The only Hindu sheikh used to lend money to Sultan of Oman

Last Updated 07 March 2019, 10:32 IST

The world’s only Hindu Sheikh is Sheikh Kanaksi Khimji, the head of Khimji Ramdas Group of Companies, as the title was granted by the Sultan of Oman to him.

It was 144 years ago that his grandfather Ramdas Thackersey came to Oman in 1870 and since then the Khimjis have prospered.

Thackersey had set sail from the coastal town of Mandvi to relocate his growing business to Muscat for faster access to strategic ports.

His forefathers, dhow merchants from Mandvi, had landed in Sur in Oman in the mid-1800s.

As traders, they brought grain, tea and spices from India and took back dates, dry lime, and frankincense from the sultanate of Oman.

Muscat, Oman’s capital, was, at that time, a very active port. Thackersey’s son, Khimji Ramdas, followed him and together, they sowed the seeds of a global enterprise that is today one of the largest business groups in Oman.

Those were the days, when there was no oil wealth in the Middle East, and the Khimji family, had been lending money to Sultan sa’id, the father of the present ruler Sultan Qaboos.

When he became the ruler, Sultan Qab­oos granted Omani citizenship to
the Khimjis.

Khimji Ramdas Group of Compa­ni­e­s passed on from generation to generation and in 1970 Thackersey’s great-grandson, Kanaksi Khimji, took over from his father, Gokaldas, after finishing his education in Mumbai.

Today, with an annual turnover of more than $1 billion, the group is the
chosen partner of more than 400 top global brands in consumer products, lifestyle, infrastructure, projects and logistics.

The present head of the family  Sheikh Kanaksi Khimji, a practising Gujarati Vaishnav, was born in 1936 in Muscat; and he completed his matriculation in Mumbai.

It has business operations in India and the UAE and is a corporate member of the World Economic Forum.

“We see achievements as milestones in the quest for excellence. We just want to be the best,” says 77-year-old tycoon Kanaksi Khimji.

The great consideration Oman has towards Hindus in Oman, is largely due to the Khimjis -- a powerful business family, that has a great say in various ministries of the country.

The present head of the family happens to be an uncompromising vegetarian, his devotion is anchored to Lord Shreenathji, his office kitchen serves delicacies like rotla and chaas that keep everybody’s palate satisfied with wholesome/vegetarian
Gujarati delicacies.

Though his admired entrepreneurship branches out across the globe, his roots lie in Gujarat.

His business acumen is so well recognised that the Sultan of Oman gave his yacht Lo’Lo’ to this person of Indian origin, for developing tourism business in the Sultanate.

Dressed in a flowing full-length robe and wearing the kaffiyeh, the cloth that covers the head, Khimji easily passes off as an Omani.

When he married in 1960, Khimji was presented with a silver jug by Sultan sa’id Taimur Bin Faisal.

The queen mother, Bibi Mahezun, had given him two of her photographs, a privilege accorded to only a few.

Thanks to the pioneering spirit of Kanaksi Khimji in education, there are now 14 Indian schools in Oman, with 17,000 NRI students.

Notably, as Hindus, the family traditionally has not inter-married with non-Indians, but one member of the family, Rishi Khimji, is now married to Sayyida Tania al-sa’id, the daughter of Sayyid Shabib al-sa’id, the founder of Tawoos Group; Sayyida Tania is an increasingly visible environmental activist and among the most publicly active female al-Saids.

When Kanaksi Khimji took over the family business in 1970, motorised navigational ships weren't launched in Oman yet. Earlier, during the two World Wars, the Khimjis were chosen as supplier for provisions for the entire base of allied forces.

“This gave us the opportunity to earn revenue and strengthen our base. We quickly learnt the art of supply chain management and maritime shore supp­ort,” says Pankaj Khimji, son of Kanaksi Khimji and director of the group.

Life before the Omani Renaissance, though, was tough. “The pre-70s were very different as there was no electricity or piped water.

We went to wells to take bath and clean clothes.

At least one lantern was required to walk on the streets after sunset. It was a close-knit community that lived in Muscat andMuttrah. The gates of Muscat closed at sundown,” recalls Kanakbhai.

(Published 19 April 2014, 20:00 IST)

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