Bombay Yesteryears

By Omkar Goswami

In sharp contrast to Calcutta, Bombay was a truly cosmopolitan metropolis. From the last quarter of the 19th century, Parsi, Gujarati and Marwari entrepreneurs and businessmen were at least as important as their British and European compatriots; and the explicit racial superiority of the British, so obvious in the large offices, restaurants and clubs of Calcutta even up to the late 1960s, was scarcely present in Bombay.

Nowhere was this more apparent than in the growth of cotton spinning and weaving mills in Bombay and Ahmedabad. Three Parsi families were most active in Bombay’s textile industry: Petit, Wadia and Tata.… The biggest Parsi player was Jamsetji Nusserwanji Tata (1839-1904). His father Nusserwanji, having moved from Navsari to Bombay, had amassed a huge fortune in trading, especially from opium exports to China.

The son went many steps further in trade and manufacturing. Being a graduate from Elphinstone College, Bombay, and having spent considerable time in Britain understanding the nuances of textile mills, Jamsetji bought a bankrupt oil mill at Chinchpokli in Bombay in 1869, converting it into a cotton mill.

Naming it Alexandra Mill, Tata sold it two years later for ahefty profit. He then set up the Central India Spinning, Weaving and Manufacturing Company in Nagpur with 14,400 spindles and 450 looms.…


(From “Goras and Desis: Managing Agencies and the Making of Corporate India”)



Published on The Economic Times