Special Reports

Matheran loses heritage marathon

Matheran Rails could not find a berth in the UNESCO list of “heritage” sites. Inspite of best efforts the Indian Railways could not sustain its campaign and had to withdraw its application. Jantar-Mantar could get its claim recognised. Is it not an imperial and racial agenda that out of 911 sites selected 700 are in Europe and the US? Or was this treatment because of a Muslim tag attached to Matheran?

Matheran Railway is a Muslim’s contribution to India’s economy – a single Muslim, Adamji Peerbhoy. It started chugging in 1907 and continues to run to this day between Neral in the Ulhas Valley to Matheran in Maharashtra’s Raigarh district. Running on narrow gauge, it covers a distance of 20 kms (12.6 miles). The track zigzags through hills and brings into full view the beauty of Matheran hills. This century-old railway survives while similar services have long been winded up.

A forgotten philanthropist – Sir Adamji Peerbhoy

Long before Birlas and Ambanis had their success story of rags to riches, Adam Peerbhoy too achieved his hour of glory. The immense riches he earned did not end up in futile ambitious projects but found channels of philanthropy to serve mankind by alleviating human suffering.

Born in Dhoraji (Kathiawar) in 1846 in a poor family, Adamji came to Bombay at the age of 17 and began his career as a contractor supplying equipment to army. Within three years of his arrival in Bombay he began receiving important contracts. Camp equipage supplied by him earned great reputation and goodwill and were extensively used in different geographical conditions – from Afghanistan to Egypt. He supplied 500 maltese carts in a short period of 20 days and added 400 more on immediate demand.

His enthusiasm, industry and honesty brought him appreciation of British officers. The Governor recommended his name for honours and in recognition of his meritorious services he was honoured with knighthood. However, this was not enough. He was appointed Bombay’s Sheriff, for the year 1897-98.

An extremely generous person his money flew into several charities for his community (Bohra) and general public. He built rabats at Karbala and Makkah for Bohra pilgrims and rendered relief services for fire victims at different places e.g., Kukshi (Barwani) and Burhanpur in central India. Plague used to take a heavy toll in those days. In 1896-98 he provided railway fares to the poor who wanted to migrate from Bombay but could not afford. In his native town (Dhoraji) he built a public market, a museum and a rest house. Malegaon was a flash point of communal clashes during the British period too. When 120 Muslims were falsely implicated in criminal cases, he engaged eminent lawyers like Badruddin Tayabji to get them fair trial. Yemen famine victims found in him a great philanthropist. He established and handsomely endowed 27 schools in Kathiawar. He established a sanatorium at Charni Road, Bombay which is still providing succour to thousands. An orphanage catered to the needs and comforts of 140 children. His contribution to Aligarh College was quite munificent.
The Matheran railway was his business venture in which he invested Rs ten lakhs with 2000 shares and the work was finished by 1907. His second son Abdul Hussein was associated with several social and philanthropic activities.

Sir Adamji expired in 1910. This year was celebrated as his death century anniversary. Are the Thackereys and Shiv Sainiks listening? What did the “outsiders” contribute to the grandeur of Aamchi Mumbai?

This article appeared in The Milli Gazette print issue of 1-15 December 2010 on page no. 17

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