Category Archives: History

‘Mumbai Samachar’: As India’s oldest newspaper turns 200, this is the story of its dynamic founder

Furdoonjee Marzbanjee founded the Mumbai Samachar newspaper 200 years ago.

What were the circumstances under which this print landmark was founded? Who took the leap to print and publish a Gujarati newspaper in a city that had no print culture? What were his antecedents? How did he succeed in laying the foundation of an edifice which has survived 200 years?

Enter Furdoonjee Marzbanjee. In the 21st century, a man like Furdoonjee would be called a serial entrepreneur, founding one start-up after another every few years. Before fashioning himself as a newspaper editor and proprietor at the age of 35, Furdoonjee had already donned many hats. His story, like those of many others born in the 18th century, starts with a migration.

The serial entrepreneur

Furdoonjee Marzbanjee was not the typical immigrant arriving in Bombay in the early 19th century, illiterate and indigent. Born in Surat into an illustrious family of Parsi priests in 1787, he was trained in Persian and Sanskrit, besides being proficient in Gujarati and Urdu. When he first reached Bombay as a teenager in 1805, Furdoonjee came under the patronage of Mulla Feroze (1758-1830), a Parsi priest and prominent community leader, whose library of manuscripts he managed. As part of his responsibilities, Furdoonjee mended and rebound a number of manuscripts in the collection.

Mulla Feroze was the leader of the Kadmi Parsis, a schismatic Zoroastrian sect that had been co-founded by Furdoonjee’s grandfather, Dastoor Kaus Munajjam (1717-1779). Mulla Feroze, as the Persian tutor to Jonathan Duncan, the governor of Bombay, also moved in the highest circles of power in the city. His influence with successive governors would later be useful to Furdoonjee. A few years after he arrived in Bombay, Furdoonjee began exploring opportunities for livelihood.

 

The Mumbai Samachar was run as a business venture from the very start and, as we have seen, carried advertisements from its first issue. Furdoonjee invited contributions from the general public by way of poetry, literary compositions, and notices for sale and purchase, which he would be glad to publish in his newspaper. If the promulgation of a notice involved any pecuniary gain, a charge would be made for the printing, but not otherwise.

Thus Furdoonjee was able to create a market for advertisements in his paper. The Mumbai Samachar began to incorporate elements that are now considered standard for any newspaper – columns on the weather, local crime, price currents and letters from its readers. These were major innovations for its time and were copied by all its successors. Furdoonjee also introduced the concept of obituaries in the newspaper; as it happened, one of the first obituaries to appear in its columns in October 1822 was that of his father Marzbanjee.

 

Furdoonjee’s business operations were conducted from a building in the Old Vegetable Market near the Bazar Gate of the Fort of Bombay. About the year 1814, he set up his printing press in the same building and began to experiment with small jobs. This was the very first instance of an Indian setting up shop as an independent printer and publisher – a desi chhapakhana. The printing press was however not yet worthy of having its own name and was simply known as Furdoonjee Marzbanjee’s Chhapakhana.

The first couple of years were a period of experimentation and the ephemeral imprints produced by the fledgling printing press with no name must have been handbills and auction notices. The very first imprint which emerged from this press in October 1814 was an almanac for the year Samvat 1871 (1814-15). A slim volume of 32 pages, it was intended as a substitute for the handwritten almanacs then available in the market. Though priced at an expensive Rs 2, it flew off the shelves as buyers flocked to the press to lay their hands on this new innovation. The durability of this almanac can be judged from the fact that its 209th annual edition will appear in Diwali 2022.

 

After a few years in the printing business, Furdoonjee realised that the Gujarati types which he had cast needed to be improved. He however did not have the necessary engraving skills and therefore commissioned a new set of Gujarati types to be engraved and cast in England, though he supplied the font designs himself. These types were made at a stupendous cost of Rs 11,000 and were first used in 1818 to print a Gujarati translation of the Zoroastrian holy book, Khordeh Avesta.

