|The Way Of The Traveller|
|The story of the Indian entrepreneur is chiefly a tale of displacement and the ability to adapt.|
|By Seema Shukla|
To shake off the fetters of ordinariness, the leaden weight of routine, and the slavery of convention, is to adopt the way of the traveller. We talk here of the commercial migrants, the Indians who displaced themselves or were displaced as they set out in search of new opportunities. They have filled the annals of India’s business history, these travellers. They have set up corner shops in every corner of the world, from Fiji to Kenya. They have seeded India and Indians with an energy that subsumes its other myriad worries.
So it was when the Parsis landed in Gujarat, surviving the loss of their Persian homeland to power Bombay’s cotton boom in the late 19th century. So it is today as thousands of dotcom entrepreneurs survive the loss of their technological roosts to offer a glum India their banks of energies. It is in our DNA, this ability to excel in times of stress and displacement. The Indian entrepreneur has always been a child of displacement and travel, getting a foothold first and then becoming a support base for the community that followed. The Parsis have always done that. So have the Marwaris, they who fanned out across India from their desert home in Rajasthan. As they did, they maintained organisations like the Marwari Relief Society to assist their own. The old ties of family and caste still bind our entrepreneurs, but as the globe-straddling Indian tech support structure shows, globalisation will make Indian entrepreneurial communities more inclusive than they ever were in the past.
Some migrations were forced, some were voluntary. Some had no choice, others travelled because opportunity called. The Gujaratis followed the Parsis into Mumbai but they did so of their own volition. So it has been with the Punjabis, the Keralites, and host of others who displaced themselves or were displaced. Whatever. The end result is the same.
Among the earliest travellers were the Nattukottai Chettiars, whose entrepreneurial trail can be tracked from Chennai to Burma, Malaya, Sri Lanka, and the Indo-China region in the 19th century. The 20th century witnessed the largest migrations from Indian soil. Indians left home in this period of time not just as indentured labour and sepoys, but as doctors, law students and software engineers. From Porbandar to Silicon Valley, from Bengal to London, we know of doctors who became hotel magnates, petrol-station clerks who became petrochemical tycoons-Swaraj Paul, L.N. Mittal and Srichand P. Hinduja in the UK, Kanwal Rekhi, Sabeer Bhatia and Gururaj Deshpande in Silicon Valley-the names roll on.
But it is now in the age of global opportunity that the Indian traveller stands on the threshold of the greatest opportunity yet. There are idols galore: people like Dhirubhai Ambani and Karsanbhai Patel, who used opportunities within; and people like N.R. Narayana Murthy who used opportunities without. As the managing director of DSP Merrill Lynch, Shitin Desai, says: ”The 1990s have shown the Indian entrepreneur that there are huge local and global opportunities in India.” On the threshold of the golden age of Indian entrepreneurism, the travellers journey got just that much easier.
1 Cowasjee Nanabhai Davar
2 Sir Jamsetji Nusserwanji Tata
3 V.O. Chidambaram Pillai
4 Rai Bahadur Mohan Singh Oberoi
5 Henning Hock Larsen
6 Dr. Verghese Kurien
7 Karsanbhai Khodidas Patel
8 Aditya Vikram Birla
9 Dhirubhai Ambani
10 N.R. Narayana Murthy
Created on Dec 27, 1995. Last modified Jul 21, 1997.
The Cotton Mills
Growth and Decline
Before the middle of the nineteenth century, India used to export cotton to Britain, and then reimport the textile. In 1820 the total textile import cost only Rs. 350,000. However, these costs escalated tremendously until in 1860 textile imports stood at Rs. 19.3 million.
The impetus towards the founding of a cotton industry came from Indian entrepreneurs. The first Indian cotton mill, “The Bombay Spinning Mill”, was opened in 1854 in Bombay by Cowasji Nanabhai Davar. Opposition from the Lancashire mill owners was eventually offset by the support of the British manufacturers of textile machinery.
By 1870 there were 13 mills in Bombay. Cotton exports grew during the American Civil War, when supplies from the USA were interrupted. At the end of 1895 there were 70 mills; growing to 83 in 1915. A period of stagnation set in during the recession of the 1920’s. In 1925 there were 81 mills in the city. After World War II, under strong competition from Japan, the mills declined. In 1953 there remained only 53 mills in the city.
The Cotton Boom
The growth of the cotton industry was spurred, and for a small time eclipsed, by the the cotton boom. Before the American Civil War, the mills of England imported only 20% of their cotton from India. With the blockade of the Confederate ports, Indian cotton prices rose. By 1865, when General Lee’s army surrendered, Bombay had earned 70 million pounds sterling in the cotton trade.
This money spurred on a financial bubble, with land reclamation schemes and the dock yards attracting huge investments. By January 1865 Bombay had 31 banks, 8 reclamation companies, 16 cotton pressing companies, 10 shipping companies, 20 insurance companies and 62 joint stock companies. Within two months the American Civil War ended and most of these companies went into liquidation. Large numbers of speculators became bankrupt. However, wealth had been created and this led immediately to an industrial growth.
The cotton mills of Bombay, and the rest of India, were owned and managed mainly by Indians. The initial investments came from families of the mill-owners, mainly obtained from trading. Later, when shares became available to the public, much of the ownership still remained Indian. As an example, of the 53 mills in the city in 1925, only 14 were British owned. The management and directorships of these mills were also mainly Indian. Of the 386 directorships recorded in 1925, only 44 were English.
The rapid growth in mills was sustained by a large migration of mainly Marathi speaking workers into the city. Most often, the male member of the family would work in Bombay, leaving the rest of the family in the village. These workers were initially accommodated in hostels. Eventually, these chawls became tenements, with full families crammed into single rooms. The mills filled up Parel and then expanded westwards all the way to Worli.
The high density of population, coupled with low pays and insanitary living conditions caused high morbidity rates in Bombay. The infamous plague epidemics at the end of the 19th century only equalled the morbidity due to other diseases. The efforts of the City Improvement Trust to better living conditions was only partially successful. Many of today’s slums are the byproducts of the cotton boom; as much so as the Victorian Gothic architecture of the Fort area.
The first Indian cotton mill, “The Bombay Spinning Mill”, was opened in 1854 in Bombay by Cowasji Nanabhai Davar. Opposition from the Lancashire mill …
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22-February-1854, Kawasji Nanabhai Dawar started the first Cloth Mill namely ‘Bombay Spinning Mills’. Our Other Sites MediaWorld.Info AcornObituaries.
Home Today Search. Industries on 22-February-1854. 22-February-1854, Kawasji Nanabhai Dawar started the first Cloth Mill namely ‘Bombay Spinning Mills’.
Jul 23, 2007 – The first Indian cotton mill, “The Bombay Spinning Mill”, was founded in 1854 in Bombay by Cowasji Nanabhai Davar – to offset the …
Kabir Sihag The first Indian cotton mill, “The Bombay Spinning Mill”, was founded in 1854 in Bombay by Cowasji Nanabhai Davar. May 24, 2012 at 5:45am · 3.