The call keeps getting delayed as bad network on a rainy morning in Manipur plays spoilsport.
Finally, the line goes through and I connect with Jina Khumujam – a 64-year-old entrepreneur from Manipur who they locally refer to as a ‘herbal healer’. She makes eight varieties of herbal soaps under the brand name ‘Mangal,’ which has steadily climbed up the popularity chart in the last few years, ever since its launch in 2004. Although earlier her brand was called ‘Our Rest House,’ she rechristened it Mangal in 2011. “I went to New Delhi to participate at the President’s exhibition and changed the name thereafter,” says the soft-spoken Jina.
A mother of four, Jina is truly what grit and determination is all about. She has learnt her lessons the hard way and has struggled to become an entrepreneur.
Her marital bliss was short-lived, as she had to live with a husband who cared little to provide two square meals to their four children, not to talk about sending them to schools. A driver by profession, he would not be a regular contributor to the family needs, thanks largely to his drinking habits. This led to frequent fights in the Khumujam household with Jina realising that the only way to survive the odds was by turning entrepreneur, starting something on her own to support her family.
Starting the startup
Jina started by making hand-knitted woolen blouses, socks, gloves, etc. She got into something rather innovative – she started collecting discarded empty cement sacks and customised it with designs to make items like carry bags, etc.
Then came the turning point in her life – she got an opportunity to train herself in soap making. After completion of the training, she started making soaps at her house, which till today doubles up as her soap manufacturing unit. Initially, she started with raw materials like cucumber and lemon and gradually expanded it to include herbs like aloe vera, neem, turmeric, etc.
Her interest in going the herbal way came naturally to her, given that she had heard so many stories from her grandparents about the benefits of using everyday herbs to cleanse body and hair.
“My nana–nani often used to talk about them and also use them widely in their daily lives. That is how this idea always remained with me and the few people who went to Japan for getting trained in organic farming also brought with them the techniques of manufacturing them, so I got a fair idea on the way to go about it,” says Jina the entrepreneur. Her products have now gained a huge fan following and even foreigners who are in Manipur keep buying them in bulk.
She has vivid memories of the first soap she made. “I made it with Rs 100, an amount which I had saved by skipping food the previous night,” says Jina who was always reluctant to take any financial help from friends and relatives.
“We were poor but I never took any money from anybody, I was always against it,” says Jina, who is happy that she never compromised on her self-esteem despite being hard pressed for money during her kids’ growing-up years.
Certificates burnt, Jina now claims to be a matriculate
In a fit of rage and inebriated condition, Jina’s husband one day burnt all her academic certificates. Having lost all her proof of higher studies, Jina in her bio-data claims only to be a matriculate.
“What to do, I don’t have any documents to prove that I have pursued my higher education,” says a helpless Jina who faced severe resistance from her husband during her starting-up days. He would dislike her going to the market to buy things, ask her a zillion questions on her return home and discouraged her in all ways possible from pursuing a career.
But Jina was determined and fought against all odds to establish herself as an entrepreneur. As she says, she immersed herself all the more deeply into work just to stay away from negative thoughts that arose from her husband’s behavior.
A successful entrepreneur
Today, Jina has established herself as an entrepreneur and makes 80–90 soaps daily with support from her two daughters and one daughter-in-law. She lost her husband a little more than a year ago and is happy that he could see her do well in business while he was still around. Today, Jina trains widows in herbal soap making as she believes in women empowerment and thinks it to be the only solution to a better world.
Her monthly income on an average is Rs 10,000 a month, though the numbers shoot up when foreigners come during their visit and buy products in bulk. Her soaps are also sold online. She sells her soap bars for Rs 20 each.
National Innovation Foundation – India recognised her potential and encouraged her to pursue her business further.
Though she certainly can do with some financial assistance from banks and the government, the numerous questions they pose when she approaches them for help, simply puts her off. “I wish the process was simpler and the poor helped by those in power,” signs off this inspiring entrepreneur.