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In a great many ways, the phenomenal success of the present day global Khoja community is a result of their 19th century migration from Kutch-Kathiawar to this fast-growing English port-city, located just south of Gujarat on India’s western seaboard and within the Indian Ocean littoral trading networks.

Though legend has it that Bombay derives its name from Mumbadevi, a Hindu goddess, it likely originates from "Bom Bahia," the beautiful bay, so named by the Portuguese, to whom it was originally ceded by the Sultan of Gujarat in 1534. (1)

By that date, Khoja merchants from Gujarat were already trading with the Portuguese (see Khoja Shams-ud-din Gillani) and so, it quite likely they were operating in Bombay when it was “given” as dowry to the British in 1661. (Read here the story of Khoja Merchant Kurji and his ship The Quedagh Merchant that was captured by the notorious English pirate, Capt Kidd in 1698.)

When the British East India Company transferred its centre from Surat to Bombay, more Khojas merchants, attracted by the growing opportunities as the British expanded their hold in India, also moved with them.

“The arrival of many Indian and British merchants led to the development of Bombay's trade by the end of the seventeenth century. Soon it was trading in salt, rice, ivory, cloth, lead and sword blades with many Indian ports as well as with the Arabian cities of Mecca and Basra” (2)

However, when the 1791 Skull famine (see Gujarat Famines & Khoja Migrations.) decimated almost 11 million people in North India, some poorer Khojas also made their way to the relatively prosperous Bombay Presidency. By this time, Bombay’s total population was about 100,000. (3)

During the 19th & 20th Century British Raj, Bombay was an active litigious society and because the Khoja merchants were fiercely zealous of their inheritance rights, we have some well-documented information on their lives.


Their earliest presence in Bombay was referenced in the Agakhan Case, where the Imam’s lawyer confirmed to the Court that Khojas definitely lived in Bombay towards the end of the 1700’s. (4) There is also oral tradition within the community that the Khojas owned a graveyard near Dongri since 1790 (see Alarakhia Sumar)

However, the earliest written record is from 1804, when the Khojas mortgaged their jamaat-khana building at a high interest rate to a shroff, (money-lender ed.), for the sum of Rs 17,000, to be sent to their Imam in Iran. (5) As well, the Bombay Khoja account books (which were, due to some ongoing litigation, seized by the British courts) indicated that, in 1807, Rs.1,300 was sent to Imam Shah Khalil Allah. (6)

The Bombay Khoja Jamat Book also clearly notes their presence in 1806-1807. (7)

During this period, the Khojas organized themselves in a setup that they then also used in Gujarat.

“The structure of administration remained much the same as had been introduced by Pir Sadr al-Din. It consisted of a federation of cells, each with a single jamaat or community, at its base. Each council was composed of all the adult males in each jamaat with decisions regarding community affairs made in meetings at the council-hall, the jamaat-khana. For each jamaat-khana, there was a treasurer or steward, the Mukhi, and the accountant, the Kamadia.” (8)

In a Khoja inheritance case, witness testimony by one Hassoon Syed indicated that of the 150 to 200 Khoja families in Bombay in the early 1820's, the majority lived quite modestly (9)

Another series of famines in Kutch-Kathiawar in 1803, 1813-1814, 1823-1824, 1834-1835 caused further migrations to the safety of Bombay. (10) Oral tradition has it that almost 1500 Khojas moved from the Junagadh area to Bombay during this period. Cassum Natha, another case witness, estimated, that by 1847, the Khoja community was closer to 600 families, with approximately 1,000 or 1,500 persons. (11) Alarakhia Sumar, a prominent Mukhi of the Jamaat, was credited with their settlement in Bombay at this time.

“Bombay’s Mohammed All Road in Dongri (11A) became a major centre of Ismaili Khoja settlement, with Khoja families migrating from Kutch and Kathiawar in Gujarat to establish business ventures that derived from an existing Gujarati, mercantile culture.“ (12)

Family connections, community networks and a reputation of honesty allowed the Khojas to prosper rapidly.

“..,,,by 1841, there were some 2,000 Khojas there, mostly small traders in grains with a few large merchants.(13)

Justice Perry, in his 1847 judgement in Hirbae v. Sonabae. Gungbae Sonabae, also a significant Inheritance dispute, estimated the number of Khojas in Bombay to be 2,000. (14)

Whilst these early communities thrived in the new prosperity of Bombay, they had their share of disagreements, as the records show that the earliest riots in Bombay’s history occurred at Mahim in 1850 in consequence of a dispute between two rival factions of Khojas! (15)

Gradually, more and more Khojas began to use Bombay as their base to pursue trade opportunities, primarily in Africa, but also other parts of Asia. (16) (see U Kan Gyi) By 1866, their numbers in Bombay had grown to about 4,000. (17)

Whilst the general success of Gujarati immigrants is well documented and attributed to their centuries-old mercantile culture, the Khojas had some peculiar advantages.

