Free Press Journal

Our Legacy-The Dwarkadas Family of Bombay by Sifra Lentin: Review


Title: Our Legacy-The Dwarkadas Family of Bombay

Author: Sifra Lentin

Publisher: Self-published

Pages: 239

Price: Not Mentioned

It is not often that you have younger members of a distinguished family wanting to record the history of their forefathers for the perusal of all. This book is, therefore, a happy outlier to the trend as it really is the fruit of the labours of the present generation in committing to search out as much of the facts and events that have shaped their family and that their family members have brought about as possible.

When you reach out for the book, what you immediately touch is a simple yet stunning cover with a golden map of portions of coastal Mumbai or Bombay as it was called then. Peeking in, the jacket cover reveals the book as a record of the Halai Bhatia family of Dwarkadas Dharamsey and his sons, who may have roots in the Jamkhambaliya village of the Halar region of Gujarat but whose migration to this city has not only marked a golden episode of their family but also for the adopted city and its denizens.  Between the author’s introduction and the foreword by Janak Dwarkadas (great-grandson of Dwarkadas Dharamsey), there are already glimpses of the many legal, social, economic and political contributions of the family starting from the pre-independent era of India.

The book is partitioned one familial personality per chapter who is discussed in detail. The story starts with Govindji, the grandfather of Dwarkadasji, who was the first to have stepped into the city of Bombay. His third son Lakhmidas Khimji took his father’s cloth trading business ahead by founding three cotton textile mills and partnering in others, even as his passion for community service saw him fight for widow remarriage, communal peace and even a renowned spiritual leader over misconduct.

Hugely influenced by his elder brother, the story of Seth Dwarkadas Dharamsey is as much about his dramatic rise as one of the top-three Bhatia mill owners of the city as it is about the city’s native businessmen’s struggle against the European trading houses. His backing Bal Gangadhar Tilak in spite of catching the jaundiced eye of the British government was as reflective of his social consciousness as was his constantly starting new mills of his adventurous spirit. The chapter also outlines the circumstances of his taking his own life, soon after completing his term as the Sheriff of Bombay and amidst much financial troubles.

His sons adopted his name as their surname and this generation began the new tradition of moving away from only business to joining the legal side of affairs, starting with Tricumdasji, his eldest. After a few unsuccessful trials with business, he went on to become a very well-known and successful solicitor to many big business houses and also aided the Indian National Congress on the quiet. Devji, the second-born, left his education and got a job to support Tricumdas in his endeavours and the family, and became an eminent businessman in his own right, while the youngest Hansraj and Jairaj maintained a low key profile as their primary goal was to seamlessly run the huge joint family.

The brothers in the middle, Jamnadas and Kanji were the well-known political flag-bearers of the family, with a life-long allegiance to Dr Annie Besant. The former, known as the Lion of Bombay, was an active nationalist leader till he parted ways with Mahatma Gandhi over difference of opinion over the civil disobedience movement, while Kanji’s career and work as a labour consultant with a real concern for the living conditions and health of the labour of Bombay is both notable and peerless.

The last chapter ‘Family Life’ is the highlight of the tome with a rare insight into the functioning of the then joint Dwarkadas family, superbly furnished with many a black and white photographs and illustrations, slowly making way for early colour and then sharp colour photographs to piece together their history pictorially. This is a rare beauty of a book with a simply told account of a family that demanded telling for its sheer historical substance.