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Sunday, June 21, 2015

The Mugaseths of Calicut

The year 1938-39. Calicut was in the grip of fever. My sister who was all of 5 years was also down with fever. The usual home remedies and ayurvedic treatment did not have any effect. Meanwhile, adults and children all around were dying of fever. My father then took the ultimate step of bringing home Dr. Mugaseth, the civil surgeon of Calicut and the last word on modern medicine in Calicut. The good Parsi doctor also could not save my sister. But according to the Medical History of British India, Dr. K D Mugaseth had effected a cure of Bronchitis and fever with pneumococcus vaccine in Calicut. Dr. Mugaseth's visit to our house was part of the family folklore. That was my first encounter with the name of Mugaseth.
 Our website page on Parsees of Calicut ( contributed by friend Maddy gives a detailed account of their chequered history, including that of Dr. Kobad Mugaseth. But this post, inspired by the publication of an extract from Raghu Karnad's book in yesterday's (20th June 2015) LiveMint: :( is more about Kobad's brother and his progeny.
The extract takes us through the story of how Dhanjibhoy Mugaseth arrived in Malabar in the 1850s  to set up business. 'On the broad Beypore he had built Malabar’s first steam-powered sawmill, turning its estuary into one of the busiest timber yards in the world, and himself into the patron of Calicut’s industrial and civic life.'
He was an entrepreneur if ever there was  one. He realised that the rich coffee planters of Wynad  had difficulty of transport between the plantation and the coast.  'Dhanjibhoy had an inspired solution: a camel caravan. He purchased a herd from the Rann of Kutch, had it transported by boat and equipped in Calicut. But there his animals perished, unable to tolerate the tropical climate'.Dhanjibhoy had two sons - Kobad Mugaseth, the successful doctor who had a large practice among the European families and was also President of the Cosmopolitan Club (Incidentally, the Cosmopolitan Club is located in Valappukadavu paramba which was then in the possession of another scion of the Mugaseth family, Mr. Maneck D Mugaseth who agreed to sell it to the club. The design of the club was got prepared by Rarichan Mooppan, another leading public figure of Calicut)Dhanjibhoy's other son, Khodadad, was less illustrious and ran his father's business empire. He had three daughters and a son. The son Bobby (Godrej Khodadad Mugaseth), third in the line, joined the defence forces and fought the Japanese. But it is the daughters who concern us here. At least the elder two who distinguished themselves in ways not fully approved by father Khodadad. We have no information of the youngest  Khorshed, yet.
Subur the eldest child was a regular bluestocking and went on to join Oxford University in 1932. She returned four years later with not only a Masters and B. Litt, but a brilliant young Iyengar boy who studied with her at Oxford. The Mugaseth family and the Parsi community of Calicut were scandalised. A Parsi woman who married a non-Parsi lost her religion and her community. There was no way the pious Khodadad could accept an Iyengar boy into their fold, forget his credentials. This was no ordinary Iyengar - Gopalaswami Parthasarathy, the son of N. Gopalaswami Ayyangar, who had served with distinction in the Provincial Civil Service in the Madras Presidency and later as Dewan of Kashmir, as a member of the Constituent Assembly and then as a Minister in the first Cabinet of Jawaharlal Nehru. G Parthasarathy distinguished himself as a diplomat, India's ambassador to Indonesia, China, Pakistan and as the Permanent Representative to UN. He was best known as the quintessential trouble shooter, responsible
G.Parthasarathy  coutesy: The Hindu
for brokering peace in Kashmir where his father had once served as Dewan to the Maharaja, and in interceding in the Sri Lanka talks where his sane advice was rejected and India went on to intervene, leading to Rajiv Gandhi's assassination. 
GP was also the first Vice Chancellor of Jawaharlal Nehru University and the Chairman of ICSSR. He passed away in 1995.Subur Mugaseth taught in colleges in Tamil Nadu till she was elected to the Rajya Sabha between 1960 and 1966. The illustrious daughter of Calicut passed away in 1966, leaving behind GP and a son.The second daughter Nargis Mugaseth studied to become a doctor. She too fell in love and married a class mate, Kodandera Ganapathy, a Kodava. Dr. Ganapathy joined the army in 1942 and died in action. The young Nargis was in the family way and gave birth to a daughter, Saraswathi Ganapathy. 

