Living it up
in Ludhiana


Harinder Pal Singh’s sprawling mansion along the Ludhiana-Jalandhar highway.
Harinder Pal Singh’s sprawling mansion along the Ludhiana-Jalandhar highway.

From a small business centre to being termed the Manchester of India, Ludhiana is one of India’s grand success stories. Ruchika M. Khanna takes a tour of the boom city.

A city of opportunity burgeoning at its seams and dubbed the most polluted city of the country. A city that is the biggest consumer of liquor in Punjab, and also one where thousands of residents are being forced to drink mercury-laced toxic water.

The city with the most ostentatious bungalows and largest number of vehicles in the country as well as the largest slum colonies and the worst traffic bottlenecks in Punjab. The city where the Green Revolution originated yet a city with the fastest shrinking green cover. One of the oldest cities of North India carving its place in the over-industrialised, machine-oriented set-up, without thought to the need to preserve history.

Ludhiana, the industrial and financial hub of North India, represents one of the grandest success stories of Punjab. The city has come a long way from its earlier avtar as a producer of shoddy and substandard goods. The bicycles, auto parts, and of course, hosiery items with a "made-in-Ludhiana" label are now as valued as a "made-in-USA" or a "made-in-England" label. Which is saying a lot for die-hard Punjabis obsessed with all things phoren.

Perhaps no other single city has witnessed such rapid expansion and spectacular industrial growth and wealth generation as Ludhiana, the Manchester of India. The success story is not about industry alone. The city is also one of the most important education and health centres of the North. Also, the tales of lavish lifestyles of its residents have travelled far and wide, thus ensuring that all new lifestyle products, be it the latest brand of Rado, Omega or Tag Haeur watches, the Mont Blanc or Gucci sunglasses, the latest offering from the house of Polo Sports, Marks and Spencer or Hugo Boss, or the very own desi designers Ritu Kumar, Ritu Beri, Rohit Bal and Jatin Kochchar, are simultaneously launched in the megacity. "Ludhiana is considered a test market for all high-end consumer products. If the product is accepted here, most companies are sure that it will be accepted in other cities of the North," says Ravinder Singh, a partner of Sangeet Cinema, one of the oldest cinema halls in the city. Perhaps, that is why McDonalds decided to first tantalise the "difficult-to-please Ludhianvi taste bud" much before they targeted the more urbane Chandigarh.


Traffic congestion, garbage and pollution are another facet of Ludhiana
Traffic congestion, garbage and pollution are another facet of Ludhiana

The industrial network throbs day and night, churning goods worth crores and sending them to all corners of India and different parts of the world. There is a kind of frenzy in the city, with most inhabitants doing their best to expand their business and make more money. Most Ludhiana-based industrial houses have made inroads into other parts of the country, even abroad. One-third of the total power available in Punjab is consumed in Ludhiana alone.

Of the categories of industry, the foremost are hosiery-based industrial units. These include woollen, cotton and synthetic yarns. The second is the steel-based sector, which includes cycles and auto-parts and foundries and the third is rubber-based industry for making tyre and tubes.

Ninetyfive per cent of the country's woollen industry is located in Ludhiana. Some of best-known brands, including Oswal, Casa Blanca, Santa Rova, Monte Carlo, LWS, Pringle, York, Greatway, Rage, are made here. Thirty per cent of the cotton industry is also based here. As much as 70 per cent of the country's cycle and cycle parts are manufactured in Ludhiana—Hero, Avon, Neelam, Kular and Atlas, to name a few. A large chunk of India's sewing machines and fans are also produced here, besides small machine and hand tools and agricultural implements. Ludhiana is home to certain world-class tyre and tube manufacturing units for two and three-wheelers, including cycles, scooters, motor cycles, animal-driven vehicles etc. Anil Kumar Sood, a prominent industrialist of the city, says that the industry came up in the sixties. "The city began growing from the time when Pratap Singh Kairon was the Chief Minister who insisted that the income generated from cottage industry should be invested back into work. Industrial houses began investing further. This led to the growth of the cottage industry to small scale industry and later into big industrial houses," he says.

