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THAKIYUDEEN  A  WAHID
25 DEC 1952 - 13 NOV 1995

 

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Thaky -

The Story of East West

Navodaya Studio,

Kakkanad, Kochi.

24 February, 2019

Project tentatively titled

EAST WEST

On The Wings Of Fire

 

This is a proposed biographical film on the life and times of

Thakiyudeen Wahid - the visionary,

and that of East West Travels - the family-run ticketing business of the 1980s which launched India's first private airline during the economic liberation of the 1990s.

 

East-West Airlines was the first scheduled private airline in India to take off the ground after the Open Skies policy was announced in 1991.

On 13 November 1995 East-West_Airlines managing director Thakiyudeen Wahid was shot dead near his Mumbai office.

The airline ceased operations in 1996. [WIKI].

 

Conspiracy theories apart, the Mumbai Police even 2 decades after Thakiyudeen’s assassination, is clueless as of the motives or the persons behind the crime.

 

The real-life events in this film are based on the personal experiences of individuals around Thaky (as he was affectionately addressed) during the period 1985 to 1995. These events have also been chronicled by investigative journalist Josy Joseph (in section two - a very private private sector) of his recently published book

'A Feast Of Vultures'.

https://www.amazon.in/Feast-Vultures-Hidden-Business-Democracy-ebook/dp/B01JWG0OVC

[The book depicts the all-pervasive corruption in the corporate and government business transactions of Democratic India].

https://www.khaleejtimes.com/editorials-columns/indian-medias-silence-can-sometimes-be-deafening

 

This film of ours would rather focus on the insights of the protagonist Thaki, who from an unlikely family and academic background came to achieve a feat which even the Business House of the Tatas - a legacy of J.D.R. Tata, the pioneer Indian aviator - balked at. This is to say; that the topic of corporate rivalry and the question of how Thaky's life was sadly cut short, are only incidental in the narrative of this film. We would like this film to be an inspiration to a new generation of 'visionaries' in 21st Century India.

 

This film shall also be a study on how Malayalees (natives of Kerala State) conduct their family business ... an analysis of the pros & cons of the relationships within the family when running a business, and the cultural parallels with other models of family-run operations - say; for instance, Gujarati or Marwari. This analysis is of significance ... because, as against the corporate landscape of the 1990s when there were few Malayali visionaries apart from Thakiyudeen of the East West or Ravi Mammen of the MRF,* today we have thousands of young Malayalee

also Captain Nair of Leela Hotels, T.G.P. Nambiar of BPL.  

entrepreneurs of both genders - many of them scions to family businesses of high
repute and brand value, poised to go global with their dreams On The Wings Of Fire.

With this film we should make them draw their own inferences on the 1) cultural values 2) family traditions and 3) moral wisdom handed down from the past ... while also learning lessons from the previous generation’s pitfalls.

 

About the film's treatment

Despite the fact the subject is inherently a 'corporate-crime-thriller', given the backdrop of the historical migration of Malayalee workforce from Kerala to the Arabian Gulf States, we see this film as a saga. Such are the annals one cannot disregard in this film, albeit a biographical. I am sure you would remember the passionate and heartrending stories from the closing decades of the 20th century ... stories of individuals from Kerala who, seeking jobs in the Gulf, left their homes ... stories of those who returned, and those who didn't. Those stories are inseparable from that of the East West - a family-run ticketing business who facilitated their travels.

 

for the scripting team,

Jijo

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Area of Kerala state - 35000 sq km.

Area of Arabian Gulf states - 3.5 million sq km.

The population Kerala - 35 million.

The number of Keralites in the Middle East - about 3.5 million. (10% of Kerala).

Aproximately 10% of Keralites are migrant workers to the Arabian Gulf states.

They move to an area 100 times larger than that of their native land.

In many of the Gulf states, Keralite outnumber the natives in the ratio 10:1

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In the 1990s, the lion’s share of the migrant workers from Kerala to the Gulf moved back and forth through a harrowing 10 X 10 square kilometer area that was the Mumbai-Santcruz-Sahar vortex. For two long decades, vested trade interests - travel agents, hotels, taxis, porters, ... even our own national airline (!) made the Gulf Malabari ’s transit costly and miserable. The agony would abate only when Kerala was to have its own International Airports - which the Mumbai lobby fought tooth and nail.

