At Rajni Bector’s spacious house in Ludhiana, we have just been served coffee and snacks. “Do you want to sprinkle some more coffee powder? I have a feeling that it’s not perfect,” beams the 77-year-old self-made entrepreneur. Even before we had taken a sip, she seemed to sense what was amiss. And, she was right. Clearly, Bector knows more than a thing or two about aroma, considering that the company she founded, Cremica, is one of the leading manufacturers of bakery products and condiments.
Born in Karachi in 1940, Bector grew up in Lahore. Her father was an accountant general while other relatives were highly positioned in the government. Though this helped them cross into India unscathed, but not without witnessing the madness. Seventy years later, she recollects the paranoia around partition. “We were told that there would be a train at Pathankot. But none came for seven days and we waited under a tree for a week. Then a maal gaadi (goods train) arrived. I still remember seeing loads of dead bodies. On our way to other cities in Punjab, people would offer us lassi and food, and I would innocently ask my mother, ‘Why are they giving it to us? Do they know us?’” says Bector.
Later, the family shifted to Delhi and settled there. A student of Miranda House, she got married in 1957 before she could finish college and graduated only after. Her husband belonged to a business family in Ludhiana. Bector describes her initial memories of the city, “Ludhiana was very small when I moved there. It was quite backwards compared with Delhi. There were only four cars in the entire city.” Similarly, her mother-in-law, though quite in sync with her times, was also conservative. “I came from a very broad-minded family. My dada and nana’s families were highly educated,” she adds. In her words, life was strange initially there.