Category Archives: History

The original Made in India success story: a soap so good, even Tagore modelled for it

In 1919, an entrepreneur responded to the call for Swadeshi by inventing the world’s first Ahimsa soap

This is the story of a feisty entrepreneur who paired business acumen with a higher purpose, and proved to the world that Made in India brands can stand the test of time.

Meet Ardeshir Godrej

For various reasons, including unimpeachable integrity, Ardeshir Godrej’s career as a lawyer never took off. And so, in 1895, he set up a company to make surgical equipment. But when his most prominent client refused to accept a “Made in India” branding on the tools, Ardeshir backed out. Two years later, Godrej went on to set up a lock-making factory which gave him his first taste of success.

World’s first vegetarian soap

At the turn of the century, Godrej got involved in the Indian freedom struggle. Among the many things that piqued his interest was soaps. Now, soap is a relatively modern invention—the first soap was manufactured in Europe some time in the 19th Century. Ardeshir noted that all soap used animal fat, a substance deeply resented by a large section of the Indian population.  (The Mutiny of 1857 was triggered by the use of fat in rifle cartridges, remember?).

Up until then, it was considered impossible to substitute lard and tallow in the soap-making process. But Ardeshir seized upon the opportunity and in 1919, launched the world’s first pure-vegetarian soap, made from vegetable oil extracts. The brand was called Chavi, a nod to Godrej’s lock-making venture, and was pitched as cruelty-free and a Swadeshi alternative to sacrilegious foreign soaps. Naturally, it worked.

The Turkish Bath Soap from the Chaavi range of soaps
The Turkish bath soap from the Chavi range of soaps. Courtesy: Godrej Archives

The Godrej marketing genius

Godrej also had another marketing trick up his sleeve. The first Chavi brand of soaps carried the tag “Godrej No. 2”. And why not “no.1”? “If people find No.2 so good, they will believe No.1 to be even better when it launches,” Godrej reportedly said. Three years later, he launched Godrej no.1, and proved himself right.

The Swadeshi soap

By this time, Mahatma Gandhi’s Swadeshi Movement was in full steam, and Godrej was an active contributor to the cause. While several leaders believed that Indians must adopt homegrown products even if they were inferior, Godrej believed this wasn’t sustainable, and that Indian entrepreneurs must up their game and offer comparable quality to consumers. On this, he publicly crossed swords with some of the leaders.

However, Gandhi deeply appreciated Adershir’s contribution to the struggle. Perhaps why he rejected a request for an endorsement from a rival soapmaker. “I hold my brother Godrej in such high regard… if your enterprise is likely to harm him in any way, I regret very much I cannot give you my blessings,” he wrote. (Another reason could have been that Gandhi himself didn’t use soap—not in the latter half of his life at least. For more than 25 years, he used a stone scrub gifted by his associate Miraben. That’s a story for another time.)

But another national icon did endorse Godrej No.1. It was the man who gave Gandhi the title of Mahatma. “I know of no foreign soaps better than Godrej’s and I will make a point of using it,” read the ad starring Rabindranath Tagore.

The Guru wasn’t the only one to swear by Godrej No.1. Dr Annie Besant and C Rajagopalachari also endorsed the Swadeshi soap.

Dr Annie Besant's endorsement
Dr Annie Besant’s endorsement. Courtesy: Godrej Archives
An ad for Godrej soaps featuring Rabindranath Tagore
An ad for Godrej soaps featuring Rabindranath Tagore. Courtesy: Godrej Archives

Now, over a hundred years after it was launched, Godrej No.1 is among the most popular soap brands in India, with over 380 million bars sold each year. It is among the longest-running Swadeshi brands. And it all began with one man who truly believed in the power of Make in India.

How the name of a Gujarati language printer and publisher who died in the plague lives on in Mumbai

Jehangir B Karani’s business rose, fell and then rose again posthumously.

Jehangir B Karani (1850–1897)

Descending the broad steps of the Town Hall of Mumbai after spending a few hours at the Asiatic Society of Mumbai has always felt like walking on history. The layout of the roads branching from the grand circle laid out in front of the building is exactly the same as it was in 1860, when the vast open space called the Bombay Green was truncated into the Elphinstone Circle, later the Horniman Circle. Many of the buildings also date from the same period, while a few are older. The roads and buildings might have new names, but the old ones linger on.

As I walk past the Mint, built in the 1820s, turn on to Pherozeshah Mehta Road, and head towards Dadabhai Naoroji Road, I am transported to an almost mythical Parsi Land. Both these political heavyweights have been dead for over a hundred years, but their presence still looms large in the city. On my right is Modi Street, a name which can be traced to the last decades of the seventeenth century, when the Mody or Moody family were ship-chandlers to the East India Company.

Further up is Bazaar Gate Street, now Perin Nariman Street, which leads to one of the main exits of the erstwhile Fort of Bombay whose ramparts were demolished in the early 1860s. To the right is a structure, part-clock tower, part-water fountain, erected in 1880 in memory of the businessman Bomanjee Hormusjee Wadia.

Topped by a flame eternally burning in stone, guarded by lamassu – larger than life sculptures that are part-animal, part-bird, with a heavily bearded human face – and adorned with cuneiform inscriptions of the Zoroastrian credo, it was the first attempt to leave a Parsi architectural imprint on the city. On my left is Homji Street, “an old street, named after Behramji Homji (died about 1750), a rich Parsi Merchant,” according to Samuel T Sheppard in his Bombay Place-Names and Street-Names (1917).

Right ahead is a major intersection where the road meets Parsee Bazaar Street. As its very name suggests, it was a market in which most of the shops and establishments were run by Parsis. In the 1890s, the neighbourhood was populated by printing presses, bookshops and newspaper offices, many of them owned and run by Parsis, such as the Frasho-gard Printing Press and the Fort Printing Press.

Most of these names have long disappeared but there is one that is still around: the ground-floor shop at Behramji Mansion bearing the name Jehangir B Karani’s Sons. A prominent printer and publisher of Gujarati books in the nineteenth century, Karani was struck down by the plague in 1897. How has his name survived for over 120 years?