The route from the Santacruz Domestic terminal to the Sahar International - a distance of 12 km around the airfield, added to the woes and uncertainties of a malayalee migrant laborer from Kerala to the Arabian Gulf.

Taki’s Most Brilliant Vision.

Making Malidives the East West Airlines hub, would have at one stroke freed Malayalees the vexing transit at Mumbai-Santacruz-Sahar.

The Airline, as a result, would have enjoyed all the benefits of an Domestic Airline blessed with International Operations.

This advantages - which many Indian private operators enjoy today, was forseen by Thaki.

He served as a pathfinder for many.

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As shown on the left,

the opportunities that would have opened up are mind boggling.

 

In two decades, it could have made the State of Kerala another Singapore.

 

Instead, as shown above, Male airlines today has little impact on Asian air routes.

 

For India, even today, it remains a dream.

 

Research. Dec 2019 www.navodayastudio.com

Chronology of Events

 

1979

Nazer - eldest of Wahid brothers, has a chance meeting with Bahrain Prince Sheik Al Manzoor Al Ali at Sahar Airport.

Nazer calls his 3 brothers to start their Gulf Manpower Agency in Mumbai for supplying workforce to Bahrain.

The opening of Prabhadevi office.

 

1983

Expanding Operations - Ticketing business

East West Travel & Trade Links PVT.LTD.

28 offices all over India.

 

Phenomenal Growth

1st year turnover was 4 Crores.

2nd year was 12 Crores..

4th year was 45 Crores.

6th year was 130

8th year was 500 Crores!  (In year 1990)!

The very first Indian Company to reach a 500 Cr. Turnover !

60% of all Indian Airlines - the national carrier, tickets were being sold by EastWest Travels.

Also, EastWest became the Largest

Air-ticket retailer in the whole of Asia!!

In their first meeting,

Chartered Accountant V.Page

said to thenaive young high school dropout from Kerala named Thaky – the second of the Wahid brothers  …

“Instead of working from your briefcase – as any Malayalee proprietorship concern does, you have to be a LTD. Company … that is the only way to grow”.

What V.Page advised then was 'jurisprudence'. One decade hence, an internationally renowned Financial Consultant V.Page sees Thakiyuddin Wahid heading a 1000 Crore company and impressing Kings, Prime Ministers and Presidents of Aircraft Manufacturing Corporations with his deep knowledge on aviation!

 

Why Thaky could build The East West Travel Empire like no other company?

Wahid brothers’ ventures carried 3 advantages:

They belonged to a state where the maximum migrants come from - Kerala.

They were into something which was business on one side and service to the society on the other.

Due to good services rendered by a committed EW Staff, the company got lot of repeat jobs.

1980s - That was the time Keralites were the most International travelling community.

The Wahid brothers gave everybody more – much, much more than what they took, especially to the gulf Malayalees.

 

With ticketing business as an ancillary to manpower recruitment, 28 offices all over India opened in one single year. The saying arose …

 “If it’s East West, your job visa, tickets, Mumbai transit, everything is assured! … Any additional support by the company staff comes free of cost”.

 

On the accusation that Dawood Ibrahim funds East West's operations, Peeru presents the company turnover from the tax filing records. A stunned Commissioner turns around to ask his sleuths …

“With such funds in hand, what earthly reason for anybody to seek underworld financing?”

Peermuhammed makes aware that their entire operation is backed by the blood, sweat, tears and prayers of 10% of all malayalees . Also the economics of sending one person abroad. He turns to a keralite assistant commissioner and says in Malayalam –

 “With six lakhs yearly sent from India by the tickets of East West to Gulf – a lion’s share of emigrants, every single family in Kerala we touch! Onnu paranju kodu ente sarey …

 

George introduced Thaky to Rajeev Gandhi at a gathering. Glancing at the note handed to him the Prime Minister says …

“Largest air ticket sales in Asia? … which means … one day, you could be the largest airline in Asia … then possibly, the largest in the world!”

Rajeev Gandhi then whispers something to the Civil Aviation Minister. Given the recent Open Skies Policy, Scindia the Minister calls a meeting with Thaky to suggest his starting a private sector airline.

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"Beware the enemy within … not the one out there!"

It was East West's internal flaws that eventually brought the collapse of the organization. The external threats were only incidental. A prudent C.S. warned ...

"You malayalees put family ties and sentiments before business sense. Watch a Gujarathi family doing business … If any one among the brothers is found to be deficient, the rest of the family members join hands, and keep him away from management … Yet they see to it that the black sheep is given due fair share as every other brother participating. Filial ties should never come in the way of business".

