Welcome to Puthu & Sons

21 November, 2017
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1) Premanand Puthu Mankatty has been running the washing company his father Puthu founded for the last forty years. 2) Being one of twelve siblings, the second youngest of eight sons, it was only fitting that the company’s name was changed from Puthu & Co. to Puthu & Sons. 3) Premanand remembers the father of the current proprietor of the Gamdevi Hair Cutting Saloon near by, whose mooch was like Bal Gangadhar Tilak’s.
4) Customers’ clothes are cleaned and returned in two to three days. During the monsoons it can take five to six days. Sunday Closed. 5) When Premanand’s father Puthu migrated to Bombay from Kundapur, Karnatak, he worked at Cecil Laundry near by before starting his own business. 6) The shutters of the shop next to Puthu & Sons are permanently closed. An Irani restaurant, Gamdevi Restaurant, had its premises there.

Doors: Puthu & Sons Washing Co. (1934)
H. M. Akhalawaya Building, Gamdevi Road, Gamdevi.

By the 1860s, bathing and washing clothes in Bombay’s public tanks had become a threefold problem of public health, community and decency.

The Municipal Commissioners were concerned that the ‘mass of floating filth’ generated by the bathing and washing was the source of the most offensive effluvia which would be harmful to public health.

The native gentry, particularly the Bhattia and Bania communities, wanted to reserve the tanks for the purpose of drinking water.

And a poor woman had to write to the Bombay Gazette, under the sobriquet of ‘Saaf Owruth’, defending her daily routine of body washment at the Dhobee ka tallao, ‘that place I make washment one long wall is, so man cant see from street. If must come that way what for not turn head away, he not a proper man. I little English know but write true, you can laugh.’

Photos by Hashim Badani, a proper man.

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Hair cutting and costing

17 October, 2017
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1. Dinesh Jadhav is the fourth generation of the Jadhav family to run the saloon in Gamdevi. 2. Youngsters want the latest cuts while old-timers want the original styles from Dinesh’s grandfather’s time. 3. Dinesh’s grandfather Baburao (left) and his great-grandfather Trimbuk (right), who founded the saloon. Trimbuk Jadhav served in the Indian Army. 4. A photo from 1948 of the diamond jubilee celebrations of the Santsena Samaj, the association that governs the Nhavi caste, to which the Jadhavs belong. 5. The annual licenses of the establishment from the 1930s and 40s.
6. Three storeys of the building have already been demolished, leaving the ground floor standing with its shops for the time being.

Furniture: Gamdevi Hair Cutting Saloon

40G Jethabhai Kalyanji (J.K.) Buildings, Harishchandra Goregaoker Road, Gamdevi.

Local barbers in Bombay were bound by both the Bombay Municipal Act and their caste association, the Santsena Samaj, to such an extent that the intervals at which the floor of the saloon was swept, the type of bin for the reception of hair and sweepings, the price of the hair cut, and even the fitness of the barber himself, were all pre-determined.

The saloon’s licenses could be suspended or revoked, the barber and his family could be ostracised by their fellow caste members, if he did not comply with the conditions of costing and cutting.

Photos by Hashim Badani a Number 1 Photographer who gets a Number 2 Haircut.

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A court for poor wives

10 October, 2017
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Three candidates running for the position of delegate of the Parsi Chief Matrimonial Court of Bombay. [“A Tug and Pull. Three dogs fighting for a bone,” Hindi Punch (19 March 1916), 20.]

Interiors: Parsi Chief Matrimonial Court

Excerpts from Mitra Sharafi’s award winning book, Law and Identity in Colonial South Asia: Parsi Legal Culture, 1772-1947, now available from Permanent Black in South Asia.

“It was Parsi wives, more than husbands, who came to the Parsi jury for relief. Suits for divorce or judicial separation dominated the docket. In these cases, female plaintiffs outnumbered male ones by a factor of two to one. From the late 1920s, the ratio became three to one. Because a surprising number of these wives were underprivileged and because plaintiffs usually won their cases, the Parsi Chief Matrimonial Court (PCMC) of Bombay was effectively a court for poor wives. However, it was not all kinds of poor Parsi women who came to the court for help. The PCMC records captured a particular slice of poor Parsi women: those whose families were too poor to support them, but who could raise the money to go to court. These women were moderately poor, but not abjectly so. Parsi women in bad marriages regarded litigation as a solution, in other words, when the options of de facto separation and long–term financial support from their natal families were unavailable. The diminished presence of both very affluent and very poor women suggested that law was a solution for Parsi wives of the middling working class, a finding that has been replicated in studies of divorce courts in other times and places. Elite Parsi couples typically avoided divorce when their marriages fell apart. If the wife’s natal family was wealthy enough to support her, she simply returned to live there. Long-term informal separation was not unusual in privileged Parsi circles, as among elite British couples in the same period. The property-related consequences of divorce, along with the publicity of a court case, may have explained elite avoidance of the matrimonial court.

