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Passionate Pilgrim

For Gokaraju Ganga Raju, life is not a Midsummer Night's Dream, nor is it a Tempest. But, it is a Comedy of Errors. So, he professes, "live it As You Like It,'' say G.V. RAMANA RAO and A. SAYE SEKHAR

"HOW MUCH more there is to living! Instead of our drab slogging forth and back to the fishing boats, there's a reason to life! We can lift ourselves out of ignorance, we can find ourselves as creatures of excellence and intelligence and skill,'' said Jonathan Livingston Seagull to his flock of other gulls in Richard Bach's bestseller.

It was this spirit with which he travelled through his life and completed 60 eventful years. And, his urge to make the most of life gets revved up.

"Everybody is good, but it's the God's grace which makes a person successful. If the God helps to an extent of 90 per cent, the remaining should come from within us in the form of hard work.''

Thus believes the prominent industrialist, philanthropist and patron of sporting and spiritual activities, Gokaraju Ganga Raju. Modesty, humility and hospitality personified, Ganga Raju's popularity needs no introduction if the people who graced his `shashtyabdhi mahotsavam' (sixtieth birthday celebrations) are any indication.

Industrialists, bureaucrats, relatives and just friends waited in serpentine queues to wish and greet Ganga Raju and his better half, Laila, on the occasion. Andhra Loyola College auditorium was jam-packed with well-wishers scrambling to get on to the dais to greet the pious couple.

``I am overwhelmed by the affection showered on me. I wonder if I deserve it. I cannot bear to keep anybody waiting for me,'' he says about the love showed to him by Vijayawada. Who's who of the city came to the function to honour the couple.

The general manager of the South Central Railway, T. Stanley Babu, a good-old friend, distinguished bureaucrats like the Krishna District Collector, K.Prabhakara Reddy, the Divisional Railway Manager, J.N.Jagannadh, the VGTM Urban Development Authority vice-chairman, V.N.Vishnu, were all there to ''bless'' the couple.

A host of top-notch industrialists like Andhra Sugars group chairman, Mullapudi Harishchandra Prasad, the Kallam group of industries chairman, Kallam Harnatha Reddy and the chairman of Nagarjuna Constructions Company, A.V.S Raju, Varun Motors' Prabhu Kishore, Padmaja Corporation's Prabhu Prasad, Popular Shoe Company's Chukkapalli Pitchaiah, were there to partake in the great occasion. And, the list of big wigs is endless.

The list of VIPs will be incomplete if the name of the former minister and former MP, Kanumuri Bapi Raju, Gangaraju's own brother-in-law, is not mentioned. He enlivened the occasion with his rustic jokes.

Though Ganga Raju belonged to a well-to-do family, he began his career as a humble chemist in his uncle's pharmaceutical company -- G.S.Raju's Siris -- with a niggardly salary of Rs 500. He started his own industry -- Chemiloids -- at Aswaraopet in Khammam district -- after learning the ropes while holding several posts in his uncle's firm. He started Chemiloids with his associates in 1976 for the extraction and export of ayurvedic extracts and for the manufacture of phytochemicals. The company moved into doldrums when the single most importer of the Chemiloids' make -- the US of A -- imposed a ban on the product. Huh...his hopes shattered and future looked grim.

But, Ganga Raju did not give it up. It was seven long years of wait. It was a prince to pauper story for him, as he had to sell away his most envied bungalows on the ring road.

But then, he picked up threads from where he lost the ground. This is where one can draw a parallell between him and Jonathan Livingston Seagull.

"I was a sportsman. I was the captain of the Andhra University cricket team. It was with the spirit of a sportsman that emboldened me to turn Chemiloids around as a challenge,'' Ganga Raju recalles with a grin on his face.

Ever since, there was no looking back. Then, he set his eyes on diversification of his business and many new ventures began coming up -- all named after his wife, Laila.

He wants to put Vijayawada on the tourism map of India by developing a world class resort on the banks of the Krishna in Guntur district and a multiplex with three mini-theatres, shopping and family entertainment centre. A star-hotel is also coming up on the Bandar Road.

``Laila needs just Rs 15,000 to Rs 20,000 to run the show in the house. She is not enomoured of the riches. She is simple and great,'' Ganga Raju says proudly.

His eldest son, Ranga Raju, a chemical engineer, second son, Rama Raju, a pharmacist are helping him in running the companies.

His son-in-law, M.R.L Raju, and daughter, Padmaja, are well established NRIs. Withdrawing himself from the rigmarole, he wants to take a break outside the country some time later.

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