Zia and Jaydev Mody’s 45-year journey has been one of concrete agreements that have lasted a lifetime and genial disagreements that evaporate in a nano second. For instance, as we scout around for a suitable photo background in their spacious villa filled with art and antiques from around the world, Zia feels a particular painting that adorns the stairway would make for a great backdrop. Jaydev takes one look at the painting and then dismisses it with a wave of his hand. To which Zia responds with mock displeasure and then the two continue ascending the stairs, hand in hand. Ever since they began their respective careers, Zia’s intensity and level-headedness has been equally matched by Jaydev’s tenacity and commercial acumen. While Zia, who follows the Bahá’í faith, clearly needs no introduction in corporate India, Jaydev has a cultivated reclusiveness about him.
Not many are aware of his passion for equines or fondness for Chinese and Thai cuisine or his outright admiration for Mario Puzo and Francis Ford Coppola’s masterpiece, The Godfather, having seen it more than 30 times; part one being his favorite. Zia herself has had to watch it a dozen times and during the conversation quips, “Jaydev knows the script 100% by heart, I know 35% but I don’t want to get to 40%.” Despite their hectic work schedules, the childhood sweethearts take short vacations whenever they can manage. Kenya is a favorite destination and the east African influence is evident through artifacts, business interests as well as through Nala, the name their children chose for one of their Labradors.
When and where did you meet? What attracted you towards each other?
Zia: Our fathers were friends, so we knew each other since we were kids. We lived in the same compound and that is how we ran into each other around 1969. I was 13 and he was 14. He was the proverbial boy next door; we lived at a stone’s throw from each other. Apart from his good looks, Jaydev was charming, engaging and very bright. He knew how to fascinate me; still does, 45 years later.
Jaydev: It was a classical childhood kind of romance. I was attracted to her good looks but that alone is not sustainable in itself. I later discovered many more attractive attributes.
Is there any one particular incident that you recall from your courtship days?
Jaydev: There is no single one, there are so many. There have been many such incidents over the years, which is what, I suppose, keeps the relationship alive and fresh. It is a continuous process. I can’t give you an instant answer. I don’t know if she can.
Zia: The relationship just takes a new avatar when the children come. It has always been like that, from the time that we were young; from playing cricket as children to riding and travelling as we grew older, we have done so many things together. There are so many interests that we have in common. We enjoy each other’s company and never get bored when we’re together. As you grow older, even the quiet moments get more comfortable. You don’t have to keep jabbering; you find your comfort zone with each other.
Jaydev: Which is why it is so hard to pin down one defining moment. Instead, we have a continuous set of moments that validate our feelings for each other. There is a lot of bonding that happens, especially in our roles as parents, where we have to sort out difficulties and troubles and also cherish moments of pride. That takes centrestage once you have children. We have three grown-up kids, the eldest of whom is 28 now. That really binds you together; you can’t replicate that.
Zia: God is kind. We have always taken a lot of interest in each other’s growth, with respect to our dreams and our life’s ambitions. What I like is that I can turn to Jaydev at any given point in time for advice as he knows me better than anyone else in the world. He doesn’t shy away from discussing my weaknesses — instead, he is my constant constructive critic. I like the security of being grounded, knowing that the advice I get from him will really work for me. If I am going through a crisis in my daily life, I am more comfortable if Jaydev is in town. Even if I talk to him for five to seven minutes, that is better and has more value for me, compared with talking to most people for hours. As we get older, we may still not like what advice we get but 90% of the time, we know that it is sound advice.
Do you have any common interests or hobbies?
Jaydev: We like travelling and watching good movies. But otherwise, I am into racing but Zia is not; we don’t go horse-riding anymore either. But travelling is what we enjoy, actually. Every time we get the opportunity to spend a few days together, we go out to different restaurants; we love eating out.
How many holidays do you take in a year?
Jaydev: We take about four to five holidays a year. We don’t do those long two to three week holidays, though. Instead, we go to Mahabaleshwar or spend a few days in New York or some game park. We go to Kenya a lot, at least once or twice a year. Last year, we holidayed in Pune and in New York the year before that. But Kenya is the one place we both love and keep going back to and have been doing so for the past 30 years. I go there several times a year, in fact.
In what ways are you similar and in what ways do you differ?
Zia: I am more confrontational, I raise my voice more often. Jaydev thinks I am more rude; I get to the bottom line very quickly. I am a little more impatient than he is but a lot more detail-oriented than him.
Jaydev: Her style is different from mine. I am more patient, I listen more in the work environment. I know what to do today, what needs to be done tomorrow. She sometimes wants to do both things today and then productivity suffers. Then she gets upset and angry and loses her temper.