“By 1860, the Bombay Khojas went into the opium trade in the big way and by 1890, they had overtaken the Parsis from this most lucrative trade. (18) Prior to this time, the Khoja were so much into the rice trade that the term "khoja" also came to describe brokers of parched rice. Bulley, Anne - The Bombay Country Ships 1790-1833(pp 276)

“These Ismaili communities (Khojas and Bohoras) often followed social practices and customary laws which bore close relation to the Hindu communities from which they had converted. … More crucially, local usages regarding usury and inheritance laws allowed them to accumulate and retain capital within the family beyond the constraints, which orthodox Islamic law may have imposed.” (19) Some historians have argued that the Khoja Inheritance cases arose largely from the fears of a mercantile community to the dissipation of family wealth (which may have occurred in the following 150 years, although this needs further research)

Clearly, though, it was through these methods of wealth generation and transmission that “the Khojas had raised themselves from obscurity, poverty and illiteracy to prominence, wealth and intelligence during the 19th century. (20) (see Sir Currimbhoy Ebrahim(Baronetcy)Muhammad Ali Jinnah,Jaffer Rahimtoola,Abdulla Dharamsi (lawyers),Jaffer Padamsee(Landlord)Ibrahim Rahimtoola,Sir Rahimtoola M. Chinoy;Mohamed Ibrahim Rawjee (Civic Leaders)

“By the end of the nineteenth century, the Bombay community numbered around 8,500 and was vibrant, relatively wealthy, with several members engaged in a wide range of economic activity “(21) (see also Manji Ghulamhussian Padamsee(glassware),Laljibhai Devraj(glassware), Ahmed Devji(furniture))

They also spread themselves across Bombay area. In 1881 census, Khojas are noted as residents of Bandra. (22)

Whilst most Khojas were small traders and shopkeepers, a number of major family fortunes were made during the second half of the century and they ended being amongst the global elites in wealth, education, travel and sophistication. For example, a newspaper called “The Khoja Dost” was started around the 1850’s.

Some of these families were engaged in the incredible Bombay mills industry, which came into being in the 1860’s, largely in response the growing trade with East Africa, through the great port of Zanzibar, where the Khojas and other Kutchi-Kathiawari merchants had established business.

“Since the 1860s the Bombay economy has been based on cotton - its export and the manufacture of cloth. With the outbreak of the American Civil War in 1861, and the consequent cotton famine, Bombay suddenly emerged with a virtual monopoly of the world cotton trade. Its merchants acquired wealth, land and prosperity surpassing that possessed by the colonial masters.” (23) (See Sir Currimbhoy Ebrahim), Dostmohamed Allana

“Bombay had become the Indian Ocean’s most important commercial and industrial center and its success was related, in part, to East African demand for a constellation of consumer goods” (24)

Another very bad famine, the “Chappanyo” of 1899-1901 (see Gujarat Famines & Khoja Migrations) caused more to flee from Kathiawar and according to the 1901 Census, the total Khoja population in Western India was estimated at 50.837 (25.555 males and 25.282 females) and 52,367 (26,387 males and 25,980 females) according to the 1911 Census (25) Once again, Khoja connections created charity initiatives (See Tharia Topan’s visit to India)

Bombay was also welcoming to newcomers, with the newly-rich Khoja merchants setting up many charities for the poor and uneducated. For instance, the first school in Khoja history was established around 1825, whilst an English medium school was set-up and run by the Khojas, through the generosity of Kassambhai Nathabhai, by 1850’s! (26)

In the steam age following 1870s, Bombay become a major embarkation port for those headed for better lives in East Africa, as there now was a regular service between Bombay and Zanzibar and later after the establishment of direct British colonial rule in East Africa, to Mombasa.(see Hasham Jamal Pradhan)

“Within one month, he (the Protector of Emigrants in Bombay) counted 1,449 people leaving for East African ports. The total for the year 1895-96, of 6,908, was more than twice the number of the preceding year. The passengers on board one of these ships, questioned by the Protector, included, among others, thirty-two masons and tile turners from Kutch, sixty laborers from villages in Gujarat, three Khojas and four Hindu tailors from Rajkot, and sixteen Brahmins, who intended to “follow whatever suitable business offers.” (27)

