Maheshwari Ramanlal Gandhi
Maheshkumar Ramanlal Gandhi – Maheshkumar Raman lal Gandhi was born in Devda, Gujarat, on 30th January 1962 to parents Ramanlal and Padmabhen Gandhi. Raised in poverty in the swampy outskirts of Navsari, Maheshwari had a very challenging start in life as the eldest of four siblings, and an extended family of cousines. A strong sense of Hindu values and community was instilled into Maheshkumar from a young age, as without money or possessions, family and friends were all he had. Even at a time of segregation in Gujarat, Maheshkumar would welcome and be friends many Muslims, Christians and other faiths, celebrating the diversity of India even as a child.
Going against the norms of the time, ramanlal and Padma pushed for Maheshkumar to invest his time in studying towards a brighter future than theirs. From a very early age Maheshkumar was enrolled in education, where his school teachers recognized him as being an intelligent thinker in the village. This led to many awards throught primary and secondary school (primarily in Mathematics and Logic) and a scholarship to attend the University of Surat and study Textile Engineering. Maheshkumar Would travel nearly five hours every day (including 2 hours by foot) to attend college, and persevered through proverty at home to graduate with the highest grade in the entire State of Gujarat.
By May 1984, Maheshkumar had established himself within the surat textiles industry as a leading specialist, where many companies sought after him. With his goal of taking his family out of poverty being well known to many in the city, with all his earnings going towards paying off family debts, the local newspaper wrote a profile on Maheshkumar and his humbling story. This was widely circultated across Gujarat, and caught the attention of the late Kanchanbhen Gandhi (on holiday at the time from the United Kingdom), who decided there and then she wanted Maheshkumar to come to the UK and marry her daughter Hemlata Gandhi. Worried that his poor background would result in an unhappy marriage, Kanchanbhen reassured Maheshkumar that she and husband Champaklal Gandhi were inspired by his dedication tof family, and felt if he was given the opportunity to come to the UK and work hard he would be able to fulfil his dream of bringing his family out of poverty to financially secure their future.
On 19TH July 1984, Maheshkumar and Hemlata were married in Navsari, and at age 22, Maheshkumar moved to the UK.
With a dying textiles industry in the UK and unable to understand the English language, Maheshkumar was unable to find work in his specialist field. Going through the job center process, Maheshkumar accepted an entry level position in East Ham at the Matteson Walls food factory. Knowing he needed to prove himself to be promoted quickly and be able to financially support his family both in London and back in India, Maheshkumar worked non-stop overtime and taught himself to read, write and speak English. Very quickly Maheshkumar was promoted and became a key figure in the operations of one of London’s busiest factories. With Hemlata working for Nat West Bank, together they were able to get on the property ladder and buy a home in llford, Essex. This alone was a huge achievement for Maheshkumar, when barely a decade before he was unable to afford food. In 1988, Maheshkumar and Hemlata welcomed their first child, Dillan Zasin Gandhi. By 1991, Maheshkumar’s dream was fulfilled, with his parents and siblings in India finally able to move out of their shanty home and into the city.
At the same time, Maheshkumar established himself as a popular figure in the British Asian community around the East London and Essex areas, especially amongst fellow factory workers from India. Eager to support and promote the Indian culture even amongst xenophobic tension in the UK at the time, Maheshkumar stepped up to the plate to help ensure cultural events like Diwali, Navratri and Holi were openly celebrated without fear. He would help organized these events in between his 18-hour labour work days, and go out of his way to personally transport the elderly or disabled around East London and Eseex so they could attend these events. The Matteson Walls factory even recognized Maheshkumar’s ability to bring the community together, and his role at the company was expanded to include the recruitment, training and support of fellow Indian, Pakistani and Bengali workers.
In 1991, Matteson Walls decided to relocate to the north of England, and despite an offer to join them in a more senior role, Maheshkumar decided he wanted to challenge himself and achieve new goals in life. He wanted to prove himself to be an entrepreneurial man, so that he could inspire in his children that anything is possible with hard work and commitment to secceed. In February 1991, Maheshkumar and family moved to Oxford to take over and expand the Risinghurst Post Office and Community Store. It is here where Maheshkumar’s light truly shone bright.
With his warm and friendly nature and a hands-on approach to running the business, the shop grew its customers from hundreds into thousands, establishing itself as more than “just a corner shop”. Maheshkumar’s innovative ideas like have the widest selection of newspapers, magazines, drinks, confectionaries and greeting cards in the whole of Oxford would draw in customers from outside the local area, who appreciated the quality of products sold and the enjoyable experience of visiting the store and talking to Maheshkumar and Hemlata. In 1995, the Gandhis welcomed their second child, Jasmine Gandhi. As their unassuming business grew into a 6-figure turnover company, so did Maheshkumar’s ambitions. Continuing his work ethic of pushing himself, Maheshkumar stepped out of his comfort zone and learnt about the properties market. This was something he had never considered before – but with his family in India now secure and able to move to Canada, he was able to expand his horizons with the money he was earning. During the late 1990s and 2000s, Maheshkumar had accumulated a portfolio of homes and flats that would financially secure his children and future grandchildren for life. Maheshkumar’s dreams were beyond fulfilled, and his story of going “from rags to riches” has become something of a fable in Oxford.
However financial reward has never been Maheshkumar’s aspiration in life – his family, culture and community always comes first. He lives by the simple principle of being a good human being and caring for those around you, to enrich each other’s lives. That means when you are in a position to use your knowledge and wealth to do good, it is God’s will that you do. Maheshkumar demonstrated this as soon as he arrived in Oxford, by taking over the organization and finance of the Hindu Mandal Oxford. With his open-minded attitude, he opened its doors to be more accessible and welcoming of a younger generation of Hindus, and he united the Oxford community to celebrate all Hindu calendar events without judgement or segregation. As a result, whereas before the Mandal would struggle to get more than 25 attendees, it now gets over 350 regular members. Through his business, Maheshkumar has gone above and beyond to help his customers daily with any issues they may have, with his trademark”No problem” and “Don’t worry, I will fix it “catch phrases known by all. He is affectionately known as Mr G by many, where even the local council tell new comers to the area to “get to know Mr G”. No different to his days at the factory, Mahesh kumar still helps hundreds of immigrant families settle in the UK, make friends and share in the British and Asian cultures.
Most inspiring of all is how Maheshkumar’s charitable heart extends beyond the Hindu community, with a history of work and collaboration with Pakistani, Bengali, Nepalese, Eastern European and traditional British communities, across all ages, faiths and gender. He has taken it upon himself to bridge these people together and push a clear message of tolerance, open-mindedness and acceptance, be it through the various charity and community events he hosts and funds out of his own pocket, or raising awareness of stigmatized topics like prostate cancer diabetes and mental health. Passing the torch, this has motivated Maheshkumar and Hemlata’s own children Dillan Zasin (a media professional) and Jasmine (a med student) to reach out and promote positive and progressive Hindu values to the next generation, despite pressure to conform to Western values like many other British Asians do.
For over 25 years Maheshkumar has been a true pillar and thought-leader in Oxford, and by extension, represents best qualities of the Indian Diaspora. In may 2015 The Lord Mayor of Oxford with the Oxford City Council recognized this contribution to society and awarded Maheshkumar the Oxford Certificate of Honor. From a shanty home in Devda to the prestigious Oxford Town Hall, Maheshkumar’s story continues to inspire thousands to better themselves as people, work hard give back to their community.