Contribution of Parsis to Chennai

A seamless part of the fabric that is Madras

Deepa H. Ramakrishnan, The Hindu, August 21, 2014

Trade with the East India Company, government service and Partition brought people from various communities to the city of Madras.

This city received everybody with open arms, so much so that it is called vandharai vaazha vaikkum ooru (a city that helps visitors too to thrive).
“The first man to come to Madras was Beri Thimmappa, who was from Telugu-speaking country. He was the one who helped the British strike the deal with the Nayaks. The Telugu community has grown since then and presently, we have about 25 lakh Telugus in the city,” says historian Sriram V.

The many Sindhis and Punjabis who came here during Partition in 1947 (there were small numbers of both communities living in the city even before that), Parsis who came to Madras in the early 1800s, the Gujaratis who came here in the early 1700s along with the Marathas from Tanjore, Bengalis who came here to be part of government service, the Jains who came in the 1840s and lent money to the East India Company — all of them made Madras their home.

They learnt Tamil, built places of worship, schools and colleges, established businesses and gave gainful employment to locals.

The tiny Parsi community too contributed in building the Madras that is Chennai now.

Zarin Mistry, secretary, Madras Parsi Association, and daughter of M.M. Cooper, who was professor of anatomy at Madras Medical College, says, everybody — from J.H. Taraporewala, who was in the construction business, and D.B. Madan, a shipping magnate, to Clubwala Jadav, who founded the Guild of Service — has contributed to the city.

Those who came to the city also fell in love with this place as it grew and became cosmopolitan.

Just as the visitor in ‘The Madras Song’ — presented by Murugappa Group in association with The Hindu — Amandeep Singh Kandhari, a Punjabi who runs a tyre business, says that he too has his own favourite spots and loves the city.

“From a kulfi seller in Triplicane to a place that sells fantastic chaat in Sowcarpet, to theatres that I prefer to watch movies in, I have my favourites,” he says.

Ramesh Lamba, general secretary of Punjab Association, says that when refugees started coming to the city, the Punjabi families in Madras took care of them.

“The local people and the State government were very kind to us. About 30,000 people from Punjab and Sindh provinces had to be clothed and fed. But within a matter of 6-7 years, all of them set up businesses here and became a part of the State,” he says.

Amarlal G. Rohira, a Sindhi who has been in the city since the 60s, says that the very first thing the community did was to construct a temple.

“Our temple has images of all Hindu gods and goddesses. This is our way of mingling with the society that welcomed us,” he says.

The Malayalees, who have a strong 10 lakh population in the city, have been here for a long time too.

“The Malayalee Club in Chetpet is 117 years old, and one of the oldest Malayalee associations in the world. We try to organise programmes where Tamil culture is also included. The government of Kerala recently launched a programme where non-Malayalees are taught Malayalam,” M. Nanda Govind, president of the club.

Mr. Porus Wadia writes further………
Dear Editor,
The Hindu.
As Chennai celebrates its 375th anniversary, I wish to draw your attention to the connection Porbandar ( birthplace of Mahatma Gandhi ) and the Parsi community has with the city of Chennai.
The M&SM Railway building – now known as the Southern Railway Headquarters building was built of Porbandar stone by the Wadia family of Porbandar. It was my grandfather Rajaratna Mr. Manchershaw Wadia who bid for the contract to build this edifice and together with his brothers executed the project. I have a photo of the Porbandar building stone being tested in Madras for its tensile strength.
Following are the details 
H. H. Wadia & Bros, founded by Hormusji Hirjibhoy Wadia, were the pioneers in quarrying Porbandar stone and later played an important role in popularising its use in many parts of the country. When this small, unknown firm bid for the contract to construct the M&SM Railway building in faraway Madras (presently the Southern Railway Headquarters, Chennai) they must have surely faced ridicule. How they bagged the contract and successfully completed it, as also just escaped bankruptcy due to the innate fairplay of the British are tales by themselves.
Hormusji, the natural leader, and younger brother Manchershaw, a competent builder and meticulous organiser, camped in Madras for almost a decade from 1913 to 1922. They took along their team of skilled masons from Porbandar under the leadership of master mason Pitambar Hira.
The foundation stone was laid by Lord Pentland, Governor of Madras on 8th February, 1915, and the offices were formally inaugurated on 11th December,1922 by Lady Willingdon, wife of the  Viceroy. The majestic edifice is constructed with Porbandar stone which was transported for 8 years via sea to Kerala and then by rail to Madras. The building stands as a living tribute to the entreprenaurial traits of our family.
                            enlarge photo
Hormusji Wadia     Manchershaw Wadia     Southern Railway Headquarters
Mr. Porus Wadia,
Parvandah, Wadia Road, Porbandar 360575



  • Can some one link me to Zarin Mistry the daughter of Meherjee Cooper from Madras. We were neighbours and grew up together.
    Bomi Bhote Pune

  • There is a short little article by Kate Murphy on Zubin Mehta on page 2 of the New York Times Sunday Review. He talks about what he likes to read and eat, primarily spicy Dhansak, Feroza

    Sent from my iPad


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