Nargis followed her sister and join
Girish Karnad  courtesy Google
ed the Madras government medical service. Saraswati met and fell in love with Girish Karnad who was then an editor of Oxford University Press, Chennai. They have  a daughter Shalmalee Radha and a son Raghu Amay. Raghu Karnad is the author of the book 'Farthest Field : An Indian Story of the Second World War' , the excerpts from which we quoted above.

Quite an illustrious family, the Mugaseths of Calicut!



  1. Hope people will follow your example and document the 'history' of their places. Even unconnected pieces would be of interest.

  2. thanks chf..
    a very interesting post covering an even more interesting family..
    they shone wherever they went,m these parsi entrepreneurs.
    I have always admired the parsi ...

  3. Thanks Vijaya for bringing me here. It has always been a very enjoyable time with CHF. Nice article, very informative.

  4. The individuals Like Dr.Mugaseth , Dr.Balakrishnan Nair have contributed to the rich tapestry of Calicut Social life.I dont know whether the corporation have taken any action to preserve his memory.At least the Mayors Bunglow should be officially Namaed in his name, it was where he stayed

  5. We've just been reading your article about the Mugaseths of Calicut

    As my email address indicates, I am a descendant of these Mugaseths, so we were all very excited to read about the history, especially my 91 year old great Aunt Mitha Mugaseth who knows everyone who you mention in the article.

    She also knows a bit more about Korshed Mugaseth. She was the youngest of the 3 sisters, she married a Parsi boy who was killed during the war and she remarried a Ganapathy, the brother-in-law of Nargesh Ganapathy. She came to England on a visit with her sister Nargesh in the 1960s (possibly).My great aunt doesn't think Korshed had any children.

    My great aunts's grandfather, Jehangir was 1 of 4 brothers - Jehangir, Manek, Kaekobad and Khodadad (the later 2 mentioned in the article). Manek had 2 sons, Bezan and Sorab; Khodadad had 3 daughters and one son (Bobby). (Kae)Kobad had one daughter, who died at an early age.

    Their father, Dahanjibhoy's father was called Manekji and his father was Sorabji - Sorabji was the first Mugaseth as he was born dumb (the word being 'Muga' - the original name was just 'Seth' and the name Mugaseth came about.

    G. Parthasarthy told my Great Aunt's Dad (Jamshed Mugaseth), that she and her sister (Freany) should work in India House, when they moved to London which they subsequently did. My great Aunt is one of 5 - Sohrab (1914), Zarosh (1917), Freany (1921), Mitha (1924), Roshan (1934). The family moved here in 1950 by boat to Liverpool, they then moved to London.

    We have the Mugaseth family tree going back to the first High Priest that landed in India -c.700 so all the names in the article, and more, are on this family tree.

    We really were fascinated to read your article and happy for you to contact us further if need be.

    Many thanks

    Jessica (Great, great grand daughter of Jehangir Mugaseth, brother of Khodadad, Kaekobad and Manek Mugaseth)

  6. The above comment received from Jessica Mugaseth by email is published.

  7. My mother Rani Rema Devi of Pudukkottai tells me that, Dr. Nargesh Ganapathy was the Doctor who attended when I was delivered in 1960 at the Trichy Railway hospital at Golden Rock

    1. I am Saraswathy Ganapathy, Nurgesh Ganapathy's daughter. I remember the beautiful Rema Devi well, and would like to send my regards if there is some way to reach her. I also remember "Nadudorai", especially a visit to the Pudukkottai palace when I was 15, where he fascinated me by hypnotising a chicken!


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