continuation of previous page:The Kundanmal Service Station
Ramesh Kundanmal, the enthusiast who started this service station 50 years ago, told us a bit about the place and how it began.
Mr. Kundanmal ventured into the automobile business and in 1965 established a workshop at Worli Gandhinagar Industrial Estate. An official from ESSO liked his workmanship and suggested that he shift out elsewhere with a bigger operation. He didn’t think much of the offer but after a persistent 2 years he was officially given the green light. ESSO liked his workmanship so much that they offered to build him a workshop with an attached ESSO gas station.
In 1968 he began looking for a suitable place and finally while he was walking down Peddar road past an orphanage he saw a little bungalow with a tiny garden, it had a Hindustan parked up front. The owner, who was tending to the garden asked what Mr. Kundanmal was looking for and when he told her she said she may be able to help him out. She said that the house was for sale for Rupees 6Lacs. That may not seem like too much today but those were the days a used car sold for a mere Rs.2000. While 6Lacs back then was almost like Rupees 10Cr of today!
Mr. Kundanmal had to inform ESSO about his find, but back then telephones weren’t as abundant as today so he had to call from a neighbors place. He then went to ESSO where they were interested. A deal was struck with the owners and the location was leased out but that wasn’t the end. The permission was denied to setup a service station as 1200sqm was required for a service station while this plot was 40sqm short of that.
Mr. Kundanmal’s late brother, Lieutenant Suresh Kundanmal managed to get things going by undertaking that no service cars would be parked on the road and they managed this by having another floor built at the service station for parking. This was Bombays second service station to build a parking lot on the top. A Special architect was engaged by ESSO and an American design was used. He explained that it has a honeycomb designed slab supporting the first floor, which allowed it to be pillarless in the middle. As a 50 year old building it was hard to understand how an American design came into play till we heard the whole story.The place was ready within 12 months and Mr. Kundanmal was given the ESSO center plaque by the Vice President of ESSO who had flown down from the US for the opening ceremony that became the talk of the town. Later on ESSO was taken over by HPCL in India.
From just fixing of cars Mr. Kundanmal began to grow interested in speed racing as well as rallying and participated in the first Himalayan Rally. He managed to win second place in 4 of the 5 Rally’s he participated in.
Over the years Ramesh brought in various car brands to India. He started the service of Honda cars, had the first BMW dealership in India for nearly a decade and then followed it with an Audi Dealership.
He explained that the Petrol Pump business lasted for 50 years because of the workshop and service station alone. In the past 50 years his service station didn’t have a single complaint from the customers nor the oil company. Over the years people would stop by for a cuppa coffee instead of just a fill of gas and the place became their second home as they spent more time there than in their own house. Over the years they made great friends but did everything by the book and because of the quality of their workmanship alone did they have repeat customers.
Due to loss of tenancy protection the place has to now close down. HP and Ramesh fought separate battles in court. HPCL lost it’s protection and now the landlord demanded a rent of Rs.20.58 lakh per month. Though this place couldn’t be rented for any other purpose as it was built for use as a service station and petrol pump alone. The court says if it was rented to others it would fetch 20.58L. HPCL said they wouldn’t pay such an amount. The court gave Kundanmal 3 months to think, but it took him only 3 seconds to decide. They decided to leave and go back to where they had started out. They had a good run and there were no regrets.