South Africa's "king of the highways" becomes the servant of the Lord of the heart.
THE MAIN DEPOT of Sentinel Transport in Durban is abuzz with activity. A convoy of spotlessly clean trucks each bearing the distinctive silver-and-aquamarine Sentinel markings is preparing to leave. Workers at the loading docks are scrambling to get other trucks ready to go. In fact, it's hard to find anything that doesn't move at high speed at Sentinel Transport, one of the largest and most successful trucking companies in South Africa.
Inside the office, Mr. Ranjit Ramnarain is surrounded by his administrative staff. There are contracts and requisitions to be signed, heavy decisions to be made, and phones ringing constantly. Mr. Ram, as he is affectionately known by his staff, sorts out the problems, and his staff go running off in different directions. Then he tells his secretary he won't take any calls for the next fifteen minutes. He sits down behind the big oak desk, pulls out his bead bag, and begins chanting Hare Krsna, Hare Krsna, Krsna Krsna, Hare Hare …
"If I don't chant my rounds even one day, I feel like a big thief, like I am stealing Krsna's time," says Ranjit. "I chant as much as possible during the early morning, before I leave home, because once I step into the office I'm fighting for time."
Running a company the size and sophistication of Sentinel, that's no wonder. With a staff of more than 700, a fleet of over 150 Mercedes "horses" (the front ends of tractor trailers), and 300 trailers, all running at full capacity, Sentinel Transport is a well-tuned machine. But the man calling the shots at Sentinel is more than a successful businessman and community leader. He is a devotee of Lord Krsna.
How did "the king of the highways," as Ranjit is known in South Africa, become a servant of the Lord of the heart?
Ranjit Ramnarain came from an extremely poor family, the fifth of ten children. "My mother would collect empty flour bags, bleach them, and sew them into shirts for the children. Most of us didn't have shoes. I got my first pair of shoes when I was fifteen years old. I had only one pair of trousers. When I washed them, I had to wait for them to dry and then put them on again."
A decisive moment came in his life when he was accepted at Sastri College, South Africa's first high school for Indian boys. Although money was tight, his mother bought him a school uniform. But he didn't have any books. So when he came across another boy who had books but no uniform, Ranjit gave the boy his own uniform and two shillings, in exchange for the books. Then he walked to the Rank Cafe to celebrate. He ordered beans and bread and enjoyed it, but when the waiter brought the bill, Ranjit realized he didn't have any money. He was unceremoniously thrown out of the cafe.
"It was then that I told myself that as it appeared that money was the root of all success, I would be determined to make as much money as possible."
He left school and from that point dedicated himself single-mindedly to making money. In 1968 he bought a run-down truck, fixed it up, and began a small trucking business. Twenty-five years later, he found himself at the helm of the largest privately owned transport company in South Africa.
But although he had achieved so much, still he felt that something was missing. With the death of his wife in 1990, this feeling of emptiness came to the forefront. Ranjit became more and more involved in community service and religious life. After he met the devotees from the Durban Hare Krsna temple, he began chanting and getting involved in the temple's projects. When he heard about the Food for Life program, he decided to get behind it. The result: Hundreds of thousands of people have benefited, both materially and spiritually.
"The delicious prasadam we are serving out is really Food for Life," says Ranjit proudly. "It is lifting people out of darkness by feeding them and giving them a chance for spiritual progress. Our country has many problems malnutrition amongst the children, deep ethnic and racial divisions that threaten to tear our society apart. I sincerely believe that massive distribution of prasadam can heal all these wounds.
"It has been a great source of satisfaction to me that I have been able to play a part in the growth of Food for Life. My sincere prayer is that Krsna will bless this prasadam distribution so that it will grow unlimitedly."