CDE Raj Modi is a very successful businessman, everyone knows that. He is of Indian origin, we all know that. He is a philanthropist, we are all aware of that. He is a man of few words and is quiet to a fault, all those who have had a conversation with him are conscious of that.
Professionally, Cde Modi needs no introduction to many Zimbabweans. He is an award winning businessman, who despite his humility still exudes a presence about him. The atmosphere around him makes almost everything come to a standstill, and it’s not just about the success and fame, the effect has something to do with his individuality. It’s the kind of effect that makes heads turn. He never seeks attention, but somehow, in the streets, people passing by greet and wave at him. He warmly acknowledges all of them; it’s an interesting sight to see, this, his humility.
As he tries to respond to my questions, he fails because his phone won’t stop ringing.
While, Cde Modi is the Zanu-PF House of Assembly candidate for Bulawayo South Constituency, he remains a well-known businessman and employer, lovingly referred to by his supporters as “Mdawini”.
While he is modest and unassuming, there is a side to him that is largely unknown to the public – his personal life.
He has a witty sense of humour, comebacks that one would ordinarily not expect and, in response to some of my questions; he in turn, whips up queries that catch me quite off-guard.
Here’s more on Cde Modi – the man that stands as one of Bulawayo’s most giving businessmen, a man who is proving to have great adaptability for politics, and a man who remains a passionate lover of the city of Bulawayo.
It is most certain that had he not married his wife Parul Kothari, in March 1981 in India, there could have been no Raj Modi the Zimbabwean. Marrying Parul, led to an unforeseen event that saw the 22-year-old Indian deciding to permanently leave his home for Zimbabwe.
“Parul and I got married in India. We were supposed to come so that I had an appreciation of my wife’s country, but I ended up staying because something emotional happened, my father-in-law passed away.
“We stayed because my mother-in-law was going to be alone as her other daughter had already been married. She had a job in Zimbabwe and she could not quit and move to India because she reasoned that it could be hard for her to get a job in India at her age. Besides, all her friends and fond memories were in Zimbabwe.”
Cde Modi’s migration to Zimbabwe was not trouble-free as he had to borrow to finance his flight.
“I worked for the India Electricity Board as a cashier for two years, the money was okay, but it was not enough. On the second year of my employment in 1981, that’s when I got married in March of that year, I was 22. I came to Zimbabwe the same year in September.
“When I came to Zimbabwe I only had $50, two pairs of clothes and a return ticket because, remember, I had no intention to stay. The ticket was funded by an Indian spiritual group in Bulawayo; the arrangement was that I was going to refund them so they got me a job. The tickets were $300 and at that time it was a lot of money so I paid every month $20 to service the loan. That’s how I came to Zimbabwe because I didn’t have money to come to Zimbabwe, I couldn’t afford it.”
The then 22-year-old love-struck man initially struggled to acclimatise in a foreign land as he had no one but his wife and mother-in-law.
“First six months, it was difficult for me because I didn’t like it – everything was different, I had no friends here and I had no one but my wife and my mother-in-law. I grew up in India and I had to leave everything behind, but slowly I began to adapt and I started liking it and it worked for me.”
But he did not like everything, from being a cashier for the India Electricity Board, Cde Modi had to humble himself as his first job in Zimbabwe was to sweep and mop floors.
“I worked for eight months at a clothing shop as a general worker, I swept and mopped the floors, cleaned the toilets and windows. I used to walk to and from work to save money for food. I then went and worked for Mr Naran at his supermarket, for about eight years. While I was there, after six years I opened my own business, Bellevue Superette. My wife ran that shop for two years but I had to quit my job and run the shop after my mother-in-law had cancer so my wife had to stay home and take care of our mother. When I started working the business, it slowly began growing to what it is today.
“What most people don’t know is that without my mother-in-law and wife the Modi family could be unknown in Zimbabwe. My wife, my mother-in-law and I combined our funds to open our first shop. My wife was at CABS (Building Society) and all her salary was used to grow the business while the salary I got from Mr Naran sustained us. As suburbs such as Nketa and Emganwini were being constructed, our business grew because of increased customers.”
But has he ever thought of going back to India?
“After those difficult six months, I began to love Zimbabwe. The people here are friendly that’s one of the greatest qualities of this country. Also my father passed away in 1985 and my mother in 1988, a year after I acquired Zimbabwean citizenship, so there was no need for me to go back to India. I had two children already here. We were doing well here, so it could have been unwise to leave. But of course I always visit India, I go to see my relatives, my brothers and sisters and they come here. But I am no longer a citizen of India, I am a Zimbabwean. When I die I will be buried here.”