However, when the opium trade fell drastically after 1910 (when export to China was banned), they shifted to the piece-goods trade but their numbers in China fell precipitously in the 1925 and 1930s, while they continued to grow at a regular pace in East Africa.”. (28)

"The Khoja contribution to Bombay can best be illustrated the List of the Mayors of Bombay from 1887 to 1984. There are quite a number of Khojas pre-partition and post-partition in this list and it just goes to show the strength and value of the community, that they administered possibly the most economically rich city in British India."(Mohammad Rahimtoola, Karachi)

As this brief early history illustrates, the Khojas of the Far East and East Africa and their subsequent migrations to the West, owe much to the phenomenal success of the Bombay Khoja.


(1) Jagga, Lajpar Rai- Bombay: One and Many (https://www.questia.com/magazine/1G1-19331642/bombay-one-and-many)

(In Mumbai, Muslims make up 15% of the population, one out of every five Muslim is a Shia and their total numbers are estimated between 5 lakh and 7 lakh)

(2) Bombay – Wikipedia-the Free Encyclopaedia.

(3) Growth of Mumbai - Wikipedia-the Free Encyclopaedia.

(4) Howard, E. I. The Shia School of Islam and Its Branches, Especially That of the Imamee-Ismailies: A Speech. Bombay: Oriental Press, 1866. 71

(5) Bombay Times and Journal of Commerce [hereafter i3J (21 JuIy 1851) (pp 1033-4)

(6) Howard, abid 86.

(7) Howard- abid 75

(8) Green, Nile. Bombay Islam: The Religious Economy of the West Indian Ocean, 1840-1915. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2011. 177.See also Asani,Ali. From Satpanthi to Ismaili Muslim: The Articulation of Ismaili Khoja Identity in South Asia* (Harvard University)pp 12 - Published in Farhad Daftary, Modern History of the Ismailis, 2010

(9) The Telegraph and Courier (24 June 1847): (pp 599)

(10) Bhacker, M. Reda. Trade and Empire in Muscat and Zanzibar Roots of British Domination. London: Routledge, 1992. 160.

(11) Telegraph abid

(11A) Dongri is an area in Mumbai. The word comes from "Dungar" a Kutchi word for hills-which apparently have been blasted out of existence! The word 'Dungare' (Workmen's overalls worn in Britain) also has its origin from Dongri because these dresses were made from cloth from this place. The Portuguese church of Dongri, named as Our Lady of Bethlehem dates back to 1613, an inscription on the main entrance of the Church tells us. Wikipedia-Dongri

(12) Jones, Justin. The Shi'a in Modern South Asia Religion, History and Politics. 139.

(13) Chatterji, Joya. Routledge Handbook of the South Asian Diaspora.

(14) Perry, Erskine. Cases Illustrative of Oriental Life and the Application of English Law to India, Decided in H.M. Supreme Court at Bombay. London: S. Sweet, 1853. 1.; New Delhi: Asian Educational Services, 1988).(pp 1)

(15) Bombay – Wikipedia-the Free Encyclopaedia

(16) Dobbin, Christine E. Urban Leadership in Western India: Politics and Communities in Bombay City, 1840-1885,. London: Oxford University Press, 1972. 151.

(17) Howard-Speech abid(pp 5)

(18) Chatterji, abid

(19) Chandavarkar, Rajnarayan. The Origins of Industrial Capitalism in India: Business Strategies and the Working Classes in Bombay, 1900-1940. Cambridge [England: Cambridge University Press, 1994. 56.

(20) Chandavarkar, abid

(21) Enthoven, R. E. The Tribes and Castes of Bombay. Vol. 2. Delhi: Cosmo Publications, 1975. 217.

(22) Gazetteer of the Bombay Presidency. Bombay: Gov. Central Press, 1882. 16.

(23) Jagga- Bombay abid

(24) Prestholdt, Jeremy. Domesticating the World African Consumerism and the Genealogies of Globalization. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2008.

(25) Gazetteer abid

(26) Howard- Speech abid (pp 5)

(27) Metcalf, Thomas R. Imperial Connections India in the Indian Ocean Arena, 1860-1920. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2007. 179.

(28) Chatterji, abid


author unknown

37 Words Mumbai Gave To India And The World​​

To mark 37 years of mid-day's record of words from Mumbai, here are 37 words that I associate with The Big Mango, as Americans would call this city​,​ if it belonged to them.