The present shop at Pherozeshah Mehta Road | Image credit: Ganesh Raghuveer

A Bombay childhood

Jehangir Bezonjee Karani grew up in a city which was rapidly transforming itself into a metropolis of the British empire. After experiencing an unprecedented boom in the first half of the 1860s, which swelled its population to over eight lakhs in 1864, the city’s economy collapsed in 1866 but was on the path to recovery by the early seventies when Karani entered business. Karani’s childhood, representative of that of most lower class Parsi men in the mid-nineteenth century, is best described in his own words, which appeared in the introduction to Jehangir Karaniwali Navi Arabian Nights.

“I was born in 1850. My father was a respectable merchant and my mother was a sweet-mannered, innocent soul with a measure of intelligence. As the youngest son of my parents, I was showered with love but in no way was I ever pampered. As was usual in those days, my early education was in a local school run by a mehtaji…In spite of being quite a mischievous boy, I managed to reach the fifth grade under the guidance of a mehtaji named Baldevram.

With some luck, I was able to join the Seth Rustomjee Jamsetjee School at Dhobi Talao with a scholarship. I started learning English in the class of Hormusjee Master. Though he was good in every other way, this Hormusjee Master had a great fault. Once he worked himself up into a mood, he would administer beatings on any student in his line of sight. It did not matter whether you had done your lessons or not; if his jaundiced gaze fell upon you, there was no escape, no argument! Having survived this onslaught for about six months, I was promoted to the class of Dadabhai Dorabjee Master. Under his excellent tutelage, I was able to acquire a little knowledge of English and was generally ranked either first or second in the class.

Around this time, I had to pitch in quite often at my father’s shop. The business was not doing too well at that time and as my presence seemed to be rather useful, I used to take leave from school. My father was toying with the idea of making this arrangement permanent but my mother had other ideas. She was keen that I study further and disapproved of this proposal. However, my father’s resolve was getting stronger by the day, and after the summer vacation in 1868, he never sent me back to school. When he began to take me with him every day to his shop on Parsee Bazaar Street, my distraught mother tried to dissuade him…My dear mother’s protests were swept aside by my father who soon transferred the entire responsibility of the business to me.”

Within two years, Jehangir Karani bought out his father’s stake in the shop at Parsee Bazaar Street and started a small bookshop in 1870. There were perhaps two other independent bookshops in Mumbai for locally published books in Gujarati and Marathi at that time.

Karani initially catered to the school market and stocked a wide range of textbooks and exercise books. He quickly built a reputation such that his name became shorthand for a bookshop among school-going children. Soon enough, author-publishers began to stock their books in his shop. By the mid-1870s, Karani began to enter into pre-publication deals with them and his name began to appear on the title pages as sole bookseller of the book.

Within a few years, Karani had acquired the appellation of “Book-Seller”. If this had happened a few decades earlier, it might well have become the family surname like numerous other trade-based Parsi surnames.

Becoming a publisher

Even in the 1870s, when printing had been established in Mumbai for nearly a century, there was little or no specialisation in the literary food chain. More often than not, the printer doubled up as the bookseller, while the author or creator was the publisher who underwrote the expenses. Sometimes, all these roles were subsumed in one person. Furdoonjee Murzbanjee, the pioneer of Gujarati printing and publishing, whose literary career spanned over three decades until his death in 1847, was also the creator of most of his imprints as author, translator or editor. Furdoonjee printed, published, and sold his own books.

Most authors, however, had to publish their own books and pay printers to get them printed. Alternatively, the author could extend an advance to the printer and in return would get an agreed number of copies, while the rest of the print run could be sold by the printer on his own account.

The three biggest printing presses in Mumbai which focused on Gujarati – the Bombay Samachar Press, the Jame Jamshed Press, and Duftur Ashkara Chhapakhana – were all owned by Parsis and had been in existence for several decades. Their mainstay was a portfolio of magazines and eponymous newspapers. Though they had been publishing books, mainly related to the Zoroastrian religion, on their own account, most of the books printed at these presses were commissioned print jobs.

It was only in the 1870s that the role of the publisher began to evolve in Mumbai when the city experienced a fresh phase of growth. Besides the construction of public buildings, private investment in real estate and industrial infrastructure provided an impetus to all sectors. The increase in the city population from 644,000 in 1872 to 773,000 in 1881 was ascribed by the Bombay City Gazetteer (1909) “to the general progress of trade, particularly of cotton spinning and weaving industry, the extension of railway communication, and the advance of urban administration.” The increasing demand for books in a variety of genres created conditions where publishing could become a profitable business.

For Jehangir Karani, it was just one more step from being a sole seller of books to becoming a publisher. There was a thriving market for guides and tutorials and Karani first began publishing these books which had an assured market among students. Perhaps the first popular book that Karani published on his own account was Hindustani Gayan Sangraha in 1879catering to an insatiable demand for Urdu poetry among the Parsis.

Jehangir Karaniwali Navi Arabian Nights (published 1897)

This was followed by many others in the coming years on topics as varied as the constitution of England, Indian classical music, folk tales and popular stories, medicine, history, astrology, and Zoroastrian religious texts. Many of these books sported titles which emphasised his personal brand; for example, Karaniwalo Ragastan (1882) was a collection of ghazals, lavanis and other musical pieces.

Karani also began to build up a portfolio of periodicals as part of his publishing business. In 1880, he acquired the Gujarati monthly magazine Dnyan Wardhak, which had been in existence from 1873 and was already popular for its articles on drama, history, literature and practical skills. In January 1882, Karani started a weekly newspaper titled the Mumbai Punch, which was intended to provide a humorous take on the week’s events with cartoons and satirical pieces. It, however did not last more than a year.

In 1888, he acquired the Pakhwadiyani Majah, a fortnightly magazine in the same genre. Occasionally, his longer books, like Gujarati translations of classical tales like Don Quixote and Arabian Nights, would first be issued in monthly segments before being published as a book.

