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July 8, 2002 | 1335 IST
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Vignettes from an action-packed life

  • In Aden, Dhirubhai Ambani worked at the Shell products division of A Besse & Co. He quickly made an impression on his colleagues by taking almost impossible bets. Once he bet that while helping bunker a ship in the harbour he could dive and swim to shore. The prize for winning the bet was an ice-cream party. Dhirubhai won the bet, even though it meant swimming through shark-infested waters.

  • Dhirubhai Ambani was not one to let an opportunity slip by. One story - which may be apocryphal - runs as follows. During the 1950s the Yemeni administration discovered that the main unit of its currency, the rial, was disappearing from the market. The administration traced the shortage to Aden, a port in Yemen and found to its surprise that a young Indian in his twenties had placed an unlimited buy order for rials. The rial was a solid silver coin and what this young man did was to simply buy rials, melt them into silver ingots and sell them to bullion dealers in London. This was a profitable venture as the silver in the rial was valued higher by bullion dealers in London. The name of the young man? Dhirubhai Ambani.

    Later, Ambani is believed to have told an interviewer: "The margins were small but it was money for jam. After three months, it was stopped. But I made a few lakh of rupees. I don't believe in not taking opportunities."

  • Dhirubhai was known for his practical jokes. Once he was invited by a friend to dine at his house. The friend's wife offered some mango juice and insisted on refilling Dhirubhai's glass. So he decided to play a prank. He kept asking for more mango juice, till the hosts ran out of mangoes and the servant was sent out to buy some more from the market.

    In 1968, Dhirubhai moved out of the chawl in Mumbai where he lived, to a more comfortable flat on Altamount Road, in Mumbai's first high-rise residential tower. Dhirubhai had a penchant for driving fast cars. He first owned a modest Fiat and later acquired a Mercedes-Benz. In the seventies, he got a white Cadillac for himself.

  • On his return from Aden, Dhirubhai set up a trading business in 1957 in partnership with Chambaklal Damani, his second cousin who had also been in Aden around the same time. The name of their business: Reliance Commercial Corp. Their first office was a 350 sq ft room on Narsinathan Street in the crowded Masjid Bunder area of Mumbai. The room had a telephone, one table and three chairs. If both the partners and the first two recruits were present in the office, one of them had no place to sit.

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The Ambani Saga