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Partition, Immigration and Refugees

Partition-Immigration and Refugees - Karachi Bakery
Karachi Bakery in Bengaluru, India

A few lumpen elements reached the bakery’s Bengaluru outlet, demanding that the word ‘Karachi’ be removed. In Hyderabad, a crowd descended and insisted that the name be changed. “It should read Indian Karachi Bakery,” declared Srinivas, who identified himself as a worker from the Bharatiya Janata Party

By Nazarul Islam

It’s strange, how you go from being a person who is away from home to a person with no home at all. The place that is supposed to want you has pushed you out. No other place takes you in. You are unwanted, by everyone. You are a refugee.

Last year, my daughter Anam was fortunate to be granted Visa to visit the India’s fastest growing city of Hyderabad. During her exclusive visit of the city, Anam was escorted into a bakery in Hyderabad’s upscale Banjara Hills. She had stepped into one of the two dozen outlets that the famous Karachi Bakery has across the city.

For visitors flying out from the shiny Hyderabad Airport, carrying back the yellow box with the pink and blue logo and the quirky tagline ‘Hyderabad world famous’ is de rigueur – to a Hyderabadi, the buttery crumbly square biscuits with bits of fruit tastes especially like home.

Then, a few days before Anam’s visit, trouble began to brew. A few lumpen elements reached the bakery’s Bengaluru outlet, demanding that the word ‘Karachi’ be removed. In Hyderabad, a crowd descended and insisted that the name be changed. “It should read Indian Karachi Bakery,” declared Srinivas, who identified himself as a worker from the Bharatiya Janata Party. Lekhraj Ramnani, one of the owners, was unfazed. He offered them sweets from the bakery. They responded with smiles, raised a few slogans, posed for photographs, and left.

How Karachi Bakery became a part of Hyderabad’s identity is the stuff of lore. It was established by Lekhraj’s father Khanchand Jeomal Ramnani, who migrated from Karachi to Rajasthan to Hyderabad just one year before Partition. “As a young man, he first started a coal depot in Hyderabad called Karachi Coal, and later started the bakery. And it took off,” says Manoj Ramnani, Khanchand’s grandson.

In a by-lane near the outlet in Moazzam Jahi Market is the central bakery from where the goodies are made and dispatched across the city and the country. Ramnani was sitting inside his office when Anam met him. Dozens of varieties of bread, biscuits and cakes are being baked, packed and inventoried. Lekhraj Ramani appears a bit surprised.

“It’s strange,” he said “We’ve never had problems with the name before.” Karachi Bakery was the name his father gave the company when it was started in 1953. “He had just come from Karachi; it was close to his heart. The Karachi he referred to was the one before Partition.”

It was sharp business sense that changed the fortunes of Karachi Bakery in the 60s. My daughter was interested for more. They added: ‘At a time when most bakeries in Hyderabad sold bread, naan, shermal and Osmani biscuits, Khanchand Ramnani launched his famous special fruit biscuit. Decades later, the tutti-frutti cookies are still a rage and can be bought online as well as off the shelf in most malls across the country.’

Then, when customers wanted eggless bakery products, they launched that too, said Ramnani.

“When I started we had just one shutter. Now the whole floor belongs to us. We used to sell loose biscuits for ₹2 per kilo. Now, the same biscuits cost ₹240 per kilo,” shared M.A. Gaffar, one of the oldest employees here. “It was 1968, the height of the agitation for a separate Telangana, when he got this job. I grabbed it,” said Gaffar, who remembers Khanchand as a hard-working, hands-on man who knew every aspect of baking.

The trait, it seemed, was being carried forward by the family. The Manager had talked about their newest creation, a millet and almond cookie. “It is tailor-made for health-conscious people. I didn’t study catering or baking. Whatever I know I learnt from my grandfather and my family.”

Plugging into the health rage was the next smart move: From oatmeal atta to multi-grain, Karachi Bakery has it all – Any other secret? “Quality,” shared Lekhraj. “Once you slip, it is hard to climb back up.”

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About the Author

Nazarul-Islam-1The Bengal-born writer is a senior educationist based in USA. He writes for Sindh Courier and the newspapers of Bangladesh, India and America.  
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