On the western border of India lies the state of Rajasthan, which includes thegreat Thar Desert. In the center of this state lies a region called Shekhawati. Anarid area dotted with thorny bushes and stunted trees, Shekhawati is theancestral homeland of a community that dominates private trade and industry inIndia—the Marwaris. The Mittals belong to this community. The ancestors of M.L.and L.N. Mittal hail from the village of Rajgarh in Rajasthan.Like the European Jews of yesteryear, the traditional occupation of the Marwarisin their villages was retail trade and moneylending. And, like the Jews, theMarwaris were not always popular with the other communities, who sometimesaccused them of charging interest rates that were too high. Although the harshand unproductive desert environment of their homeland did not see the generalrun of them becoming wealthy, some Marwaris who lent to the nobles and kingsof Rajasthan did strike it rich.The first wave of Marwari emigrants left Rajasthan in the early 18th century toseek their fortunes in Calcutta and Bombay, where the British had establishedmercantile houses. Initially, they were traders but later started dabbling incommodity futures, where some struck it rich.Very soon the Marwari diaspora spread to every nook and corner of India,wherever there was a possibility of making money from trading. In India’s hillyand forested northeastern region, the only outsiders the tribes encountered wereEuropean Presbyterian evangelists and Marwari traders.By the turn of the twentieth century, the Marwari business houses had become asubstantial presence in the bourses of Bombay and Calcutta as well as in thecountry’s wholesale trade in commodities. A few Marwari families had alsoventured into manufacturing, mainly textiles.When the British left India following independence, many of their industrial firmswere up for grabs—and many Marwari business houses made the most of theopportunity. A large number of the banking, insurance, engineering, textile, andtea businesses in India passed into Marwari hands.In the last 50 years, the Marwaris have multiplied these legacies from the Britishand expanded into other businesses, including chemicals, primary metals,pharmaceuticals, road transport, shipping, and jewelry. They also have spreadtheir industrial empires to southern India, where they were a marginal presenceearlier. A few families have made forays abroad in Southeast Asia and WestAfrica.