A man named Mahasingh Rai Meghraj Kothari, a wholesale trader of foodgrains who is known and praised in the areas where jute and cotton are in huge demand, came sailing on a big country boat into Mancachar in Assam from Azimganj in Murshidabad district of Bengal nearly 200 years ago in 1812.
After he landed in Mankachar, Kothari expanded his wholesale trading business to other places in the region including Tezpur. Since 1818, Tezpur has been serving as the firm’s local head office virtually.
Following the success of his business in Tezpur, he sent his son Zalim Singh Kothari to Guwahati. There, Zalim Singh Kothari opened a wholesale trading shop in 1828. This shop was located very near to the ghat at Fancy Bazar. In the region, this trading shop in Guwahati is the firm’s 18th one.
Secret to success
According to Aridman Singh Kothari and Suprabhat Singh Kothari, the senior Kotharis of the 21st century, masur dali (red lentil) and nimak (white ocean salt) were introduced by Meghraj Kothari in Assam.
Salt and masur dali along with other merchandise reached the region via large boats which then carried back jute, cotton and sometimes resham silk. Hence, ensuring optimal utilisation of the transport system which in turn resulted in the firm selling goods at low rates. Therein lies the secret of the firm’s booming success.
Origin of the Kotharis
Before migrating to Azimganj, the Kotharis used to belong to Bikaner in Rajputana which is why they are believed to be true to their Rajput spirits when it comes to taking up new challenges.
Following the establishment of tea estates in Assam, the house has established a close relationship with various garden establishments.
By the 1860s, the Kothari family had started issuing informal written or verbal agreements to some gardens against a commission. In some cases, the Kothari’s even became the local financiers of the established gardens in the region.
Furthermore, when foreign companies started their steamship carrier business in the eastern part of India during the first quarter of the 20th century, it was the Kothari family which acquired exclusive rights for the transmission network of radio-telephones for the vessels. Following this, a special jetty was also allotted to Messers Mahasingh Rao Meghraj. The Kotharis went on to become the chief carrier of goods for the foreign companies later on.
During the Bhutan War, the Kothari household aided the British Army. For the family’s support, Meghraj was conferred the Rai Bahadur title by the British as a symbol of appreciation. The citation to Meghraj, dated October 8, 1867, and signed by John Lawrence, Viceroy and Governor-General of India reads: “In consideration of the useful service rendered to the state during the Bhutan campaign, I hereby confer upon you the title of ‘Rai Bahadur’ as a personal distinction.”
Kothari Family’s love for business
When it comes to doing business, the Kothari household never halted their steps. They weren’t ones to neglect business. By the 1930s, they had owned 64 shops in different regions of Assam which made it become the largest dealer of wholesale food grains in the region during the 19th century and the first half of the 20th century.
However, their journey wasn’t limited to just wholesale trading, about 100 years ago, they had drawn a detailed map that indicated the exact location of gaddis (a breed of Indian sheep) which are spread over Assam.
Other than business, descendants of the Kothari family excelled in other fields too. Dilip Singh Kothari played football for the Gauhati Town Club and later left an impact as a goalkeeper of Mohun Bagan Club, Calcutta.
Amal Kothari was the pre-Olympic captain of the Indian Water Polo team. Manoj Kothari, the world champion in billiards is a descendant of the extended Kothari family. Suprabhat Singh Kothari is a philatelist and rifle shooter of Assam.
Lastly, but not least, Octogenarian Aridaman Kothari served as vice-chairman of Guwahati Municipality for 2 terms.
There is another lesser-known side to this business family which is their philanthropy. The many charitable deeds of the Kotharis haven’t been publicised on a noticeable scale.
The family has followed the tradition of ‘guptadaan’ or secret donation for a very long time. Only a few know that the land for several religious and charitable institutions in the city like the Sangenaria Dharmasala, Panchayati Thakurbari, Hanuman Mandir, Mahavir Akhra are all donations made by the said family. They had sunk numerous wells in towns across Assam to revive the potable water problem many years ago.
Marks left by the Kothari household
Even today, the firm has an iron chest, bearing a golden British Royal insignia, made in England and cemented to the floor of its old cushion.
This acts as a reminder of the days when the British government used to occasionally visit them as they kept the revenue collections in the chest for safekeeping. It was most probably due to the reason that ships laden with taxes were halted midway at Guwahati.
Messers Mahasingh Rai Meghraj which is popularly known as Bargola of Fancy Bazar is by far the oldest surviving business house today with nearly a two-century-old legacy.
When Guwahati Municipality was established in 1853, the town post was installed at the corner of this business house which shows how monumental the place is. Even in the present-day, a city street is named after Meghraj Rai who is the founder of the Bargola business empire.