As chairman of a Portuguese bank that has been
raising finances for Indian companies, Lisbon-based Abdul Magid
Abdul Karim Vakil combines love for the land of his ancestors with
perfect business sense.
In many ways, the journey that started with Vakil's
father migrating from a village in Gujarat to the then Portuguese
colony of Mozambique in the late 19th century has come full circle.
'We are now probably the only Portuguese bank that
raises finances for Indian companies...most of them in the IT
sector,' said Vakil, 68.
He has served in the Portuguese finance ministry,
Bank of Portugal, Manufactures Hanover and Banco Nacional
Ultramarino. Vakil, who says he was the first Indian Muslim migrant
in Portugal, was in 2007 awarded the Pravasi Bharatiya Samman by the
Sitting in the sybaritic environs of Taj Mahal Hotel,
surrounded by the sound of cutlery and conversation, Vakil, who
visited India in July 2008 as part of a delegation accompanying the
Portuguese foreign minister told IANS the story of his life's
journey from Mozambique to the boardrooms of top Portuguese public
It all started in the 1890s when his father joined
his elder brother to travel from Gujarat to Mozambique.
'I am not sure why they went there. Maybe because Diu
(a Portuguese colony) was close (to Gujarat) and somebody told them
they could get a good living in Africa,' he mused.
The Vakil brothers prospered, moving from a small
shop on the outskirts of the capital city, Lorenco Marques, (renamed
Maputo) to a bigger one in the city centre and then constructing one
of the first high rise buildings with a lift in 1940.
Then in 1945, his father became concerned that his
three sons spoke only Portuguese. 'So he took us back to India, to
our house in Vanthali. It was a grand journey in a motorcar and with
a generator,' he said.
Vakil was enrolled at the local school where he
learned Gujarati, Hindi and Arabic. But his stay was interrupted
within two years, when in September 1947 the Nawab of Junagadh
declared his state to be part of Pakistan. (Junagadh indeed remains
part of Gujarat in India.)
'Suddenly, things started happening. The balance that
existed before went unbalanced,' he said referring to simmering
communal tensions in Gujarat.
The family decided to leave Gujarat - 'we just left
in a hurry', travelled in a train to Bombay and then flew to
Karachi. 'We stayed for a year in Karachi, so it was interesting to
see both sides of the border.'
The family returned to Mozambique, restarting their
old routine and business, before life was disrupted again when his
father died in 1953.
It took Vakil 60 years to return to Vanthali, when he
brought his daughter and son to his ancestral village last year.
'Our house was still standing when I took my daughter
and son to visit Vanthali last year. In fact, my daughter notices
that the building still had my father's name - A.Y. Vakil. The
present owners were very nice, told us to 'ayo, baso'. I even met a
schoolmate during the visit.'
In Mozambique, life went on.
'For a business family, my mother, like my father,
stressed a lot on education. So in 1956, I went to Portugal for
higher studies as a 17-year-old, even though my mother was really
worried about me living alone,' he said, adding that the two main
qualms were about his food habits and the possibility of his taking
up with a woman there.
The prophecy was partially fulfilled when he married
a Portuguese college mate in 1961. He brought his mother to Portugal
and set up the first Indian Muslim household.
After getting a degree in finance from the technical
university in 1964, he worked as a lecturer for three years and then
plunged into the corporate world.
In 1988, he co-founded a private investment bank,
Banco Efisa, which was eventually taken over by Banco Portugues de
Negocious in 2001, but Vakil remained the chairman.
His connection with India was renewed when he was
persuaded by the Indian ambassador to take part in the first Pravasi
Bharatiya Divas in 2003. Since then, Vakil, who also heads
Portugal's Islamic community, has not missed a single pravasi
gathering, except when he fell ill.
'I was very happy to become more and more conscious
of my roots, that we are all originally from here... I have been
saying to my friends. Go there (PBD) and you should meet each
other,' said a visibly enthused Vakil.
Since then he has combined his emotional interest in
India with sound business sense.
Banco Efisa floated an India-specific private equity
fund along with the Bahrain-based Taib Bank, called The Leverage
India Fund (LIF), which raised over $154 million.
Vakil has now found a new passion - leveraging
Portugal's links with other countries for India. 'I tried a merger
between a firm here and in Brazil. It was in the metallic industry,
but it did not workout."
Now he is trying for his pet project of bringing
Portugal on the India-Brazil-South Africa (IBSA) platform.
'I had been very much interested in the concept of
IBSA. In fact, I had even suggested the IBSA plus P idea, as I
believe that we in Portugal have a role to play. To this, we can
also add Portuguese-speaking Africa'.
'I never give up, I am rather stubborn,' he said.