What is the one thing about your spouse that you wanted him/her to change but hasn’t happened?
Jaydev: She should work less and exercise more. That is my only grouse. She was extremely fit most of her life. In the last ten years, because of time constraints, she has let go in that sense.
Zia: I don’t think I have any grouse, actually. I do get irritated when I think he is not focusing on what I want him to focus on at that moment or when he doesn’t see my priorities as his. Then I get impatient. Besides, he travels so much that we don’t have much time to spend together.
Which is the one quality about your spouse that you like or dislike?
Jaydev: She is extremely bright and understands things even before they are said. That is a fantastic quality. She is rarely wrong in her read of me. But I don’t like her losing her temper with people and I tell her that all the time.
Zia: I like the fact that he is completely unpretentious and gets irritated with the slightest sign of pretension. He is also very clear about what he wants to do and articulates his thought process well. What I do not like is that he spoils the children too much and doesn’t listen to me about that.
Is there any personal trait of yours that you think your spouse doesn’t appreciate enough?
Zia: No, we are aware of each other’s qualities and we totally appreciate them. We appreciate each other; there are many such qualities, I can’t pinpoint a single one. In fact, sometimes I feel that I under-appreciate the fact that he is always there when I need him. He does it quietly, and I know that he is around but sometimes I forget to articulate that. Sometimes I feel that I don’t appreciate that enough. But I really do recognise it.
Can you elaborate on a few things that you have learnt from each other?
Zia: How to be strong in a crisis; how to be more mature in tackling difficulties. We have learnt to lean on each other, perhaps even more as we get older. I have learnt to talk less in public instead of jabbering all the time. I have learnt that it is not necessary to be the centre of attention all the time. To some extent, I have learnt good parenting — rather, better parenting — from him. Normally, we think that women run the show when it comes to parenting. But in my case, I think I have learnt a lot from Jaydev that I may not have picked up otherwise.
Jaydev: I think the most important thing I have learnt is to keep my business extremely clean all the time, legally speaking and in every other way. I have learnt to go the extra mile, to not only go through the motions of doing so but to actually make the effort and not cut a single corner. She puts a lot of emphasis on this and it has therefore become a part of my business. In this country, this is very difficult to implement and I had never thought it is so important until very recently.
Who is the more romantic partner and in what way? Do you celebrate birthdays and anniversaries?
Jaydev: Zia is more romantic. She just is. She likes romantic movies, she thinks we must go for dinner on our anniversary; small things like that.
Zia: I am from Venus and he is from Mars. I am just generally more romantic by nature. But I don’t know; I have become less romantic because Jaydev is uptight about these stereotypical situations. I want to celebrate every day. Every day is important. I have been bugging him to celebrate his 60th birthday and he is not agreeing. He doesn’t want to do it. That will be a fight. He has a close group of friends and is very comfortable with them. He doesn’t like big parties or events, which I enjoy. He has these 10-12 friends whose company he enjoys.
Who is the better cook and what are your specialties?
Zia: I make good omelettes.
Jaydev: I’m the better cook by a big margin and my specialty is Gujarati food. One of our daughters lives in the US and waits for me to go there so that I can make Gujarati dishes for her. But I can cook only that, I don’t cook anything else. I know four to five dishes that Zia doesn’t, like batata shaak and dal. But that is all that I do in the kitchen. Chopping is her job, cooking is mine, cleaning is hers.
Over the years, what are the best gifts that you have received from each other?
Jaydev: She bought me a lovely car on my 50th birthday. I love cars and I got my first Mercedes Benz E Class from her on that birthday. From the time that we were kids, she always dreamed of owning a Mercedes sports convertible. So, on her 50th birthday, I bought her that. Then, of course, our kids are a very big gift
Zia: I remember the first small diamond ring that Jaydev gave me, which was in the shape of two hearts. I still have it. But I think that gifts are irrelevant, it’s more about how much you have sacrificed.
Jaydev: About how much you had and what you bought from it, that sort of thing. If you don’t even have ₹10,000 in your pocket but you buy something for ₹11,000, that’s quite a big deal. There was a drum set that has a story behind it. In the early 1970s, I used to drum and I needed a drum kit but didn’t have the money for it. She bought it for me. That was so important to me, it was unbelievable. It may have been worth some ₹5,000 then; it was a lot of money for us in those days and the pleasure it gave was fantastic. We were kids in those days. Then, we treated ourselves to a holiday in Greece in 1985 using the money we got after getting married a year earlier. We spent all the money people gifted us when we got married on two holidays — we went to Nepal and Kenya. We came back completely broke and whatever other money we made over the rest of that year, we put together and went to Greece the next year. In 1986, the children came into our lives. Then life just changed, it became
Who is the boss at home?
