East India Company, Bombay Talkies, Tatas… a family tree forms

As assistant professor of history at the Ramnarain Ruia College is set to give Mumbaikars with a yen for the city’s history a delectable account of the lineage of one of Mumbai’s oldest notable families, the Sett and Sethna families.

Written by Dipti Singh | Indian Express

dr-loiusa-rodriguesThese two Parsi families trace their lineage back to Rustom Manekji, who was born in 1635 in Surat and served as a broker for the East India Company, with extensive business dealings with royals ranging from Marathas to Moghuls. the Sett and Sethna families are the direct descendants of Manekji, who also established the Bombay Parsi Punchayet.

Dr Louisa Rodrigues’s book, Sett And Sethna Families: 1930 – 2010, will be released on January 14.

Rodrigues says she had just presented a paper at the K R Cama Oriental Institute at Fort in 2009, when a trustee of the FHB Sethna Legacy Trust approached her asking if she could undertake research on the Sett and Sethna families’ genealogy. Until then, Rodrigues knew little about the Setts and Sethnas.

Two previous books on the genealogy of these two prominent families exist, both in Gujarati and authored in 1900 and 1930.

Rodrigues dipped into those accounts to detail the life of Manekji who, due to his influential position, received the title of Seth, later adopted as the family surname, which then evolved with time to be written as Seth, Sett, Settna and Sethna. Rodrigues’s project was aimed at updating the family genealogy from 1930 to date and trace the missing links.

“Many of us do not know that the actual founder of Taraporewala Aquarium was Dr Sam Sethna. We found some old documents and photographs from his daughter Roshan Contractor. The funds for the aquarium was provided by Taraporewala and hence it was named after him. Similarly, we also found out women of the family whose names were not mentioned in the family tree of the old books. Like Navajbai Tata – grandmother of Ratan Tata and Zinobia Patel, a world renowned pianist. In this way, our research will also contribute to gender studies,” Rodrigues says.

For those who know a bit of Mumbai’s history and specifically the contribution of Parsis, the Bombay Sett and Sethna ‘Khandaan’ came into prominence after the three sons of Rustom Manekji — Framjee, Bomanjee and Nowroj — founded Bombay Parsi Panchayat.

Rodrigues and her team worked for over four years and have prepared a large family tree. They have added thousand of names in addition to the original tree which had around 353 names. While Sam Sethna set up the Taraporewala Aquarium and marine research centre at Marine lines, Sir Pheroze Sethna, born in 1866, was the director of the Central Bank, Mumbai, for 17 years and a director of more than 50 companies, including Tata Iron and Steel, New India Assurance, Bombay Telephones, etc. He was also one of the founders of the Bombay Talkies in Mumbai.

“The family belongs to ‘Athornan’ (the priestly class). We had to trace links by meeting family members across the country. We even spoke to family members in London and Pakistan. Dr Faridon Sethna, a gyneacologist from Karachi, helped a lot in finding this lost links,” Rodrigues says.

The four-volume book will be launched on January 14 by Ratan Tata at K R Cama Oriental Institute, Fort.