Godrej Archives -Restore. Reflect. Reimagine.



Treasure Trove at Lalbaug

Inthe forthcoming issues of Change, Godrej Archives will take you down the memory lane. It will bring back to you the nuggets from the past – from the history of Godrej through photographs, documents …from the Archives and reminiscences of our erstwhile employees. In this issue we bring to you the archivist’s enthralling experience of her visit to Godrej & Boyce premises at Lalbaug and also some photographs of how the “Karkhana” looked a Lalbaug in around 1920...

I boarded a train from Vikhroli for Currey Road for a journey into the past. I almost felt like boarding a time machine that was taking me from where we are now to where we began.

In 1897, Godrej made its humble beginning from a garage-like shed adjacent to Bombay Gas Company Works.

Fig. 1: Lalbaug in 1940s

Inconspicuous lane led me to what once was the factory where Godrej manufactured locks followed by safes, strong room doors and other items of Security Equipment Group. Their new owner Shaman Motors today occupies the factory sheds. Moving ahead I came face to face with a rectangular structure which when built must have boasted of a beautiful façade. (See Fig 1) This building was once the head office of Godrej & Boyce Mfg. Co.

At both the ends of this single storied structure are the wooden staircases leading to the first floor. (See Fig. 2)

Fig 2.
Fig 2.1.

In the center is a marble staircase, which leads to the center of the first floor. The entire floor is divided into two parts, the air conditioned part was where Pirojsha Godrej, Sorabji Godrej and Naoroji Godrej and other senior executives of the company shared amongst themselves the available space. Managerial and clerical staff belonging to different functions shared the non air-conditioned part of the hall on either side of the air-conditioned portion. A small wooden plate saying OFFICE on the wall adjacent to the staircase is a mute reminder of the days bygone.

Can you imagine a like of intercom system at Lalbaug in those days? I was amased to find one, though of course in a different form. Hanging from the ceiling was a wooden box with 20 bulbs (See Fig. 4.1 & 4.2). I was told that each bulb worked as a signal for each employee. If Pirojsha Godrej had to call someone he used to just press a button from his office and the corresponding bulb used to light up conveying his call for that particular person.

Fig 2.2

How busy this place must have been before the plants were shifted to Vikhroli and the head office to Godrej Bhavan. (See Fig. 5) at (then Waudby Road) Fort. I was trying to visualise these halls filled with people working here and their incessant chatter, sounds of typing, telephones… And now there were just the empty halls — the silent spectators of the changed times. How true are the words of D. E. Wacha* who said:
“Land and houses have their own destiny. At one time they are in the greatest quest and another time they lie in the greatest obscurity or go rack and ruin…”

Getting started at Vikhroli

Shifting to Vikhroli was inevitable, as Lalbaug could not accommodate a growing business. Pirojsha thought of buying a new tract of land in Vikhroli and it was on 16 April 1948 that the permission to start construction of Plant-I was given. Surprisingly it was neither locks nor safes nor even storwel but the first products of plant at Vikhroli were Ballot Boxes — for the first general election of Independent India in 1952.

In a letter dated 4 July 1951, to the Managing Director of Central Bank of India Ltd., Pirojsha Godrej mentions about this order for ballot boxes and the start of the construction of second Plant building.

He writes:
“Our first factory building at Vikhroli comprising a roofed area of 2,33,000 sq. ft. i.e. over five acres of covered land has just come into operation… The construction of exactly similar building is about to be completed…

“With the addition of our first factory building at Vikhroli our present output will now at least be doubled. Our order books show a total of one crore of rupees of undelivered orders which includes an order for nearly nine lacs of ballot boxes to the value of Rs. 44 lacs to be delivered in about three months’ time…”
(Source: Godrej Archives)

Fig 3.

This is what Mr. K. R. Thanewalla reminisces about the production of ballot boxes in an interview with the Archivist.

“(We) started in Vikhroli making ballot boxes… When we all shifted there, a huge order for ballot boxes came in… Pirojsha Godrej (used to be) promptly there at 3 o’clock every afternoon asking us how is it going?… He also got orders from other companies who had not, somehow or the other, managed to make them… So we ended up by making 15 lakhs or so ballot boxes. I don’t remember the exact number but I know that our best was around 22 thousand ballot boxes per day. But it was in two shifts. We would be at the plant from quarter to seven onwards and rarely left before midnight.

“Pirojsha used to send his car for us saying “Bring my boys home”. So we used to take the car and come home. Not many of us were there — about 4 or 5 of us — supervisors. Some of the workers used to sleep in the factory and would go only early in the morning. So this is how we started. It was fabulous making lakhs of ballot boxes at Vikhroli.”

Progress so far

Godrej Archive is in the process of taking shape. At present the Archivist is working on the location and identification of historically valuable documents, photographs, memorabilia related to the history of Godrej, scattered all around and brining them at a central location for further work.

Fig 4.1 Front view
Fig 4.2 Rear view

It must be mentioned that the Archivist has so far received an overwhelming response from all the divisions and has located valuable archival records like old catalogues, old advertisements and some old photographs… At Lalbaug, the Archivist could find fifty year old files containing the correspondence with Punjab National Bank regarding the supply of Safe Deposit Locker Units…

The work of Archiving will soon start and a descriptive catalogue of documents, photographs and memorabilia…will be generated to make it Archival records easily accessible to those interested.

Fig 5

For our section of Oral History we have recorded interviews of Mr. K.N. Naoroji and Mr. K.R. Thanewalla. We will be recording many more interviews, which will be transcribed, edited and indexed for future reference.

Eventually all this information will be showcased in a form of an exhibition at the new building for Archives located at the Godrej hillside colony.

There is still a long way to go and it is only with the support of all concerned that we can establish Archives which we can be proud of.

Please do not get rid of any old ‘stuff’, but, do get in touch with the Archivist at:vrunda@godrej.com

*Quoted by Sharada Dwivedi and Rahul Mehrotra in ‘Bombay: The Cities Within’