India – Glory that was!

India - Glory that was

Mark Twain, an American author, said that “India is the cradle of the human race, the birthplace of human speech, the mother of history, the grandmother of legend, and the great-grandmother of tradition. Our most valuable and most instructive materials in the history of man are treasured up in India only.”

Another Yorkshire-born American Unitarian Minister, J. T. Sunderland, said that nearly every kind of manufacture known in the civilized world, nearly every kind of creation of man’s brain and hand, existing anywhere and prized either for its utility or beauty, had long being produced in India. India was a far greater industrial and manufacturing nation than any in Europe or any other in Asia. Her textile goods – the fine products of her looms, in cotton, wool, linen and silk were famous over the civilized world; so were her exquisite jewellery and her precious stones cut in every lovely forms; so were her pottery, porcelains, ceramics of every kind, quality, colour and beautiful shape; so were her fine works in metal – iron, steel, silver and gold.

He further said that India had great architecture – equal in beauty to any in the world. She had great engineering works. She had great merchants, great businessmen, great bankers and financers. Not only was she the greatest shipbuilding nation, but she had great commerce and trade by land and sea which extended to all known civilized countries. She was the India the British found when they came.

Empress Josephine, wife of Emperor Napoleon, was a connoisseur of Indian shawls and textile. Similarly, royalties the world over used to patronize Indian textiles because of its high quality. Indian spices found its way into the royal kitchens. The list was endless. Traders from down South and West used to navigate international waters on India-made ships.

Singapore was discovered by Vijaynagar Empire, which also helped set up modern administration system, in now called Malaysia.

Empire of Ashok was the world’s largest and he was instrumental in exporting Buddhism, now the world’s third largest followed religion.

Despite weakening of Empires and their getting fragmented; despite continuous attacks of looters from Middle East and beyond; despite Moslem and Mughal Rulers becoming more powerful, wealth and skill of India was such that, it remained a global leader in trade. At the beginning of the eighteenth century, as the British economic historian Angus Maddison has demonstrated, India’s share of the world economy was 23 per cent, as large as all of Europe put together. By the time the British departed India, it had dropped to just over 3 per cent.

It is quite visible, as quoted by Shashi Tharoor, the Politician and Author of ‘An Era of Darkness’ that, the reason was simple: India was governed for the benefits of Britain. Britain’s rise for 200 years was financed by its depredations in India.
In present times, in last few decades you could see further deterioration in form of growing outsourcing, erosion of entrepreneurship in India’s Business Community. Sadly, the new generation prefers working in BPOs, IPOs, Call Centres, again serving the West. You see large factories getting shut down. Even India’s greatest and historical brands of textiles, ceramics, etc. are being outsourced from other countries.
My forefathers used to say, that if you are serving as an employee, you are feeding your family. If you are an entrepreneur you are feeding 200 families.
I look forward for the old glory of India to come back, in form of rise in entrepreneurship, growth in M&SME. Pre-British era, India was a global leader in trade because of traders and small entrepreneurs.
I would like to end with a statement made by Albert Einstein, American scientist: “We owe a lot to the Indians, who taught us how to count, without which no worthwhile scientific discovery could have been made.”



In the medieval era, Rajasthan stood divided into five large and several smaller principalities. The big 5 were Amber (Jaipur), Bikaner, Jaisalmer, Jodhpur (Marwar) and Udaipur (Mewar).

The founder of Shekhawati region was Maha Rao Shekhaji, a descendent of the Kachhawaha Rajput Clan which held Amber-Jaipur for centuries. The chieftains of Shekhawati were the descendants of Baloji, the third son of Raja Udaikaran of Amber, who succeeded to the throne in 1389. Shekhawati, named after its founder, meant ‘Garden of Shekha’.

As the Mughal Empire fell into decline after the death of Aurangzeb in 1707, the descendants of Maha Rao Shekhaji, who had already spread themselves in the east of the Aravalli, began to encroach the west and north through the Udaipurwati and Sikar gaps in the hills. Shekhavat Rajputs wrested land from the ruling Muslim Nawabs (governors) to expand their fiefdom. By 1730, the Shekhavats grew very powerful and Shekhawati was flourishing.

Shekhawati comprised of towns like Jhunjhunu, Bikaner, Sikar, Ramgarh, Fatehpur, Sujangarh and Sardarsahar. It also had within its fold many large and small villages.

