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Gujarati-Malayali spice bond

February 27, 2008 13:11 IST

Kerala sends spices to the world. Gujaratis export entrepreneurship to the global market. Imagine if both put together what concoction it will be. That is what happened in God's own country centuries ago.

Gujaratis went across the world to make trade links and spread business. Gujaratis also introduced Kerala's spices to the world. After that, people from far and near always fancied to have trade relations with India mainly because of its spices.

'Akananuru', a collection of records, refers to people from the North West (Gujarat) having settled in Malabar during 4th century AD. The collection speaks a lot about earlier relationship between Kerala and Gujarat. Migration of Gujarati community to Kerala and other places occurred at different stages in different centuries.

There are also references on Mohammed Gazni's attack on Gujarat in the 13th century AD. Following the invasion, many Gujarati merchants fled to different parts of the country and some of them reached Kerala. However, due to climate conditions these merchants stayed only during the business season. And there were no permanent settlements.

Gujarati merchants both Hindus and Muslims brought textiles and other items from Gujarat and bought spices from Kerala for exporting to different parts of the world, including Arabs and Turks. This trade ties between Gujaratis and Malayalis still continues.

According to Nitin Kumar Parekh, Secretary of Gujarati Mahajan Cochin, who was born and brought up in Kochi, it was Kano Malan (Ram Chandra Malan), a Gujarati, who guided Vasco Da Gama on his historic visit to India in 1498.

Parekh said, "The ship of Kano Malan was three times bigger than the ship of Vasco Da Gama". Trade negotiations between the king of Calicut and the Portuguese and subsequently between the Maharaja of Cochin and the Portuguese were held through Gujarati intermediaries.

After sometime, the Portuguese drove out Gujarati merchants who were the main suppliers of black pepper to them on the assumption that they can get more profit if these middlemen were eliminated. However, the Portuguese failed to procure pepper from the locals and again they had to depend on Gujaratis to procure goods.

The present day Gujarati settlements in Kerala can be traced only after 1813 AD when the monopoly of British East India Company was abolished by the Queen of England. In 1815, a Gujarati merchant, Triku Muralidhar, along with other merchants came to Kochi and settled down. The spices, coir yarn and coconut oil trade was totally controlled by this community.

Devji Bhimji, a Gujarati merchant who was doing business in stationery goods, gold and silver at Kochi, started the first printing press in at Mattancherry in 1865.

Nitin Parekh claimed that it was Devji Bhimji who started the first Malayalam newspaper Kerala Mithrom in January 1881 from Kochi. "It was a weekly published on every Saturday. Its first editor was Kandathil Varghese Mappillai, who later founded his own newspaper 'Malayala Manorama', Parekh said.

Devji Bhimji was also the first Indian to start a coir factory. The community had contributed a lot for Kerala, including the first cinema theatre in Cochin and first medical shop. The community owns a school and college in Mattanchery.

The monopoly of Gujarati traders was total in spices, coir yarn and coconut oil. Over the last two decades, Gujaratis lost their monopoly over spices trade. However, even now a substantial portion of the trade is with them.

Ziad P S