(Clockwise): Ela Bhatt, Activist; Balkrishna Vithaldas Doshi, Architect; Mallika Sarabhai, activist and Indian classical dancer; Sanjay Lalbhai, chairman and MD of Arvind Ltd; Vikram Sarabhai, physicist
Forbes India takes a close look at some of the visionaries and renowned people who, over the years, have shaped the city of Ahmedabad and are preserving and sustaining its heritage:
Ramanbhai Patel & Indravadan Modi
Co-founders of Cadila Ramanbhai Patel, a chemist, along with his school friend Indravadan Modi co-founded the Ahmedabad-based pharmaceutical company Cadila Laboratories in 1952. Among the early achievements of Cadila Laboratories were the production of Isopar, a formulation of the anti-tuberculosis drugs Isoniazid and Para-amino salicylic acid, in 1957, and Neuroxin-12, a single-vial mixture of vitamins B1, B6, and B12, in 1959. In 1973 the firm developed process technology to make the anti-diabetic drug Glibenclamide, while in 1977 the firm launched Dexona-20, a concentrated form of the anti-inflammatory drug Dexamethasone.
In 1995, after a disagreement between Patel and Modi, Cadila Laboratories was restructured with the business being split two ways—Cadila Healthcare (Patel’s share of the business) and Cadila Pharmaceutical (Modi’s share). In 2000 Cadila Healthcare went public. Patel was chairman and managing director of Cadila Healthcare until his death in 2001. In 2022, Cadila Healthcare Limited was renamed as Zydus Lifesciences Limited. His son Pankaj Patel is the current chairman and managing director.
THE SARABHAI FAMILY
The Sarabhai family has interests in many different sectors. Ambalal Sarabhai, the patriarch, was a well-known industrialist. Despite having accumulated a substantial fortune, his progeny pursued a wide range of other interests because of which the family is now better known for these pursuits than for their industrial enterprise. Kartikeya Sarabhai, along with his son Mohal, manage what is Ambalal Sarabhai Enterprises Ltd (ASE), with newly launched companies and restructured subsidiaries..
Industrialist, philanthropist, institution-builder, and admirer of Mahatma Gandhi, he was the creator of The Sarabhai Group of Companies, as well as the chairman and promoter of Calico Mills.
Son of Ambalal and father of the Indian space programme, Vikram Sarabhai was a physicist who initiated space research and helped develop nuclear power in India. He was also involved in the Sarabhai business and pioneered its pharmaceutical vertical and introduced operation research methods in management. He was instrumental in the establishment of the Indian National Committee for Space Research (INCOSPAR) in 1962, which later evolved into the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) in 1969. He was honoured with Padma Bhushan in 1966 and the Padma Vibhushan in 1972. He played a key role in establishing Ahmedabad’s Indian Institute of Management (IIMA) and was its first director.
Wife of Vikram Sarabhai, Mrinalini was a renowned classical dancer, choreographer, teacher, author and environmentalist. She was among the early classical dancers to turn to choreography, with the conviction that even as new dance forms evolve, they should have the strength of classical tradition behind them. In 1949, she founded the Darpana Academy and toured the world with her choreographic productions. Mrinalini Sarabhai was awarded the Padma Shri in 1965 and the Padma Bhushan in 1992.
Son of Ambalal, Gautam Sarabhai was an industrialist and businessman. He joined Calico in 1940 as a director at the age of 22. With his keen sense of initiative, entrepreneurial talent and innate financial acumen, he succeeded his father as chairman of the company in 1945. He took control of other group companies after the death of his elder brother Suhrid Sarabhai in 1945. He was responsible for the expansion of the textile mills and diversified Calico into chemicals, plastics and fibres. Gautam and his wife Kamalini also helped start The Psychotherapy Study Group and BM Institute of Mental Health in Ahmedabad.
Daughter of Mrinalini and Vikram Sarabhai, Mallika is an activist and Indian classical dancer and actress from Ahmedabad. She is an accomplished Kuchipudi and Bharatanatyam performer who specialises in applying the arts to bring about social change and transformation. From 1985 to 1990, Mallika played the role of Draupadi in Peter Brook’s play The Mahabharata. Among her many accolades is the Golden Star Award for Best Dance Soloist. Mallika manages the Ahmedabad-based Darpana Academy of Performing Arts, a centre for the arts and its use as a language for behavioural change. The Government of Gujarat awarded her the Gaurav Puraskar for her contribution to the field of drama and dance, and she is a Padma Bhushan awardee. The French government awarded her the knight’s rank in the Order of Academic Palms in 2005 for her contribution to the field of drama and dance. She holds a PhD in Organizational Behaviour and is currently working as the chancellor of Kerala Kalamandalam, deemed to be University of Art and Culture by the Government of India.
