Gian Vijeshwar is a Sweden-based businessman of Indian origin, who is head-honcho of his firm, International Amusement Limited (IAL). He is well-known in the annals of the Indian amusement industry, and is credited with successfully setting-up one of the first amusement parks in India, the famous “Appu Ghar.” Presently the Chairman & MD of IAL and a director on the board of ‘Unitech Amusement Parks Ltd.’ NRI Achievers met Gian Vijeshwar recently, and quizzed him on his personal and professional experiences.
“When I initially started out on my own, I had bought a shop in Sweden, but after some time I realised that I had made a mistake by setting up in the outskirts. So I decided to correct my mistake, and proceeded to set up shop in the centre. That time round, though I did not have much money to burn, I did not think too much about it. After that i have never looked back. I come from an affluent family of Punjab, to be precise, from Amritsar. When I was a little boy in school, my teachers often used to forget my name and just call me “Prince” instead. Figuratively, I also lived a ‘princely’ kind of life. At a time when most people had but one or two sweaters for winters, I used to have some 18 suits for my school uniform. I have done my BA and MA from Chandigarh, where I was accommodated at a hostel. Afraid that I would fail in my exams, I decided to run away from home, so after sending all my luggage home from my hostel, I came to Delhi. At that time I had just 500 rupees in my pocket, so I booked passage on a cargo ship from Mumbai to Basra (Iraq) for 480 rupees, which left me with just 20 rupees in my pocket.
That remaining 20 rupees I converted into 1 US Dollar and 35 Cents and went to one of my friends in Mumbai. He was very concerned about my ‘folly’ and was angry with me. He pointed out that I came from a high-society family not used to this kind of lifestyle … “You won’t know even how to wash utensils. You won’t survive a week there …” That conversation touched me so hard and i decided to take this up as a challenge, and so, I took off all the jewellery I had on me, my watch, my bracelet, etc., and handed them over to him, to send back to my family in Punjab, and decided to proceed thoroughly empty-handed to check my calibre, mettle and potential. So I began this second life of mine, with just a single set of clothes on my body, and no more money except the US $ 1.35 in my pockets … my friend’s anger and his words served as the spur and true reason behind my actions then. Our passage from Mumbai to Basra took 18 days instead of 3 due to weather problems, and I survived the ordeal only on water, and without much in the form of food. Out of the 268 people on the cargo ship who boarded at Mumbai, 264 had decided to return back to India by the time the ship docked at Basra, leaving just 4 of us who did not want to go back even after the torturous journey.
I took up my first job soon enough, in a Medical Company though I had no Degree or Diploma related to the Chemical or Medical Industry. But I somehow managed to make myself worthy enough in the Medical Lab I found a job in. After about a year and a half at this job, I switched to an new firm as a chemical engineer and controlling head of the company, and I was on this job for almost 5 years. I returned to India for the first time since running away from home in 1973. I was and am still quite attached to my home town. Subsequently, I got married in india, and then decided to quit my job and start my own business. That’s my story. I have now spent 18 plus years of my life in sweden.
One day, sitting in my office steeped in nostalgia and thinking about my childhood, my school life and old friends, I sort of hit upon the idea of connecting once again with all my old friends from school … so I set out tracing them, and succeeded in finding and establishing links with 38 of them … all in different-different places of the world today … We decided to have a reunion, and so I organised one in India at one of the well-known 5-star properties. We got together and shared our trajectories of life, our memories, experiences et al., and the next morning we all left from there to go to our home town (Khanna) … We visited our school, where we were welcomed very nicely indeed. We found two people from our time still alive and living in the town, the 90-yr old Headmaster of our time in school, and a Peon of the school who was 88-89 years old … I decided to give some money to my Headmaster and that Peon, but only 1 or 2 of my schoolmates found it fit to contribute. I found that attitude a bit strange and odd — they were all well settled and doing extremely well monetarily, but maybe their hearts remained small ?
I am very fond of my father and mother and love their memory. So now I have established a school in my town in my father’s memory, called the “Lala Sarkarumal Sarvhitkari Vidhyapeeth Mandir”. It Is today the biggest school in the region. I Have two sons, my elder one is called Monny Vijender and younger is called Robbin Vijender. Monny looks after the day-to-day operations and administration of the ‘Great India Place Mall’ and the ‘Worlds of Wonder’ amusement park, and Robbin looks after the overall corporate affairs of the IAL group of companies & our upcoming future projects. I have always taught my sons to never look back at their lives, whether good or bad, and to always stay focused and be straight, thinking more about the present rather than the past. Whatever you do in your life, do it from your heart and never think too much about money. Everything is just a matter of time. I am also a religious person, and i have much faith in “Mata Naina Devi.” I am sure that I could not have achieved all this without her blessings.
Appu Ghar, located in New Delhi, was India’s first and most popular amusement park. It was in 1984 that I was fortunate enough to get a proposal from the late PM Shrimati Indira Gandhi, to set up and open an amusement park in India. She was the one who suggested the name of “Appu Ghar” for the park. At that time, I did not even know what the meaning of ‘Appu Ghar’ was. And I accepted the proposal without thinking too much about it. Frankly, I wanted to be back in India with a bang, and I thought this was a great opportunity. I am now very thankful to Shrimati Indira Gandhi for this path-breaking project. Appu Ghar was set-up within 7 days, and we decided to inaugurate it on her birthday (19 oct 1984).