A publishing conglomerate

Karani had been getting his books and magazines printed at various Mumbai presses, such as the Nirnayasagar Press and Ripon Printing Press. By the mid-1880s, his publishing business had grown large enough for him to consider setting up a printing press. In 1886, he established the Standard Printing Works, where he printed his own publications besides doing job printing for others. This venture was so successful that he set up a type foundry in 1889 to support the press. Karani’s business was now comparable to that of the three largest Gujarati print establishments.

His original trade of book selling seems to have paled in comparison to the meteoric growth of his printing and publishing business. Karani however had bigger plans. In 1892, he acquired the printing press of the magazine Indian Spectator, owned by the Parsi social reformer BM Malabari, and recast the entire business into a joint-stock company, Jehangir B Karani & Co. According to the prospectus published in The Times of India (4 April 1892), Karani hoped to “bring greater profits when aided by the capital and resources of a company than by the limited means and resources of a private firm.”

While the other directors of the company were Parsis, Karani was the chief executive officer of this company. His family firm Jehangir B Karani & Sons, the designated managing agent of the company, would receive a ten per cent share of the profits besides a percentage of the sales. It had all the makings of a large publishing company with interests across genres, a portfolio of periodical publications, and control of all aspects of the business from printing to distribution.

Gujarati translation of Gulliver’s Travels (1930s edition)

However, not all his associates were happy with this development. They felt that he had relinquished control over an established book selling and publishing business for too little a consideration. The Kaiser-i-Hind (3 April 1892) noted that it was rather courageous of “Mr Karani, who had started his business on a very modest scale, and grown it to its current size by his personal efforts and dedication, to convert it into a public limited company to accelerate its growth.”

Karani began with a bang by establishing branches at Medows Street in the southern part of Fort and on Kalbadevi Road besides the main bookshop at Parsee Bazaar Street. As he had acquired a printing press with expertise in English, Karani began printing and publishing books in that language, besides expanding his Gujarati offering. He also started dealing in books imported from England and began issuing advertisements in newspapers like the Times of India. It did seem that the Karani brand would become a major presence in the Indian publishing industry.

Reversal of fortunes

Towards the end of 1894, however, Karani’s business imploded, likely caused by too rapid an expansion and a mismatch between cash receipts and expenses. Perhaps the other investors were not happy with its prospects under Karani. The business was taken over by three Bhatia businessmen through their company, D Lakhmidas & Co, and Karani had to completely disassociate himself from it in 1895. To ensure that he had a regular income, he began managing the Saraswati Printing Press on behalf of its proprietors from February 1896.

Karani was now neither a bookseller or publisher, but his personal brand name still had a cachet in the Mumbai market. In March 1896, he decided to make a fresh start by restarting the small bookshop at Parsee Bazaar Street under his own name. Like his father did thirty years ago, he installed Manekshah, his eldest son, who was just sixteen then, to handle the shop which was named Jehangir B Karani’s Sons.

He also began to consider publishing projects and decided to issue the third edition of the Arabian Nights, which had been one of his most popular books. But he seems to have had a premonition of worse things to come when he wrote the introduction to the book in April 1896.

“The circumstances under which the first edition of this book was published were very different from my current situation. However these things cannot be helped; change is the only constant. Everybody has seen the changes which have taken place in the fortunes of Jehangir Karani and only God knows what the future holds for him!

If he is still alive, Jehangir Karani will write the introduction to the fourth edition of this book, else my heirs will do so.”

Much of the printing for the book had been completed when the city of Bombay was swamped by the plague epidemic in September 1896. Most of the working population of Bombay under the colonial government was “migrant labour”, whose employment conditions and minuscule wages precluded even a toehold on the city.

They fled the city at the first sight of the disease with its characteristic symptoms: high-grade fever accompanied by swelling of the lymph nodes. Many printing presses had to shut down as there was no one to work the machines. The Saraswati Printing Press also shut down in January 1897. Karani was out of a job and his book project also had to be suspended.

Meanwhile, on 29 November 1896, his wife Deenbai died suddenly. She might have died during childbirth as was the fate of many women during those days, or perhaps she was an early victim of the plague. Karani did not have much time to mourn the loss of his wife, as he had to take care of his eight children.

He moved them to Baroda for their safety but did not stay there for long himself. He returned to Bombay on the 24th of January when the first wave of the epidemic was at its peak. By the 31st, he was afflicted by the disease. When his condition deteriorated steeply, he was admitted to the Parsee Fever Hospital at Byculla where he died on the 4th of February 1897.

Seal of Jehangir B Karani’s Sons

Afterlife of a publisher

The bleak situation of the eight orphan children who had lost their parents in quick succession can best be imagined. However, Jehangir Karani’s eldest son, Manekshah, stepped up to fill the breach. With the help of his father’s friends, he completed Karani’s unfinished book project and published it in June 1897 as Jehangir Karaniwali Navi Arabian Nights.

The firm continued to publish Gujarati novels and books connected with Zoroastrianism on a modest scale. In 1911, Manekshah started the New Art Printing Works, where he printed a variety of greeting cards to be sold at his shop. Designed specially for Parsi festivals, these cards in the Gujarati language proved to be extremely popular.

Hormusjee Bomanjee Memorial (erected 1880) | Image Credit: Rajesh Agrawal

In 1937, over forty years after Karani had lost control of his publishing business, Manekshah purchased the defunct D Lakhmidas & Co so that he could acquire the rights to the books published by his father before 1895. By the time Manekshah died in 1940, the focus of the business had however evolved to stationery, diaries, and cards – embroidered, perfumed, photogravure, Indian views – for every occasion from Christmas and New Year to Diwali and Navroze.

After moving across a few locations on Parsee Bazaar Street, the shop settled at its present location on Pherozeshah Mehta Road in the 1920s. Drawing on the prestige of its founder, it has always retained the name Jehangir B Karani’s Sons, thus becoming one of the last links connecting the city to a time in the nineteenth century when Parsis played a major role in the printing and publishing world of Mumbai.


This series of articles on the impact of the coronavirus pandemic on publishing is curated by Kanishka Gupta.

