On 3 February 2012, Jaysukh Odhavjibhai Bhalodia emerged from a clock exhibition in Mumbai’s Nehru Planetarium and was attacked by a man with a penknife.
The slashes came briskly that Friday evening. After a brief exchange with Bhalodia, the attacker, Sandeep Mathuria, went for the throat. Then the face. Another swipe, aimed at the chest, missed. As Bhalodia was rushed to hospital, Mathuria was taken into custody and booked for attempt to murder. There, he laid bare his financial downfall after being let go as the Nagpur distributor for Bhalodia’s Oreva clocks.
Nearly seven years later, Bhalodia—better known as Jaysukh Patel, or simply Jaysukhbhai—downplays it all. Mathuria was going through familial problems and needed an audience after being laid off, he reasons.
“Woh kuch nahi tha. Main paanch saal se mar raha hoon (What happened to me was nothing. I’ve been dying for the past five years),” he says in his cabin off the Morbi-Rajkot highway in Gujarat.
A pint-sized, otherwise-unassuming 58-year-old, Jaysukhbhai, wearing a white pinstripe shirt, talks animatedly about how Oreva diversified into lighting products, a vertical that now brings in Rs 300 crore ($43 million) in sales a year; the failures of his home appliances and e-bikes, and how half his business comes from Oreva Energy Pvt. Ltd (OEPL), his hydroelectric project division.
It’s telling that Oreva, a brand once known for its wall clocks, gets less than 10% of its business from the vertical today.
More telling is how the charmless but chameleonic town of Morbi, located 63km north of Rajkot, went from birthing India’s clock industry to becoming a tile hub. As the place risked fading into the annals of time, local timepiece manufacturers had two options: give up, or give in.
Jaysukh Patel gave in when he diversified Oreva into more than a clock company. Now, he’s on the verge of giving up.
“I won’t be surprised if Oreva clocks goes bust within five years,” he says grimly. “What sense does it make investing in an industry worth just Rs 700 crore ($100.6 million)? China is killing our manufacturers. Retailer count is declining. When was the last time you stepped into a clock showroom?”
A diminishing legacy?
A faded, forgotten blue arch located 6km from Jaysukh Patel’s office is the only indicator of Morbi’s synonymity with clocks. “Samay welcomes you to Electronic City”, it proclaims, reminding you of a local legacy that was. Never mind that its maker, Samay Quartz, no longer exists.
Rugged, three-wheeled Gujarati chakdas, with the front of a 500cc Royal Enfield Bullet and carriage of a Matador tempo, are the default mode of transport in these parts of Rajkot’s fringe talukas. This psychedelic-hued vehicle and the glut of ceramic manufacturer hoardings are the only things that catch the eye on the way to Morbi.
Starting at the pit stop of Gavridad, one counts 113 hoardings pointing people to Morbi as “the ceramic capital of India”.