Our Journey Begins
Jamshed Mehta, colleague of Mahatma Gandhi and a leader in India’s freedom struggle and the builder of modern Karachi, spoke about achieving economic freedom from imported British goods and inspired Pherozesha Sidhwa to abandon his articleship as a lawyer and start a tile manufacturing establishment, along with his nephew Rustom Sidhwa. Thus was born the Bharat Flooring Tile Company. The patriotic trademark of the company, stamped on the back of every tile, was a map of India (including what are now Pakistan and Bangladesh).
When the Bharat Flooring tile company first started in 1922, in Uran, there was no electricity, water or telephone service. The only links with Bombay (now Mumbai) were the fishing boats which plied when the weather was fair. The Sidhwa family owned large sheds at Uran, to manufacture liquor from mogra and rose flowers, oranges and other fruits. Since the sheds lay idle after the British introduced prohibition, the tiles were produced in those sheds, and travelled from there to all parts of India.
Our First Client – Sir Cowasji Jehangir
Still there after 93 years! Sir Jehangir HC Jehangir testifies “not only the tiles are still existing and in excellent condition but much admired by ourselves, and by many of our tenants and by visitors to the building”.
In 1923, when Pherozesha was dissatisfied with a batch of black and white tiles made for Sir CowasjiJehangir’s New Readymoney Mansion (Flora Fountain/Hutatma Chowk), Mumbai, he stopped the delivery and took the dramatic step of having the entire batch thrown into the sea. When he travelled to Europe to find the remedy, he was told his tiles were perfect, only the polishing was not! The new batch is still found in parts of this building, even after 90 years!
The Raj Era
“Equal to the world’s best” was the motto. Many princely residences were tiled by the Bharat Tiles Company; amongst them for their Highnesses, the Maharajas of Bansda, Bikaner, Gwalior, Jodhpur, Kolhapur. Umaid Bhavan Palace retains them still and many others. Even the British could not resist using Bharat’s ‘Swadeshi’ tiles in their Governors’ houses, Universities, the Mint, and other public buildings!.
Art Deco Arrives
In the decade 1930-1940, Hollywood entered the country with a bang and Bombay saw a number of new cinema houses – Metro, Eros, Excelsior, Broadway, Capitol, and Roxy -all tiled by Bharat.
Those years saw the birth of the Art Deco phase of architecture for which Mumbai has global recognition. Almost every building in the Art Deco precincts of Oval, Marine Drive, Malabar Hill, Altamount Road and other places across Mumbai and beyond had Bharat Tiles.
Grindwell Abrasives is born
World War II.Cement only for defence purposes! Bharat closed, but the owners started India’s first grinding wheel company in their Uran factory.
As World War II grew in momentum, the government diverted cement to defense installations. Bharat Tiles, deprived of their basic raw material, had to almost close down.Owners of Bharat Tiles, lacking cement to make tiles, struck a deal with two stranded Czechs to start India’s first grinding wheel company, (Grindwell Abrasives now Grindwell Norton) operating from the Uran factory of Bharat Tiles. After the war, when cement was once again available, Bharat restarted its tile manufacture. The Uran factory was bursting at the seams – with tiles coming from one end and grinding wheels from the other. Bharat Tiles needed its own space, and moved to Bombay, and remained there for many years, producing tiles for the burgeoning city and a newly independent India.
The Terrazzo Era
Birth of premium Terrazzo tiles, featuring the richest colours and the whitest chips money could buy.The War was over. A new mood, throwing out the old, enthused the world. The Victorian and Edwardian decorative tiles went out. Bharat responded with Premium Terrazzo Tiles, made of the whitest stone chips money could buy, as well as chips of the best Italian and Indian marble, providing cool, clean and beautiful Terrazzo or mosaic floors that are cherished even today throughout India.