BOMBAY​:​​​ The name itself has disputed origins. It was first used as a harbour for Portuguese trading ships and they called the islands that sheltered them from the Arabian Sea's vicissitudes and tides and the harbouring inlet​,​ 'Bom Baya​.​' In Portuguese, this would not mean a good bay but rather a good 'beach​.​' So is the Shiv Sena's insistence that the word Bombay is a perversion of Mumbai, so called because of the temple of Mumba Devi, which existed here, long before Portugal was a nation​.​

The island/islands have given their name to various foods.

Bombay-duck 650x400 51466775371.jpg

BOMBAY DUCK isn't a duck, it's an eel, it's so called because the Brits who built the railways in the 1840s and ​'​50s had consignments of the stinking fish packed in railway compartments to be transported inland. And since the British disdained to call the consignments stinking fish, they called them Bombay Dak - the Bombay Mail.

Bombay-aloo 650x400 61466775410.jpg

BOMBAY ALOO. Open any popular book of Indian recipes and there it is, the concoction that was probably one of the first street foods. Of course, it should be called Bombay Batata, which is the Portuguese word adopted into Marathi for potatoes.

PAOON or a loaf of bread, the dough for which was kneaded on an industrial scale by stamping on it with, we hope, clean feet. Hence, "paoon (foot) roti.​"​ The Portuguese adopted the word after it was invented on India's West Coast, though some would hotly dispute that chronology.

Pao-bhaji 650x400 61466775451.jpg

PAO BHAJI is another Bombay street food, the equivalent of the Italian Panini (which I always thought was the name of the renowned Sanskrit grammarian) and now popular all over India and internationally in Indian restaurants.

BUNGALOW was invented in Mumbai to mean a 'Bengal-style' house as the British, on acquiring Bombay as part of Charles II's dowry, transferred this architectural style from their earlier settlement in Bengal. In what were then the far-reaches of the island, away from the Fort area, there were respectively seven bungalows and four bungalows and the neighbourhoods around them still retain those names.

MUTTON is the word my mother and grandmother and all of Bombay used and uses for goat's meat. The word in English literally means 'old sheep' - nothing to do with goats - which is another species altogether. British memsahibs probably began calling goat's meat "mutton" when serving it to their sahibs, who may have been reluctant to eat goat chops - of which there are none in England but would readily dig into mutton ones. The West Indian colonies were more honest. In Trinidad and Jamaica, they eat "curry goat" with relish. Coolie 650x400 71466775474.jpg

COOLIE is the universal and rude word for an Indian labourer who lifts loads. In Bombay, and later Mumbai, it became the specific and partially sanitised word for the red-shirted baggage attendants at the great railway terminus now called Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus but formerly Victoria Terminus and colloquially Bori-Bunder - the place where sacks (bori) of cargo were unloaded.

Bud-bud 650x400 61466775494.jpg

BUD BUD is the Marathi colloquialism for talking rubbish, a sort of 'blah blah' or 'yackety-yak.​'​ When I first taught in a London school, the racist kids would say, 'bud-bud' as a parody of Indian accents. Interestingly, the cook of my household in Pune, when I was but a boy, would parody English, which he didn't speak, with the sounds "feesh-fosh peesh posh" and on occasion "Waat ees dees? Komdee Ka piece!"

Bollywood 650x400 81466775519.jpg

BOLLYWOOD is a word for the popular films of the Mumbai industry. Its genesis is clear but if usage were consistent and logical, as no language's usage is, the industry and its products would be labelled Mollywood. Though it would be outrageous to call, collectively, the films of Satyajit Ray, Mrinal Sen, Rituparno Ghosh and others 'Kollywood.​' ​

BHASSEIN was, according to my school history books, the northern part of Bombay where the islands joined the mainland. Throughout my adolescence, I looked in vain for the fragment of the city that retained the name and only realised later that Bhassein was the anglicised perversion of Vashi where the creek separating the 'island' from the mainland is still called by that name.

BOMBAY DREAMS was Andrew Lloyd Webber's failure of a London musical that lost money in the UK and closed early in the USA as there were not enough Indian tourists to fill the theatres. Bombay Nightmares may have haunted the losers.

SANDRA FROM BANDRA was the slightly ironic, teasing name given to any young lady of the Catholic faith. There were other rude terms for the Christian girls of Bombay, Goan, East Indian or even of Anglo-Indian descent. 'Chutney Mary' was one of them, and paradoxically, it was adopted as the name of a now famous and prosperous Indian restaurant in London.

TOWERS OF SILENCE is the English name for the structures on which we, Parsis, expose the bodies of the dead to be disposed of in an ecologically- friendly manner by being eaten by scavenging birds. The English phrase was undoubtedly coined in Bombay, the Persian term dokhma being used before Parsi migration to Brit-ruled Bombay.

