In 1819, John Sullivan, the British Collector of Coimbatore, set out to explore the Nilgiris after obtaining an order from the British East India Company charging him to investigate the "origin of the fabulous tales that are circulated concerning the Blue Mountains to verify their authenticity and to send a report to the authorities". With a detachment of Europeans and Indian sepoys, he set out on his mission on January 2, 1819. The journey involved crossing rough and harsh terrain, steep precipices and danger from wild animals. After an expedition that lasted for six days and loss of the lives of some of the expedition members, Sullivan finally reached a plateau from where he proudly hoisted the British flag. This is believed to have been the hill station of Ootacamund or abbreviated as Ooty, now known as Udhagamandalam. Mr. Sullivan found a striking similarity between Ooty and his own native England. He advised the government that Ooty, with its salubrious climate, could be used as a sanatorium for British troops stationed at Madras. The government accepted his proposal, and Ooty came to be developed as a major hill station.
After the early 1820s, the hills were developed rapidly under the British Raj because most of the land was by then privately owned by British citizens. It was popular summer and weekend getaway for the British during the colonial days. In 1827 Ooty became the official sanatorium and the summer capital of the Madras Presidency. Many winding hill roads were built. In 1899, The Nilgiri Mountain Railway was completed by influential and enterprising British citizens with venture capital from the Madras government. In 1830, Major Kelso, Commandant of the cantonment in the Nilgiris, invited Indian merchants to start businesses in the Nilgiris.
The Cutchi Memon Jamath of the Nilgiris comprises of Ootacamund, Coonoor, Kotagiri, Mettupalayam, Coimbatore and Gudalur.
Among the early Cutchi Memon settlers in the Nilgiris were Mr. Cawdeer Sait, Moosa Sait, Aboo Sait and Gul Mohamed Sait. Moosa Sait's family donated the land for the Jumma Masjid at Ooty, and the land for the burial ground near the Ooty Lake. His family now exists in the person of Mr. Iqbal Sait who lives in Ooty. Gul Mohamed Sait had his business in Ooty on land later purchased by Hajee Fakeer Mohamed Sait's family and where the present Hajee Fakeer Mohamed Sait's Memorial Hospital now stands. Cawdeer Sait also owned property in Ooty but records are not available to substantiate this fact.
During the period 1840 to 1845, a few families migrated from Cutch and settled in the Nilgiris. Hajee Fakeer Mohamed Sait's family, Ahmed Saleh Mohammed Sait Mianji, Yousuf Tar Mohammed Sait also known as Patel, Abdul Rehman Veersani, Aboo Sait, Abdul Rehman Moosa Said and Siddique Ismail Sait were the early settlers who started business ventures.
Hajee Fakeer Mohammed Sait came to the Nilgiris with his two sons Abdul Rehman Sait and Mohammed Usman Sait and started his business. They were among the pioneer planters of the Nilgiris. They started coffee and tea plantations on lands given to them by the British. Abdul Rehman Sait together with his sons started the family business under the name of A.R. Hajee Fakeer Mohamed Sait and Sons, which acquired many properties. Their business enterprise extended form Calcutta in the East to Tuticorin in the South. This philanthropic family also established family trusts to perpetuate the memory of their elders. Mohamed Hashim Sit built the Hajee Fakeer Mohammed Sait Memorial Hospital, son of Abdul Rehman Sait in the year 1948. He also created family trusts, namely Hajee Mohamed Cassim Sait's Poor Women Charity for the benefit of poor and destitute women, Hajee Fakeer Mohamed Sait School charity, Adam and Abdullah Sait's Maternity Hospital Charity, Khan Bahadur Hajee Abdul Rehman Sait’s Dispensary Charity, etc. The present Managing Trustee of these trusts is Hajee Younus Cassim Sait. Their old family residence in the Main Bazar near the Jumma Masjid was donated to the Nilgiri Jamath, and is now know as Mohammed Hashim Sait's Cutchi Memon Jamath Khana. Abdul Rehman Sait and Abdul Rahim Sait were conferred the title of Khan Bahadur in the year 1902 and 1948 respectively by the British government for their philanthropy. Khan Bahadur Hajee Abdul Rahim Sait was also a Hafeez of the Quran, meaning a person who had memorized the entire Holy Quran
Ahmed Saleh Mohamed Sait, also known as Mianji Sait, came and settled in the Nilgiris with his six sons. He died in 1871. One of his sons, Siddique Hajee Ahmed Mohamed Sait expired at a ripe old age of 104 in 1932. He started his family firms, Mianji Sait & Company and Siddique Mianji Sait & Sons. In this family, the title of Khan Bahadur was conferred on Siddique Ismail Sait. He was a Councillor in the Ootacamund Municipality in 1937. His son, Abdullah Sait was the Vice Chairman of the Coonoor Municipality in the 1960s. Hajee Jaffer A.R. Mianji was also a Councillor, and was one of those instrumental in introducing boating the Ooty Lake. This family has also created charitable trust in memory of its elders.
Yusuff Tar Mohamed Sait’s family, also known as Patels, was businessmen, and owned property and business in the Nilgiris. They were philanthropic. They were known for venturing into various types of business enterprises.
Other settlers, such as Abdul Rehman Sait, Abdul Rehman Sait Veersani, Aboo Sait, Ibrahim Moosa Sait, Siddique Ismail Sit were also known businessmen. They and their family members contributed their mite for the welfare of the Jamath, and donated properties for the Jumma Masjid. Most of these elders served in War and Peace Committees, and many were appointed to the posts of “Honorary Magistrate”.
The Cutchi Memons of Nilgiris have always recognized a member of the Hajee Fakeer Mohamed’s family as their Jamath President. When chosen, the President has served for life. Hajee Fakeer Mohamed Sait was the first President of the Jamath until his death in 1891. His son, Abdul Rehman Sait succeeded him, and was Presdient from 1891 to 1919 until his death. His son, Mohamed Hashim Sait was the President until 1953, and on his demise, Khan Bahadur Hajee Mohamed Abdul Rahim Sait was appointed President. He held office from 1953 to 1979. In 1979, Hajee Yoonus Cassim Sait was elected and appointed Life President.
The present generation of Cutchi Memons of the Nilgiris has very enterprising. Cutchi Memons here are educated, and have become lawyers, doctors, engineers, and have held MBAs and other professional degrees. There are about 160 families in the Nilgiri Jamath. Most of the families are businessmen, following the tradition of their elders.
Information courtesy: Arif G. Kadwani, Cutchi Memon Jamat of North America