The industrial focal point at Dhandari Kalan began coming up in the late seventies. Now the industry has spread all around Ludhiana up to a radius of 35 km. It has stretched past Kohara and reached Neelon on the road to Chandigarh. On the G.T. Road, the industry it touches Doraha, and on the banks of Satluj along the highway to Jalandhar. Business ventures, mainly farm houses that serve as marriage palaces, have sprung up well past the city’s municipal limits along the highway to Ferozepore.

During pre-Independence days, the city was a small business centre with a handful of hosiery units. Most of the trains did not halt here. Ludhiana gained some importance when S.D. Government College for Boys, was set up here in 1920. The next break came with Punjab Agricultural University being established here at the behest of Partap Singh Kairon. While the college brought in intellect in the development of the city, PAU brought in prosperity through the Green Revolution. Ludhiana also benefited from the large influx of the refugees from West Punjab, after the Partition. Except for the Oswals, who have made the megacity world famous with their Monte Carlo and Casablanca range of woollens, most of the big industrial houses, the Hero Group of Munjals, the Avon Cycle Group of Pahwas, were set up by migrants from Pakistan.

The industry provides employment to about one million labourers from Bihar and Uttar Pradesh. The potential to provide employment to such an extent is self explanatory. Bibhuti Prasad, a migrant from Orissa, reveals that 14 years ago he came to the city in search of work. After years of struggling as a labourer, he became a sanitary labourer, and now manages to make Rs 20,000 a month. "This is a land of opportunity. If you are willing to work hard, then you cannot starve," he says. His views are echoed by Harinder Pal Singh, a seed producer in village Laddowal, who says: "The city offers opportunity to everyone to make their fortunes."


The city's population now stands at nearly 30 lakh, with another floating population of five lakh. Ludhiana is now the most polluted city of Punjab. The housing shortage is acute. The infrastructure has all but broken down.

The city’s strength lies in being the education and health centre of the country, North of Delhi. The two multi-speciality hospitals, the Christian Medical College and Hospital (CMC), and the Dayanand Medical College and Hospital (DMC) have brought fame to the city. Apollo Hospital, too, is all set to open in this megacity. "However," says Jagdeep Whig, Vice-Principal of DMC," healthcare is changing tracks. The city now has super-speciality health set-ups."

The city has the distinction of being the only city north of Delhi, with over two dozen colleges, including six professional colleges, and the Punjab Agricultural University. The city has almost 10 women's colleges and half a dozen boys’ colleges. In fact, the S.D. Government College for Boys has the distinction of producing legends like Sahir Ludhianvi, former DGP KPS. Gill, former Chief Election Commissioner, M.S. Gill, ace Bollywood actor Dharmendra, and ace director David Dhawan. Says D.B. Sharma, former Principal of Kundan Vidya Mandir, and Executive Head of Sat Paul Mittal School, "In addition to the Sat Paul Mittal School, being set up by the Bharti Group, the Delhi Public School has a branch here and the Vardhaman Group is also setting up a coeducational college."

Moolah mantra

Money fuels high-flying dreams. The groom who hired a helicopter for his wedding
Money fuels high-flying dreams. The groom who hired a helicopter for his wedding. — Photos by Sayeed Ahmed

In this megacity, money talks. All aspects of life, including social hierarchy, are defined in terms of a person's monetary worth. The lifestyle of the Ludhianvis is as lavish as their Butter Chicken and Baba Chicken and as well known. Even young children make friends with their classmates only after knowing the economic background (do you have a Merc, Skoda, Lancer or Accent?, is a commonly asked question among kids as young as five).

Says Rajni Bector of Cremica Industries, considered a role model for defying social norms and setting up her own business venture, "When I came to Ludhiana in 1957, there was hardly any development beyond Jagraon Bridge. Now the bridge is a defining line between the upwardly mobile, who stay in the Civil Lines, Model Town, The Mall, Sarabha Nagar, BRS Nagar and Aggar Nagar, and the others, who stay in the narrow lanes of the old city area. Four decades ago, there were hardly any cars, and tongas and scooters were the mode of transportation. There were hardly 100 cars, and now other than the luxury cars that people buy for themselves, they buy a Zen/Alto for the house staff, who can run errands for the Sahib and Memsahib."