MEHERWANJI NANABHAI MEHTA, 1-10-1857 – 15-7-1928



Meherwanji was born in his maternal grandmother’s house on the day of Dhanteras 1-10-1857 Roj Ram, Mah Farvandin,1226Y.Z. As it was Dhanteras his grandfather was cleaning money when he got the news about the birth of his Grandson. He immediately proclaimed that, real wealth has come with this boy and he will be rich enough. Instead, Nanabhai suffered a huge loss in his work on the Railway line as the contractor who was entrusted with their funds 50,000 rupees disappeared with the money. He had taken money on loan from his uncle Cawasji, and that too was lost. At that time King Malharrao came to Navsari and he had an astrologer with him. His uncle Cawasji asked the astrologer, why their condition had become so poor; the astrologer asked if there was a birth of a boy in the family. He asked to see the horoscope of the child. He saw the horoscope and replied that this difficulty has fallen due to the birth of the boy. But, when he will become 21 years of age, he will be the benefactor of the family. This prediction has proved true in his case.


Edulji Navroji Mehta



Meherwanji studied in Bombay till the age of 13 until hard times fell on the family and they shifted to Navsari. He and his brother Dorab studied at the Sir Cowasji Jehagirji Madrasa in Navsari. When he was 17 years old his uncle Edulji Navroji Mehta came to Navsari from China. Edulji was impressed with Meherwanji and he sent him to Calcutta where he studied at St Xaviers College for 3 years. His uncle Edulji gifted him 10 sets of clothes when he left and Meherwanji  had to manage with these for the 3 years he spent in college .After graduating he worked in a commercial firm for a meagre salary of Rupee’s 7. He was not happy and he wrote to his uncle Edulji to call him to China, in the hope of starting his own trading business. In reply his uncle sent him 13 crates of gold-plated bangles worth Rs 4000. These Chinese bangles were very popular in India and in 1879 he started his own business and soon became The Bangle King of India. Together with bangles he used to sell other articles from Japan, England, Germany and Austria. In 1897 he went to China and opened a branch of his business there leaving his brother Dorabjee in charge of his affairs in Calcutta.



Meherwanji Nanabhai Mehta


Ratanbai Meherwanji Mehta



















Nalibai Meherwanji Mehta (1st Wife)


Firozshah Meherwanji Mehta (Son)

















In 1914 Meherwanji was trapped in Germany in World War 1, however he managed to escape and make his way back. In 1915 he went to Japan and opened a branch of his office and put his nephew Manaji in charge. He also opened a branch in Mumbai in 1916. He started a glass factory in Calcutta named MN Mehta Glass works and a Match Factory in Ootacamond. He had a business in hosiery Goods and electronic Goods. People said he had the Midas Touch and anything he touched turned to Gold.

Meherwanji contributed over 1.5 crores to charity. In addition, every month he would donate Rs 350 for helping the poor Parsis and Rs 1000 for the muktad fund. Moreover, he would give gifts on the navjote and wedding of poor Parsis, and also for the education of poor Zarthusti boys

His charitable donations included: –

  • Rs700 for Tarapore Nasakhana
  • Rs2,000 for Calcutta’s Late Ervad DB Mehta Zoroastrian Anjuman Atash Adaran.
  • Rs4,000 for Calcutta
  • Rs 4,000 for Dharamsala in Calcutta.
  • Rs2,400 for buying the house Navaz Baug in Zampa Street.
  • Rs 4,000 for building Mehta Club in Lunsikui in Navsari in memory of his uncle Edulji Navroji Mehta
  • Rs 2,000 for giving shelter to poor Zarthostis in memory of Seth Pestonji Edulji Mehta
  • Rs 20,000 for gifting a building for Seth R.J.J.A.V. School
  • Rs 1,00,000 for the D N Mehta Parsi Maternity Hospital and its maintenance
  • Rs 500 to build a well at Mogar village in Jabalpore


The wells of Navsari were of salty water, hence people brought water from outside.

The people from Navsari brought water from a big well with steps inside it, which was outside the city. But there was only one well and Parsi women would quarrel with Hindu women. A new well was built for the Parsis.




  • Rs700 to build Navsari Sayaji Vaibhav Library compound wall
  • Rs 500 in Ratanji Faramji Dabu general Hospital Fund
  • Rs 500 to build a Parsi block at Kunoor
  • Rs 20,000 to build a separate building at the Navsari Atash Behram
  • Rs 1,200 for an extra wing at Sir R J J A N School
  • Rs 2,300 for repairing Navazbaug
  • Rs 2,500 for an additional wing at Navsari Mehta Club
  • Rs 1,000 for building Hat Bana Club
  • He established a building called Navazbaug at Zampa Street for the functions of Zarthustis


Inscription at Navaj Baug:-

This building was bought by Meherwanji Nanabhai Mehta in memory of his late mother Navajbai and his Late father Nanabhai Manaji Mehta 26-12-1899


Inscription at Mehta Club

This building was built by Seth Meherwanji Nanabhai Mehta in memory of his uncle Edulji Navroji Mehta and wife Nalibai Merwanji Mehta. It is built for the use of the members of the Club.16-6-1906 AD



Mehta Club Navsari


He gave his own residence at Dudha Street for the Seth R J J A N School

Inscription on the building of the school

This building was built by the citizens of Navsari and the businessman of Calcutta Seth Merwanji Nanabhai Mehta in memory of his late wife Nalibai Merwanji Mehta.

D N Mehta Maternity Hospital 


Mehta Bldg. – Parsi Orphanage, NavsariInscription at the D N Mehta Parsi Lying in Hospital

The D N Mehta lying in Hospital (erected by M N Mehta) was laid by Rao Bahadur Khaserao Balvant Jadav, 3rd March 1913 AD.

The building was built in memory of his brother Dorab N Mehta who died young. At first it was a twelve-bed hospital but as the concept of women going to a hospital to deliver became popular a huge building was added with 40 beds. The orthodox Parsis did not want a maternity hospital at Navsari as they thought it would pollute the area which was a “Dharam ni Tekri”. But public opinion was in favour of the hospital and permission was granted.