Click Here for the full interesting story of Mumbai Samachar

 

 

On 15th June, 2022, Prime Minister Narendra Modi released a special postal stamp commemorating the 200th anniversary of Mumbai Samachar – Asia’s oldest running newspaper. The Gujarati newspaper was first published in 1822 (then Bombay Samachar) as a weekly by Parsi scholar, Fardunjee Marzban.

Speaking at ‘Dwishatabdi Mahotsav’ of Mumbai Samachar, PM Modi lauded the iconic Gujarati daily for giving voice to the freedom movement as well as taking 75 years of independent India to readers of all ages. He shared that at a time when it was a challenge to get a newspaper in an Indian language like Gujarati, Mumbai Samachar expanded linguistic journalism of that era.

The office of this 200-year-old newspaper is housed in an iconic red building at Horniman Circle in Mumbai’s Fort area. As per news reports, Mumbai Samachar’s director, Hormusji Cama says that 20 years ago the newspaper conducted research and found that it is the oldest surviving publication in India and the fourth oldest in the world. Bombay Samachar (as it was called then) started primarily to inform the readers about ship movements and commodities, and gradually evolved into a true city newspaper with a focus on trade that it is today. The paper exchanged several hands before the Cama family took over in 1933. It has since steadily grown. Cama, its present director and a passionate vintage car collector, insists that placing the reader in the centre is the key to the newspaper’s success.

https://parsi-times.com/2022/06/pm-modi-launches-stamp-honouring-200th-anniversary-of-mumbai-samachar/

A surgeon and a gentleman

Chronicling the life and times of surgeon par excellence, Dr Rustam Cooper, after whom Cooper Hospital in Juhu is named

He was all things to all persons. His behaviour and approach to the humblest patients, servants and subordinates was the same as to Viceroys, Governors, Maharajas, statesmen and industrialists consulting him,” noted The Bombay Samachar editor Jehan Daruwala in his popular column, Parsi Tari Arsi, for the birth centenary of Dr RN Cooper: April 3, 1993.

The surgeon so accomplished that he was flown to Iran en famille to operate on Empress Farah Diba—the Shah offered carpets and gold coins in gratitude—most nobly also slipped small envelopes of money under the pillows of poor patients he treated free. Conducted with quiet generosity, the second kindness was a follow-up to tide them over days of staying home with prescribed bed rest.

 

Dr Rustam Nusserwanji Cooper and wife Minnie on the verandah of their home in Cumballa Hill; (top) Dr Cooper, after whom the BMC named the Juhu hospital

 

It was the only way Dr Cooper knew to work, for which he was widely revered by patients and admired by the medical fraternity. One eminent surgeon told an patient, “If you want an operation done free, go to Cooper, my fee is R5,000.” On another occasion, Dr Cooper was called to Poona for an old and indigent patient. Cured, she insisted on paying. To save her embarrassment, he quoted an oddly precise sum, a few rupees and some annas. When a relative asked how he computed that exact amount, he explained it was his train fare.

There was everything exceptional about the man who lived by the Hippocratic oath and whose sterling contributions the municipal authorities have commemorated with the RN Cooper Hospital in Juhu. “The BMC decided to name the hospital after him, with absolutely no lobbying from the Coopers. Quite to the contrary, it came as a surprise to them,” says family friend Dr Jehangir Sorabjee.

 

Click Here for this full interesting story by Meher Marfatia – https://www.mid-day.com/news/opinion/article/a-surgeon-and-a-gentleman-23232178

Behramji Malabari—Parsi activist who fought widowhood, child marriage in Hindu society

Shedding scrutiny on his ‘anglicised’ Parsi roots, Malabari emerged as the force behind the Age of Consent Bill that helped end ‘matrimonial slavery’.

Could a Parsi activist call for reforms of a regressive Hindu practice of ‘matrimonial slavery’? These days the answer might be a simple yes, but back in late 19th century Western India it wasn’t. Behramji Malabari, a journalist and a poet, was faced not just against those who believed in upholding these ‘traditions’, but also personalities such as Bal Gangadhar Tilak, who opposed it.

Malabari’s presence in the chapters of the Indian reform movement might have disappeared, but his legacy lives on. Often criticised for being a ‘western reformer’, he was the force behind the passage of The Age of Consent Act in 1891, which redefined the institution of marriage—a subject that continues to make the news to date.