Showing off wealth is a norm and snob-o-meters run on the designer clothes, designer jewellery, including Cartier and Tiffany, cars, cellphones, and of course, the latest phoren trip or the holiday spent at Ananda Resorts in Rishikesh. Socialising is mainly in clubs—Satluj Club, Ludhiana Club, Model Town Club, Lodhi Club, and for the fairer sex, Laxmi Ladies Club, and begins well past 9 pm on week nights, and the Saturday Night Syndrome in the city sees the parties carry on till the wee hours of the morning. In fact, it is a city that never goes to sleep. The people work hard all day, and unwind at night in the clubs over Scotch and a game of rummy. "But ever since Satluj Club has enrolled more members," says a top industrialist, "it has lost its exclusivity, and we have started socialising in our homes. Get-togethers are planned at a group member's house at night, so that we can booze and gamble, while discussing business, politics, economics, or the latest demand for graft received from a particular babu or their political bosses". He informs that the stakes in these gambling sessions in the city sees transaction worth lakhs each night. On Divali, the gambling stakes run into several crores.

For women, kitty parties are the way to splurge. No dress, or for that matter jewellery is repeated in the same kitty, and the more mobile women would have kitties on all days, except the weekends, when couple kitties are organised. Diamond kitties and Honda City kitties ( where you get diamond jewellery worth a few lakhs, or a Honda City car if you win) have made way for the Singapore and Mauritius kitties (where the group, generally couples, go to any of the exotic foreign destinations for the kitty). Summer camps for kids, when they come back for a few days from their boarding schools, are in Europe or Mauritius; only lesser mortals send their kids for local summer camps.

The city never goes to sleep
The city never goes to sleep

As their business expanded to foreign shores, Ludhianvis travelled far and wide, and brought back home the opulence they saw elsewhere. The city now has homes that are replicas of the ones that their relatives in Amrica (America) or Caneda (Canada) have made. "After all, we want them to feel at home, whenever they come here. I built a farm house by imitating a Swiss farm design, because I always wanted to have a dream house, one that everyone would envy," says Harinder Pal Singh, whose Swiss mansion, just along the Ludhiana- Jalandhar highway has become a landmark.

Weddings, too, have "evolved" from being solemn ceremonies to ostentatious display of wealth and power. An average, wedding would have at least 20 stalls for snacks alone, followed by the main course. For the more elaborate weddings, invites are sent in a silver platter; the decoration at the plush farm house venues would be with orchids imported all the way from Singapore, or the tulips from Holland. A top industrialist's daughter's wedding recently saw a 500-odd member baraat coming on elephants, to the venue, and lately, a groom landed at his wedding venue in a helicopter, and the doli was also taken in the helicopter.

Theme weddings are the new rage, and at a recent high-profile wedding, the family did a "Kyunki-Saas-Bhi-Kabhi-Bahu-Thi-theme, with the groom’s sister introducing the family to the guests on the serial's title song." Says Bhanu Ahuja, a top disc jockey and event manager, "The city residents have now acquired style. They are willing to spend money and instead of an ugly display of wealth, they look for a "different" party where aesthetics is coupled with style and money."

Money, says Sudershan Sud, former President of Laxmi Ladies Club and Member of the Advisory Board of the Club, is the deciding factor in the city. People have a lot of money, but little inclination to give it away for charity. Even the clubs’ role is purely for entertainment, and no social work is undertaken.

Winds of change are definitely visible in this vibrant city. Women’s education and employment are being accepted in the otherwise conservative city. Higher education is considered a must for everybody. Even the lalaji is sending his grandson for an MBA in the UK, USA or Australia, while the grand-daughter goes in for a foreign degree in fashion or interior design, or to a Swiss finishing school. Youngsters are getting ambitious, and are moulding their business ventures from the lala culture to more professionally managed set-ups. Spas and health clubs are in, just as getting buttocks treatments for anti-ageing is.