From the turn of the 19th Century till about 1822, a vast amount of trade was diverted through Shekhawati and more and more merchants got attracted into this region. This was a meeting point of the camel caravans from the Middle East, China and India.

Trade in opium, cotton and spices flourished. The merchant community that grew then were called ‘Marwaris’. These Marwaris built palatial havelis (villas). They also financed and built temples, baolis (step wells), schools and Dharamshalas (inns) in their home towns and villages.


The flourishing cross desert commerce wilted away as the British political set-up grew stronger. More and more stress was being laid on the ports of Bombay and Calcutta instead, to establish monopolies for the East India Trading Company. By the 1820s and 30s, it became obvious that the future of trading did not lie in the sands of Rajasthan.

The Marwaris of Shekhawati would not be so easily put down. Leaving their native land, the menfolk migrated all the way to Calcutta, the colonial capital. They also migrated to East Bengal (now Bangladesh), Assam, Burma, Bombay, Surat, Hyderabad, Chennai, etc. Here too they flourished and inspired their brethren to join them.

When Shekhawati started flourishing, words went around and my forefathers also decided to move into that region. They chose Sardarsahar as the place to settle down. They moved from Hissar, which now is part of present day Haryana. A rough estimate is that it happened in late 1700. I am the ninth generation.

Chowdhary’s of Rajasthan was a highly respected name in Sardarsahar as apart from being rich, they had done a lot for the society. They had built a school, a baoli and a Dharamshala. School and Dharamshala were later converted to a Guest House. Baoli still continues and provides sweet water to about 100,000 citizens, in old part of the town. A family trust operating from Calcutta looks after the maintenance of these facilities. There used to be a street which had haveli’s of Chowdharys lined up and was named after my great grandfather, Surajmull Chowdhary Street.

When trade started wilting away from Sardarsahar also, my great grandfather decided to set up a base in Calcutta. Elder brother of my grandfather was mandated to move their and set up a base.

My grandfather was directed to a place called Barisal, in Bhola of East Bengal, which in present times is Bangladesh. This place was chosen as it had vast cultivation of Areca Nuts (Supari). From what I had heard, this was inhabitable, full of mosquitoes and flooded during monsoons. Hardly any food was available, except coarse rice, lentils and some vegetables. Malaria was rampart. Business was to buy areca nuts, process, grade, pack them and ship to Calcutta by steamers. There was no banking system. Money used to come in gunny bags.

Travel time one way to Barisal from Sardarsahar was about six months, using modes like camel, camel carts, bullock carts, trains, bus, steamers etc. Minimum stay time was 8 years for all male adults.

As infrastructure improved a base was set up at Allahabad (Uttar Pradesh) where Areca Nuts were transported. Couple of Munims (accountants) were stationed there to trade and collect money. Munims as per the Marwari traditions were considered members of the family.

My father, after completing his graduation from St. Xavier’s, Calcutta also moved to Barisal to assist my grandfather. He was later joined by his younger brother.

The story does not end here. Post partition East Bengal became East Pakistan and my family decided to shift to Allahabad, where they already had a small trading post. In this migration, my grandfather boarded the last train out of East Bengal and was nearly killed. When the train reached India, it was full of copses. My grandfather’s life was saved by a Bengali Muslim who knew him. He was also in the line of migrants whose heads were being cut off. Luckily one of the killers knew my grandfather as he had received some help from him. He placed my grandfather along with the corpses and covered him with a bloodied cloth.

Taking into account my grandson, we are eleven generation connected to this history, which saw the best and worst of times.

In Sardarsahar, I have stayed in the beautiful haveli couple of times, which my forefathers built. It was like a small fortress, with Rajasthani Murals painted all over and carved doors and windows. Sadly, just a decade back it had to be sold off, as most of the family members were not interested in holding it. It was destroyed and a mall was build there. Members of our extended family still have their Havelis on that Surajmull Chowdhary Street. Baoli still provides water to residents of the old city. Guest house is available for marriages at a nominal token amount.

Property in present Bangladesh is lost. In Calcutta, part of our family continues using the original Gaddi (office) we have in Burra Bazar.

Memories remain and will remain till my generation.

Allahabad side of family, except few, have migrated to Delhi, Noida, Gurgaon, USA, UK, UAE and Luxemburg. Most members of the Chowdhary family reside in now called Kolkata. A family tree in print is maintained which has all the names of male members of ten generations.