In the land of yen, he promotes curry and India

July 11th, 2008 - 2:38 pm ICT by IANS  

A file-photo of Manmohan Singh
By Tarun Basu
Sapporo (Japan), July 11 (IANS) He is known as “Mr India” in this northern Japanese city, owns five Indian restaurants and earlier this week catered to the gastronomic needs of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and his delegation when they came for the G8 summit. Meet Daniel (Dilip) Mansukhani, now 59, who left India in 1968 after finishing high school in Mumbai.

Life has, since then, been an entrepreneurial adventure that has seen him open “curry” outlets not only in a part of Japan that did not even know Indians, but also in such remote places as the Sakhalin islands in Russia and Guam and Saipan (both US territories).

From working as a salesman with a tailor in Hong Kong to being appointed India’s honorary consul in Sapporo has been a journey of adventure, determination, high energy and patriotism for a man driven by two mantras - “Do everything with your own hands, or not at all” and “Think global, but act local”.

Even though a cook and his helper were part of the delegation of Manmohan Singh and his wife Gurcharan Kaur to Sapporo, it was Mansukhani and his team that provided the food to the prime minister in the specially equipped kitchen, complete with a roti tandoor.

“I worked from 5 a.m. and stayed up till 2 in the night to ensure everything was ship-shape,” Mansukhani told IANS, adding that the prime minister appreciated the food and the arrangements, even though his own requirement was very frugal and basic.

Born in Jaipur to parents who were from Karachi in Pakistan, Mansukhani moved to then Bombay for education before joining the family business in Hong Kong.

But his sense of enterprise and his desire to see new places and meet people soon made him restless in a city where Indians did not exactly enjoy a very good reputation those days and were generally looked down upon.

In 1971, within a year of starting his own business, he cut up his Hong Kong ID card and, after a bit of travelling, landed in Sapporo which was then hosting the Winter Olympics. That was when he fell in love with this city of pristine beauty and unspoilt people - but it was to be another few years before he put down his roots here.

He lived in Germany for three years, found a wife in Hamburg and then drove in a Mercedes Coupe to India, encountering a lot of adventures on the way, including being denied permission to drive through Afghanistan. In 1978, he came to Tokyo and started a clothing business, before revisiting Sapporo - this time on business.

Sporting a Charles Bronson-style moustache, Mansukhani was mistaken for either an American or an Italian. When he said he was an Indian, no one would believe him. It was then that he made a life-altering decision: “If I have to make India and Indian known here, there is nothing better to start an Indian restaurant.”

His first restaurant, a 100-seater, came up in downtown Sapporo in 1982 — called the Taj Mahal, a brand that he has promoted since then, not only for his chain of restaurants and fast-food outlets but also for his Indian provisions, pickles and spices.

An offshoot of his restaurants is the growing demand for his ‘Taj Mahal’ catering services, with clients including the Japanese defence forces on special occasions.

In tribute to his iconic India brand, the forces built a giant Taj Mahal at the snow festival here out of large blocks of ice and powered snow. Sapporo is said to get more snow than any city in the world.

“I have been very lucky,” Mansukhani said. “Almost all Indian ambassadors posted in Tokyo have visited my restaurants here and former ambassador Prakash Shah even made me an honorary consul to promote India and its tourism.

“I’m proud to be an Indian here,” says he. He retains his Indian passport but has permanent resident status in Japan.

He estimates his total business in catering and real estate to be around $15 million. One of the reasons for his success here, he says, is because he has been able to customise his food to the local palate, evidenced by the steady stream of Japanese diners at his restaurants.

“The Japanese love curry - but it has to be mild and without too much pungent spices,” says he.

He is contented with his business, is not planning too much diversification - “unless it is adventurous” - and has settled down to a second marriage with a Sindhi woman after his first wife decided to settle down in the US, where his three daughters also live.

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