As patriotic fervour reached fever pitch on the 150th anniversary of the 1857 uprising against the British, the potent symbol of that tyrannical rule — the East India Company — made a quiet return to India.
Two years ago, London-based businessman of Indian origin Sanjiv Mehta bought the once-imperial company for its “instantly recognisable international brand name.”
He was in the city in April to launch the company’s first Indian store in Byculla, the heart of a working class industrial neighbourhood. “India’s economy may be doing great but there are no international Indian brands,” said Mehta, clad in a pale pink shirt. “I want the company to become the first Indian luxury brand that will rival Cartier.”
Buried inside a crumbling mill, the sprawling store has on the first-floor landing an imposing stained glass window with the imperial Coat of Arms of the East India Company, announcing that it was “originally established in 1600 by a Royal Charter from Queen Elizabeth I.”
Spread across two floors, it is strewn with company memorabilia, from walls lined with black-and-white photographs and maps of colonies, elegant wooden furniture, books on the company’s history, to its famous packaged tea and spices.
Mehta, who refused to be photographed, plans to introduce lifestyle products and beverages. Opium, once the company’s most infamous export, is not on the list. He has set up offices in London, Barcelona, Moscow, Tokyo and Riyadh.