Her daughter is famous. She is not. But last evening, more than her daughter Kiran Mazumdar Shaw, founder of Biocon, it was her 84-year-old mother Yamini Mazumdar who was the centre of attraction. It was the launch of the book MythBreaker by Seema Singh, a tome on Kiran and the Indian biotech industry. Sitting in the front row, clad in a pastel saree and an open smile was the frail-looking, yet the seemingly strong Yamini. Interestingly, Kiran’s mother became an entrepreneur at the age of 68.
In 1999 when Kiran asked her mother whether she could help her friend who needed “some help”, Kiran did not expect Yamini to turn into an entrepreneur. But that’s what happened. She along with her daughter’s friend started a laundry business called Jeeves. “I am a fan of PG Wodehouse,” she says (Her funny bone sparkles throughout the evening).
Yamini mortgaged her home, sold her shares in Biocon and started the business. But it refused to take off even after 3 years and her young partner wanted to shut shop. “But how could I,” Yamini asks, “I had mortgaged my house.” While the youngster packed her bags and left, Yamini became the sole owner of Jeeves. She worked hard, almost 10-12 hours a day, to turn the business around.
People could never understand why she had to “work at her age”. Once when she went to a government office on an errand, an officer told her, “Mataji, you should not be working at this age. You should retire. Put up your feet and enjoy life.” She replied: “If Vajpayee (who was then the PM of India) could rule the country at 75, I can work at my age.”
For Yamini, age is truly just a number. When a young man teasingly asks her: “How old are you?” Pat comes the reply: “I am 15. From the other side….” Go figure, young man!
After six years, Yamini was able to repay the loan and turn Jeeves into a success. And in 2009 she even made enough to pay her share of taxes to the government. “A happy and proud moment in my life,” she says.
Today, Jeeves has 25 people (“I mostly employ women, she says) and a founder who comes to the office everyday and works six hours a day. “Nobody should stop working because of their age and nobody should stop laughing,” Yamini says. Words of wisdom, indeed. And when you look at Kiran, you realise, the apple hasn’t fallen far away from the tree