Humble Beginnings

Walking around the diamond market clueless and trying to really understand what is this place, with men in suits walking around, while many were talking in hushed voices there were a few that spoke out loud without the slightest care in the world. In the midst of this searching for the person who would give me a better insight into this mysterious place,I came across a man, who stands at over 6 feet tall and can be clearly distinguished amongst the other comparatively shorter Indians that are present around him.

Mr Shah is one of the important men in the Diamond Consortium in Antwerp and when he looks back upon this, he realises how long the journey has been and how far along he has come, he moved to Antwerp in 1981 and slowly began climbing the ladder and claimed his place in the competitive ladder of the diamond industry, but before really getting into that, to understand how it all worked out we need a little bit of history.

Mr Hemang Shah born and raised in India, studied in Porbandar, which is a small town in the Western part of India, he moved to Davangere, which is in Karnataka which is in the Southern part of India and Bombay (now known as Mumbai) which is lies on the Western Coast of India. “In the 12th year of studies, I did not attend college regularly and because of that I wasn’t allowed to write my end of the year exams”, said Mr Shah. He added, “ That is how I landed in the field of Diamonds”.

One of the most important life lessons Mr Shah says he has learnt is, “It is good to fall so you know where you stand and then you know how the world is and the people who have are still standing by you, in your hour of need”.

Shah, wasn’t going to let anything stop him, he had a dream in his head of being someone and a setback of not being able to graduate had further made him even more determined to go out and really prove himself to the world. He began learning the art of Diamond craftsmanship, “I would be there from 9am to 8pm to study, learn and take in as much as I could” and, “I was good at it too”.

Mr Shah believes ; “There is a certain destiny and fate to everyone’s life and everything happens for a reason”, that is what he sees his life as, that everything did really happen for a reason, it wasn’t an easy climb and he stumbled and fell and there were times he was victorious too, he finally adds, “Everything, all of this has been worth it and all” and he has no regrets.

His talents did not go unnoticed, the place where Shah learnt the fine art of Diamond craftsmanship saw his work ethic and determination and offered him the chance to move to Antwerp and set up their office, a chance to grow and earn his place in the industry, which Shah accepted without a second thought.

“ Initially when I moved to Antwerp I began by polishing diamonds and then as I learnt more I moved into the market of ‘rough diamonds’ and since 1982 I have only dealt in rough diamonds”, added Mr Shah.

When he got there in 1981, he says, “One of the toughest challenges I faced when I moved there was the lack of vegetarian food, at the time there were only two places, one of which is the famous ‘Benny’s Falafel’ and ‘Pizzaland’”, as I am a Jain by religion. The Jains are considered to be the most peaceful community in the world and hence they would and many still do stay away from meat which includes fish and eggs as they believe to eat food, you do not need to kill another being and there is abundance of other kinds of food to satisfy the soul and hunger.

Apart from the food Shah did face a lot of difficulties, such as integrating into the new environment and settling in, but it is his philosophy, “accepting the difficulties and moving on”, that made him and got him to the point he is today.

Mr Shah starts remembering all the good times he had and the difficulty he faced while trying to learn Flemish and even today he isn’t really good at speaking it but he can understand it pretty well. He is really grateful as to how Antwerp adopted him and made him feel at home despite all the challenges.

“I had a lot of great moments, I wish I could describe all of them but not everything is meant to be shared”. Mr Shah with a grin on his face began speaking about his younger days whilst in Antwerp, “I would be at various discotheques 5 days in a week and I would have a great time but that wouldn’t stop me from being at work the next day at the opening hour, I loved to party and sometimes still do but for me there had to be a balance between work and pleasure and I did have the perfect balance”.

Mr Shah, begins to remember his friends and all the great times they shared, “I had a lot buddies and a majority of them were either , Belgians, Israelis, Lebanese and Indians, we have been friends for at least 30 years if not more and many of them I am still in touch and we do catch up from time to time”.

As the conversation goes on Mr Shah gets lost in his own thoughts for awhile, he is reminiscing about the past and he goes on to speak, “ Times might have changed but me as a Jain and my principles have not, I still follow the principles my father passed on to me like my grandfather passed onto him, that is to never forget your roots and where you have come from”.

One of the proudest moments of Mr Shah’s life was when he donated money towards the building of the temple in Antwerp which is the largest of its’ kind in Europe, he considers it to be the proudest moment of his life as it connected him back to his roots and he is one of the first people to have donated towards the building of the temple but, Mr Shah adds that, “ The happiest day of my life was when my two daughters were born and nothing will ever replace that”.

In the end before parting ways, Mr Shah leaves me with something to ponder on, “Everything happens for a reason, we have a certain fate and a particular destiny and you’ve got to take it and do the most you can do with it, you are going to FAIL but that doesn’t mean you stay down and keep taking the punches but you get back up and show what you are truly made of”.

Mr Hemang Shah