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Occasionally, husbands told the court that their wives had engaged in pre-marital relationships and even been impregnated by other men, and that this information had been concealed from the husbands until after the marriage. In Dinbai v. Toddyvala, the alleged fraud pertained to something more unusual: claims about the bride’s racial purity. The bride Dinbai’s father had been Parsi by ethnicity and Zoroastrian by religion. Her mother, though, was part African. There were references to Dinbai’s mother being “Abyssinian.” At the time, Abyssinia was shorthand for Africa generally. Dinbai’s mother Mana had a Parsi father and a Malagasy mother. Dinbai’s father, a man named Jamshedjee Dadabhai Khajotia, did business in Madagascar in the 1880s. During that time, the half-Parsi, half-Malagasy Mana was his mistress. Dinbai was born in Madagascar from their union. When Dinbai was a young child, her father sent her from Madagascar to India to be raised among Parsis by his cousin. Dinbai’s illegitimacy was an issue, but the larger problem was that Dinbai’s mother was racially impure, according to Mr. Toddyvala. He argued that Dinbai’s part-Malagasy background made her ineligible to be initiated into the Zoroastrian religion — that one needed two Parsi parents to be eligible for the navjote, itself an unsettled point in the early twentieth century. Because Dinbai’s mother was part-Malagasy, Dinbai’s initiation into the religious community was invalid, claimed Toddyvala. In turn, this made their marriage void under Parsi law, which applied only to the marriage of two Zoroastrians. Toddyvala claimed to have asked the matchmaker, Hirabai, about the girl’s dark complexion during early negotiations. By his account, Hirabai had assured him that the high salt content in the local water of the girl’s village of Vesu, near Surat, made Dinbai’s skin dark. Her complexion was sure to lighten once she moved to Bombay.

…Hirabai told the Parsi jury that she had informed the Toddyvala family of the girl’s family background. “I had already told Defendant and his people that plaintiff was born of an alien mother. I knew that as a fact. They said there was no objection.”

…About six months after the wedding, the husband claimed to have learned of his wife’s racial background through a distant relative in the town of Bulsar. He told the Parsi jury: “I returned to Bombay and told my mother not to allow the girl in our house. This was because of the information I’d received. If I’d known I would not have married the girl because I am orthodox. My parents also are orthodox.”…When Mr. Toddyvala confronted Hirabai, she criticized his concern with purity. “Is your wife a cucumber or watermelon to cut and see the inside of?” exclaimed the matchmaker. The Parsi delegates rejected the husband’s claims by a majority of ten to one. They considered the marriage valid, and they granted the wife her request for the restitution of conjugal rights.”

Mitra Sharafi is a legal historian at the University of Wisconsin Law School. Follow her on twitter @mjsharafi for the latest in the world of legal studies.

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Welcome to Baro Sardar Bari, Bangladesh’s foremost restoration project

28 August, 2017
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In 1902 the historic building complex was renovated by a merchant, who added a verandah to the back courtyard (pictured above), created a front courtyard to match the back, and built a new entrance to the complex which was richly ornamented with Chinni Tikri or China mosaic.
The inscriptions over the archways in the back verandah are all invocations to Lord Vishnu- ‘Sri Govindaye Nama Nama’, ‘Namaste Sri Gopinath’.
This red structure, that served as a gatehouse, is the oldest part of the complex and resembles the style of architecture developed during the reign of Baro Bhuyian in Bengal (1538-1612), when it was probably built.
Early expert brick work could support steps without the need for additional load bearing structures.
When the complex was renovated, Chinni Tikri or China mosaic was liberally embellished on the surfaces. While China mosaic was commonly used in the flooring of homes in colonial Bombay, in East Bengal it was predominantly used on the facades.
The illuminated model showing the three main units that make up the grand residential complex, with the gatehouse in the middle linking the front and back courtyards.
Dr. Abu Sayeed M. Ahmed, head of the Department of Architecture at the University of Asia Pacific (Dhaka), has masterfully restored the complex over a period of four years. He documents the process in his book Unfolding the Past: Conservation of Baro Sardar Bari.
The restoration project was funded by the Youngone Corporation of Seoul, a leading garments manufacturer in Bangladesh. Mr. Kihak Sung, the Chairman and CEO of the Corporation, has previously restored his ancestral village in South Korea.
The western facade of the complex overlooks a pond.

Interiors: Baro Sardar Bari
Sonargaon, Bangladesh.

Sonargaon, the administrative and maritime centre of Bengal during the medieval period (1296-1608), takes centre stage once again with the restoration of the historic Baro Sardar Bari building complex.

The restoration demonstrates how layers of building and adaptations over a period of 500 years can be highlighted through the original materials used (brick in the medieval period, china mosaic in the colonial) as well as through the various commercial and residential uses to which the structure was put.

As Bangladesh’s foremost restoration project, the Baro Sardar Bari deserves a national opening.

Many thanks to Nausher Rahman, the Digital Communications Director at Bitopi Leo Bernett, for his warm hospitality.

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Back in baby’s arms

14 June, 2017
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Statues: Esplanade House (1887)
Waudby Road, Fort.

When Busy strayed on Sunday evening from the Breach and Sailor with the white star on his breast went missing at Khetwady, their owners turned to the Bombay press.

‘Dog Lost’, ‘Stolen or Gone Astray’, notices were published on the front page. A handsome reward was promised on the dog’s return.

Yet often in the notices no address was given to which the dog could be returned. Only the owner’s name was mentioned. Why so?

The world encompassed by the daily press of the 1860s was so small, the citizens that featured so familiar, that the front page of the paper read like a Facebook feed. Newspaper offices themselves often served as the first port of call so that Busy was as likely to be escorted back to the Bombay Gazette office as she was to her owner Mr W. Trevor Roper’s arms.

This post is in memory of Oscar Parmar who strayed at midnight on 31st May from Babulnath Road.

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