Cde Modi, who has his very own whisky manufacturing company, indulges in the consumption of whisky, but avoids expensive glasses of his favoured wise waters.
“I love Indian food and I drink a glass of whisky now and then. Normally, here, I take Jameson, but I am not choosy. I drink any type of whisky. You won’t see me complaining if you invite me for a drink because after all whisky is whisky. Kodwa isitshwala ngiyadla after all it’s the staple food of Zimbabwe.”
When we think of rich people in Zimbabwe, we picture customised luxury cars, mansions that have more rooms than hotels, a room full of shoes and the other goodies money can buy. Such displays of wealth are common among the rich people in Zimbabwe. However, Cde Modi surprisingly lives a modest life. He mostly uses his money to expand his businesses and to also help those in need.
He is by default a simple guy, indeed, from his clothes alone; you can tell that he leads a modest lifestyle. While other flashy and flamboyant businessmen wear designer suits, he often wears sneakers, jeans and casual shirts. During working hours, you will always find him in a T-shirt and jeans, which kind of makes him look like a jobless pensioner. He doesn’t do flashy cars, either. He doesn’t wear any expensive watches, nor does he own a limousine and other luxury goods.
Indeed, at first sight, Cde Modi cuts an image of a person who is truly laidback and humble. True to this image, he does indeed lead a simple lifestyle.
“I don’t like suits because I am a workman and I don’t like being flashy. That’s why you don’t see me driving fancy cars. At times people come to me and ask to see Mr Modi because of the way I dress.”
He has what it takes to afford several palatial homes. It is, therefore, surprising to learn that he and his wife reside in a townhouse in suburbs. Even more amazing is the fact that a man who has spent much of his life building and running a retail empire wears ordinary clothes. At work, he freely interacts with other employees and even eats lunch at the company cafeteria. This is a man who rolls up his sleeves and works with his workers. It is not strange to see him at Liquor Hub helping the delivery guys or chatting away with the till operators.
“My workers are part of my family because most of them we started together. In all my businesses I at times go and assist them to do their jobs and it is never awkward for them because they know I am one of them. We eat together, laugh together, cry together and celebrate together. I have been with some of them for over 30 years.
“The loyalty they have given me shows that I am good to them as they are good to me. I have few friends outside work because I am always busy. I know a lot of people and they know me. But I am always thinking business, I wake up at 7AM and knock off at 10PM – its seven days a week, so if I don’t make friends at work I could be lonesome.”
Cde Modi might be busy all the time but he is smart enough to find time for his family.
“I make time for my wife and my grand children. I am always with my wife so there is no way she can say I neglect her. I play with my grandchildren the same way I used to fool around with my kids when they were kids. Running a business and being with family is difficult but you should always find time for family because without them you are nothing.”
The owner of Pintail Trading, a company that trades as Wholesale Centre Liquor Hub and a distributor of Pepsi products and local beverages, rarely finds time for himself but when he does he panders to his favourite pastime – sports.
“At school I used to play basketball and hockey. I play golf when I get time and cricket at the Heath Streak Academy, but I hardly have time for that. I am a Highlanders fan and I have done something in the past for them. They approached me this year, but now I am committed to all sports as I am the CEO for the Sports and Recreation Commission in Bulawayo. That takes most of my time. I don’t want to go in halfheartedly that is why I cannot help Highlanders for now.
“As you are aware I meet most of the financial needs of the Bulawayo youth teams that participate in the youth games and the Paralympics teams. We don’t get money from the government so every year I come in. I sponsor quite a number of sports tournaments and the Heath Streak Academy.”
He loathes a lavish lifestyle and is often at pains to explain why people indulge in unnecessary material things. Cde Modi didn’t choose to live an effortless life. It is a habit that takes years to build. His humble background and his parents’ teachings of the virtues of leading an economical life made him find it easy to embrace a modest lifestyle.
“I was born in India and I did my primary and secondary there. I have a Degree in Economics from South Gujarat. I come from a middle class family, but at times we lived from hand to mouth. My parents taught me to be humble and to respect others no matter their setting in society.”
The decorated humanitarian, who has committed a huge chunk of his wealth to charitable causes, says he looks commonplace and keeps in touch with regular people because being successful and well-off can be fleeting and fickle.
“I wasn’t born with all this and I can lose it anytime. I have it at the benevolence of God. It can be gone in an instant.”