Chinmay Tumbe (Indian Institute of Management Ahmedabad)

Godrej Archives, Mumbai, India

Exhibit on the Navgani labourers who have worked with Godrej for decades, 2019.

A visit to the Godrej Archives in Mumbai’s Vikhroli suburb is a must for scholars of the business and economic history of modern India.

Like Tata Sons, Godrej too has Parsi roots. The company, founded in 1897, has a history of producing consumer goods like soaps, locks, typewriters and steel furniture. In recent years, the group has diversified substantially. For example, it has become a serious player in real estate markets through Godrej Properties Limited. The group owns a large part of the land in Vikhroli, Mumbai and the archives are currently based in one end of an industrial complex of multiple group factories.

The archives were first conceived of during the firm’s centenary celebrations by Sohrab Godrej (1912-2000), then Chairman of Godrej. Those events led to the commissioning of a two-volume history of the firm by B K Karanjia. In 2006, Vrunda Pathare was appointed Chief Archivist. Since then, Vrunda and her team have done an excellent job in cataloguing information and connecting the archival material with Godrej employees and the outside world. Various researchers have begun to incorporate information from the Godrej Archives in their research. David Arnold’s Everyday Technology (2013) for instance draws on material from this archive in a discussion of the typewriter.

The Godrej Archives is useful not only for business and economic history but also for historians of Bombay city and Parsi families. Much of this collection covers the second half of the twentieth century but the private collections of family members for the first half of the 20th century is also valuable. The holdings are extensive. The Godrej Archives holds over 150,000 items. These include 83,720 documents, 53,660 photographs, 333 oral histories, and 555 books.

In my own research, I used the  1934 passport of S. P. Godrej as an illustration in my book India Moving. In separate  research papers, I cited material from Manchersha Godrej’s Paris-based business dealings in precious stones in the early 20th century and from the annual reports and oral histories of the firm. The oral history collection is truly magnificent. It covers not only the top management, but from personnel across the corporate hierarchy. For example, the Navgani collection on labourers, neatly showcased in a 2019 exhibit, is one jewel in the crown of these archives.

The Godrej Archives is researcher-friendly. Contact the archives in advance of your visit. Dress in smart casual; if you wear shorts, the security guards at the main gate may not let you in! It is also contemporary and is that rare Indian archive that is on Twitter and Instagram. It now has an outstanding permanent exhibit space showcasing the firm’s history. Godrej Archives has been conducting an annual lecture series and has two research fellowships on offer. It also coordinates a network of business archives that have sprung forth in India over the past decade. I maintain a list of those archives here.


September 2019