Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Merchant prince

As you walk down Bunder street, you get to see this building, with the fresh coat of paint on its ground floor contrasting with the grey of the first floor. Maybe they have completed painting the entire building in the couple of months since this picture was taken. That would be a pity; the fluting of the straight columns and the arches would be lost, methinks, in the bright colour. The painter has also highlighted the name of the building's first occupant. Adam Hajee Mohomed Sait came to Madras in the first decade of the 20th century, moving here from Cochin on the west coast. Cochin of course was not his 'native place'; he was at best he was second generation there, for he was part of a clan that continues to be known as the Cutchi (or Kutchi) Memons, originally from the Kutch region of Gujarat. 

Mohomed Sait surely moved to Madras to strike out for himself; he started off dealing in tobacco and other commodities and over time his company, Adam Hajee Mohomed Sait & Sons became agents for Kerala Soap Institute, Lipton, Nestle, Parry's confectionery and Britannia biscuits. With business doing well, he bought himself some property in the heart of the city's business district - George Town - and went from strength to strength. Though Cutchi Memons had been in Madras for close to a century by the time of Mohomed Sait's arrival (by some accounts, the first Cutchi Memons had arrived in 1815 and by 1880, the Corporation of Madras had even allocated a separate area for Cutchi Memon cemetery), he was the first of his clan to be accorded the title of "Khan Bahadur" by the British. He also went on to serve as President of the South Indian Chamber of Commerce and Industry, Sheriff of Madras and also as the Reserve Bank's Director for the Madras Province. 

Although none of his successors seem to have carried on his tradition of public service, the business continues to be run by his family; they have probably moved their residences out of George Town, but the business is headquartered in Bunder Street, in Mohomed Buildings, which was first opened in 1924!

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