G.D. Birla had a humble start as a jute broker 74 years ago. Then he became a top textile industrialist. Now, as patriarch of India's second-largest family business house, he has given a long look at his country's past and future. He is semiretired and devotes much of his time to Hindu activities. He met with reporter Clayton Jones after a hike up to a Hindu temple in the Himalayas:
On profits: Moneymaking is not the only purpose in life. But if you don't make money, you can't make a contribution.
On India: All the countries in this world have changed. But India, for the last 3,000 years, has not changed basically. We have got our philosophy, and despite changes in standard of living, food, and education, we firmly believe in dharma (self-restraint and duty to others).
On population: All that we produce is swallowed up by a rising population. But you take it from me, this country is a very mature country. People have got wisdom. And in course of time, when it is realized that it is essential to curb the population, the people will do it.
On Mahatma Gandhi: If one thinks that Gandhi was responsible for getting independence for India, then one is wrong. He was in politics only by chance. He was a thinker like Buddha or any great philosopher. The purpose of his life was to do good. He fought against the British, but he never hated them. He was a giant.
On Japan: In Japan, there is complete collaboration between government, industry, and labor. Indian labor is not at all disciplined. We inherited it from the British. . . . After some years, we will be the most important country in Asia - more than Japan, because Japan has to import and export everything. We have our own markets and resources.
On Birla: There is no such thing as a Birla group anymore. My sons and grandson are running the businesses, and because I am the head of the family, they come to me if necessary. It is a kind of - you can't describe it. We are all of the same view in the family, but there is a competition among our different companies.
On bureaucracy: Thirty years back, we didn't have to work with government so much. It is a recent development. In the old days, if I had any problem, I would just go to (former Prime Minister Jawaharlal) Nehru. But now there is a kind of democracy.