The Maharaja Saheb of Gaekwad of Baroda awarded him the gold medal of ‘Datar Mandal” on the occasion of his birthday in 1916.


When he died at the age of 71, he left behind 6 buildings in Calcutta, 5 in Kobe and Canton and a large palatial home in Navsari.


A meeting of the entire Parsi Anjuman of Navsari was held in Khurshedwadi to mourn his death and to record the community’s appreciation and gratitude, under the chairmanship of the Head Desaiji Saheb Ardesher Maneckji. A decision was taken to include his name in the list of those remembered in Zoroastrian prayers, and to place his oil portrait in the main hall of the Atash  Behram and to install his statue at the  maternity Hospital. His admirers and well wishers raised funds for the statue and portrait and on 25th January1930 Sir Phiroze Cursetji Sethna unveiled his statue and portrait. Two such statues must have been ordered. I have the privilege of having the statue in my house. Samara Mehta Vyas, Nirvhan Mehta Vyas, Ariyanah Mehta and Viviana Mehta (pictured below with the bust of Meherwanji) are the youngest descendants of his brother Dorabji.


All the above from Mehta Vanshavali – Courtesy: Prochy Mehta

Mehta Vansavali – in Gujarati

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Mehta Vansavli translated in English





The St Xavier’s College team of 1942. In the middle row, the first four from left are Rusi Modi, Anwar Sheikh, KC Ibrahim, Russi Cooper. Behind Ibrahim is Jimmy Wadia. Photo courtesy: The Gulu Ezekiel collection


Rustom Cooper, born in Mumbai, Maharashtra, India, on 15th December 1922, today became Middlesex’s oldest first-class cricketer, aged 97 years, 183 days old.

Prior to this, the record was held by James Gilman, who passed away in Shoreham, East Sussex, on 14th September 1976, aged 97 years, 182 days.

Cooper made a handful of appearances for Middlesex, between 1949 and 1951, making his first-class debut for the club against Cambridge University at Fenners in May 1949, when he made 36 of Middlesex’s first innings total of 402 for 4 declared.

In total he made surprisingly few appearances for the club, considering he finished his first-class career with a batting average of 52.39, although for Middlesex, in eight matches, his average of just 19.63 and a highest score of 54 belied the quality he had. A contributing factor in Cooper making only fleeting appearances at Lord’s in this era becomes clear, when you consider that he would have had to dislodge the likes of Jack Robertson, Denis Compton, Bill Edrich and Gubby Allen to secure a regular place in the side.

Throughout his time with Middlesex he also played club cricket for Hornsey, which is where he achieved legendary status, for both his weight of runs and for the flair in which accumulated them.

Our thanks go to Johnny Bruce and Hornsey Cricket Club for the following content, which has been copied from their website with the club’s blessing.


Between 1946 and 1953 Russi Cooper bestrode Hornsey cricket like a colossus. Even in our outstanding post-war side Cooper stood out for both his weight of runs and the elegance with which he batted. 5,968 runs at an average of 85.25 (excluding 1947, where figures are not available), his stats for the club are near Bradmanesque, and his shot selection abided by one of the Don’s batting axioms: keep the ball on the ground.

For all the mountains of runs, those who played alongside Cooper could never remember a single instance of him hitting a six.

It was another batting great, Denis Compton, who spotted Rustom Sorabji Cooper (born 22 December 1922) and brought him to the attention of Middlesex cricket.

Although Russi’s batting style wouldn’t have been suited to the IPL he was a young sensation in Indian domestic cricket, playing for both the Parsees and his native Mumbai, scoring a century in the 1945 Ranji Trophy against CK Nayudu’s Holkar.

Compton, stationed with the Army in India during the Second World War, played for the Holkar in that match and had in fact, witnessed another hundred by Russi the week before when he was playing for the Cricket Club of India. He was so impressed by Cooper’s performance that he informed Middlesex about his new discovery.

Indian players in county cricket were a rarity at the time, but Cooper was sufficiently encouraged to take up a place at the London School of Economics in 1946 and to pursue his cricketing career in Europe.

He arrived with a letter of recommendation addressed to Colonel PS Rait Kerr, secretary of the MCC, written by KS Duleepsinhji. He played some cricket for Indian Gymkhana and for a nomadic side called the Buccaneers, playing for Hornsey on a Sunday.

He turned out often for Middlesex 2nd XI (including one match at Tivoli Road, in fact). However, as is still the case, the serious cricket was played on a Saturday and Russi shifted his allegiance to Hornsey’s extremely strong Saturday side and its impressive fixture list. The rest, as they say, is history.

His debut season in 1946 harvested 571 runs at an average of 114.2, and went on to make 19 centuries for the club (18 of them not out!), with a top score of 135* against Richmond in 1950.

Cooper scored over 1,000 runs in a summer on three occasions for Hornsey, in 1948, 1952 and 1953. Arthur Cornick, who served as Honorary Secretary of Hornsey for over fifty years said he was at his best in a run chase. He would be 30* before anyone had noticed and would time a run chase to perfection. It was said that he would often won the game in the last over, with the winning runs bringing up his century. Derek Rata, another Hornsey great who had a couple of games for Middlesex Second XI was frequently Russi’s batting partner and recalls been asked by Russi how to hit the ball over the top (there is no record of Russi ever hitting a six for Hornsey). After lobbing him a few gentle half volleys and having been bit back at ferocious pace along the ground, they both gave up and decided to let sleeping dogs lie.

In 1950 he scored 945 runs at an average of 157.50. This included his epic month of June 1950, when he batted 8 times, 6 not out, for 624 runs at an average of 312.00.

The golden English sporting summer on 1953 was Cooper’s most prolific and sadly his last for the club. He scored 1,117 in his 19 innings that summer at an average of 139.62 – by some distance the highest average of any Hornsey 1,000 run season.

He would make sporadic appearances for Middlesex – a final first-class batting average of 52.39 confirms his talent – but happily spent his most productive success at Tivoli Road.

