I was born in Amritsar in 1946, a time when the city was completely different from what it is today. Amritsar of my childhood days was not the vibrant place it is today. It was a smaller, quieter city. Our streets were not so crowded, but our lives were quite vibrant. My family's involvement in different things kept us busy, mainly because I grew up in a joint family.
I completed my education in Amritsar and went to Chandigarh to get a degree in Geology, as I was interested in that field. But after graduating, when I was hunting for a job, I realized how scarce the jobs were. Fortunately, I got a job and was posted in the Northeast, but I couldn't get acclimatized there, so I returned home after some time.
My father was already in the photography industry. He was a trader - a well-established one. My grandfather's name was Hari Singh. One day he said to my father, “I want to go to Vilayat.” (the household name for Britain at that time), but my father would not let his father ( the elderly Hari Singh) embark on such a long journey. However, this didn't stop my grandfather. He went to Bombay for work, a regular trip, and from there, we received a postcard from him saying, "Maine jahaaj mein ticket karwa liya hai, main vilayat jaa raha hoon." He stayed in England for more than two years, met some camera manufacturers, and helped my father import cameras from Britain to India. Eventually, my father became an authorized importer & trader.
In the late 1950s, my father started a manufacturing unit for fasteners, a small workshop with a partner. But it didn't work out, and they had to shut it down. So my father took all the assets and machinery and kept them at our home. And when I returned from the Northeast, he asked me, "Now that you came back all the way, why don't you start something in this field?"
After thinking for a while, I decided to try making photographic equipment. We had a small spare room at our house which I turned into a workshop. I gave it two years and tried to make a few products. The motive was to help my father sell the equipment, in which I think I was reasonably successful. Our effort was to make something better than what was already in the market.
I started in 1968; in the era of black and white - we primarily made studio lights & stands. In those days, colour films were imported, and brands like Kodak maintained labs. You had to send them the film, then they would develop it & send it back. So that's how my journey started in this field. We worked like this for the next 5-6 years.
Apart from Punjab, we started selling our products in other parts of the country - initially in Delhi and to different towns. My work got a boost in the mid-1970s when I approached AGIL. (Agfa-Gavaert India Limited). They gave us a few products to manufacture as an OEM,and they would market and sell these products.
Our partnership lasted till 1982, when AGIL decided to stop branding Indian products. That's when we had to start marketing all on our own, but we benefited from our association with AGIL as our brand HARISON had become known to photographers.
After getting married, we had two children. After completing his education, my elder son joined the business, and we also started making electronic products along with mechanical ones. My younger son is an engineer & is currently in the USA. Both of my children are doing well, but I sometimes feel guilty for not having spent more time with them, as I spent most of my time running the business alone. My son doesn't make the same mistake; he always makes time for his family.
I have travelled a lot, and I like to travel more within India because you get to learn so much about different cultures and taste so many flavors, which becomes a treat after all the work & exhaustion. And people are the same everywhere; if you respect their beliefs and appreciate them, they will do the same for you.
After living for over 75 years and working in this industry for more than 50 years, I strongly admire TATA and its principles for running a business. I feel this industry is not easy to survive in, but I also realized
"Hard work and consistency are a part of life."
-Sukhvinder Singh Ahuja
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Written by: Harshita Sharma & Vinay Matre
Interview by : Aman Uttam