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.
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.
Please join our team “Zoroastrians Go Green” to participate in a global Plastic Free Ecochallenge this July. July is a global Plastic Free Month, and ZAKOI has started a team in this global Plastic Free EcoChallenge from 1st – 31st July. Please join our team and invite your contacts also to join our team. You can commit as little as a few minutes of your time to whatever you are able to do in July to reduce your use of SUPs (Single Use Plastics), and/or learn about the harmful impact that using plastics has on our world’s environment. It’s free! You can sign up from anywhere in the world to be a part of our team here or this link below:
Make it a family activity in July to help Mother Earth by reducing your use of plastics, and have fun while doing your good deeds! No good action is too small or insignificant in helping our planet. Collectively we all can make a huge difference to improve the future health of our Mother Earth.
Please see our Flyer attached as well as info below. We have also attached instructions on how to join the ecochallenge as well as how to select your actions, in case that helps.
Thx so much in advance, and looking forward to your participation!!!
ZAKOI (Zoroastrian Association of KY, OH, & IN)
ZOROASTRIANS GO GREEN
Join the movement to refuse Single-Use Plastics (SUPs). Plastic Free Ecochallenge is a month-long effort for all of us to shift away from our single-use plastic dependency, and to care for our ecosystems. The solution to the planet’s biggest challenges lies in the power of collective action. By taking action in our own lives and inspiring the people around us, each of us contributes to a world of impact.
Together, let’s create a plastic-free world!
Please join our team “Zoroastrians Go Green” to participate in a global Plastic Free Ecochallenge this July. It’s free! You can sign up from anywhere in the world to be a part of our team here or this link below:
Did you know Boman Irani once worked as a waiter and earned only ₹105 per month? From starting his journey as a server at the French restaurant Rendezvous at @Taj Hotels Mumbai to making a mark as a trailblazer in Indian cinema. While he’s known for his impeccable comic timing, he’s also got an irresistible charm and charisma that he brings to the table. On this episode of Tere Gully Mein, we had the pleasure of walking down memory lane in South Mumbai with Boman Irani & going back to where it all started for him. He shared some extremely endearing anecdotes about what experiences have made him who he is today. Catch him join Kamiya Jani as they travel through the gullies of South Mumbai. Boman Irani makes his OTT debut with Masoom now streaming on Disney+ Hotstar
Billionaire Pallonji Mistry, Chairman of diversified Shapoorji Pallonji (SP) Group, died in the wee hours of Tuesday here, company officials said.
Mistry, whose SP Group is the largest shareholder in the Tata Group with 18.37 per cent holding in the over $100 billion conglomerate, was 93.
“India-born Mistry died mid-sleep at 0100 hrs at the family residence in South Mumbai,” they said. He had acquired Irish citizenship.
Paying tribute to him, Prime Minister Narendra Modi tweeted that he is saddened by the passing away of the billionaire.
“He made monumental contributions to the world of commerce and industry,” Modi said.
Born in 1929, Mistry headed the privately held, over $5-billion SP Group having its roots in the construction business, which had diversified into other businesses like real estate, textiles, shipping and home appliances.
The reclusive business icon, who was reportedly worth over $29 billion, was awarded with the Padma Bhushan, India’s third highest civilian award, in 2016.
He is survived by four children, including Cyrus Mistry, who succeeded Ratan Tata as Chairman of the Tata Group before being ousted by the board in 2016.
In the last few years, the going has been tough for the SP Group from a financial perspective and it also suffered difficulties with raising money by pledging its Tata Group shares.
The Mistrys have been challenging the removal of Cyrus and in the process of the legal tangles, have also offered to exit their holding in the Tata Group.
Amid the financial difficulties, the SP Group sold a majority stake in home appliances major Eureka Forbes to private equity major Advent to raise ₹ 4,400 crore.
The SP Group was founded in 1865, and has built significant buildings in the financial capital over its 150-year existence including that of Reserve Bank of India and HSBC.
Union Cabinet Minister Smriti Irani described Mistry’s death as the end of an era. “One of life’s greatest joys was to have witnessed his genius, his gentleness at work,” she added.
Other ministers including Nitin Gadkari, Mansukh Mandaviya, Hardeep Singh Puri and Karnataka Chief Minister B S Bommai also expressed condolences.
A funeral service will be held on Wednesday morning, which will be followed by the ‘Uthamna’ ritual as per Parsi conventions at the Tower of Silence in South Mumbai’s Kemps Corner, officials said.
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.
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.
Recently a restaurant in North Carolina was voted as the most outstanding in America but what has got the world talking is its unique menu ‘Indian street food’. Watch this interview with Meherwan Irani
Every year in this region, the Tirgan festival, one of the most important festivals of the ancient Iranians, is held on the first day of summer as a symbol of miracles, blessings of agriculture, and water protection, the provincial tourism chief Mostafa Marzban said.
