If some buildings have and lend character, some can even besmirch reputations. A heritage Malabar Hill bungalow which was once the home of erstwhile Governor of Bombay Sir Evan Nepean has already brought much grief to diamantaire Nirav Modi, who is in the middle of a particularly messy legal battle with a Mumbai-based builder for possession of the property. While Modi claims the former owner, a Parsi widow who had rented part of the bungalow for use as his office, had promised to sell it to him for an agreed price, she allegedly reneged on the deal and sold it to Surendra Agarwal instead for a higher amount.
The prized property which actually carries a price tag nearly five times in excess of what she sold it for, is now caught in a tug of war between Modi and Agarwal with showing any inclination of letting go. Ironically, heritage and heirloom had till now been the trusty stepping stones of fame and success for Modi’s jewellery business. The Wharton drop-out who started out in 1990 assisting his uncle, diamond mogul Mehul Choksi, took less than a decade to set up his own company.
While he had none of the advantages of established peers in terms of factories, family support and substantial funds, it was a reliable reputation that helped him get diamonds on credit. Modi, who now caters to an elite group of Indian and international super rich first caught international attention in 2010 when a rare Golconda diamond necklace of his fetched $3 miillion at a Christie’s auction and this year he capped it by becoming the first Indian jeweller to break into the Forbes billionnaire list. With much in his business riding on reputation, he’s determined not to back out till he disproves allegations that he forged documents, but the entire affair has unfortunately already taken much sheen off his otherwise inspiring success story.