"By the grace of God,” Kesses MP Dr Swarup Mishra aka Kiprop arap Chelule likes to pepper his talk with piety.
He believes that were it not for God, he wouldn’t be what he is; a successful businessman, a politician and an academic. And there is no doubt that Mishra is eating life with a big spoon.
Together with his wife, Dr Pallavi Mishra, they came to Kenya 25 years ago with nothing but their skills and hope for success.
“If Mishra can come and make more money here then there is so much money in Kenya… you just need to know how to make it.”
And make money it seems he has. You can see it all around him; from the numerous security people around, his suits, the gold adorning his fingers that there is hardly room for an extra ring, the cars in the parking lot at his house; the friends he keeps. Everything.
His imposing colonial maisonette on the old Nairobi Road in Eldoret is a statement of sorts. The master bedroom is 70 by 22 feet “half of it wardrobes” where his more than 200 suits line up on the rail.
“Do you ever want to leave home when you come back from the city?” I asked him.
“If I stay for more than two days, I am bored,” he says.
He doesn't minces his words.
By any measure, Mishra is a successful man. How much of this is down to his hard work, industry, luck, faith and astuteness?
“My failures taught me great lessons. I picked up lessons from my failures.”
“As a student, I used to be average… I was bright but inconsistent in my performance… very high, very low.”
He says help has come from his strangers.
“Strangers have helped me more than my friends and relatives, but God has assisted me a lot as well.” They didn’t even have a car. He recalls how he and his wife would walk to the market in Eldoret and then walk home carrying their shopping of “mbogas and kukus” to the house.
Now, his is life in the fast lane no doubt. He owns 1,000 plus pairs of shoes including a $10,000 Mario Bruni pair. Though he boasts that he bought it “for only $3,000.”
He has a collection of 164 watches by Rolex, Breitling, Citizen, Cartier, Police and many other top-of-the-range timepieces. Add gold rings and chains.
And carries with him 18 phones - all but one is an iPhone.
“This is for VIP,” he says as he lifts one of them.
“When the president or any big person wants to call me, he uses this line.”
“This is for the family, this is for the constituency, this has an Indian line, this is my business line, this is for Dubai…”
The VIP and the family phone hardly ring during the interview.
How can he tell one from the other?
“Have you ever considered how the man with more than one child knows their names and faces?”
That caught me off guard.
“What about the man with eight wives… does he confuse their names?” he poses.
He can switch off all of the rest “except the VIP and family phone.”
How does he choose which pair of shoes to wear from the 1,000 pairs?
Every morning, his dressers and stylists pick the suits and then match them up with the shoes.
Dr Swarup Mishra’s story starts in Odisha, India where he was born 57 years ago.
Kenya is irresistible
A practising gynaecologist, he arrived in Dublin, Northern Ireland from his native India in early 1990 to further his studies. He had been married for a few years to Pallavi, a doctor too.
He came to further his studies and expose himself to the best of the medical world in the West.
While in Dublin, he thought of emigrating to Australia. That delayed a bit. Then in 1997, his wife got a job in Kenya.
“The move into Kenya was to be temporary,” he says.
On getting into Kenya, he found the place irresistible.
So what has kept him in Kenya?
He says the people are hardworking, aggressive and innovative and in most cases good-natured.
“I decided I would rather be the head of the cat than be the tail of a tiger… I couldn’t have done what I have done in Kenya anywhere else…,” he says with a sense of deep gratitude.
It was while working at the Moi National Teaching and Referral Hospital as a lecturer that he thought about starting his own facility. He had come face to face with what was ailing the health sector where critical care was limited.
“Six of us would be queuing to operate on a patient from 10am to 3pm… the patients were suffering… they had been starved from the previous night,” he says.
“There was only one MRI at Nairobi and Aga Khan hospitals and none in public hospitals.”
So he decided to start his own. Which by any standard is successful though he won’t mention how much his turnover is. But, from the look of it, Mediheal Group of Hospitals is doing well and so are his other businesses in medical supplies.
He set up a fertility centre at Mediheal and offers great insights into the condition that is hardly talked about.
That women are freer about fertility and will, therefore, seek medical attention but that men decline to visit fertility clinic unless coerced.
“Because of taboo and stigma, there was a concept that the female was always responsible for infertility… infertility became a reason for adultery and extramarital affairs because the man would look for extra relationships looking for answers for his problem.”
