Mosman Insider: An Incredible Journey From Poverty To Prosperity
THE PATH TO A PRIVILEGED LIFE IN MOSMAN HAS NOT BEEN EASY FOR NIRMAL van HAMBURG. THE LOCAL BUSINESS WOMAN AND MUM-OF-THREE SHARES HER INCREDIBLE STORY WITH ANNA USHER, REVEALING HOW SHE’S OVERCOME THE GREATEST OF ODDS – FINDING HER TRUE PASSION ALONG THE WAY.
When you meet her for the first time, Nirmal van Hamburg appears to have it all; a beautiful house in one of Mosman’s premier streets, a successful, devoted husband – and three gorgeous young children.
It’s just after 9am and the petite, softly spoken 43-year-old looks the picture of serenity as she arrives at Bloom café.
Taking her seat outside in the sunshine, Nirmal warmly greets the wait staff, who know her coffee preference (a double ristretto skim latte) and deliver it piping hot, with a minimum of fuss.
Immaculately groomed, with a mane of dark, glossy hair, manicured nails and understated jewellery, she readily admits that her life is “absolutely blessed” – but scratch beneath the surface and you soon discover it hasn’t always been that way.
Far from it in-fact.
You see, Nirmal van Hamburg was actually born Nirmal Kaur; the daughter of two poverty-stricken parents forced into an arranged marriage, in the remote Punjab village of Jhal Lehi Wala, in 1974.
“My life today couldn’t be more different to how it began,” Nirmal says quietly.
“Unless you have lived there, I think it would be very hard for you to imagine the extreme level of poverty that exists, particularly in the remote areas of India.
“It’s beyond heartbreaking,” she says.
The eldest of three children, Nirmal was lucky enough to emigrate to Australia with her father, at the age of eight. Her mother stayed behind in India and still lives in the same village to this day.
“I can still vividly recall arriving in Adelaide and having no concept that we had permanently moved to another country,” she says.
“The sights and the sounds were so different – it was very confronting for a little girl who spoke no English.”
“I remember the first Australian woman I saw was an old lady who had a ‘blue rinse’ – and for months afterwards, I assumed that purple was a natural Caucasian hair colour,” Nirmal laughs.
A natural work ethic saw her take advantage of every opportunity Australia provided and Nirmal worked hard and flourished. She completed High School in Adelaide and earned herself a University degree, before moving into a high-powered Human Relations career, for some of the world’s leading brands.
“I worked for the likes of Ralph Lauren, Oroton, Marcs and Country Road,” she says.
“And then, like many women, I fell in love, married and had our children.
“My life was blessed, but deep in my soul I knew that something was missing.”
Following the birth of her second child – Nirmal tells how she stumbled across a television program late one night, that would completely change the course of her life.
Calcutta Hilton tells the story of Kiwi couple Kerry and Annie Hilton, who left New Zealand in 1999 with their four children, to live and work amongst the poor in India.
“This beautiful family unknowingly move to the largest red-light district (called Sonagacchi) in Calcutta,” Nirmal says.
“And its soon revealed that their new neighbours are quite literally thousands of women forced into prostitution through trafficking and poverty.
“The Hilton family pay it forward in the ultimate way – by providing an avenue to bring financial freedom to these women, through making jute bags for export.
“As I was watching the terrible plight of these women from my home country, I knew I had to do something to help.”
So she did.
Nirmal now imports the hand-made jute bags, offering young Indian women a path away from prostitution.
Originally used as a heart-felt and stylish way to present gifts for her husband’s real estate company, Nirmal soon expanded the operation into a fully-fledged business, called Cadeau and Bliss.
Over the past couple of years, the range of jute bags has grown to include trade baskets from Bangladesh – and a range of unique, premium products that have become “must have” essentials in stylish Australian homes.
Cadeau and Bliss gifts are mainly organic and eco-friendly, with Nirmal recently introducing her own Australian made candle and skin care range.
“The fulfilling thing for me is knowing that my business is not only helping impoverished communities overseas, but here in our own country too,” she smiles.
“I am totally passionate and committed to supporting our local producers and suppliers.
“After all, Australia has given me so much – and being able to pay it forward, even in a small way – is the greatest gift of all,” Nirmal says.