With such a rich vein of form in 1953 it’s little wonder that Cooper was considered very close to a call up to the touring Indian side that year for the tour of England. However, he had also qualified as a barrister and decided to return home at the end of the year with his English wife.

He made a visit, anonymously, to Tivoli Road in the late 1960s. In London on business, he spent the afternoon watching the 1st XI play, without being recognised, and then slipped away at the end of the match without anyone realising who he was.

His life and location took on an element of mystery until Hornsey’s archivist and historian Johnny Bruce tracked him down in 2008. Various attempts to find him via the Indian Cricket authorities were unsuccessful and, indeed, it was not even known whether Russi was dead or alive.

Then out of the blue, the Cricinfo website stated on his profile page that he was President of the Rotary Club of Singapore in 1984-85. An email was sent to the Rotary Club of Singapore and within 10 minutes a reply was received saying that the Russi Cooper from the Rotary Club was NOT the Russi Cooper from Hornsey CC.It did, however, also state that the Russi Cooper we were after lived in Mumbai, and here was his ‘phone number. We rang him, and Russi had his first contact with anyone from Hornsey for 55 years. He was delighted to receive a copy of the Hornsey Almanack which fully reflected his status as a Hornsey great and we enjoyed many conversations with him reminiscing about games and players past.

Around this time, Chetan Patel was about to holiday in India and was delighted to meet up with Russi at the Cricket Club of India a few days ahead of the great man’s 86th birthday in 2008. Chetan was glad to report back on of a fabulously fit and agile enthusiast for the game with many cherished memories of some glittering years at Hornsey, on and off the cricketing field.

His cricket career had stalled on his return to India due to a serious knee injury, but he was still an avid spectator and follower of the game.

A delightful player and person, Russi Cooper is one of the players that made Hornsey special and a crucial part of our club’s legacy.

For more archive information on Hornsey greats, visit HERE

Silvern Journey: The Story of the Afarganyu of the Sukkur Agiary

Recently we had carried an article about the erstwhile Sukkur Agiary in Pakistan. Our dear friend Nerina Rustomji sent us an article she had authored more than two decades ago. This was published on April 10, 1998 in the program book on the occasion of the opening of the Zarathushti Heritage & Cultural Center, in Houston; the home of the Zoroastrian Association of Houston.

Allow me to introduce myself

I am the Afarganyu in the prayer room of the Zarathushti Heritage and Culture Center in Houston, Texas. If you haven’t seen me before, you should drop by. Once you glance at me and my impressive height, you will probably want to know where I came from and how I got to Houston.

My journey was not an easy one. Before I reached Houston, I was living a lonely life in an abandoned agiary in Sukkur, Pakistan. Little did I know that a couple form Houston asked their Pakistani friends if there were any spare afarganyus for the Center. The Dasturji of Quetta suggested that I volunteer, since all the Zoroastrians left Sukkur in 1950’s and I just sitting in an unused agiary. After obtaining permission from my legal guardian – the Parsi Anjuman of Quetta – someone sent two men from Karachi to drive to Sukkur, pick me up, and deliver me safely to Karachi. And so these men drove the dusty road, opened the dilapidated agiary and packed me up.

But I was not telling you the embarrassing part. I was not as beautiful as I am today. In fact, I was jet black and those in Karachi and Houston worried that I was made of copper. But they had faith in me and didn’t abandon me. Instead someone polished me – and then my beautiful shine emerged. (A silver afarganyu needs a bath too!)

And so I was ready for my new home in Houston. The problem was that we needed the permission of the Pakistani government who considered me valuable; in fact, an antique. So the officials initially refused to allow my passage. And after some persuasion, everyone agreed that I could stay in Houston only if work in a religious institution. I was overjoyed to be able to live in a thriving community again. The next day, someone freighted me to Houston.

So there you have it. I first served the Sukkur community from the mid nineteenth century to the 1940’s Owned by Pakistan, I was brought to Houston by the kindness of my friends in Houston and Pakistan. But how did I get to Sukkur? I was donated by a railway engineer named Seth Phirojshaw Rustomji Mehta. This kind man inscribed the following words in Gujarati on to my torso.


Seth Phirojshaw Rustomji Mehta’s gift to Sukkur Pakistan Dar-e-Meher on Roj 20 month 5 year 1286 y.g. date 28 January 1917.

Whoever thought that seventy-nine years later I would be at the gala opening of Houston’s Zarathushti Heritage and Cultural Center? Thank you for inviting me into such a thriving and dynamic community in the New World. May our friendship bring peace and joy to the Zarathushtis of Houston.

My journey was possible due to the efforts of:

Abadan Abadan, Minoo Bharucha, Khurshid Kaikobad Marker, Dasturji Sohrabji Makujina and Purves Rana of Quetta; Sarfaraz and Feroze Golwalla, Rana Thakur, and Adarbad Wadia of Karachi. Baki and Mike Minwalla of Dubai; and Aban and Purvez Rustomji of Houston; and of course Seth Phirojshaw Rustomji Mehta and the former residents of Sukkur, Pakistan

I look forward to serving the Houston community and the Zarathushtis of North America. Be sure to visit me during the Seventh World Zoroastrian Congress December 28-2000, January 1, 2001.



And later in 2017…Nerina followed up with an article in the Manashni, the newsletter of the Zoroastrian Association of Houston.

Did we miss an anniversary?

January 28, 2017, was the 100th anniversary of the afarganyu in our prayer room. The inscription in the prayer room says it was gifted by Seth Phirojshaw Rustomji Mehta to the Sukkur’s Dar-e-Meher. Over the years the Sukkur Zoroastrian community dwindled and the afarganyu sat in an abandoned agyari. So how did it get to Houston? The journey was not a simple one. Permission was first sought from the guardian Quetta Parsi Anjuman. Then came the arduous task of getting permission from the Pakistan government, who initially refused as it was considered to be valuable; in fact, an antique.

