Sunday, January 29, 2023 | Rajab 6, 1444 H
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'A country raft is leaving for Muscat and you should board it'

The book Oman-India ties: Across Sea and Space takes its readers on a visual journey outlining the rich historical relationship between the two great civilizations of Oman and Indian which goes back more than 5000 years.

Published by Oman Observer in association Indian Embassy Muscat and written by Samuel Kutty (Senior Editor of the Observer) and Sandhya Rao Mehta (Associate Professor of SQU), the book is an attempt to document, archive and disseminate this relationship from its historical past to the present time where these relations have taken new wings.

Extracts from the book will continue to appear on this space every Saturday.

Brief descriptions of some of Banyan families offer fascinating glimpses into the life of the Indian community along the ports of Oman for over 300 years.

Gopalji Valji Jerajani started his business in Muscat and Muttrah with the export of khajur (dates), clothes, food items and pearls (moti) for which he set up a factory in the late 1800s. As he was in good standing and had good relations with the ruling family, he was allowed to build the Motishwar Mahadeva temple (also named in recognition of his trade in ‘moti’, or pearl). The temple was in 1904. The temple still exists today in Muscat.

Gopalji then brought Chhotalal Jerajani, his son to Muscat considering that his business was growing. Vithaldas Jerajani, Gopali Valji Jerajani's brother’s son joined the Jerajani family business in Muscat and settled in Barkha and helped in the family business. But later, following Mahatma Gandhi’s call to join the freedom movement, Vithaldas returned to India. He was associated with Mahatma Gandhi’s freedom struggle in India against the British government.

Subsequently, he was wanted for political activism related to the freedom struggle. Later he was assigned by Mahatma Gandhi to help in the development of Khadi and village industries all over India which he continued until he died.

Meanwhile, Chhotalalbhai continued his business with Muscat. Chhotalal Jerajani’s son Navalbhai was born in Muscat in 1910. Navalbhai also joined the freedom movement of India. He, along with other members of Jerajani family, joined in the Salt Satyagrah movement of Gandhiji and was jailed with other leaders. He was involved with Khadi and village industries activity. He set up the biggest Khadi store in India which

was originally owned by a British company. This Khadi Bhandar is at Fort in Mumbai. It exists even today. He died after the independence of India at the age of 44.

Vinodbhai, the son of Navalbhai and great-grandson of Gopalji Valji, came to Muscat in 1983. An engineer, he set up a switch gear assembly plant in Muscat under French collaboration to increase Oman’s self reliance. Later he joined as a GM of Asha Enterprises of the Ajit Khimji Group and retired to India in 2001. His wife, Pushpa, had joined various voluntary activities of the Oman women’s association and helped Omani women learn crafts and painting, interacting with women in villages like Bid Bid. Pushpa contributed to the temple and deity seva making jewellery, hindola, rangoli and training many ladies in Sri Krishna temple, along with their daughter Seema. Hiral Jerajani Kamath, daughter of Vinodbhai and Pushpa, is presently a radiologist, trained in London and has her own clinic in Muscat.

The Jethalal Naranjee Gandhi Family

A young school boy named Jethalal, son of Naranjee Gandhi came home in a small village called Mundra in Kutch-Gujarat in India and was told by his mother that ‘a country raft is leaving for Muscat and you should board it’. With just a pair of clothes in a cotton handbag he left in 1918. Reaching Muscat after a long voyage, he was employed as a helper with the recommendation of Devji Damodar (later he married his daughter Jhavebai) in a company registered as M/S Ratanshi Purshottam. Eventually, he called his sibling widow sister Goklibai and brother Purshottam.

From being a helper, he rose to work as revenue collecting representative in Customs Department at Port at Khor Muscat and moved to the highest post in Customs whilst reporting directly to HM Sultan Said bin Taimur. In 1947, some of his children had to be evacuated from Karachi during partition. Two of his daughters were married in Oman to community families residing in Muscat.

In 1948, Jethalal resigned from the Customs department and started a company in the name of M/s J N Gandhi & co., which is functional even today. One of the elder twin brothers Virsinh (alias Babu) had, on request, worked as a senior accountant in Treasury in the era of late HM Sultan Qaboos bin Said but eventually resigned and joined the company.

Vanraj (alias Naval) the other twin brother worked with his father and worked in Bahrain and eventually returned to Muscat gaining global experience. Chandrasinh, having followed his father’s footsteps, started customs clearing work within the company setup. Ajitsinh joined the family business managing one of the two outlets in the old souq of Muttrah. Hareshkumar gained a lot of experience with corporate local

companies and served Hindu Mahajan and Indian School. The youngest of all, Bupendra, worked with Ottoman Bank and later worked with the Indian Consulate until the early 1970s when Rial was introduced as the official currency. He then joined the custom clearing department.

Surrounded by a small community in Muscat, the family and house of Jethalal was also surrounded by various members of the Omani Royal family. The third generation of the family studied abroad in the late 1970s and came back to Oman to share and be part of the new growth. In 2004, the family of Jethalal, which was residing in Muscat at that time, was rewarded with Omani citizenship. While Virsinh, Vanraj, Chandrasinh, Hareshkumar passed away, the members of the J N Gandhi family continue to contribute to the Omani society.

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