Bombay House began in South Africa in the early 1940s on the liberating waves of satyagrahi and at the precipice of Indian independence, when Indian indentured laborers transformed into free merchants and tradesmen.
My great grandfather, Govindji Patel, set out on a steam ship from Gujarat, India to South Africa with empty pockets and a heart full of dreams. My great grandmother, Lakshmi Patel, followed, carrying the rituals and traditions of their homeland and blending them with the local culture and lifestyle.
After years of hard labor and saving pennies a day, Govind Dada and Lakhi Ma, as we lovingly called them, founded Bombay House in Roodepoort, South Africa, selling a variety of high quality, artisan goods (first class, world’s best) to locals. These goods were beautiful, practical and uplifting, reminding the local Indians of their home and introducing the local South Africans and expats to something new. The exchanges created community, encouraging open-mindedness and the sharing of culture and tradition. The earnings became the springboard for our entire family, getting us out of poverty and supporting us to pursue our dreams.
For us, Govind Dada and Lakhi Ma, were shining examples that we had the power within us to create any life we chose, no matter the circumstance.
Here we are some 80 years later, Lulu Lemon has high-jacked yoga, Oprah’s Chai is a best-seller at Starbucks, Bollywood beats Kardashian on Netflix and turmeric is gold.
The Indian diaspora call many countries home: Indonesia, New Zealand, China, Brazil, the UAE, all over Africa and Europe and yes, even Abilene, Texas, and other quiet corners of the United States. We have more in common than the boundaries of our nations and geography might suggest. We are no longer people of one nation, rather, as the great writer Teyai Selasi says, “A Citizen of Worlds.”
Personally, I am now married and building my life with a wonderful Southern Gentleman (John Day Barnett) who knows nothing about India and is curious about all of it — especially the deeply revered multi-armed elephant murtis throughout our house. My coming-of-age nieces and nephews are similar. My beloved grandmother who was my connection to the old world passed and recently an uncle resurfaced my great grandfather’s stationary from the original Bombay House. Everything pointed to a revival — ancestry knocking on the door of time.
True to its original intention, the rebirth of Bombay House is about staying true to who we are and where we came from, while embracing new ideas and evolving with modern times. We are a women-run, backed by gents, family affair. A warm welcome to all of you, and thank you for visiting.
– Ushi Patel, Founder & Creative Director, Bombay House