After some persuasion, it was allowed to leave only if it was placed in a place of worship. So it traveled from the dusty roads of Sukkur to the Karachi harbor where it was packed and shipped to Houston. A few will remember the aferganyu was jet black when it arrived and we were worried it was made of copper and not silver. And while Phase I of ZHCC was being constructed, the afarganyu sat in a home garage for a long time. Community members took turns in cleaning it and finally a silver shine emerged.

So there you have it – a 100 years later we treasure this gift donated by a railway engineer named Seth Phirojshaw Rustomji Mehta and thank all those who were responsible for bringing it Houston.

Courtesy: Parsi Khabar

Silvern Journey: The Story of the Afarganyu of the Sukkur Agiary

The Cowasjee Dinshaw Collection of the Adenwalla Archive

The Cowasjee Dinshaw Collection of the Adenwalla Archive reveals rare records of a family of merchant-princes, last of the philanthropic Bombay sethias, who fronted the golden age of Parsis in Aden

Aden House, the Cowasjee Dinshaw & Bros. building

Meher MarfatiaThey were the uncrowned kings of Aden in an age of Empire. Tempering entrepreneurial acumen with gentle philanthropy, Cowasjee Dinshaw (1827-1900) and his heirs dominated commercial and civic life of this port city, located strategically in the Arabian Peninsula at the south of present-day Yemen.

If significant writings track the Parsi trade with China, we have scant profiles of pioneers venturing to the Middle East. The Cowasjee Dinshaw Collection, inaugurating the Adenwalla Archive, is offered by Bombaywalla Historical Works, historian Dr Simin Patel’s organisation. Vast and visually captivating, it frames the fortunes of an illustrious clan transforming Aden from sleepy sandscape to the Crown’s busiest transit hub with 80,000-ton oil tankers passing through.

The Cowasjee Dinshaw Agiary built for the port's Parsi immigrants was funded by its benefactor in 1883. Pic courtesy/Soli Daruwalla
The Cowasjee Dinshaw Agiary built for the port’s Parsi immigrants was funded by its benefactor in 1883. Pic courtesy/Soli Daruwalla

Arriving in Aden from Bombay in 1845, Cowasjee worked for Muncherjee Eduljee Sopariwalla & Sons, where his father Dinshaw was manager. Within five years he braved it solo, providing the garrison and government basic supplies from a thatched hut in Crater, the dormant volcano site he rode to on a donkey, sometimes a pony. Realising the potential of a modern port, with sagacious vision he proceeded to remodel it for traffic between the Indian Ocean and Europe.

Cowasjee Dinshaw & Bros. was set up in 1854. Cowasjee was principal partner, with his brothers Dorabjee and Pestonjee partners in their office at Steamer Point, Tawahi, on the harbour. Emerging renowned ship chandlers, they capably controlled military, naval and livestock supplies, launched sea routes for communication networks, ferried travellers between Aden, Perim and the Somali coast. When the Suez Canal rose in 1869, the British India Steam Navigation Company hired this firm as Aden agents. The Cowasjee Dinshaw, Bhicaji Cowasjee and Shilay Yehuda emporiums were main attractions along Crescent arcade of Steamer Point.

Portrait of Cowasjee Dinshaw, the founder patriarch of 19th-century Aden's leading business house
Portrait of Cowasjee Dinshaw, the founder patriarch of 19th-century Aden’s leading business house

“The archives preserve an important slice of the history of Parsis in Aden,” says Parsiana editor Jehangir Patel, Cowasjee’s seventh-generation descendant and Simin’s father. “We discovered photos and documents in iron trunks in godowns and storage rooms.” Focused on Cowasjee’s community-consolidating activities, these examine his pivotal role as the contributor and custodian of such assets as a fire temple and funerary tower.

The wealth willingly reserved always for public good, facilities for the local population included a mosque and medical dispensary for Tawahi’s poor.

Postcard captioned "Mr Leo takes his usual bath". The Adenwallas were gifted the African lion as a pet cub by one of their sea trading partners. Pics Courtesy/Bombaywalla Historical Works
Postcard captioned “Mr Leo takes his usual bath”. The Adenwallas were gifted the African lion as a pet cub by one of their sea trading partners. Pics Courtesy/Bombaywalla Historical Works

Cowasjee Dinshaw & Bros. recruited boys from Bombay and Gujarat. Shiavax Bokdawalla of Navsari was picked as a 17-year-old in 1943. His sons, Jamshed and Sarosh, reveal three generations of their mother’s family were Aden-born. “Weekly outings were to Gold Mohur Beach or Prince of Wales Pier. Going on to work with Noshir Motivala’s Allied Agencies, our father finally started his own Mazda Stores in Malla, selling provisions and liquor,” Jamshed recalls. The republic forming in 1962, South Yemen remained with the British as the Aden Protectorate until 1967, when it became independent.

“Revolts caused conditions to deteriorate terribly. Dad came to Poona with just the clothes he wore,” says Sarosh Bokdawalla.

Those were heavy-hearted homecomings. Fleeing the ravages of civil war, wrought by armed insurgents from the Radfan mountains, among the last to leave, Noshir Tangri exited Aden with mixed relief and regret—”Memories of my father’s establishments, Star Pharmacy and Ice Factory, make me miss the prestige we enjoyed.”

That heyday had followed the finest hospitality template laid by Cowasjee. Designated a Companion of the British Empire (CIE) in 1894, he felicitated viceroys, dignitaries and even the Prince of Wales in 1875 on his passage to India. His heirs as readily entertained touring members of the community. With the canal, the advent of steam-powered ships and maritime surge, the number of Parsi visitors upped. Informed of these sojourns, the Aden sethias welcomed them warmly with invitations to grand meals.

“Parsis residing overseas graciously greeted their brethren,” says Jehangir Patel. “Ships anchoring at a distance, passengers boarded launches to reach port. They looked forward to duty-free shopping in Aden.” One of his trips was in 1953, en route west on a P&O liner and in 1955 aboard an Anchor Line steamer to India. “On my last visit in 1964, westward on a Lloyd Triestino steamer, a special launch fetched me courtesy Dinshaw H Dinshaw, Cowasjee Dinshaw’s grandson, the grandfather of Kaikobad and Dadi Pudumjee, and last family member in Aden. Co-passengers were duly impressed when my name was announced on the public address system.

