Troubled Nepal, facing one constitutional crisis after another, has a reason to smile.
The Himalayan nation has just thrown up its first Forbes billionaire in 'noodle king' Binod Chaudhary. The 57-year-old who owns Wai Wai, the popular brand of instant noodles, is now officially the world's 1,342nd richest man.
In a country whose per capita income is an abysmal $735, worse than even India's poor $1,527, this for some has come as the best bit of news in many years. Now Chaudhary says he not only wants his noodles to be seen - and eaten -- across India but has plans of setting up Wai Wai factories in Kenya, Saudi Arabia and China.
"After Kenya there could be more possibilities in Africa," he says, adding that his conglomerate these days has interests in trading, hospitality, packaged foods, real estate, financial services, infrastructure, and in countries as far as Cambodia, Philippines and Mozambique. In India, he already has manufacturing units in Uttarakhand, Assam and Sikkim. He will soon have one in Rajasthan and Andhra Pradesh.
Chaudhary's journey, though, has been long and arduous. His grandfather had trekked from Shekhawat (Rajasthan) to Kathmandu sometime in the late 19th century, looking for work at a cloth merchant's shop in the valley. In 1968 his father opened perhaps Nepal's first departmental store, in the heart of the capital city.
What helped business was the fact that moneyed Indians who came to Kathmandu to gamble in its casinos would also shop at his father's Arun Emporium. "Foreign goods were not available in a closed Indian economy then," he remembers. "It's different, of course, now."
In Nepal his company is also the dealer of Maruti Suzuki cars, the leader in that country, and he has shares in Taj Hotels whose properties once overawed him so much that he couldn't rustle up the courage to enter their premises. He recalls an incident. "During my first visit to Mumbai as a 16-year-old, I stood gaping at the Taj Palace. My guardian, who was accompanying me then, told me that the durwan would slap me if I tried to step in. Now when I stay at the hotel I always make it a point to stand for a while at the spot where I had stood transfixed many years ago."