Daughter of Ambalal, Gira Sarabhai was an architect, designer, and a design pedagogue. Gira and her brother Gautam were crucial in establishing and designing the academic curricula of the National Institute of Design (NID), Ahmedabad. Youngest of eight siblings, she is known for contributing to several industrial and educational projects in Gujarat. She was the representative of the Sarabhai Foundation, a public charitable trust.
Son of Vikram Sarabhai, Kartikeya is the chairman of the Sabarmati Trust. A renowned environmentalist, he is one of the world’s leading environmental educators and a dedicated community builder. He was awarded the Padma Shri in 2012. Kartikeya was appointed chairman of the Sabarmati Trust after the demise of Ela Bhatt in 2022. He is an eminent environment educationist and the founder of Centre for Environment Education. In 1995, he became chairman of Ambalal Sarabhai Enterprises Limited. He has been associated with Vikram Sarabhai Community Science Centre and established Sundarvan.
Son of Kartikeya Sarabhai, Mohal is an entrepreneur with a passion for bringing new and innovative technologies to India. He has spent most of his career incorporating exciting new ventures in the Ambalal Sarabhai Enterprises Ltd (ASE) portfolio which have been largely responsible for turning around this legacy company. He worked for a brief time in the USA after earning a degree in mechanical engineering from the University of Wisconsin-Madison, before seizing the opportunity to help revive his family’s legacy company.
He is currently pursuing new projects in the areas of pharmaceuticals, effervescent product solutions, fermentation technologies, molecular diagnostics, and electronics. He is the CEO and/or director of the pharmaceutical companies Asence Inc, USA, Asence Pharma Private Limited, Synbiotics Limited, Sarabhai Chemicals and Vovantis Laboratories Private Limited, as well as the molecular diagnostics company CoSara Diagnostics Private Limited and the electronics company Systronics India Limited. Sarabhai resides both in New York, USA and Ahmedabad, India.
THE LALBHAI FAMILY
Shrenik Kasturbhai Lalbhai
Industrialist and philanthropist Shrenik Kasturbhai Lalbhai joined the family business, a conglomerate of companies spanning multiple industries. After earning degrees from MIT and Harvard University, Lalbhai went on to lead the textile business of the Lalbhai Group, in addition to being closely involved with a number of educational institutions. Apart from being involved with the Lalbhai Group companies for several years he served as chairman of Deepak Nitrite Ltd until 1998. He served as director of Nirma Limited, Anukul Investments, Able Investments, Animesh Holdings, Sonalank Investment and Gujarat Industrial Investment Corporation. Lalbhai also served on the boards of several educational, cultural, industrial and religious organisations, including Ahmedabad Education Society (AES), Gujarat Museum Society, CEPT University, NID, Isro, Nirma University, Institute of Plasma Research, IIMA, Ahmedabad Textile Industries Research Association (ATIRA), Lalbhai Dalpatbhai Institute of Indology and the Institute of Jainology. He also served as a trustee of the Sabarmati Ashram Preservation and Memorial Trust. He developed an expertise on the history of Jainism and headed the Anandji Kalyanji Trust, which has restored and preserved more than 1200 Jain temples, including the Palitana Jain temples in Gujarat.
Sanjay S Lalbhai
Son of Shrenik Lalbhai, Sanjay is chairman and MD of Arvind Ltd, a $1.5 billion conglomerate and one of the largest manufacturers of woven textiles in India as well as one of the largest denim manufacturers in the world. Sanjay is also the president of the AES and Ahmedabad University, chairman of council of ATIRA, and a member of the council of management of Physical Research Laboratory. He leads Arvind’s CSR initiatives as trustee to Sharda trust, the company’s CSR arm.
A co-operative organiser, activist and Gandhian, Ela Ramesh Bhatt founded the Self-Employed Women’s Association (SEWA) of India in 1972—an iconic organisation that has worked for 50 years to help women access the financial tools and resources they deserve to build more secure, prosperous, and fulfilling lives. She served as its general secretary from 1972 to 1996 and was also the chancellor of the Gujarat Vidyapith from 2015 to 2022. Among other prestigious recognitions, she was honoured with the Ramon Magsaysay Award for Community Leadership; the Padma Shri and Padma Bhushan awards by the Government of India; the Four Freedoms Award by the Government of the Netherlands; the Niwano Peace Prize; the Radcliffe Medal; the Indira Gandhi Prize for Peace; and honorary doctorates from Harvard University, Georgetown University, and Brussels University. A qualified lawyer, Bhatt was a Member of Parliament (and the first female member of the Planning Commission) and was also on the Board of the Reserve Bank of India.Also read: Ela R Bhatt: All types of economies should co-exist
Bijal Brahmbhatt is the executive director of Mahila Housing SEWA Trust (MHT), a grassroots development organisation that empowers women in poor communities to improve their habitat with basic services such as clean water, toilets, electricity and adequate light and ventilation. Besides undertaking the huge task of convincing and changing the mindsets of the source (government and agencies) and beneficiaries (the urban poor), Brahmbhatt has also played a key role in highlighting the necessity for women to stand up for themselves and demand what is due to them.
