By S A H Rizvi
At 83, legendary Surender Kumar Wadhawan has scripted a new history.
He is perhaps the only surviving Indian who is an eye witness to the partition and then the Independence of India in 1947 and then the Independence of Kuwait from British Protectorate in 1961.
“I clearly remember both these events and recall the jubilation that had hit on Delhi Road a day before India got freedom and the jubilation on Kuwait roads in 1961 and illumination as people hoped for a period of growth and stability” remembers Wadhawan
These events make Wadhawan so special as both India and Kuwait are hosting yearlong festivity to mark the 60 years of establishment of diplomatic relations between the two nation which have enjoyed close relation since last several centuries.
The event was marked off with the visit of Foreign Minister Jaishankar to Kuwait in June this year
India and Kuwait had agreed to upgrade their Joint Commission to the Foreign minister level during the visit of Ahmed Nasser Al-Mohammad Al-Sabah, Foreign Minister and Minister of State for Cabinet Affairs, State of Kuwait, on 17-18 March 2021. Both countries had agreed to establish a Joint Commission at Foreign Ministers’ level during the visit
Wadhawan was just 7 years when partition violence broke out in Nowshera Khojiyan in west Punjab and he along with his brother managed to escape with a group of Sikhs. He tragically lost his mother in violence. Travelling hundreds of kilometers on foot covering mountain and crossing river they reached Jammu and from there was shifted to Amritsar refugee camp.
It was in Amritsar his father who was searching for them met and took them to Delhi.
When he was just seventeen Wadhawan got a job in Kuwait at an auto spare part shops and landed at the Kuwaiti seaport in 1957 with nothing in his pocket except loads of dream.
When young Wadhawan landed in Kuwait, there was scant electricity supply and potable water was imported from Basra in Iraq. He was among the first few NRIs to have landed in a country, which was, then under the British protectorate.
He endured the hardship as a challenge took up an assignment as a sales representative in an auto spare parts firm. Hard work and dedication helped him to gain extensive knowledge of the trade
“We used to get half a bucket of fresh water every day for drinking cooking and bathing was done by the supply of sea water. During summers we used to sleep on the sea shore by drenching ourselves with sea water to escape the torrid heat,” recalls Wadhawan
As Kuwait gained independence, Wadhawan was convinced that the nation is poised to write a new history of development under the remarkable guidance of the Kuwaiti rulers. This inspired him to take the important decision to quit his job and start his own venture.
“I had saved Rs 13,000 at that time from my salary down the years and with that money I planned my venture”
Thus” Samara Group” came into existence in 1963 dealing in auto parts primarily imported from abroad. “In a short span of time Samara became a synonym of quality, genuine products and our own integrity that we never compromised.” Today Samara is one of the largest distributors of auto spare parts in the Gulf
Samara arrived in the Kuwait market with a bang and its success opened the floodgate for Indians to come to Kuwait as many other entities too decided to set up their own venture following his success. It is through the initiative of Wadhawan and his likes that Indian community in Kuwait has today reached a staggering figure of almost a million.
Modest, down to earth, SK Wadhawan is an institution and Goodwill Ambassador of Indians in Kuwait as in him unfolds the great success story of a man who did not inherit business from his lineage but who struggled in life to achieve his dream. A self made man who stands tall among the 30 top businesspersons in the Gulf and among the 100 most powerful Indian in the Middle East.
With success greeting him, Wadhawan remained deeply rooted to his ground and took several measures to pay back the society. Perhaps the way people helped him during his escape from Pakistan remain so embedded in him that he is always in forefront to help people., “I know what a little help means”
Always ready to provide helping hand to people in need, he along with his wife undertook several social obligations and actively participated in various social, cultural and humanitarian activities.
As President of an organization called Arsha Vidya Bharati whose founder was Swami Dayananda Saraswati he helps to provide education to under- privileged children in remote Indian villages and is spreading Indian cultural values through the teachings of Vedanta.
As Chairman of India Business Council, which he formed in late 1990’s and headed it for fifteen years, he undertook several initiatives to promote business, trade, investments and other forms of cooperation and synergy between Kuwait and India. This council has established strong institutional linkage with leading trade bodies in India namely ASSOCHAM, CII, FICCI as well as Kuwait Chamber of Commerce & Industry.
IBC has hosted series of events every year attendance at Pravasi Bhartiya Divas including seminars, meetings with eminent speakers, high-level trade delegations from India and presentations on Indian Economy.
Mr Wadhawan has been in the forefront for raising funds whenever natural calamities struck India be it the Gujarat earthquake in 2001 or the Tsunami in 2004.
During the Corona pandemic, Wadhawan under the baton of India Community Support Group and guidance of the Indian Embassy helped in rushing more than 2400 Oxygen cylinders, medicine and providing cash relief of Rs One lakh to each of the 122 Indians who died du to Coronavirus. In 2020, the support group had helped thousands of stranded Indian with food and medicine facilities.
In 2006 when the late Amir of Kuwait Sheikh Sabah al Ahmad al Sabah (2006-2020) visited India on his first overseas visit, Wadhawan led a strong delegation of Indian Businessman to New Delhi to welcome the Amir and his entourage on behalf of the Indian community in Kuwait. He had a long and detailed discussion with the Amir on the Indo Kuwait relations
Wadhawan is the recipient of several national and international awards and accolades,