[Preamble: The 3M’s is what I collectively nicknamed my various strengths in three callings. In many ways they were inextricably intertwined:
I speak, firstly, of my enduring love, music; then, my daily job of overseeing as general manager the second largest mining group of collieries in Bihar and West Bengal managed by Bird-Heilgers in my country of origin, India; and, thirdly, after the nationalization of the Coal Industry by the Government of India, as general manager of Indian Oxygen, the largest entity devoted to manufacturing industrial gases in the country.]
Holidaying in Montreal – A Fourth M!
A Favorite of Mine Going Back to 1993
My last year at City and Guilds College of the University of London was marked by the death back home in New Delhi of my beloved father, Edgar (shown alongside) after a short but serious illness. My elder brother, a senior officer in the military, was then in Ethiopia on a two-year assignment, so my widowed mother and bereft twin sister were on their own and sought to have me back home as soon as possible.
It was easy enough for me to discontinue my music studies then and there at the Royal Academy of Music as I had already gained my Licentiate (L.R.A.M. Performer), but I needed to find a job back in India, preferably in a commercial or engineering firm to help the family financially. It was then that a first cousin of mine who was in a covenanted position at a British firm in Calcutta advised me to get in touch with its London office and make an appointment for an interview. I received a cable not long thereafter that I should see its London director Sir Paul Benthall on a certain day at 10:00 a.m. at its location in the City at 108 Cannon Street.
[As an aside, and as my longtime hobby is numerology, I was struck by the number “108” that gave me a favorable vibe because it – namely 1+0+8 = 9 – ‘jived’ with my birth date of “9”! Resourcefulness and excellence in organization are that number’s hallmarks.]
A bit of background may be necessary here: The firm turned out to be Bird and Company. I learned that it had begun operating as far back as 1864 under its founder Sam Bird in Allahabad, India, before he moved his organization to Calcutta in 1870. Over the next eight decades It became well-known throughout the country for its multifaceted commercial ventures with wide interests in heavy and light industries, particularly in Eastern and Northeastern India. It registered in India in the year of its independence in 1947.
Back to London: I arrived well in time and the receptionist on the ground floor requested me to take a seat in the reception room alongside. Just before the witching hour, a spry tall gentleman entered the front door. He immediately sprinted up the central staircase and disappeared. A moment later the phone rang at the front desk and I was escorted to a corner office on the upper floor. Sir Paul immediately rose to greet me and beckoned me to make myself comfortable at one of two chairs looking out on to the street below. He was utterly charming and spoke passionately of the number of young talented Indians that he and his colleagues had brought into the firm to work for Bird and Company (Private) Limited over the years. If I were hired, it would mean starting off my first business career in Calcutta.
Sir Paul Benthall, K.B.E.
The company’s big branch offices were in New Delhi, Bombay, and Madras, but ‘beginning’ officers of Bird’s all began in the Accounts Department at the Head Office in Calcutta to get a grasp of the company’s breadth, depth and scope. A few weeks later I received an attractive offer of employment that I could not refuse. My family back home was thrilled that I’d be home for a couple of weeks before joining the Head Office.
High Points of my Career with Bird’s (1954-1972)
1955 – Representing Bird’s in December at its Pavilion at the First Indian Industries Fair.
FIRST INDIAN INDUSTRIES FAIR 1955, New Delhi
Bird’s Pavilion: L. Azim conversing with President Rajindra Prasad and
Rajkumari Amrit Kaur; R. Departing the Pavilion with the President and his entourage
In Bird’s Coal Mining Exhibit Azim with UK High Commisioner Malcolm MacDonald
Left Panel: Madam Sun Yatsen of China
Right Photo: Azim with Dr. Hatta, Vice President of Indondesia
1964 – Bird’s Centenary Year was celebrated in part by the achievement of its Coal Group of Companies in attaining an annual output of coal and coke in excess of 2.75 million tonnes. A year earlier, its Loyabad coke plant in Bihar began to manufacture premium coke, which met with a very favorable response from buyers
MINING – 1956-1970:
Joined the Coal Department (created in 1878 with Bird’s first managing agency, Burrakur Coal Co. ) in charge of sales of Coking Coal to Steel Plants in India as well as to those in Australia and Japan. Eventually took over as departmental Head and oversaw a labor force of 20,000 with record production of both coal and coke to keep up with India’s demand for power as part of its Third Five Year Plan (1961-1966.)
Azim in Rio 1957
1956: Competed as India’s Sole Representative at the First International Franz Liszt Competition in Budapest, Hungary
1957: Competed as India’s Sole Representative at the First International Chopin Competition in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
1958: Competed as India’s Sole Representative at the George Enescu International Piano Competition in Bucharest, Rumania
1961: Represented India at the Dmitri Mitropolous Piano Festival and Competition in New York
MANUFACTURING – 1972-1975: Post-nationalization of the coal industry, I joined the Gases Division of Indian Oxygen, Calcutta, and as its General Manager thoroughly enjoyed the opportunity of overseeing and maximizing its operations at major centers of production in Madras and Bombay.
By hindsight, and all these years later, the vivid contrast of the soot and grime of a coal mine underground and the almost surgical cleanliness of an oxygen plant has still not been lost on me in my retirement away from it all in another country – the U.S.
The Cable – The House Magazine of the Bird-Heilgers Group, October 1964, Calcutta
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