it with courage and imagination."
Not only his determination and struggle to reach the very pinnacle of success, but Kokilaben Ambani had also thrown light on how Dhirubhai Ambani had devoted time and energy to his children's learning and to the development of their personalities. She had written:
"Everyday, over dinner, he would take time out to update himself on what his children were doing (and learning) and to encourage them to further expand their horizons. He took the word 'impossible' out of his grandchildren's vocabulary and inspired them to see the world as a place of exciting and limitless opportunity -- "a place where you could make things happen not because you were wealthy but because you were had the courage, boldness and initiative."
Just how Dhirubhai Ambani had fulfilled every responsibility and role with perfection in his professional life, in personal life too, he was a doting husband, a caring father and a loving grandfather. The way he had supported and encouraged his wife throughout their married life and how he had made sure she was by he side at every step is what terms like 'better-half', sheer 'couple goals' and 'life partner' mean in the truest sense!