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Bawas of Hyderabad

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Here is how the lovable community made Hyderabad their home

The name Parsigutta for a locality in Secunderabad gives a hint about the presence of Parsis in the city. Chenoy Trade Centre is another name that harks backs to a time when Parsis were the leading lights of Hyderabad’s business and financial establishments. Parsis have been one of the most powerful and vibrant communities in Hyderabad since they moved here a few centuries ago.

In the Boggulkunta area, just before the area merges with King Koti is an almost invisible gateway painted white leading to a Parsi Agiary called Bai Maneckbai Chenoy Fire temple. Surrounded by a leafy courtyard and residential quarters, the agiary is a small area that tells a story about a small community that did big business in Hyderabad. With an almost fanatical work ethic, the community did wonders. “Our scriptures enjoin us to pray five times a day. There are set times for prayer. But if we have work, we finish our work first. Work gets priority,” says Mehernosh Bharucha of the agiary.

According to community estimates, about 1200 Parsis live in Hyderabad. The story of Parsis in Hyderabad begins with the brothers Mirji Pestonjee and Mirji Vicajee making contact with the Hyderabad nobleman Chandu Lal. Sometime in 1835, Pestonji Mirji met the Nizam’s premier Chandu Lal who managed the finances of the princely state. This led to the foray of the firm Pestonjee Vicajee into Hyderabad’s banking scene. As their business grew in the area, they took over the older establishment of Makhdoom Seth who had offices near the British Residency building. They later built their own establishment in the area. A glimpse of the power and glory of the establishment can be seen in the building that currently houses the ENT Hospital in Koti.

At that period banking or rather lending was as risky business as it is now. While the borrower can now flee the country, earlier, he could tell the lender to go and count the stars. This had ruinous consequences if the banker didn’t have a powerful backer. Pestonjee Vicajee firm stepped in after Makhdoom Seth’s firm ran to ground due to recalcitrant borrowers.

Makhdoom’s son Syed Ahmed had a plan for recovering the monies to his father and he implemented it. In 1846, he spread a word about a 5-day party and invited the children of leading bankers, officials and noblemen. Then he locked them up demanding payment of his dues for release of the hostages. The ruse didn’t pan out the way he wanted for Syed Ahmed as the Nizam Nasir Ud Dowlah sent in his troops to join the family members of the hostages. Not only, Syed Ahmed didn’t recover the money but his family members had to spend time in goal.

But the Parsis thrived and prospered. They scooped up a bounty when the American Civil War disrupted cotton supply to the textile mills of England. The Parsi families pitched in on the logistical, financial and agricultural side to boost cotton farming the Berar region and transporting it to the dockyards of Bombay for an onward journey to England.

One of the biggest clothing store in Hyderabad still is Chermas which was one of the first shops to popularise readymade clothes in the city. Hyderabad’s romance with Parsis, cotton, clothing and money still continues.

Published on The Hindu