Extract published from The Tanishq story: Inside India’s no.1 Jewellery Brand by CK Venkataraman, Managing Director of Titan Co. Ltd. This extract is from the chapter titled Partnership.

It was in the early days of my move into Tanishq. I was in Kolkata, sometime in late 2005 or early 2006. So far, my impression of Tanishq had been one of elegance (the jewellery), grandeur (the stores), innovation (the plant), camaraderie (the office) and professionalism (meetings with vendor partners in our own offices). I didn’t realize that I was about to get jolted out of my life in the next ten minutes.

We were in Sinthi More, one of the biggest jewellery-making hubs of Kolkata. LRN, some other colleagues and myself had gone to visit the workshops where our vendors made our gold jewellery. It was summer and the temperature was in the high forties. It was quite a crowded place with narrow streets and narrower alleys, looking like a scene from the early twentieth century. Perhaps very little has changed since then.

We entered a multistorey building. We were told that some of the rooms in this building were rented out to our head karigars, rooms in which the bench karigars (those who make the jewellery) worked. Our vendors acted as the aggregators of such head karigars and were the bridge between the company and the centres of production, being responsible for product quality, delivery and gold safety. We climbed to the second floor. The staircase was narrow, and the walls were stained with paan spit. We reached the landing and entered a small room (10 feet x 10 feet, at best).

Even as I was entering the room, I saw a tin sheet door of a toilet on the side and felt the faint whiff of urine. Some of my local colleagues and the vendors were a bit embarrassed and were trying to form a cordon around the ‘dignitaries’ from Bengaluru.

It’s been nearly twenty years since that visit, but I just need to close my eyes today to evoke that scene – the plaster had peeled off from the walls, there was one window which overlooked a kind of courtyard of the building and the ceiling was not beyond 9 feet high. Four small tube lights hung from the ceiling at 5 feet height and provided the light for the workshop. You had to bend a little if you didn’t want to bump into the tube lights. There were two nylon ropes strung across the room at the same height on which hung lungis and shirts. Eight karigars were sitting on the floor making jewellery; there were tools and components strewn on the floor. Some of them were assembling the jewellery, some were using torches to solder parts, a few in their lungis, many in their underpants, almost all bare-chested to beat the heat.

The ironic thing was the smile with which they all greeted us. A smile so effulgent that it dwarfed the tube lights. Their ‘nomoshkar’ dissolved the gloom in that place. They showed us the Tanishq jewellery they were making. The beauty of each piece transported us to another place. I asked them where they have their lunch. They pointed to the dabbas in the corner and told me that, come lunchtime, they simply clear the things on the floor, have lunch and reorganise the place back for work. I nodded, thinking, what was I expecting? We looked at a few more places like this. They were no different – carbon copies of the first – including the joy of the karigars and the beauty of the Tanishq necklaces.

As we left Sinthi More for our lunch and went back to the office, we were all understandably quiet. I kept thinking, ‘How can such exquisite jewellery come out of such wretched circumstances? How can we sell a necklace for Rs 5 lakh to a lady from our elegant Camac Street showroom and still have this situation continue?’ These were the questions running in my mind. I was jolted, bothered and burning to do something about this. LRN’s heart and mind were equally aligned to this issue. He came up with a powerful phrase: Bring a smile to the karigar’s face.

Over the years, various programmes have been created in this direction. Unnatti, Mr Perfect, Mr Perfect+, 4–P. Significant milestones are reached. Remember, this awareness came to us in 2006, when Tanishq was less than two per cent of its current scale. It was more about our burning desire to make a difference in the karigars’ lives than our ability at that time to make it. It was our conscience that was impelling us, not our bank balance. It was about stakeholder capitalism.

Is an apparel company thinking about the men and women who are working for its vendor partners, making the clothes it sells? Is it bothered by the conditions in which they work? Are its leaders visiting those centres of manufacturing? How can a food delivery and ride-hail company, even a start-up, think about its delivery people and drivers? Do they sleep adequately, do they eat on time or eat hot food? Everything begins with that empathy.

Extract published with permission from Juggernaut Books

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About the book
Title: The Tanishq Story
Author: C.K. Venkataraman
Publisher: Juggernaut Publication
Price: ₹699
About the author
C.K. Venkataraman headed the Jewellery division of Titan Company as COO from 2005 to 2012 and as CEO from 2012 to 2019. Currently, he is the MD of Titan Company.