Friday, 26 October 2012

A Conversation with an Aquascaping Professional




Recently I had a conversation with Abhik Mazumdar, former Supreme Court and Delhi High Court lawyer who now runs an aquascaping company. Here are some excerpts.

Abhik, at the outset, let me tell you that it is such a pleasure to be able to reconnect with you after over fifteen years. When we met last, in 1997, you were leaving National Law School, Bangalore, all set to make a career as a litigation lawyer in Delhi. And now, you are running India's first specialised aquascaping company! How did this come about?

Well, ever since I can remember, I’ve loved fishes and aquariums. My home in Kolkata had numerous fish tanks and a variety of fishes, though my biggest tank was not more than 1000 litres. I used to spend all my pocket money on fishes and on books about fishes. I started doing litigation in the Supreme Court in 1997. I was a junior lawyer in the chambers of a leading senior advocate. When my senior heard that I enjoyed setting up aquaria as a hobby, he asked me to do one for his house. I agreed. Soon my reputation as an aquarium specialist spread by word of mouth

Then in 2001, someone I knew asked me to convert his old Volkswagen Beetle into an aquarium. I took a look and said it wasn’t technically possible – the amount of water that would go in couldn’t be held by car’s window panes. Instead I offered to build an aquarium for his house and quoted an eye-popping figure. Fortunately or unfortunately, my quote was accepted and I couldn’t back out. More and more people heard of me and my work. I continued working as a lawyer, but spent all my free time building aquaria. In 2007, I decided to quit law completely and incorporated the business which is now called Reef and Stream Aquascapes Private Limited. There has been no turning back ever since.

What is it that you do or rather, what is it that Reef and Stream Aquascapes offers its clients?

Reef and Stream is a specialised aquascaping company. We create for our clients, technically correct and aesthetically pleasing aquaria, in almost any shape, size and type. What I mean by technically correct is that, each aquaria we create is based on a specific biotope and is authentic.

Abhik, you are talking to a person who is an aquatic ignoramus. What’s a biotope?

A biotope is an area of uniform environmental conditions providing a living place for a specific assemblage of plants and animals. It is a geographically distinct ecosystem, such as the Nile or the Ganges or the Sunderbans. When we create a particular biotope for a customer, say the Amazon, we recreate that biotope in the most authentic manner possible, complete with the flora and fauna unique to the Amazon.

I got it. So you not only create and install large aquaria in any shape or size, you also populate it with plants and stones and of course fishes from a chosen biotope!

That’s right. Because we create natural ecosystems, with extensive life support systems such as simulated nitrogen cycles, water filtration and treatment plants, the fish do not die out rapidly, very unlike the fate of fishes in most fish bowls with stagnant water.

That’s amazing. I’m sure almost everyone who keeps fishes has to deal with dead fish floating on the top. And you say, the mortality rate of fish in the aquaria you create is very low?

Absolutely!

How big is your set up?

I have 17 employees working for me at present.

I’m sure you don’t come cheap.

(Laughs) No, I don’t. In fact, I tell my clients very clearly that my margins are quite high. Each aquaria we build involves at least 30 components and many months of work. I am definitely not in a high volume, low margin business.

Do you see yourself working for overseas customers in the future?

We are already doing that! Currently we are working on a project for a public aquarium in Malaysia, at a place called Kota Kinabalu.

Do you miss appearing in court?

Yes, I do, but there are no regrets. I did not leave law because I didn’t like it. I was doing very well as a Supreme Court advocate, but in life, at times, one has to make hard choices.

Where do you see yourself in the future?

We will continue to build aquaria for homes. I also expect to build more public aquariums, for which we will need a big dose of capital infusion in the none-too-distant future. I might open up some equity in Reef and Stream Aquascapes to venture capital firms for this purpose.

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