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From Rs 2 a day to Rs 500,000 a month!

Last updated on: August 17, 2010 13:29 IST

From Rs 2 a day to Rs 500,000 a month!

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Shobha Warrier in Chennai


He had to start working in a music shop repairing mridangam, tabla, etc, at the age of seven, not only because of his love for music but to help his mother keep the kitchen fires burning.

Today, at 26, he is the owner of Sabari Musicals, a musical instrument shop and a workshop that makes percussion instruments.

At seven, he used to earn  Rs 2 to Rs 5 once in 2-3 days and today, his turnover is Rs 5 lakh (Rs 500,000) a month!

Meet P Muthulingam, a successful young entrepreneur whose mind is full of business ideas all the time. Here is his inspiring story in his own words:

All work and no play for child Muthulingam

I was born and brought up in Chennai near the Adyar Music College. So there was music aplenty all around me.

My father, a tailor, worked far away in Tindivanam (120 km from Chennai) but I stayed with my grandmother, mother, sister and brother in Chennai.

I started working at the age of seven repairing percussion instruments in a musical instrument shop. The shop was next to my house and I used to stand near the shop and watch the men work.

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Image: P Muthulingam.
Photographs: Sreeram Selvaraj
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Soon, I was also tuning and making percussion instruments like mridangam, tabla, etc. It was not my love for music that dragged me to the shop; I had to help my mother, who also worked as a tailor, to feed all of us.

I was paid Rs 2 or Rs 5 once every 2 or 3 days. The moment I got my salary, I used to give it to my mother. I started working after school and my work continued till 9 or 10 at night. All my studies were done in the mornings.

Happy with my dedication and hard work, the shop owner used to help me pay my school and college fees.

When I was in the 6th standard, I started learning mridangam, and it went on for six years. Now, I play the mridangam only when we have Ayyappa bhajans.

I had no time to be a professional mridangam player as my mind was in setting up a business.

After school, I did my Diploma in Mechanical Engineering and started working in an auto major's factory. Those were very difficult days as I got very little time to pursue what I loved most; making musical instruments.

Still, I used to work in the musical shop either in the morning or at night, depending upon my factory shift. But the machine noise in the factory disturbed me and I longed for the sound of mridangam and tabla.

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Image: P Muthulingam at his shop.
Photographs: Sreeram Selvaraj
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Becoming an entrepreneur

After working in the factory for two years and earning a steady income, I made the most difficult decision in my life; to quit my job and start a musical store. It was met with a lot of criticism and opposition from family and friends, but I was not bothered; I only listened to the call of my heart.

I had the confidence that I knew the job very well. After all, I had been working from the age of seven. I also knew that there would always be some work to be done in the case of percussion instruments. If you don't use them (percussion instruments) for some time, they need to be tuned again.

I knew I could make money from what I knew best. I knew not only how to repair and make percussion instruments but knew how to play them too.

I began by starting a musical work shop on the terrace of a friend's house, and I got work as a sub-contractor from reasonably big manufacturers. Within a month or two, I decided to have a proper place, and rented a room in Mandaveli, which is close to Mylapore, the hot bed of music.

To pay the advance rent for the room, and for the initial expenses, I spent Rs 15,000, which I borrowed from various people. I started off by only repairing for companies.

So I had to invest only in tools and for the advance of the room. There was one boy to assist me in the work. That was how everything began.

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Image: P Muthulingam repairing percussion instruments at his workshop.
Photographs: Sreeram Selvaraj
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From Rs 2 a day to Rs 500,000 a month!

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I knew with just a workshop and without a showroom for musical instruments, I would not be able to survive for long.

Starting Sabari Musicals

I am an Ayyappa devotee and have been going to Sabarimala (Kerala's most famous pilgrimage destination) for the last ten years. When I was thinking of a name for my store, one of my friends suggested, 'Why not Sabari? You are a devotee of Lord Ayyappa.' I also liked the suggestion. That is how I decided to name my store, Sabari Musicals.

Two years ago, I decided to move to Vadapalani where there are film studios and people from that industry stay and work. The shop I took on rent was on the main road and naturally the advance rent was very high. I had to give Rs 1 lakh (Rs 100,000) as advance for this shop.

Help from BYST

In a few months' time, I decided to have a workshop too as that was where my expertise lay. I went to a bank to take a loan but I didn't get it. There I saw the banner of BYST (Bharatiya Yuva Shakti Trust) and then contacted them. (Some of the entrepreneurs who have benefited from BYST are Sarala Bastian, Cheryl Huffton, Srividya Ravindranath)

Within a month, I got a loan of Rs 2 lakh (Rs 200,000), and I started buying musical instruments one by one for my showroom. I ploughed back the profits into the business.

BYST suggested that I diversify my business, like starting a music class too. So close to my workshop, I rented another room for a music class.

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Image: Muthulingam's music class.
Photographs: Sreeram Selvaraj
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On Saturdays and Sundays, we have a lot of students who attend classes. With plenty of music reality shows, many boys and girls want to learn to play musical instruments. I have hired three masters to teach the 60-70 students we have. If one of them is on leave, I myself take classes once in a while.

I have also formed a music troupe that performs at marriages.

I give musical instruments for rent to TV serial makers and film studios. As I have a workshop, I also repair instruments for these people.

Whatever profit I make, I re-invest in my business. That was how I started a second shop to have western instruments, like guitars.

I have five permanent employees and five part-time music masters working with me. My monthly turnover is about Rs 4-5 lakh (Rs 400,000-500,000).

Award

When somebody called me to say that I had won the Citi Micro Entrepreneur Award 2009, I thought he was pulling my leg. I didn't believe her. Only after I got another call from Bengaluru did I believe the news. 

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Image: Muthulingam at his shop.
Photographs: Sreeram Selvaraj
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I went to Delhi to collect the award and it was a very proud moment for me. The Rs 1 lakh I got as cash prize was immediately invested in buying more musical instruments.

Future plans

I am brimming with ideas all the time. Even when I am working on a tabla, I think of new ideas. I am slowly realising my dreams and ideas.

We have our own property in our ancestral place in Tindivanam, and my plan is to have a factory there to make musical instruments.

As wood is available there, we can make our own veena, tabla, mridangam, etc. It will be cheaper than the ones I buy and keep now. I have a dream to own a big factory so that I can give employment to many people. Another dream of mine is to start a music school.

I want to experiment with percussion instruments. Now they are made of wood; I am trying fibre glass and different types of wood to make them.

I also want to invent a new musical instrument. It may take a long time for me to realise that dream but one day, I surely will.


Photographs: Sreeram Slevaraj
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