Curry King Lord Ghulam Noon passes away

Ghulam Noon
Sir Gulam Noon: UK’s  Curry King talks to Vijay Rana
London, 21-02-2010

He buys Mahatma Gandhi’s letters and other memorabilia from all over the world and donates them to the government of India. He owns the earliest surviving painting of MF Husain and a collection of more than 100 cricket bats signed by almost all the top cricketers in the world. He holds honorary doctorates from six British universities and has been knighted by the Queen. With a glitter in his eyes the honorary life vice president of Surrey County Cricket Club says, ‘I still love to play cricket whenever I can.’ Sir Gulam Noon, the chairman and founder of the Noon Products Ltd, is a man of multiple facets and is widely recognised as the Curry King of the United Kingdom.

In Audio  My Eary Life: Sir Gulam Noon

Set up in 1989, the company specialises in frozen and chilled ready made Indian and oriental meals. The £160-million company has four plants with a floor space of 350,000 square feet and supplies to major supermarkets like Sainsbury’s, Waitrose, Morrisons and Marks and Spencer. “I was at the right place at the right time. Indian food was surfacing with a vengeance. Already there were 6 thousand Indian restaurants in the UK. So I piggyback myself on these Indian restaurants.” Noon Products produces 400,000 ready meals every day, six days a week and has a 48% market share in the Indian food business. Besides Indian meals, it produces a vast range of Chinese, Mexican, Thai and Italian meals. Noon products are known for their ‘Quality and authenticity,’ he says.

Meanwhile, Noon’s parent company Bombay Halwa Ltd operating under the brand name of Royal Sweets has been doing exceedingly well. For an Indian living in the UK Royal Sweets, with 39 shops across the country, is a household name.

In Audio My Business and my Interests: Lord Gulam Noon

Noon insists that he take his clients ‘very sincerely’, occasionally taking them to India to have a taste of the wide variety of Indian food – from street food stalls to the five-star restaurants.

So how he built such a successful business? Noon says Britain is a great country to do business. Besides hard work and calculated risk, he insists on honesty and integrity. “Integrity is very important in this country if you want to do business with large companies because their corporate governance is one hundred per cent here. You can’t have a lackadaisical attitude in this country, for example ‘ye chal jaayega’ there is nothing like ‘chal jayega’ in this country.”

Noon was born in 1936 in Mumbai. Father Kaderbhai helped his brother Kamruddin at his Crawford Market confectionary, called ‘Kamruddin Ebrahamjee’. Mother Safiabai was from Shiraz in Iran, who had come to India at the age of nine with her father. The family originally came from Sunel, a village near Bhavani Mandi in Rajasthan. Kaderbhai died after a prolonged illness when Noon was just ten years old, leaving huge medical bills, a crippling debt and the family business in complete ruins. Noon’s brother-in-law Mohammed Husain walked in to help the family and young Noon would come straight from school to help in the shop.

Slowly, the school took a backseat and the shop swallow up most of his life. Within a few years, he amicably took over the business from Husain. “The name ‘Kamrudding Ebrahamjee’ on the facia was obviously Muslim… simply putting off non-Muslims… At Diwali, when we should have been the busiest, we were twiddling our thumbs.” One day having changed the name as ‘Royal Sweets’ when Noon arrived at the home, his mother was furious. She thought it was an insult to his uncle’s memory. “Her stinging slap landed on my cheek. I was stunned and asked her why she had done that. “You did not do it alone,” was her rebuke.”

While family and friends advised caution, Noon’s ambition remained untamed. He soon diversified into paper packaging, plastic moulding and property investments. He was also socially recognised. Before he turned thirty, he was a Justice of Peace, the president of Road Safety Welfare Organisation and the Secretary of the Bombay Sweet Meat Merchant Association.

In June 1966, he caused further alarm within his family when he announced his wish to go to England. A month later he was in London and within a few days he was able to forge a 50:50 partnership to set up Royal Sweets in London with an old Mumbai neighbour, Taherbhai Suterwalla, who had established a major wholesale Indian grocery business in London.