Vile-parle 650x400 51466775543.jpg

VILE PARLE in north Bombay is named, they say, after the two temples of Vileshwar and Parleshwar, but it also housed the factory of Parle confectionery, making sweets and biscuits started by the Chauhan family in 1929. So, was Parle named after the district or was the term 'Ville' the Frenchified usage meaning Parle Township?

In my boyhood, the 'street' word or phrase with which to tease bald people was taklya, which of course, was literal. The metaphoric usage was calling a bald person (or shouting after one in the street) CARROM BOARD - the shiny surface of the striker game.

DISHOOM is the onomatopoeic sound for Bollywood violence, shootings and beatings-up - the "bang bang" or "sock, pow!" of Indian cinema. The word has now been adopted as the name of a chain of very popular restaurants in London which, intentionally feature Mumbai cafe themes and menus, their furniture being modelled on the Irani restaurants of Colaba and Byculla.

Tension-nahin-lene-ka 650x400 61466775568.jpg

TENSION NAHIN LENEKA is another Anglo-adopted perversion attributed to Bollywood scripts and Bambaiya (a verbal invention itself) slang. Its meaning is abundantly clear, though the strategy of avoiding stress is not explained.

Item-number 650x400 71466775584.jpg

ITEM NUMBER is another Bombay Bollywood invention for the song-out-of-context added to a film for purely commercial reasons. I have now even heard cosmopolitan filmmakers in the West use the Mumbai-originated term.

Shri-420 650x400 51466775607.jpg

SHRI 420 is the name of a famous Raj Kapoor film and refers to the characterisation of a rogue, the numerals referring to Section 420 of the Indian Penal Code covering offences relating to cheating and dishonestly inducing delivery of property, and leads to punishments of fines. It is universally used in India but was elevated in status by Kapoor's film and turned into the romantic myth of the lovable rascal.

BREACH CANDY has nothing to do with a sweet with attractive gaps. It was where the Arabian Sea breached the land towards the south of Bombay Island and the candy is probably an anglicised perversion of the word 'khadi' meaning a watery gap.

Time-pass 650x400 51466775622.jpg

TIME PASS is what the peanut sellers on Mumbai's suburban trains shout to sell their paper-cones of unshelled, roasted produce. It's probably the first time a food has been called by an activity that characterises its preparation for consumption.

PREPONE, UPGRADATION and even MATRIMONIAL are words invented or pioneered by English language newspapers and publications, I would guess first from Bombay. You won't find them in the Guardian or in the New York Times though all three words are functional and useful. So also with the Indian-newspaper expression of​ ​MISCREANTS ABSCONDING for criminals who have escaped the police.

TAPORI. Leaving the erudite offices of Mumbai's publications and wandering into the street, one encounters, as I have all through my short and happy life, the argot of the Tapori. It's a word that some translate as vagabond, but is closer in meaning to what in the US is known as 'street!​' ​

The words generated by the Mumbai street - from BOSSY​ ​to address any familiar or even unfamiliar male, to the slightly sly and insinuating, very Parsi but now universal,​ ​SAALA - have, as we say in the Internet age​,​ 'gone viral' at least in parts of India. Delhi University would substitute 'guru' for 'bossy' and the street form would inevitably be 'yaar.​'​ The other phrases of Tapori-talk that come to mind are the very Mumbai KHALI PILLY which sometimes comes welded to BOM MARTHAI - which put together is the accusation that you are full of sound and fury signifying nothing - as Shakespeare would say.

The TAPORI enquiry may begin with the word, 'KAIKO' which, fascinatingly was adopted by Rudyard Kipling in a poem called Route Marchin' in which the chorus goes:

"While the Big Drum says With is 'rowdy-dowdy-dow!'- Kaiko kiskeywaasthey, don't you humsey aagey jao?"

And betting on New York Cotton figures was invented on Bombay street corners and the game was known as SATHTHA PUNCHA. It came to an end when the Russians launched Sputnik and the rumour spread that the satellite was transmitting the real numbers in an instant to the street bookies.

KUT LEY is the Mumbai word for 'get lost'. It can be translated if expressed mildly as meaning 'experience a departure' or in its more aggressive form: "go some distance and fornicate.​" ​

Cutting-chai 650x400 51466775647.jpg

Not to be confused with CUTTING which is a graphic word for filling the purchased cup with only half a cup of tea - what we used to call "Single Cha" in the cafes of Pune.