 

The downfall of East West started when their ‘Bread & Butter’ business – Ticketing (a cash cow), became neglected with the starting of the glamorous Airline Operations.

“In success is sown the seeds of disaster”

The adage –

“The surest way to create a millionaire is to make a billionaire start an Airline”

 - was amply proven yet again most recently by the brewer Vijay Mallya.

 

Having foreseen the above pitfalls, Thaky was pursuing venues to diversify operations - Hotels, Real Estate, Airports (Tutucorin) … A-check, B-check, C-check (Aircraft Strip-down Maintenance), and International tie-ups.

But filial obligations curtailed him.

And then came the assassination.

 

Thaky’s character I will describe in one single sentence –

“Buy any proprietary software, you pay a license fee … but if you buy an open source file, you don’t have to pay”.

Thaki was like an open source file.

Thaki’s  friendship came without any cost, by nature itself. He could win over anyone with his personality.

 

One prominent Bombay Socialite said …

“I can today (in 1992) name atleast 100 businessmen in the city who can spare 100 crores in cash … just like that. Many of them wouldn’t possibly know each other. But, all of them would certainly know Thaky of East West. Such is his stature”.

 

A reputed investigative journalist (in 1996) commented …

“It is somewhat true that the Wahid Brothers’ disadvantage was not in having a ‘Godfather’ in India’s power corridors - other than Thaky’s personal rapport with Scindia, the then aviation cabinet minister. But the pathetic fact is, when big states like Andhra or puny ones like Orissa would see their MPs lobby strongly in the Parliament in advantage of their state interests & enterprises, the ones from Kerala were selfishly focused on scrounging – free tickets, booze and obtaining airhostess jobs for their paramours. Across the political spectrum, no Kerala M.P.s ever coordinated efforts in the Indian Parliament to mitigate the agony of the gulf-malayalees - the most numerous among the air-travelers of the time ... NEVER”.

 

A Hariyanvi H.R. Consultant said ...

"You Wahid brothers, work very hard. In fact, I find most mallus hardworking - outside the state of Kerala. But at home, you are among the laziest! … Where else in the world can you find people extorting 'idle-money' by permitting others to work?"

 

Taky’s vision is demonstrated in brother Taha’s words on how he procured a new Cathay Pacific’s Italian office counter – by joining four adjacent shacks for their first office in1982 at Prabhadevi. Hordes of traders from nearby would flock to see Currency Counting Machines, Computers, Networked Reservation Systems … all these for the first time in Mumbai.

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Despite Naresh Goyal winning the GSA [General Sales Agency] of Gulf Air for his much smaller travel agency - JetAir, Wahid brothers' East West Travels was still selling the maximum number of Gulf Air Tickets.

Josey Joseph, A Feast of Vultures.

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During the former EWA staff get-together, Sabu – once a ground manager of EWA, said

“We were a committed lot … . For us the day would start at 04.00 hours at catering division behind the East West airport offices at Santa Cruz Domestic Terminal.

By 05.00 hours, EWA aircrafts would be taking off to different directions of the country.

Past 07.00 hours, incoming EWA aircrafts would start landing. The turn-arounds would keep happening throughout the day.

 

But the real effort was in facilitating 300 to 600 poor transitory passengers reach Sahara, get past emigration & customs and board AirIndia, GulfAir, … Emirates flights. Most would have a predicament unique to that traveler. That was an everyday challenge accomplished day-in and day-out. It would go on till the early morning hours next day!”

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During the International Mayors Conference 1998 in Tokyo, Mr. M. Najeeb – Thiruvanthapuram City Commissioner and erstwhile East West Analyst and Advisor, had a chance meeting with the Mayor of Mumbai – Ms. Vishakha Raut.

“Najeeb! You don’t remember me?” The Lady who had recently become the 3rd Woman Mayor of Mumbai exclaimed. “ … I was one of the Station Managers for East West!”

To an apologetic Mr. Najeeb, she said

“You know, there are many like us - former members of East West, whom you would come across at far flung places … an Airport CEO in New Zealand, a Secretary at Afro-Asia, a Director at World Economic forum, a Safety Officer at FAA, a Hospitality Director at Langan … and another, a Chief Engineer for Latin American Tarmacs”.

Beaming with pride, she added

“What all of us have in common is the wonderful grounding we had while at EWA!”

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