There are three categories of moneyed men – those who only know how to earn money; those who know how best to spend it and finally those who dare to give it back to the community. Surely, Noon belongs to the last category. In his native Bhawani Mandi, he has opened a 150-bed modern hospital, where poor are treated free. In his ancestral town of  Sunel town and ten adjoining villages he had helped to improve water and sanitation projects. He had donated £200,000 to Tower Hamlets College, based in the poorest quarters of London. He gave a sum of £50,000 to the British Library ‘Turning Pages’ project where visitors can read the digital version of world’s oldest Ramayana and Quran by literally turning pages. “Charity is in my blood. I inherited it. My father opened a small hospital in Sunel in 1925, and my mother was a most charitable women”, says Noon.

Over the last few years, he had three times purchased the letters and memorabilia of Mahatma Gandhi and donated them to the government of India. He is almost lyrical about Gandhi, “his message of tolerance, love and non-violence inspired us all.” Noon’s services are widely recognised by the community and that’s why he is one of the most decorated Indians in London, winning almost every conceivable honour and award that is around.

In 2005, he found himself engulfed in the infamous cash-for-honours controversy. When filing his papers for the membership of the House of Lords, he was advised by the Labour Party’s official fundraiser Lord Levy not to declare his £250,000 loan that he had given to the party. He made it emphatically plane to the government enquiry that he did so on the specific advice of Lord Levy, who had told him that only donations are needed to be declared, not loans. The Crown Prosecution service later concluded that Noon had committed no wrong.

“I was confident of myself, and I marched on. I never brood over things.” He gives the example of the Indian elephant who never looks back while marching ahead.

Noon’s morning begins with classical music or all time greats of Manna Dey and KL Sahgal. The day begins in his plush St James Park office, decorated with 100 cricket bats, and the oldest surviving painting of legendary MF Hussain. Hussain was struggling as a painter in 1936 when Noon’s brother commissioned this portrait for a princely sum of Rs. 15.

His bond with India is still strong, and his business is thriving in India. Royal Sweet is still prospering, packaging business is going strong, and he has other interest too that often take him to the city of his birth. But one visit he would never forget. On the night of 26/11 when Pakistani terrorist walked into the iconic Tajmahal hotel, he was staying there as a guest. Luckily, he has cancelled his visit to the restaurant and decided to have his dinner in his room with two of his friends. He spent that night sitting like a stone, not even blinking, and terrifyingly listening to the thuds of terrorist’s boots and rifle shots. Next morning the fire brigade brought him down through his first-floor window.
Ends
Journalist Vijay Rana is the editor of www.nrifm.com, web’s first talk radio for the NRIs.
Sir Gulam Noon: The Curry King of the United Kingdom
Vijay Rana, London, 21-02-2010

He buys Mahatma Gandhi’s letters and other memorabilia from all over the world and donates them to the government of India. He owns the earliest surviving painting of MF Husain and a collection of more than 100 cricket bats signed by almost all the top cricketers in the world. He holds honourary doctorates from six British universities and has been knighted by the Queen. With a glitter in his eyes the honourary life vice president of Surrey County Cricket Club says, ‘I still love to play cricket whenever I can.’ Sir Gulam Noon, the chairman and founder of the Noon Products Ltd, is a man of multiple facets and is widely recognised as the Curry King of the United Kingdom.

Set up in 1989, the company specialises in frozen and chilled ready made Indian and oriental meals. The £160 million company has four plants with a floor space of 350,000 square feet and supplies to major supermarkets like Sainsbury’s, Waitrose, Morrisons and Marks and Spencer. “I was at the right place at the right time. Indian food was surfacing with vengeance. Already there were 6 thousand Indian restaurants in the UK. So I piggyback myself on these Indian restaurants.” Noon Products produces 400,000 ready meals every day, six days a week and has a 48% market share in the Indian food business. Besides Indian meals, it produces a vast range of Chinese, Mexican, Thai and Italian meals. Noon products are known for their ‘Quality and authenticity,’ he says.

Meanwhile, Noon’s parent company Bombay Halwa Ltd operating under the brand name of Royal Sweets has been doing exceedingly well. For an Indian living in the UK Royal Sweets, with 39 shops across the country, is a household name.

Noon insists that he take his clients ‘very sincerely’, occasionally taking them to India to have a taste of the wide variety of Indian food – from street food stalls to the five star restaurants.

So how he built such a successful business? Noon says Britain is a great country to do business. Besides hard work and calculated risk, he absolutely insists on honesty and integrity. “Integrity is very important in this country if you want to do business with large companies, because their corporate governance is one hundred per cent here. You can’t have a lackadaisical attitude in this country, for example ‘ye chal jaayega’ there is nothing like ‘chal jayega’ in this country.”

