Imagine a situation when you are one year old, your mother has just died from the plague that is claiming thousands of lives in India and your father leaves you in the care of poor relatives and goes to a distant land in search for a better life for his family. It is as good as being orphaned.
That is the way the founder of the Tappoo Group, Tappoo Kanji (henceforth referred to as Tappoobhai) started life – in abject poverty, in dire need and without the succour of immediate family members. He grew up shuttling from one relative to another. Relatives themselves had children of their own and themselves were in abject poverty. An additional mouth to feed was obviously a burden for those taking care of Tappoobhai.
From such incongruous beginnings, the Tappoo name today is a household name in Fiji and is a business of respect among major multi-nationals in the world.
Growing up in Movan, off Khambharia in the state of Saurastra, Gujerat, India,
Tappoobhai experienced the most abject poverty. The village itself was poor the sole village school teacher ran away because the villagers could not pay him. This was the end of his first attempts to gain education.
I started working when I was eight years old, harvesting wheat alongside the adult in the fields, Tappoobhai said.
He was paid four annas a day, a denomination of the Indian rupee that is so small that it has been discontinued.
One set of shirt and pants, to be washed in the river when dirty and worn again as soon as dry, enough to eat to fuel the body the situation was same for all those who lived in the poor village. Tappoobhai’s father and an elder brother, Meghji were already in Fiji, striving to make a better life than what was back home. He left his other children in the care of relatives in India as he struggled to establish himself and save up enough money to get Tappoobhai and his brother Meghji over to Fiji.
Tappoobhai was at the mercy of circumstances. He had to put in a full day’s chores as well work long hours in the wheat fields for a pittance. Tappoobhai remembers his daily excursion into the nearby forest to graze the cattle. The forest was full of snakes and I used to be in deadly fear of them,he recalls.
A villager was bitten once and in those days the antidote was to pump in as much ghee (clarified butter) into the person to induce vomiting.
They forced about half a tin of ghee into him and he started vomiting- dark green and lots of it and he survived. Not everybody survived, he said.
The years passed with Tappoobhai working in the fields when work was available and surviving as best as circumstances allowed him to. Until the fateful day when tickets arrived for his brother and himself to journey to Fiji. He was 15 years old and only later he would find out that his father had sent money for the tickets much earlier but it had never reached its destination.
Near the Sigatoka river bank where Tappoobhai first arrived in a sail boat