Ammu sits amid a group of children of different grades in Irular colony in Chikapoovathi, teaching them different lessons.
Away, the sanguine sun was setting beyond the Then Penna River in Krishnagiri district in Tamil Nadu. She was in a hurry to wind up the class for the evening, because she has to go to her school the next day, requiring a bit of leg work.
" I dropped out after SSLC. I had to support my parents at work. It was then I got the opportunity to teach students in the colony. Their passion for studies made me continue my education. Now I am pursuing plus-one after two years' absence," She smiled with glazed eyes.
The glow in her eyes was lit by two people in Kerala: Faizal Kottikollon and his wife Shabana, the couple who lead Faizal and Shabana Foundation (FSF). 17-year-old Ammu is a tutor at the Mentoring Centre set up as part of the couple's Krishnagiri Development Project (KDP) aimed at rural development and empowerment of women. FSF runs KDP Mentoring Centres in 20 Irular colonies in six blocks of the district. Of the two centres, 12 are managed by tutors from the same community.
Faizal loves to be known for his work among the poor, rather than savouring the fanfare of landing at Global Investors meet in a Jumbo Jet and having a riveting entry accompanied by a fleet of Mercedes-Benz cars. All the chaos in the world would end with people dawning on the idea that no human is different, he believes. Rather than being a businessman, he is spiritual to the marrow; somebody with a perspicuous vision and outlook. Many of these admirers, including Dr. Sultan bin Muhammad Al Kasim, ruler of Sharjah and UAE Supreme Council member, attest to it.
Those days of working non-stop nine years
Between 1995 and 2004, the year that marked his expansion of business to Dubai, he had not taken a day off. Even today, he rarely does take a day off. He sources out energy for work from happiness. For the past 30 years, Faizal has been on this routine that fills him up with energy. And yoga is part of his life for the past 30 years. His day begins at five in the morning with reading, tennis, and running. He is daily slow-reading The Fall of Human Intellect by A Parthasarathy - afterwards hits yoga mat. "Life will never bore you if you understand that you are nothing, and you should serve the society, nation and the world. Everybody should discover his role in the world. Studies have found that the rich ones are the unhappiest lot in the world. Everybody is after money. We take our cars to maintenance without fail. We never take care of our body and mind. We fear that halting will stop money coming in." Faizal pauses to allow his words to sink in.
Fulfilling the dream he had in 1983…
Shelling out 800 crore rupees, he is happily implementing the idea engendered in his mind when he was 22 years old. KF Holding, chaired by Faizal, is setting up on 30 acres of land in Kozhikode's Chelembra the self-sufficient centre for "happiness'. This is the world's first luxury resort of its kind aiming at rendering happiness through well-being. The centre will dispel the notion that happiness can be bought. To me, being happy means a successful life, he said. The centre is designed to function autonomously with the sun, water, earth, and air. The centre will rely completely on solar energy. Food for the centre will come from the farm here. Radiant cooling system using air will replace air-conditioners. Understanding the fact God is within us will stop us from polluting body and mind, Faizal said. The idea for the centre came to him in 1983 when he visited the Ashram of Aurobindo Ghose in Pondicherry. He was enticed by the self-sufficient ambience of the place and wanted to set up one by himself. The first phase has already completed, and the second phase is to finish in March 2023. The centre will go functional in 2024.
The centre will feature wonders including the world's largest filtered pool, floating yoga facility, all trees and plants will have bar-codes, one-crore capacity rain-harvesting container, and Kerala's biggest multinational cuisine restaurant. Air-conditioners will be done away with by using radiant cooling system with cooling pipes and air pipes driven underground and through EPS panels. Sourcing from water channels and rivulets in the area as well as using aquifer, the facility each year will harvest 4 crore litre water. This will solve water scarcity in the area. In the first phase, the centre will be complete with 130 rooms, Ayurveda, Tibetan healing systems, naturopathy, and spiritual well-being, alongside yoga, meditation, healing and sports rehabilitation. The second phase will see setting up of a modern health facility complete with operation theatre and ICUs. The centre will put Kozhikode on the world map, he said.