Today, the males are the first ones to report the condition and seek treatment.
“Kenyans are fast learners… when Kenyans realise the reality and get convinced with the facts, they change quickly.”
With a self-deprecating sense of humour, Mishra sends anyone into gushes of hearty laughs.
“Komen… Komen where is Komen?” he is prone to issue orders to his orderlies.
Komen is one of two dozen security men guarding the first-term MP.
“Have you been on the phone again with the girls… give me your phone Komen!”
“No sir,” Komen says dutifully and stretches out his hand showing Mishra his call logs.
But it is too late.
“Do it again and…” before he could finish we all burst into laughter (Komen included) and it is back to serious business. He is giving orders to Komen at the spruced up Kesses constituency office.
He needs something done, another there. Komen nods in agreement.
I am not sure if his personal money will fund what seems like a place to wind down after a long campaign.
In a gazebo in his compound that morning, Mishra was meeting groups of people, some his constituents, others random, others politicians.
There was a family of a mother and her children.
“Lang’at,” he calls and Lang’at comes running.
“Get me my diary.”
The diary is brought and as he is talking to the family, he is taking notes. I pick that they have a wedding coming up soon and are also in need of school fees. From time to time, he raises his voice to make a point and crack a joke.
“There are two people who speak the truth; one is a child and the other is a drunkard,” he exclaims with great mirth.
After requesting a photo, our cameraman warns him that there were cans of beer behind him in a refrigerator.
“God created alcohol,” he said matter-of-factly.
Before he lets go of the family, he has a word of advice for the children (in their teens or slightly older).
“When you forget your mother and father, you are nothing… your father was a good man,” he tells them.
A former politician preparing to vie again is here to see him.
He takes another diary. Jots down something. I later realised that he has about five-six diaries which he scribbles on from time to time.
“Honourable, I am coming,” Mishra exclaims. There is another sitting MP in another gazebo waiting for his turn with the MP.
“God bless you,” he says and bids them bye.
Lucy Natasha wedding
He then calls his security. They line up in front of him. He briefs them of his plans to travel back to Nairobi later that night to attend Reverend Lucy Natasha’s wedding to Stanley Carmel.
The bridegroom is originally from India and since his parents couldn’t travel, Mishra and his wife Dr Pallavi are standing in as parents. He doesn’t fly short-haul “because flights scare him.” Instead, he prefers to travel at night from 1am.
“You all have suits?” he asks them.
“Yes, sir,” they answer back.
“But don’t wear them tonight until tomorrow,” he tells them tongue-in-cheek.
“You have shoes?” he asks them.
One of the officers says “NO.”
Mishra stops and asks him: “So what are you wearing now?”
“Shoes,” came the answer. The rest burst into laughter.
You get a sense that he is in charge of things.
“Do you have a PA?” I ask him. He is always busy on the phone answering and responding to one issue after another.
“My brain needs to exercise you know,” he answers.
In that short time, I noticed that he dialled the numbers off his head perhaps to exercise his brain. From here, we left in a convoy to tour his dairy farm.
At the gate to the dairy, there were groups of people waiting. Between 50-100. Those who noticed the convoy wave down his car. We don’t stop.
“They seem to know you are in which car,” I remarked after I notice that the bystanders were less bothered with the occupants of the car in front of a similar make to the one we were in.
“They will be many when we drive back… I probably meet the same group every day but you never know,” he retorts. And sure on our way back, the crowds had grown even bigger; men, women and the youth. There are hardly any children.
It is back to the office where he is hosting a management meeting.
“Are you wealthy or rich?” I asked him.
“I want to be wealthy, not rich because I will have the people, health, blessings, protection and everything.”
“How much are you worth… are you a billionaire or a millionaire?”
“I am doing well in thousands. Kalenjins don’t count,” he reminds me. “We are okay by the grace of God.” Then he points out of the window to a house across the fence from the facility which he wants to buy.
“Look, it is not a crime to own wealth, if you don’t own wealth, somebody else will own health.”
He says he encourages his colleagues to do business and offer services.
“Nobody can teach you how to own a business, just like nobody teaches anyone how to make and then raise a child… we learn on the job.”
In the boardroom, the politician transforms into a business mogul. We sit in the boardroom and see him conduct a senior management meeting – one of the shortest I have witnessed.
He is very democratic. He offers time for questions and clarifications.