Thursday, September 20, 2012

National smoke

In the crush of modern day George Town, it is easy to forget that these areas were at one time considered outside the city; that is, when the 'city' was Fort St George. Even later, during the 20th century as well, it was accepted that north of the Fort was the rough and ready industrial Madras, while the genteel folk drift southward. Not that it was really true in those days - north Madras was the go-to place for Carnatic music as well as other performing arts - and it is probably less so today. 

So, it was a surprise to see this sign proclaiming a factory making beedis in the middle of this commercial/residential district, at the end of Coral Merchant Street. Undoubtedly the factory has been shut for a long while, but going by the neon tubing on the signboard, it must have once been a prosperous business. I cannot remember hearing about Spade Clover Beedis; my memory stops with Dinesh and Mangalore Ganesh Beedis. My father tells me that he has heard of the "தா-னா பா-னா பீடி" (TP Beedis) of North Madras, but Spade Clover was a new one on him as well.

Spade Clover was owned by Khan Sahib Mohammed Oomer Sahib; when he died intestate in 1942, his widow Luthfunnissa Begum and Noorullah, his son by an earlier wife, agreed that the business be run jointly while the property suit was being settled. Spade Clover did make beedis in that fashion until November 1946, when Noorullah bought out the other heirs and became the sole owner. There seems to have been some fracas over the taxation of the income from the business during those years and that is the last I have been able to find of the Spade Clover Beedi Factory. The neon lights however show that the business must have been conducted well into the 80s at least, if not beyond that. Maybe my father and I made an error in thinking about North Madras beedis; according to one advertisement (click here), the Spade Clover Beedi was a "National Smoke", which was "of the people, by the people, for the people"!

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