Zia: Jaydev likes to say that he is the boss so we let him say it. But I think Jaydev gets what he wants 80% of the time. And I get what I want 80% of the time. It is not that we want so many antagonistic things all the time. Instead, we get what we want in our own spaces. There are a few things that over the years we have come to learn that we just don’t like. So, then, the other person avoids doing those things.
Jaydev: This house is run professionally; nobody runs the house. My secretary, who has been with me for 25 years, basically runs the house. We don’t because we are out travelling for so many days in a month. We have a caretaker and good people who have been with us for many years, people we trust. Sometimes, my eldest daughter takes a little bit of responsibility in these matters. But that is pretty much the way the house runs, it is set in practise. It is all professional to the extent that we have a housekeeping service that comes in and a group of servants who report to the housekeeper. Our home is like a hotel in many ways; in fact, we don’t even know what is going to be cooked today. Right now, everything is a mess because all our carpets are being washed; someone else handles all these things
Who is the stricter parent?
Jaydev: She is; I like spoiling them. In fact, I think that the more I spoil them, the more grounded they become. That’s the conclusion I have come to. She has always been the stricter parent.
Zia: I think we are both strict. We are equally aligned; there is no more or less. They do open up a little more to me. I think there are very few emotional times when nobody can replace the mother. But, in our case, the go-to person for the girls is Jaydev. Sometimes that’s not very pleasing, but that is the reality and it is so for a reason. He is the go-to parent.
What were some of the most challenging moments of your lives?
Zia: When I came back from New York, I had to leave a good career path behind and was uncertain about what I would do back home. I was taking a leap of faith into the unknown. Apart from that, my first pregnancy was also quite challenging — the worries about what it would be like and how life would change. Going from being a barrister to more of a stuck-to-the-desk mergers and acquisitions lawyer was also a big challenge.
Jaydev: Since starting my own business was what I really always wanted to do in life, I don’t think there were any significant challenges on that front. However, going public for the first time in the early 1990s was definitely difficult. I was running a small business and raising capital was always a challenge. Then, there was the added stress of switching businesses. I was in textiles, then I moved to real estate and then to gaming and hospitality. Each time, it has been a challenge to continue doing what I did and then to start a new business without any prior knowledge of it.
Is it tough to have a high-achieving spouse? Can you recall a memorable moment at work?
Jaydev: I think there is no pressure — you achieve, she achieves, you help each other achieve. That pressure is there, but nothing apart from that. And there is no single moment that I recall. She has made some huge changes in her professional life — from being a lawyer to almost becoming a solicitor. That was a big move — moving offices and changing the way she ran her business. But we have always helped each other. She has helped me whenever I have made a switch. Our mutual growth has been constant. There is always something or the other happening in our lives on the professional front.
Zia: I revel in having a high-achieving spouse. I think we are both driven and are very passionate about different things. We both want to make a difference and we both like good outcomes, positive outcomes. So in that sense, we feed off each other. When I decided to move, I was worried about what would happen. But I had no second thoughts about moving. I think, similarly, when Jaydev switched his businesses, that was a big shift for him; he was going into an unchartered territory. He has many firsts to his credit in the world of business; he built Crossroads, the first mall in India. He set up the first institutional hospitality and gaming company in India, again, that is a big first. Jaydev likes achieving all these big firsts without talking too much about it. But I am sure that the process is stressful and challenging. We always talk about all this. I don’t think there was any incident where we were really at a loss as to what would happen next. We have both faced difficulties in our businesses. Sometimes your business doesn’t do as well as it should and sometimes you focus on the wrong things. Things go bad, cases
What would you change about your spouse if you were their boss and if you were their subordinate?
Jaydev: I would tell her to take over the business and let me retire. I have wanted her to take over the business from the past 25 years. We had a deal at one stage: the day my business is worth ₹5 crore, she will join my business. Many ₹5 crores have come and gone and she still hasn’t joined the business. Now, she is achieving her own ₹5 crores, so maybe I will have to join her instead. So, I don’t think we will ever work together in that sense. We have very different businesses and different approach. Both of us are right but in different ways.
Zia: I don’t think I could be his boss for more than half a day. So, I am not sure what I would want him to change...
Jaydev: I don’t think either of us can have a boss.
Zia: ...But I would want him to maybe finish things now instead of tomorrow and do a little more micro-management instead of focusing on macro. But that is a reflection of my personality, which I would be imposing on him. Besides, his personality will not allow me to change him. So, I won’t get anywhere.