Noon was born in 1936 in Mumbai. Father Kaderbhai helped his brother Kamruddin at his Crawford Market confectionary, called ‘Kamruddin Ebrahamjee’. Mother Safiabai was from Shiraz in Iran, who had come to India at the age of nine with her father. The family originally came from Sunel, a village near Bhavani Mandi in Rajasthan. Kaderbhai died after a prolonged illness when Noon was just 10 years old, leaving huge medical bills, a crippling debt and the family business in complete ruins. Noon’s brother-in-law Mohammed Husain walked in to help the family and young Noon would come straight from school to help in the shop.

Slowly, the school took a backseat and the shop swallow up most of his life. Within a few years he amicably took over the business from Husain. “The name ‘Kamrudding Ebrahamjee’ on the facia was obviously Muslim… simply putting off non-Muslims… At Diwali, when we should have been the busiest, we were twiddling our thumbs.” One day having changed the name as ‘Royal Sweets’, when Noon arrived at home, his mother was furious. She thought it was an insult to his uncle’s memory. “Her stinging slap landed on my cheek. I was stunned and asked her why she had done that. “You did not do it alone,” was her rebuke.”

While family and friends advised caution, Noon’s ambition remained untamed. He soon diversified into paper packaging, plastic moulding and property investments. He was also socially recognised. Before he turned thirty, he was a Justice of Peace, the president of Road Safety Welfare Organisation and the Secretary of the Bombay Sweet Meat Merchant Association.

In June 1966, he caused further alarm within his family when he announced his wish to go to England. A month later he was in London and within a few days he was able to forge a 50:50 partnership to set up Royal Sweets in London with an old Mumbai neighbour, Taherbhai Suterwalla, who had established a major wholesale Indian grocery business in London.

There are three categories of moneyed men – those who only know how to earn money; those who know how best to spend it and finally those who dare to give it back to the community. Surely, Noon belongs to the last category. In his native Bhawani Mandi he has opened a 150 bed modern hospital, where poor are treated free. In his ancestral town of  Sunel town and 10 adjoining villages he had helped to improve water and sanitation projects. He had donated £200,000 to Tower Hamlets College, based in the poorest quarters of London. He gave a sum of £50,000 to the British Library ‘Turning Pages’ project where visitors can read the digital version of world’s oldest Ramayana and Quran by literally turning pages. “Charity is in my blood. I inherited it. My father opened a small hospital in Sunel in 1925 and my mother was a most charitable women”, says Noon.

Over the last few years he had three times purchased the letters and memorabilia of Mahatma Gandhi and donated them to the government of India. He is almost lyrical about Gandhi, “his message of tolerance, love and non-violence inspired us all.” Noon’s services are widely recognised by the community and that’s why he is one of the most decorated Indians in London, winning almost every conceivable honour and award that is around.

In 2005, he found himself engulfed in the infamous cash-for-honours controversy. When filing his papers for the membership of the House of Lords, he was advised by the Labour Party’s official fundraiser Lord Levy not to declare his £250,000 loan that he had given to the party. He made it emphatically plane to the government enquiry that he did so on the specific advise of Lord Levy, who had told him that only donations are needed to be declared, not loans. The Crown Prosecution service later concluded that Noon had committed no wrong.

“I was confident of myself and I marched on. I never brood over things.” He gives the example of the Indian elephant who never looks back while marching ahead.

Noon’s morning begins with classical music or all time greats of Manna Dey and KL Sahgal. The day begins in his plush St James Park office, decorated with 100 cricket bats, and the oldest surviving painting of legendary MF Hussain. Hussain was struggling as a painter in 1936, when Noon’s brother commissioned this portrait for a princely sum of Rs. 15.

His bond with India is still strong, so does his business in India. Royal Sweet is still prospering, packaging business is going strong and he has other interest too that often take him to the city of his birth. But one visit he would never forget. On the night of 26/11 when Pakistani terrorist walked into the iconic Tajmahal hotel, he was staying there as a guest. Luckily, he has cancelled his visit to restaurant and decided to have his dinner in his room with two of his friends. He spent that night sitting like a stone, not even blinking, and terrifyingly listening to the thuds of terrorist’s boots and rifle shots. Next morning the fire brigade brought him down through his first floor window.
 

 

 

 

 

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