Brahmbhatt is a civil engineer by training and a recognised expert in habitat improvement, community development, and housing finance. She oversees MHT’s operations at the national level and has experience in conceptualising, planning, managing, and providing support for slum upgradation programmes across India. She also has expertise in land tenure and renewable energy issues, and has authored papers on habitat, housing finance, community development, and land tenure with World Bank, CEPT University, WIEGO, and so on.
Janki Vasant established the NGO Samvedana in 2003 aiming to help children living in slums gain access to education and health services. Vasant began to work with inhabitants of slums in Ahmedabad and set up a school for 250 children which apart from education also provided vaccinations and food. She has also co-founded Playtos Global Education, a miniversity that has introduced its innovative Beyond School model, which seeks to bridge the gap between traditional schooling and competency-based learning for children aged 10 to 14. Vasant received the 2016 Nari Shakti Puraskar in recognition of her achievements.
Environmental engineer Trupti Jain is the co-founder and director of Naireeta Services Private Limited and Sustainable Green Initiatives Forum. Naireeta Services provides water management solutions for farmers affected by drought and flash floods. Jain has also created gender-centric climate change mitigating processes for inclusive development for both urban and rural poor women. It is also promoting ‘Bhungroo’, a World Bank-awarded water irrigation technology. She was awarded the LEAD fellowship in 2007. A Fulbright Scholar at Michigan State University, Jain has also won the Asia Pacific region Cartier Women’s Initiative Award (2017) for providing women working on farms with water management solutions and protecting small farmers against droughts and flash floods.
Geeta Solanki is the founder of Unipads India, an organisation that manufactures and distributes reusable sanitary pads to underprivileged women in rural India. It not only makes the product available at a reasonable price and in a convenient manner, but also provides employment to women who work as distributors, called ‘Kalyanis’. Each Kalyani is trained on Menstrual Hygiene Management and other aspects of menstruation and sales.
Hina Shah is the founder-director of International Center for Entrepreneurship and Career Development (ICECD), established in 1986. ICECD is a non-profit voluntary organisation, a pioneer in the field of small and medium enterprise (SME) development with a special focus on women. It works around the globe in this field, concentrating on gender issues and attempting to expand access to productive resources and facilities for businesses while also working to make women equal participants in the development process.
Indu Capoor is founder-director (emeritus) of Centre for Health, Education, Training and Nutrition Awareness (Chetna), based in Ahmedabad, an organisation she started when she was just 23. Trained as a nutritionist, she has spent over three decades working with women, children and young people, particularly those from marginalised communities, to improve their health and nutritional status. In 2013, Capoor passed on leadership of Chetna and took on the role of director, Chetna Outreach, to upscale and mainstream Chetna’s evidence-based approaches all over the globe. She is the recipient of several national and international awards, has published extensively and spoken about the effects of gender and social determinants on maternal, young people’s, child health and rights in nearly 2,500 workshops, seminars, and conferences. She was elected as an Ashoka Associate Member in 1992 and a Global Leader on Early Childhood Care and Development in 2009.
Balkrishna Vithaldas Doshi
The only Indian to have been awarded the Pritzker Architecture Prize, Balkrishna Vithaldas Doshi was the founder, former director and former chairman of the School of Architecture and Planning (Ahmedabad, 1966–2012), which was renamed CEPT University in 2002, and the founder director of the Kanoria Centre for Arts, Ahmedabad. He was trained under the Swiss-French architect Le Corbusier. A Padma Vibhushan (2023), Padma Bhushan (2020), and Padma Shri (1976) awardee, Doshi is known for designing the buildings of the Ahmedabad-based Centre for Environment and Planning Technology (CEPT) and Mahatma Gandhi Labour Institute. Doshi also worked with Louis Kahn as an associate to build IIMA. His style of architecture—an amalgam of European modernist, brutalist architecture and Indian sensibilities—won many hearts. Doshi also created designs for low-cost housing. His 1982 project Aranya Low-Cost Housing in Indore won him the 6th Aga Khan Award for Architecture. In another example of the international recognition of his works, Doshi was awarded France’s highest honour for the arts, the Officer of the Order of Arts and Letters, in 2011. The celebrated architect authored several books including Paths Uncharted (2011) and Balkrishna Doshi: Writings on Architecture and Identity (2019), which is a selection of his writings.This is part one of a two part series. Stay tuned for the second part.