Why Morbi is racing against the time?

On 3 February 2012, Jaysukh Odhavjibhai Bhalodia emerged from a clock exhibition in Mumbai’s Nehru Planetarium and was attacked by a man with a penknife.

The slashes came briskly that Friday evening. After a brief exchange with Bhalodia, the attacker, Sandeep Mathuria, went for the throat. Then the face. Another swipe, aimed at the chest, missed.

As Bhalodia was rushed to the hospital, Mathuria was taken into custody and booked for attempt to murder. There, he laid bare his financial downfall after being let go as the Nagpur distributor for Bhalodia’s Oreva clocks.

Way down the years

Nearly seven years later, Bhalodia—better known as Jaysukh Patel, or simply Jaysukhbhai—downplays it all. Mathuria was going through familial problems and needed an audience after being laid off, he reasons.

“Woh kuch nahi tha. Main paanch saal se mar Raha hoon (What happened to me was nothing. I’ve been dying for the past five years),” he says in his cabin off the Morbi-Rajkot highway in Gujarat.

A pint-sized, otherwise-unassuming 58-year-old, Jaysukhbhai, wearing a white pinstripe shirt, talks animatedly about how Oreva diversified into lighting products, a vertical that now brings in Rs 300 crore ($43 million) in sales a year; the failures of his home appliances and e-bikes, and how half his business comes from Oreva Energy Pvt. Ltd (OEPL), his hydroelectric project division.

It’s telling that Oreva, a brand once known for its wall clocks, gets less than 10% of its business from the vertical today.

More telling is how the charmless but chameleonic town of Morbi, located 63km north of Rajkot, went from birthing India’s clock industry to becoming a tile hub. As the place risked fading into the annals of time, local timepiece manufacturers had two options: give up, or give in.

Jaysukh Patel gave in when he diversified Oreva into more than a clock company. Now, he’s on the verge of giving up.

“I won’t be surprised if Oreva clocks go bust within five years,” he says grimly. “What sense does it make investing in an industry worth just Rs 700 crore ($100.6 million)? China is killing our manufacturers. The retailer count is declining. When was the last time you stepped into a clock showroom?”

A diminishing legacy?

A faded, forgotten blue arch located 6km from Jaysukh Patel’s office is the only indicator of Morbi’s synonymity with clocks. “Samay welcomes you to Electronic City”, it proclaims, reminding you of a local legacy that was. Never mind that its maker, Samay Quartz, no longer exists.

Rugged, three-wheeled Gujarati chakdas, with the front of a 500cc Royal Enfield Bullet and carriage of a Matador tempo, are the default mode of transport in these parts of Rajkot’s fringe talukas. This psychedelic-hued vehicle and the glut of ceramic manufacturer hoardings are the only things that catch the eye on the way to Morbi.

Starting at the pit stop of Gavridad, one counts 113 hoardings pointing people to Morbi as “the ceramic capital of India”. It does, after all, account for up to 70% of India’s ceramic industry, one growing at breakneck speed, with a conservative turnover of Rs 27,000 crore ($3.8 billion).

There are no outdoor advertisements by any of the region’s timepiece manufacturers, who account for an estimated 90% of India’s wall clock production.

“That’s because clock-making isn’t lucrative. Overall production in Morbi has decreased because now everyone is making ceramic tiles. But here’s the thing about trying times: Aamir Khan will still be Aamir Khan despite Thugs of Hindostan flopping, hai ne?” Shashank Dangi grins, visibly proud at his analogy.

Unorganized Clock Sector

But the floppy-haired president of the Morbi Wall Clock Manufacturers Association stresses that the town is still home to India’s unorganized clock sector.

Horology or time-telling is so fundamental that we take it for granted. Timepieces are overarchingly utilitarian by function: two hands on a dial, dictating the course of your day and, by extension, your life.

Of these, only the wristwatch—preceded by the pocket watch and grandfather clocks—managed to straddle both functionality and indulgence. And even here, you’re not paying for, say, Rolex’s time-telling as much as you’re paying for its embellished history and reputation.

 

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