Seeing the start-ups of today forging ahead, Vinay Bharat-Ram feels wistful. “We could have been part of India’s growth story, but that was not to be, at least not during the past fifteen years of my life,” he rues in ‘From the Brink of Bankruptcy: The DCM story’ (Penguin). “Nevertheless, if keeping the dam from bursting can be called an achievement, we have achieved much,” adds the author.

The book opens in January 1996, a cold winter evening in the banquet hall of the Oberoi in Delhi, as a change of scene from what had happened only a few weeks earlier, on December 27, 1995. To know what happened, you need to accompany the author to Lal Kothi, the house on Sardar Patel Road where the fireplace is emitting a warm glow and Vinay’s son Sumant is busy going over a stack of documents, vetting a report on due diligence sealing the receipt of Rs 70 crore as equity funding.

Sombre meeting

This was the result of a year-long negotiation at the end of which a new joint-venture company between DCM and a consortium of Singapore investors, called DCM Estates & Infrastructure Ltd, was about to be created in which would be lodged the building rights on DCM’s property of 64 acres in the heart of Delhi, the author informs. “DCM would be a majority owner with 67 per cent shares in its control as well as receive payment for the transfer of building rights.”

In an adjoining room, though, a different meeting was on and the mood there was anything but happy, reminisces Vinay. “I sat at a square table flanked by my two brothers, Arun and Vivek, with our father sitting opposite me. Vivek’s voice was strident: ‘You must step down. You’ve ruined the family.’ I was the chairman and managing director of DCM at the time…”

Flyover shock

A section on ‘years of anxiety’ mentions how a sudden development in 1995 was the notice from the Delhi government asking for 10 per cent of the cost of a flyover that would run parallel to DCM’s property. According to the company’s estimates, the cost of the flyover (based on others built in Delhi around that time) would be around Rs 30 crore, or Rs 50 crore at a stretch, and so a letter of acceptance went to the government.

But the shocker came in mid-1996 when the town planner sought Rs 32.3 crore from DCM, in four six-monthly instalments of Rs 8.1 crore each, and that the acceptance of the liability of Rs 32.3 crore by DCM should be unqualified and not under protest. “This meant that the Municipal Corporation of Delhi had estimated the cost of the flyover to be a preposterous Rs 323 crore and blatantly blocked us from going to court.”

Music, economics

It may be a refreshing relief from that dismal tale of bureaucratic hurdle to read about the author’s ‘brand of Scotch’ in the following chapter. “Business, it is said, is a most stressful profession. That is why whisky and cocktails were invented,” he observes, philosophically. “They help to drown your sorrows and serve equally well when it is time to celebrate.”

In Vinay’s case, however, music was his constant companion, rather than liquor. And, to relieve tension, he took his literary passion to a different level: translating Meghdoot into Hindi verse!

Then, there is the economist dimension in the author which offered him a creative distraction during a time when the company wallowed in debts. “I kept working on the manuscript about the ‘global firm.’ Amartya Sen helped immensely with his suggestions, as did D. R. Sen with the mathematics. Finally, towards the end of 1997, a smart, slim hardcover book titled ‘The Theory of the Global Firm’ was brought out…”

Nostalgic notes of value to lovers of corporate history.