Home >Companies >People >BK Birla: An austere genius who enriched many lives

I have known BK babu, as Basant Kumar Birla was called adorably, since my childhood. We lived in Kolkata and our families were friends for several generations. He was close to my grandfather and his light-hearted, friendly banter often filled our drawing room with stories from the time he was inducted in business to his days with the Mahatma.

Despite being born in a wealthy, distinguished business family and leading a successful business empire, BK babu led an austere life. He would express displeasure at the kind of expensive gadgets that children were given and would often tell the story of how he used to receive an allowance of 5 during his school days.

A man of varied interests, he could play the violin, authored a few books, was an avid photographer and education occupied a large part of his heart.

His vision in education and philanthropy can be seen in the way the Birla schools and BITS (Birla Institute of Technology and Science) Pilani have become leading institutions in the country. For all the good he has done for people and society, life wasn’t kind to him.

His son Aditya Vikram Birla’s premature death was a huge blow that only a father who lost his child would know.

A true karmayogi, BK babu had the mind of a mathematical genius. He could see through a balance sheet in minutes and point out gaps that qualified chartered accountants took days to prepare. His accounting mind and his execution prowess are testimony to the success of Century, Hindalco, Kesoram and a host of other companies.

He drew a lot of strength from his wife Sarala Birla, an erudite lady who was way ahead of her time, and openly acknowledged her as his friend and guide. Both of them loved visiting Switzerland and Kedarnath together.

As a family, the Birlas did a lot of charity and built many temples across India. He was also a patron of the arts and I have fond memories of my visits to the Birla Academy of Arts in Kolkata during my younger days.

He was always keen to know my impression of the collection and the art events that were held. His collection of art was formidable with works of Bengal masters, such as Tagore, Jamini Roy and Nandlal Bose, holding place of pride. He also loved miniature art and extended support to young artists. As he leaves behind a huge legacy, the baton has passed on to the very capable hands of his grandson, Kumar Mangalam Birla. Dadoji, we will miss you.

Harsh Goenka is the chairman of RPG Enterprises.

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