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From affluence to ashes

Ghanshyam Das Birla (1894-1983) was the greatest industrial magnate of modern India. He led an extremely principled life, which was the secret of his success. Starting his career with paltry resources at the age of twelve, he reached such a height of success that his family now has wider commercial interests than any other single-family in India.

Mr Birla would always rise at five in the morning and remain engrossed in his work until 9 pm. He led a very simple life, often cooking his own meals. He drank coffee instead of liquor and would take nothing but water in between meals. Whether in India or abroad, he never missed his morning walk.

On June 11, 1983, when he was in London, after breakfast he went out for a walk in Regent Street. After a while, he felt some discomfort and informed his aids. Alarmed, they brought him back home immediately. No sooner had he reached home than he collapsed.

A truly spiritual person strives to understand the purpose of his life and lives a life based on it.


He was taken to London’s Middlesex Hospital, where he regained consciousness for a while. “What is wrong with me, Doctor?” he inquired. The doctors told him that they would be able to say within five minutes, after a check-up. But he died before the doctors could complete their examination. It was Mr Birla’s wish that his last rites should be performed at the place of his death. Accordingly, he was cremated at an electric crematorium in London, and his ashes were brought to India to be scattered in the rivers of his mother country.

Mr Birla wrote many books. The Hindi title of one of them is Rupaye Ki Kahani or The Story of Money. Mr Birla’s story of money became a story of ashes in the end.

So it is with everyone in this world. Everyone is busy recording his success story, ignorant of what awaits him at the end of life’s journey. A truly spiritual person strives to understand the purpose of his life and lives a life based on it.

Maulana Wahiduddin Khan is an Islamic spiritual scholar who has authored over 200 books on Islam, spirituality, and peaceful coexistence in a multi-ethnic society.

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