Not in the habit of calculating money
He started off talking about his busing saying that he never calculates money. Son of PK Ahammad, who owns the well-known PK Group in Kozhiode, Faizal studied in St Joseph's School and Malabar Christian College before pursuing civil engineering at Manipal Institute of Technology. Afterwards, he came out also with an MBA. In 1989, he went to Chicago, USA for post graduation in industrial engineering. Coming out with M. Tech, he became an industrial engineer at a company in New Jersey. On returning home in 1992, he married Shabana daughter of prominent social leader based in Mangalore, B Ahmed Hajee Mohiudeen.
A family vacation in 1995 in Dubai proved a turning point in his life when he visited a steel scrap processing factory. Importing steel scrap from the factory to his family business back home would be ten dollars lesser than ferrying it from the USA. He right away started the unit Al Ahammad General Trading to ferry steel scrap for his father's factory in Kozhikode. It entailed just 2 lakh rupees as initial investment. He shared 60 per cent of profit with his father and saving up the remaining 40 per cent. He began to sell steel scrap to other steel factories in India. Together with profit from business and his father's help, Faizal set up in the UAE the steel factory, Emirates Techno Casting. He came to know that no factories in the Middle East were making steel valves for oil refineries. It wasn't an easy task as he had to compete with leading European and the US companies. He started making them, and after ten years, ETC became the world's largest valve makers. ETC valves cost 30 -40 per cent less than those supplied by European and American companies, which made oil refineries go in search of ETC valves.
Meanwhile, he set up a holding company named KF to bring the operations of ETC under it. In 2008, 45 per cent of its shares were sold to Dubai Holdings, garnering 13.5 crore dollars. ETC continued to swell in the market despite widespread slump in the Middle East back then. In 2011 the American company Taico gained 75 per cent shares, and subsequently in 2012, the entire valve business including that of Taico and ETC was sold to a US company, which left in Faizal's pocket 35 crore dollars (2200 crore).
It was then that Faizal stepped in to serve communities and people, setting up Faizal Shabana Foundation. The first project the SSF took up was the renovation of the Girls VHSS school at Nadakav, Kozhikode. It was then he came to know about the pre-fabricated construction that could help set up houses, hospitals and schools. Following this, in 2012, he set up KF Infra in Krishnagiri district in Tamil Nadu. This led to establish the world's largest fabricated manufacturing complex in 2016. The facility brings under its wings all aspects of designing, building, and project management solutions. When a Japanese multinational company took over it, Faizal backed away from this business too. However, KF has investment in countries including China and USA.
In 2011, Faizal and Shabana decided to help the poor and the needy. FSF spent nearly Rs 200 crore in humanitarian aid across the world. The school renovation in Nadakav was later extended to 956 schools in Kerala. The foundation has taken up school renovation in places as far away as Uganda as well as schools inside and outside Kerala, including in Karnataka and Tamil Nadu. FSF is involved in Krishnagiri Development Project as part of uplifting rural life and empowering women. Eight villages come under KDP, and projects currently underway include organic farming, tailoring works, hygiene, fabric bag making, alongside the 20 mentoring centres in the area. Shabana, vice chair of the KF Holding, actively takes part in all these projects."It was our decision to spend a part of our wealth for the upliftment of those in grassroots," she said. Their daughters Sophia and Sara are running a wellness centre for youths and their son zakariy Faizal Ahammad is into the business of altering petrol-engine car into electric cars. Their youngest daughter Sereena studies in UK.
"Rather than amassing crores, what makes me happier is children confidently telling me about their dreams. One day a bus driver's daughter in Nadakav shared her dream with me that she wanted to become a bio scientist. That was when I knew we could influence others' dreams," he said. Like Ammu in Krishnagiri, many children find their dreams from the invincible confidence of Faizal and Shabana.