200-Year-Old Establishment Of Guwahati- Fancy Bazar Bargola
Guwahatians are well acquainted with Fancy Bazar. After the introduction of GST (Goods and Service Taxes) in 2017, what’s become common to every shop is displaying their respective GST number with pride in front of the shop; some are even glow-lit.
But did you know that the oldest business enterprise of Fancy Bazar bears the CST (Central Sales Tax) number 1 with the Imperial Bank of India?
Fancy Bazar Bargola, located at one corner of the ‘phal market’ (fruit market), was established in 1828 by Raibahadur Mahasingh Rai Meghraj Kuthari. He belonged to a Rajput family of Bikaner, Rajasthan, who resettled in Azimganj, Murshidabad district of West Bengal.
Mahasingh Rai Meghraj Kuthari first sailed to Assam in 1812 as a trader on a ship named ‘Bajra’. He landed in Manccachar.
Kuthari traded in food grains at wholesale rates. He was the first to introduce ‘Masur Dal’ (Red Lentils) and ‘Nimakh’ (white ocean salt) to the people of Assam. Large boats that traded these products to Assam carried back the state’s famous jute, cotton and ‘Paat Kapur’ (Assam Silk) to be traded elsewhere.
When the RSN and IGSN companies started steamship carriers in eastern India, the Kuthari family became their chief carrier partner. They also acquired exclusive rights for radio-telephone transmission network of the vessels.
After a few years of business, Meghraj Kuthari opened his business headquarters at Tezpur in 1818. The place is still renowned as Bargola, as in Guwahati. His son, Zalim Singh Kuthari came to Guwahati and opened the Fancy Bazar Bargola business. That shop is the 18th of the total of 64 shops the family-owned in 1930. They were the oldest and largest wholesalers of food grains in the region in 1950.
Apart from the wholesale business, the Kutharis established close liaison with the tea gardens of Assam and even financed a few. Around 1860, they started issuing ‘hundis’ to a few gardens against a commission.
Apart from contributing to various aspects to Assam’s society and economy, the Kutharis followed the tradition of ‘guptadaan’ (secret donation). They contributed to the establishment of several religious and charitable institutions of Guwahati like Sangenaria Dharmasala, Panchayeti Thakurbari, Hanuman Mandir, and Mahavir Akhra. They also dug many wells across Assam.
The old business house still has an old iron chest that was made in England which bears a golden British Royal insignia and is cemented to the floor of the old ‘gaddi’. Occasionally, the British government also used the chest for safekeeping of the revenue collected.
The 200 years old establishment, Bargola, apart from holding the CST number 1, also owned the first motor vehicle of Guwahati, a Ford with registration number ASK 1.
(Source: Heritage Guwahati)
(Photo Credit: Asha Kuthari, HOD, English Dept. GU)
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