Madras Halai Memon Association

header photo



About us

Early Days

Mr. Sergy Levin, a Soviet Writer, writing in the book “Soviet Scholars View  South Asia” has said that :

“Memons have long been famous in India as very enterprising tradesmen. Merchants from this community have engaged in trade with the most varied goods, on land and on sea. In the 16th and 17th centuries they settled throughout all of Gujarat, and set up a number of factories on the Malabar coast. The Memon merchants played a particularly important role in the trade of the city of Surat, which was at that time the leading trade center of western India.

From the end of the 18th century and the first quarter of the 19th, a mass settlement of Memons began throughout India, and  a few decades later they also emigrated beyond its borders, chiefly to the countries of the Indian Ocean basin. By the end of the 19th century,  rich communities of Memons were appearing in the ports of the Red Sea and the Persian Gulf, in Ceylon and Bruma, and in East and South Africa”.

The Memon traders or professional businessman of those days had a unique system of organization and management. Many well known Memon firms had hundred of branches spread over the entire country and when none of the present day means of communication were available, they had evolved a system which kept the head offices of these firms in constant touch with all the branches. Apparently these firms were owned by one family but they had evolved a system of what we may call a contributory and participatory management. The Manager of each branch also contributed to the capital of that particular branch. His share in the  investment was nominal from half an anna to four annas in terms of currency units of those days i.e. 1/32th  to 1/4 of a rupee. Most of the Managers stayed at their branches for 10 months in a year leaving their families in their ancestors’ towns. When they returned to their native places for a two months leave every year, they would find their share of profit and the salary duly worked out by Mehtaji or Accountant of the firm and which was promptly paid to them. How could they keep control of the hundreds of branches and maintain their accounts in those days, is a delima to us today but it is an example of high professional & business acumen of the community. These Memons had not gone to a business School and yet they were able to evolve a unique business system. May be some of our professionals in accounting and business management profession will do some research on the subject one day. 

Some people, with their own axe to grind often try to malign the community as hoarders & profiters but it is a matter of common knowledge about our ansertors that very often they never hesitated in doing business when the gunny bag or the bardana used for packing of the commodity was the only profit left to them. They believed in high turnover and small profits for overall success of the business. Many Management Gurus of today advocate this strategy.



But it was not only trade and business in which the members of community participated. They took equal interest in independence movement. I will only touch this subject briefly by mentioning the names of the members of community who participated or contributed to independence movement even before the movement of Pakistan was started. 

During Khilafat Movement many notable Memons contributed huge amounts of donations. The names of Mr. Omer Subani and Ahmed son of Jan mohammad Chotani were prominent among these donors. When Subash Chandra Bose announced. The formation of Azad Hind Fauj in 1944, Mr. A. Habib Haji Yusuf Marfani huge contributions for the cause. He was appointed Chairman of supply Board of the Council of Indian Liberation Army. Mr. A. Sattar Palwala and Mr. A. Latif Admani were other prominent members of the community who actively participated in the movement. Mr. Admani was later arrested  by British Government and sent to jail. Many Memons also actively contributed & participated in Reshmi Roomal movement.



It might be a news to many, that a Memon businessmen played important role in providing an opportunity to Mahatma Gandhi in becoming a Leader. 

Mr. Luis Fischer, the author of “the Life of Mahatma Gandhi” one of the well know biographies of Gandhi, writes that when Mohandas Karam Chand Gandhi returned from  England after doing his law in London, he started practice in Rajkot with the help of his elder brother. “But Mohandas was a complete failure as a lawyer in Rajkot as well as in Bombay when he could not utter a word during petty cases in court”. At this junction, a Memon from Parbandar, Ghandhi’s home town, Mr. Dada Abdullah Seth, who had settled in South Africa offered him retainership on an annual stipend of Pound Sterling 105.00 for looking after his court cases in Durban. Mr. Gandhi accepted the offer and landed in Africa. He spent full year in the service of Dada Abdullah Seth who did his best to groom him as a good lawyer. During this period Gandhi witnessed the atrocities of whites against Indians and other coloured people and started participating in agitation against these atrocities. Later on he decided to stay in South Africa and lived there for 20 years. This changed the life of Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi who became a prominent political figure.