Bikash Chowdhury has lived quite an extraordinary life. Born to an impoverished family in Bhowanipore, Kolkata, he persevered through abject poverty and consequent hardships. His family resided in a streetside hut, adjacent to which his father ran his laundry stall. Today, he is the Head Treasury of JSW Steel. A meteoric rise.
“I believe I am here today because my ‘parents’ had faith in me. Their advice would guide me at every step of my life,” he tells The Better India (TBI).
The ‘parents’ he is talking about are Arun Lal, the former Indian cricketer and his wife, Debjani Lal.
Bikash shares an exceptional bond with the former cricketer. Unknown to many, back in the early 1990s, Arun and Debjani showered their love and care on Bikash, the teenage son of their washerman.
With their support, Bikash overcame all hurdles in life to emerge at the pinnacle of success today. Today, he admits to being fortunate enough to have two sets of parents: “My biological parents, and of course, the Lals.”
Bonding Over Orange Squash
As a child, Bikash used to play football with his friends at the local park where Arun would come every day to give cricket coaching to a bunch of youngsters. As a young boy of 12, he would also accompany his father often while visiting the Lals, to get their clothes for washing. It was during one such visit that Arun’s wife Debjani inquired Bikash about his studies and offered to help him with English lessons. Thus was the start of a permanent bond.
“My prime attraction was orange squash,” laughs Bikash. His English lessons at the Lals almost always happened over a glass of the tangy drink. He started visiting them more and more yearning for a glass of that simple orange delicacy, while the Lals, who do not have a child of their own, started looking upon him as a son.
Arun Lal was at the peak of his cricket career at that time, but he always made sure to make time for Bikash.
“He taught me the core values of life. At every step, he inspired me to be a better person. Without their help, I would not be standing where I am today,” Bikash shares with a hint of emotion in his voice.
A Reality Check
From once or twice a week, the frequency of Bikash’s visits increased to almost every day. Debjani and Arun always welcomed him, offering him support, care and guidance throughout. And it was not just in academics where he received their help.
“I was intensely passionate about football. I was quite good at the sport where I played as a midfielder. At one point, I was determined to pursue football as my career. I even played in Junior East Bengal, one of the first division clubs in Kolkata,” he shares.
It was Arun who gave Bikash the most important and relevant piece of advice. Despite hailing from a sports background himself, Arun did not encourage him to follow his passion on the soccer field. Instead, like a guide, he made him aware of the challenges of a sporting career and dissuaded him from taking a hasty decision which he might regret later.
A career in football in India did not look so appealing at the time. Arun apprised Bikash how a sudden injury can throw his entire career off the rails at any moment. He also shared the little known hardships that affect a sportsperson’s life.
Weighing all the pros and cons of Arun’s advice, Bikash decided to focus on his studies and let go of his obsession with football. He was reasonably good in academics, and with guidance from the Lals, he aced his 10th Boards with an impressive 92 per cent marks.
An Amazing Academic Journey
The latter part of Bikash’s academic journey is equally inspiring. After completing his schooling, in 1995, he secured admission to St. Xavier’s College in Kolkata to pursue a Bachelor’s degree in Commerce, and graduated in 1998.
During that time, Bikash worked part-time with a travel agency and also took tuitions to earn money for his family. “My education was completely funded by the Lals who had become my own family by then. So whatever I earned I gave entirely to my biological family. It helped fund the education of my two younger sisters.”
The ex-cricketer also proposed to finance the education of Bikash’s sisters, but Bikash politely turned down the offer feeling that it would be too much on them. They were residing in a small rented apartment back then, which was a renovated garage.
But, their generosity pervaded beyond their struggles.
After pursuing his M.Com, Bikash got through IIM-Calcutta in 2002. Cracking his way in the premier institution was no cakewalk, but Bikash proved his mettle with dedication and hard work. Arun also financed his two-year MBA course at IIM.
“He inspires me to be a better person”
“I was offered a summer internship at Deutsche Bank in London, but I decided to stay back in India for my parents — both sets of them.”
In 2009, Bikash Chowdhury joined HDFC Bank, and in another five years, he started his career at JSW Steel.
There were social obstacles, indeed. It took Bikash a long time to get socially accepted. People would often make fun of his social status or sneered at his relationship with the Lals. But for him, only one thing mattered.
“As long as they believed in me, and I believed in them, nothing else mattered. I feel grateful that he accepted me as their son despite my humble background,” he says.
Arun proudly introduces him as his son in his inner social circle. Bikash even fondly refers to him as ‘Piggy’ — a nickname given to Arun by his sister for his voracious appetite.
Having A Little Faith Goes A Long Way
Whenever someone expresses their shock and surprise about Bikash’s meteoric career trajectory, Debjani has only one thing to say — “Because he has the brains”. She adds that their financial or social background should never adjudge a person’s capability.
“He has the intelligence; he doesn’t have the opportunity. If I can bridge that gap, I will do it” — such was the attitude of Arun towards Bikash. Today, he is a ‘father’ who is incredibly proud of his ‘son’. Recently, Bikash even presented the couple with a brand new Mercedes Benz.
In January 2016, Arun was diagnosed with rare jaw cancer. His condition was quite concerning and even the doctors prayed for a miracle. But, the gritty batsman persisted. Today, he has defeated the deadly disease and is slowly returning to a healthy life.
Hardly a day goes by that Bikash does not call to check upon him. Bikash still makes sure to visit them around five or six times a year, every time he is in Kolkata. Arun returns the favour by dropping in at Bikash’s Mumbai home every time he is in the city.
When asked about how he feels today about the challenges he once endured in life, Bikash Chowdhury smiles. “I can go about listing 20,000 challenges. But, I would prefer to look at the better side — the love, care and support that I have received. I have named my daughter Arunima after him. I thought it was fair to offer this tribute to my ‘father’ — Arun Lal.”
(Edited by Saiqua Sultan)