In the Notes on Child Marriage and Widow Remarriage, he wrote: “Even though still an infant, her life is a social failure. In most things, she is at the mercy of others because the average Hindu widow is not able to appreciate and protect her rights as a member of society… To many, it is a wonder that the world hears so little of the results of such social inequality. I believe that is so because woman is the sufferer. It is not in her nature to publish her wrongs, however great”.

Despite his contribution to the rights of Hindu women, Malabari’s ‘heavily anglicised’ Parsi identity was a cause of distrust for many. The efforts of the ‘Luther of rose and lavender’ to reform Hindu society irked even legendary freedom fighter Bal Gangadhar Tilak, who claimed that “No one but a Hindu can possess that intimate knowledge of the Hindu Shastras, and the daily observances enjoined therein which is essential in any writer who attempts to prepare papers on the questions now placed before the government”.  

 

Click Here for the full interesting story – https://theprint.in/theprint-profile/behramji-malabari-parsi-activist-who-fought-widowhood-child-marriage-in-hindu-society/959488/

 

New book – The History of Holy Fire Iranshah and Udvada Gam

This book, a visual delight is another first of its kind. It has a foreword by Dasturji Khurshed Dastoor, High Priest, Iranshah Atash Behram and a message by Mr. Dinshaw Tamboly, Chairman, The WZO Trust Funds. The pictures of our institutions as also Dasturjis of Udvada are eye catching. It will be released on Roz Adar, Mah Adar 1391 Y.Z.  Thursday 21st April 2022 at Iranshah Atash Behram, Udvada.

This informative book is in two parts – Part I is a reprint of the book The History of Holy Fire Iranshah by Ervad Faramroze Phiroze Mirza. Part II is about Udvada Gam and its Parsi institutions. It also has Gujarati songs on Udvada and Iranshah transliterated into English, reminiscences about Udvada, some tips for Parsi Zoroastrian pilgrims as also for priests/dharamshala managers. A map of Udvada Gam and a bibliography adds to the usefulness of this book.

Those visiting Udvada can collect a complimentary copy from Dasturji Khurshed Dastoor at his residence opp. Iranshah Atash Behram dasturji khurshed@gmail.com. A complimentary copy can also be collected from the offices of WZO Trust Funds at Bombay and Navsari.

Those interested in obtaining complimentary copies until stocks last may contact The WZO Trust Funds

Mumbai Office                       Navsari office:

C-1, Hermes House,              WZO Senior Citizens Centre

3rd floor,                                 Pinjara street,

Mama Parmanand Marg,        Juna Thana

Opera House,                        Navsari Pin 396445

Mumbai 400004                     Tel. 91-2637-246073/

Tel. 91-22-23584452/53                 245402

Email: admin@wzotrust.com    e-mail: sccnavsari@gmail.com

   

by

Marzban Jamshedji Giara

144 pages, richly illustrated, hard bound

Sponsored by The WZO Trust Funds

                                                 

When the British asked the French to jail Madame Cama

When the British asked the French to jail Madame Cama, the ‘mother of Indian revolution’

For decades, the British government surveilled the Parsi freedom fighter.

 

madam_cama

 

A postal stamp depicting Bhikhaiji Cama. | India Post/ Government of India/ Wikimedia Commons

The struggle for Indian independence from British rule was not only carried on in India but was eagerly pursued by Indian activists and revolutionaries across the world, particularly in Europe and America. The India Office Records contains some fascinating files on one such activist, Bhikhaiji Rustom Cama, more often known as Madame Cama.

Born in 1861 into a wealthy Parsi family in Bombay, Madame Cama was educated at the Alexandra Parsi Girls School in Bombay, and later married Rustom Cama, a lawyer and son of the prominent Parsi reformer KR Cama. With her health suffering due to her work as a social worker during the 1897 plague epidemic in Bombay, Madame Cama travelled to Britain in 1901.