A selection of top farmers from the region was honored during the ceremony, the official added.
Tirgan is a time-honored Iranian festival usually observed as a rain festival. Tiragan, along with Noruz, Yalda Night and Mehregan are amongst feasts widely celebrated in the ancient land.
Currently, the summer festival is mainly celebrated by Iranian Zoroastrians. The celebration is widely attested by historians such as Abu Saeid Gardezi, Biruni, and Al-Masudi, as well as European travelers to Iran during the Safavid era.
The Tirgan festivity refers to the archangel, ‘Tir’ (meaning arrow) or ‘Tishtar’ (lightening), referring to thunderstorms that bring much-needed rain that boost harvest and avert drought.
The ancient legend of the Tir (arrow) refers to “Arash of the swift arrow” or ‘Arash the archer’ (Arash-e Kamangir).
According to the Zoroastrian calendar, every thirty days of the month carries a name. The thirteenth day of the month of Tir on the Persian calendar (June 22 – July 22) is named after the respective month, Tir.
Legend has it that Arash was the best archer in the Persian army. He was selected to settle a land dispute between Persia and Turan (present-day Central Asia).
When the kings of the two lands – Manouchehr and Afrasiyab – decided to settle their dispute and set a permanent boundary between Persia and Turan, they arrived at a mutual understanding that Arash should climb to the tall Mount Damavand’s peak, and from there shoot an arrow toward the east. Wherever his arrow landed, they agreed, would determine the boundary between the two kingdoms.
Arash shot his arrow (Tir) on the 13th day of the Persian month of Tir, which fell on the banks of the Jeyhun (the Oxus) River. Thus, the borders of the two countries were marked.
Legend has it that as soon as the border dispute was settled, rain began pouring down on both lands, which had been suffering from an eight-year drought.
Thus this day, the 13th of Tir (July 4th) is celebrated as the Festival of Rain.
It is customary for Zoroastrians to tie rainbow-colored ribbons around their wrists for ten consecutive days and toss the ribbons into a stream on the day of the festival.
The Festival of Rain is celebrated by people dancing, singing, reciting poetry, and serving delicacies such as spinach soup and ‘sholeh zard’ (saffron-flavored rice pudding).
My first association with Dr Zarine Pessi Dadina dates back to 1978, when I took my new born to this wonderful paediatrician in Kolkata. She continued as one to all the children in the family. Little did I know how Providence had brought us together. On a bigger, more beautiful and utterly holistic journey together. Once the birds left the nest, we once again bonded in a totally different and spectacular manner. This time Dr Dadina’s avatar in my life was as a mentor, guide, inspiration and a wonderful new journey began in 2001.
Dr Zarine P. Dadina was a being on a mission on Earth. Ordinance had willed her to serve and love the underprivileged and abandoned children of this world. While she headed the Assembly of God Hospital as its core spirit of service to humanity, one afternoon a foreigner friend walked in with a new born in her arms. The baby’s mother had died on the streets of Kolkata, uncared and unattended to. The new born would probably have met the same fate, had it not been for this kind hearted lady. So here was this baby, literally placed in Dr Dadina’s arms and requested to provide the necessary care and nutrition. She took the baby under her warm embrace and thus was born the Society For Indian Children’s Welfare from her garage!
Along the journey she warmly accepted women to join her journey. Guided them, medically headed the staff, mentored them, loved them and not to forget also scolded them if required!!!! Her love was boundless and her faith and commitment infectious. Whenever asked from where would the resources come…. She would confidently say….it will. And they came…. Multitudes joined us on this journey. This “home” thus grew into a beautiful adoption agency, recognised by the Central and State government. Till today nearly 2500 children and families have bonded in adoption and secured their love and future.
She was unstoppable. As the Organisation grew, different programs were added. Educational Support, Thalassemia and Heart Surgery support, a creche for nearly 200 underprivileged children availing education, medical assistance and nutrition. Likeminded women joined and headed the programs. Her heart was full when we reached out with the Special Needs Program in 2005! She was my solid guide, support, mentor to facilitate this program. At present we have two centres for children with disabilities and her dream was realised as we marched forward providing structured, professional intervention and rehabilitation to these children. She reached out to likeminded donors and friends who supported us through this period. She had no qualms asking for support and often joked…” I’m always ready with a begging bowl!”
Her wonderful, exuberant and highly motivating earthly journey ended on the 15th of December 2019. But legends never die. They carry on to live in their wonderful work and their legacy continues. She would not want us to rest and we shall not. The world is our oyster and she, our pearl!
(By the way, her pearl necklace, was her beautiful hall mark)
We miss her terribly, a vacuum never to be filled, but the work continues…….
Board Member and Program Administrator
(Kolkata Parsis remember Zarin Aunty with love. Many of our adopted children say they visit the centre on their birthdays and interact with the children at SICW)