“My maternal grandfather, Nusserwanjee, Dinshaw’s younger brother visiting at the time, was in the hospital, knocked down by a car while crossing the road. After meeting him, I had lunch with Dinshaw and his lawyer Mansoor. At the department store run by Cowasjee Dinshaw & Bros. I bought an Underwood or Olivetti portable typewriter. There were no fancy display racks but durable items one wished to purchase were surely there. I never heard anyone complain of not getting what they wanted. Compared to socialistic India, this was a consumer’s paradise.The parts I visited had not many structures, the desert appeared all around. The place had a laidback, languid air and was appealing,” he adds.

In dry Aden, with 45-degree summers, about 1,300 Parsis in peak years lived alongside 30,000 Gujaratis, Sindhis and Punjabis. Among other desi tycoons groomed by Aden was a 16-year-old who journeyed in 1950 to clerk for A. Besse & Co., on to distributing Shell petroleum products. He was Dhirubhai Ambani, dreaming of an oil refinery for India. Besides Brits were the French, Italians, Greeks, Jews and a few Chinese. The port refuelled ships routed from Europe to India, other parts of Asia and Australia.

Kaikobad Pudumjee, Jehangir’s second cousin, shares how the family was gifted Leo, the pet lion, from either Ethiopia or coastal Zanzibar to which they sailed a service. The cub was pampered in their Steamer Point compound. “Our Aden home huge enough for him to roam the first floor, its antique carved furniture was nicked by claw marks,” he remembers, laughing. Growing larger and louder, Leo’s sunset growls scared away evening shoppers. At the Governor’s request, he was shipped to the Victoria Gardens zoo in Bombay.

The leonine tale is charming family lore. A dramatic episode stirring the entire faith is of the Aden Atash (fire), of the holiest Adaran grade, brought to Bombay in November 1976. Cowasjee had erected the Aden agiary for Parsi migrants in 1883. Communism seizing Yemen a century after, they were determined to fly back the flame, which nurtured them on foreign shores. It was an act of courage and conviction. Pressure mounted for the move from the Indian Foreign Ministry and Indira Gandhi personally intervened. Attending a diplomatic conclave in Colombo, YB Chavan persuaded the Yemeni administration to release the Atash.

Venerated by an all-Parsi crew aboard Lhotse, Air India’s chartered Boeing 707, the sacred fire “rested” at Mahim’s Soonawala Agiary, before being convoy-escorted to Lonavla’s Adenwalla Agiary, where it still glows beautifully.

“This compilation studies the idea of industry going ahead of prosperity to be involved in every aspect of philanthropy,” says Bombaywalla’s archive keeper Kamna Anand. Categorising memorabilia that mostly came to light this year—postcards, letters, minutes of meetings for funded projects and plans of Aden’s “Parsee Enclosure”—she naturally finds more thorough documentation for successive generations.

Internationally respected as trusted bankers and ship chandlers, the family hosted George V in 1911, arriving for the Delhi Durbar to celebrate his coronation. Chairs from that function continue to be used in Adenwalla Baug, their ancestral mansion at Tardeo. Cowasjee’s son Hormusjee was an esteemed guest at the 1930 Bombay Central Station opening ceremony and, the year after, at the first Bombay Historical Congress in the University Council Hall. The 1927 Cowasjee Dinshaw Centenary Memorial Volume, by Framroze Ardeshir Dadrawala, holds biographical sketches of Aden’s Parsis led by the exceptional daring of Cowasjee Dinshaw.

Spending pleasant afternoons translating records from Gujarati to English, journalist Farrokh Jijina uncovered ample evidence of generous endowments. Gujarati documents refer to Cowasjee Dinshaw Darjina. Suggestive of a tailor, Darjina was the surname his grandfather, acquired in Bombay. Adenwalla got appended later. Both indicate the assignation of surnames based on occupation or native place. It was for Bombay society the Adenwalla suffix spelt cachet; in Aden resided many Adenwallas. “Cowasjee Dinshaw Adenwalla” signed a list of terms for the firm’s donation towards constructing the Anjuman Atash Behram, a major new fire temple at Dhobi Talao in the 1890s.

“Cowasjee Dinshaw is an inspiring example of what individuals achieve with foresight, ambition and ability,” says Jehangir Patel. “Similar archives will be an impetus to others to disseminate documents related to their families, neighbourhoods, cities or countries.”

“I Feel A Load Off My Shoulder”

Maravala fixing the Aden Agiary's toran at the doorway to the Lonavla fire temple's sanctum sanctorum. Pic courtesy/Filly Maravala
Maravala fixing the Aden Agiary’s toran at the doorway to the Lonavla fire temple’s sanctum sanctorum. Pic courtesy/Filly Maravala

Filly Maravala, the first Zoroastrian Mayor of London, in 1999, recently reunited the Aden Agiary’s silver toran with the Lonavla fire temple’s Aden Atash Padshah Saheb holy flame.

“I left Aden in 1967. After 15 years, I revisited our Agiary, looked after by a gentleman I know as Madan Uncle. He urged me to bring back to England several Agiary artefacts, for fear of these falling into wrong hands. Wary of the Customs, I took only this easily foldable silver toran.

Asked by a Yemeni Customs officer what the article was, I explained in fluent Arabic that it pertained to my religion. Unfolding the toran, I put on my cap and recited the Ashem Vohu prayer. He cleared me.

From 1982 till 2016, I had the toran in my house, carefully polishing it on auspicious occasions. An inner voice urged me to reunite it with the Aden Atash Padshah Saheb enthroned in Lonavla. I contacted Sarosh Dinshaw, a trustee of the Lonavla Agiary, promising I would personally fix it there. On December 24, 2016, I hung it on the door leading to the Atash Padshah Saheb. I feel a load off my shoulder. People may come and go, but our beloved chaandi nu toran will forever stay close to Aden’s Atash Padshah Saheb.”

Updated: Jun 07, 2020, 07:45 IST | Meher Marfatia | Mumbai

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