She would spend the next three decades working tirelessly for Indian freedom from British rule, becoming known as the “Mother of Indian Revolution”. In 1907, Madame Cama moved to Paris, where she was at the centre of a small group of Indian nationalists. That year she also travelled to Stuttgart for the International Socialist Conference, where she spoke of the poverty of the Indian people due to British rule, and unfurled the national flag of India “amid loud cheers” as reported in the Manchester Courier.

The India Office was greatly concerned at the influence of Indian activists abroad, and through the intelligence services kept a close eye on their activities. In 1915, the India Office received a copy of a letter sent to the Foreign Office from the British Political Officer in Basra, along with a specimen of Bande Mataram, the pamphlet published by Madame Cama, found in an Indian soldier’s kit.

In his letter, he asked: “In view of the existing conditions of war and of close alliance with France, could the French Government be got to arrest Madame Cama and put her away somewhere?” A note in the file suggested such a move would do more harm than good and pointed out: “The lady is under close observation, and is not now in a position to tamper with Indian troops.”

By February 1917 more direct action had been taken, with the newspaper Call reporting that “Madame B Cama, editor of the ‘Bande Mataram’, a Hindu paper published in Paris, is one of the most important women who have been denied their liberty. She was interned in Paris at the special request of the British Government.”

clip_image002

Intelligence Report on Indian Communists. Photo credit: British Library India Office Records

In the 1920s and 1930s, surveillance of Indian activists continued. Madame Cama appears in several of the files of Indian Political Intelligence, the branch of British Intelligence responsible for monitoring Indian nationalists in the United Kingdom, Europe and America, and some examples are given below in the suggestions for further reading.

clip_image003

Intelligence Report on Indians in Europe. Photo credit: British Library India Office Records

Madame Cama’s health had never fully recovered from her social work in 1897, and her work, combined with continual government hostility, strained it further. As she wrote to the Russian political activist Maxim Gorky in 1912: “All my time and energy are devoted to my country and her struggle”. In November 1935, she returned to India and died shortly afterwards in August 1936.

This article first appeared on the British Library’s Untold Lives Blog.

Article by John O’Brien

 

Further Reading:
Pamphlets published by Madame Cama of a seditious nature and names of four Indians implicated in sedition, April-May 1915, shelfmark IOR/L/PS/11/91, P 1667/1915.

Indian agitators abroad; containing short accounts of the more important Indian political agitators who have visited Europe and America in recent years, and their sympathisers, compiled in the Criminal Intelligence Office, 1st edition, November 1911 (Simla: Government Monotype Press, 1911), shelfmark IOR/V/27/262/1.

Chowdhury, Bulu Roy, Madame Cama: a short life-sketch (New Delhi: People’s Publishing House, 1977), shelfmark Mss Eur F341/108.

Indian Political Intelligence files at British Library:
IOR/L/PJ/12/49: Indian Communist Party: intelligence reports, 1923-1924 – Madame Cama is mentioned in the papers at folios 134 and 187-190.
IOR/L/PJ/12/50: Indian Communist Party: intelligence reports, 1924-1925 – Madame Cama is mentioned in the papers at folios 12-16.
IOR/L/PJ/12/174: Activities and passport application of Mandayam P Tirumal Acharya, 1926-1933 – Madame Cama is mentioned at folio 12.
IOR/L/PJ/12/219: Activities of Indians and Afghans in Paris: activities, 1924-1925 – Madame Cama is mentioned in the papers at folios 10, 11 and 18.
IOR/L/PJ/12/667: M.I.5. B[lack].L[ist]. Volume XXI (Indian Volume), 1921 – Madame Cama is mentioned in the entry for Sirdar Singhji Revabhai Ranna on page 57.

Foreign Office papers regarding Madame Cama can be found at the UK National Archives, references FO 800/56B.

British Newspaper Archive (also available via Findmypast):
Manchester Courier and Lancashire General Advertiser, 23 August 1907.
India, 30 August 1907.
The Call (London), 01 February 1917.

The Open University, ‘Making Britain, Discover how South Asians shaped the nation, 1870-1950’.

Asians in Britain: 400 years of history, Rozina Visram (London: Pluto Press, 2002).

 

First Parsi and Zoroastrian museum opens in Rochor

Parsi artifacts like Lamassu/Godha featured; DIVO a lamp symbolize light that dispels darkness and SES auspicious tray holding ceremonial utensils. ST PHOTO: DESMOND WEE

SINGAPORE – Singaporeans now have a chance to learn more about the Parsi community, numbering about 350 here, with the opening of a museum on Monday (March 14).

Based in Zoroastrian House in Desker Road in Rochor, it is a showcase of the Parsis’ history, traditions and Zoroastrianism, one of 10 recognised religions here.

The two-floor permanent exhibition, titled The Joyous Flame, tells its story mostly through illustrated panels. There are some objects that the Parsis use in their everyday life – a silver fish decorative object used to store sugar, and apparel worn during the Navjote ceremony, an initiation service for children aged between seven and nine, are highlights.

Originating from ancient Persia, the Parsis fled to western India in the seventh century to avoid religious persecution. They trace their history in Singapore back to Mr Muncherjee, a supposed convict who was the first Parsi in recorded history to arrive here 200 years ago.

“We have never had this (museum) before, but as our numbers grew in the last few decades, the need was increasingly felt,” said Parsi Zoroastrian Association of South East Asia (PZAS) president Homiyar Vasania.

“We also felt this was important for our own community members to know more about their history and culture. We consider ourselves an important intangible culture heritage in Singapore, and hope this museum is an important window to look into and understand us.”

The exhibition is co-curated by PZAS with the Parzor Foundation, a not-for-profit organisation that focuses on Parsi-Zoroastrianism heritage.

Since the first Parsis arrived, the community has become a wealthy and influential segment of society despite their small number.

They are well known for their philanthropy and business activities. Among the most notable Parsis in Singapore are entrepreneur Navroji Mistri, who donated $1 million to build Singapore General Hospital’s children wing in 1952, and the Cursetjees.

The latter were the original partners of John Little, who set up the now defunct but well-known department store of the same name here.

Mr Homiyar said many schools, museums, organisations and researchers have approached PZAS, headquartered here, to learn more about the Parsis and their traditions in recent years, and work began on the museum a few months before Covid-19 started.

The community faces a continued struggle to maintain a “critical mass” in numbers, he added.

For instance, it has no full-time priest for religious activities and there is no Zoroastrian fire temple in Singapore, unlike in India where flames – representing Ahura Mazda, their supreme deity – are kept burning 24/7.

Zoroastrianism is the world’s oldest monotheistic religion, and was among the first historically to preach concepts like heaven, hell, angels and demons.

Its prophet and founder, Zarathustra, began teaching Zoroastrian tenets some time between the 18th and 16th century BC, and has become a widely studied figure for students of religion, history and philosophy.

Perhaps Zoroastrians’ most well-known practice is the Tower of Silence, where their human dead is placed in an open circular, raised structure and exposed to the elements and carrion birds in a process of decay that they believe avoids contaminating the soil.

Three Parsis embroidered fabric border which are a unique part of India’s diverse textile heritage. ST PHOTO: DESMOND WEE

They also claim the oldest human rights charter, the Cyrus Cylinder, placed by Persian king Cyrus the Great in Babylon after he captured the city in the 6th century BC.

It states that “I freed its citizens from the yoke of servitude, I allowed no one to harass or terrorise, I set them free to worship their gods whose abodes I raised from ruins”.

The original is now held in the British Museum and its message of freedom of religion and tolerance has led to the display of a replica at the United Nations’ headquarters in New York.

A replica scale model of a Dokhmenashini, a system of sky burials that relies on the sun and carrion birds to dispose of bodies. ST PHOTO: DESMOND WEE

Minister for Culture, Community and Youth Edwin Tong was at the opening ceremony on Monday, and said the Parsis are a very important part of Singapore.

“Despite relatively small numbers, the Parsi community has always been an active participant in Singapore’s rich social fabric. It is a community both of deep roots and tall branches.”

He added that the museum will open the Parsi community up to the rest of Singaporeans. “Understanding and knowing is the first step to accepting (a different culture) which then becomes embracing and being a part of,” he noted.

Entry to the museum is free but visitors are advised to make an appointment with PZAS at pzas.singapore@gmail.com before going.

https://www.straitstimes.com/singapore/first-parsi-and-zoroastrian-museum-opens-in-rochor

Sir Dhunjibhoy Bomanji. (1862 – 1937)

This great man amassed a fortune; from very scanty sources. It appears he had a huge labour force in the Bombay dockyards, and probably other businesses, as his colorful and lavish lifestyle attests to a considerably huge fortune.

In his later years, with some back problems, he is said to have ordered a custom built Rolls Royce with a high roof, so he could get in without bending! At a charity even in UK, he became the highest bidder for the donation sought from the wealthy persons gathered there, and got to plant a kiss on the forehead of the famous actress Greta Garbo!

The statue of a famous British general at the entrance of Edinburg Castle in Scotland, one Earl Haig, was erected there from his donation. He was obviously a well-known donor then, both in India and abroad, but little is now known because he never organised his charities. But Parsis seem to have forgotten his greatest singularly exemplary service to the Parsi community at a time of crisis. It makes for interesting reading:

When King George V visited India, (Dec. 1911) the Parsis, much against the general declaration by a majority of Indians to boycott the event, went to welcome the King. This caused great anger amongst people in Bombay, and started a riot against the Parsi community.The riot lasted for several days, and angry crowds threatened to forcibly enter various Fire temples to cause damage, and knowing the Parsis do not allow entry to others. Sir Dhunjibhoy Bomanji rose to the occasion and ordered his dockyard labour force along with all those Zoroastrians, especially those Parsis then engaged in manual jobs, thus tough men, to protect the temples from looting and desecration. He provided them with necessary arms allowed to civilians then, probably bamboo sticks and other defensive items, and food and provisions to stand guard at the various Fire Temple entrances.

He would personally tour all the temples throughout Bombay, at night, taking along the Police Commissioner with him. The temples were safeguarded and no fire or damages by rioting crowds on account of the arrangements made by this great man. Today, very few Parsis’ remember him.*

When the Prince of Wales (later King Edward VIII, who abdicated the throne) landed in Bombay on 17th November, 1921. At that time Mahatma Gandhi had given a call to boycott all official functions connected with the Prince’s visit. This was one time that Hindu and Muslims were together!

Over the centuries after we landed in India, the Parsis believed in owing their allegiance to who ever were in power. Accordingly, they believed it was their moral obligation to welcome the Prince.

Boy Scout groups were in vanguard and Parsi ladies also took

Sir Dhunjibhoy Bomanji & Lady Dhunjibhoy Bomanji leading part in welcoming the monarch. Naturally, this was not

palatable with the satyagrahis and they began targeting Parsi Institutions and businesses.

Since they believed that the most sacred institutions to the Parsis were their Fire Temple’s; they started attacking them! At that time there were about six Parsi crorepathis (very rich person) and all of them fled Bombay to their summer homes at Khandala, Lonavla, and Mahableshwar etc. But, in stepped a saviour who thought it was his duty to save our Fire Temples as also the Parsi community.

Dhunjibhoy was well known in the Bombay social circle at that time, so he immediately requested the Police Commissioner to provide armed police personnel to guard our Fire Temples. The Police Commissioner declined saying the full Police Force were on Bandobast duty for the Prince’s visit. He however agreed to provide for arms and amunation. Ultimately, Dhunjibhoy took up on himself to the task to arrange for providing security at Fire Temples, especially in the Grant Road area. Old timers recall that in the Dhobi Talao area were all our Atash Behrams were situated, he had arranged with the Irani restaurant owners (i.e. Alfred, Kyani, and Bastani) to provide food to all Parsi stalwarts who were stationed at the Atash Behrams with arms, at his own expense. A few Parsis were killed. These were the last major riots where Parsis were participants. It is one chapter in Parsi history that the community has chosen to forget. Mahatma Gandhi was ashamed of the action of the people and went on a fast.

A valiant hero of the Parsi community has passed into history unsung. Today, whatever we Parsis are is because of Dhanjibhoy’s courage & gallantry.

Sir Dhunjibhoy Bomanji. (1862 – 1937)

« Older Entries