THE RETAIL CHAIN GIANT
Raja Vaiz of Mumbai who reads this website regularly and interacts with me,made a request that I should write about the D’mels about whom I made a passing reference as successful businessmen in COLOMBO in my article on CRUZ FERNANDEZ OF TUTICORIN.
The only D’mel I remember was the one who was an engineer who prepared for the Indian Railway Service Engineer examination in 1967. I have lost touch with him thereafter and I do not know where he is now. Therefore writing on this D’mel is out of question.
When I was pondering over on how to comply with the request of Raja Vaiz , it flashed in to my mind my father once mentioning to us about one D’ mel of Vembar who was a very successful businessman in Colombo. I started searching for the material on this D’mel and I chanced on two references.One by THOMAS ROCHE in a translated form and the other in the book INDO SRILANKANS by MUTHAIAH, the well known historian of Chennai.
Santiago Anthony Ayya Tambi D’mel of Vembar was one of those who made it good in Ceylon in the last quarter of 19th and first quarter of twentieth century. Those were days when the Paravas really made a mark in Ceylon. The I.X.Pereira and his offspiring made a mark in politics and people like D’ mel made a mark in business in different parts of Ceylon.
Our connections with Ceylon is old –very old. The Earliest movement of Paravars from southern sea shores was in the 12th century to 15 th century when they were recruited by the Sinhala kings as their sailors and soldiers. The Second movement was when Paravars were settled by the Portuguese in the sixteenth century to which already there is a reference in this website in one of the articles. The subsequent settlement was when there was movement of thonis from our shores to Ceylon shores and the last was when there was cotton boom in Tuticorin hinterland when Paravars felt that they could make good in the island as businessmen clerks and traders.
It is one such migrant with very little school education –he studied in the elementary school of Vembar parish- who made it big in Ceylon is SANTIAGO ANTHONY AYYA TAMBI D’MEL. Nick named as KAYALAN PERAN, in Vembar, denoting his ancestory to PUNNAIKAIL, and known also as sena ana annachi in business circles in Colombo and Vembar , Santiago Antony Ayya Tambi D’mel became proficient in business skills and English in a very short period of arriving in Ceylon. He joined as an assistant clerk in a Nattukottai chettiar firm in 1879 for measly pay of rs 25 and within four years he left to join Abdulalli and Company =a company of exporters and importers.
At abdulali he worked very sincerely and won the approbation of his mudalali .The mudalai liked him so much that when he wanted to retire from the business he gladly handed over the business toD’mel and asked him to continue. He also saw to it that all his old customers did not switch over to any one else but continue with D’mel. With his blessings D’mel prospered.
As he was doing very well in the export and import business he saw a good chance opening before him for import of onion. So he commissioned his kith and kin to buy large tracts of land in the hinterland of Tuticorin and made them cultivate onion to be exported to Ceylon. He made very good money in this business and he made his relatives also benefit by this venture.
While he was busy importing onion and distributing all over Ceylon he chanced to see an advertisement asking for agents to distribute oil and petroleum products throughout Ceylon. The knowledge he gained in distributing onion would come to his help,he thought, and therefore in the company of Pandaram Sivan Pillai he applied for the agency and successfully got it.He formulated a company called Sivan and D’mel and distributed Kerosene in the island. Thereafter he exported Kerosene to Tuticorin and Orissa. Between July 26 th and 29th ,he recorded in his diary that he exported 2550, barells and 2750 barells respectively to Tuticorin and Orissa. . He named the kerosene THE RISING SUN.
The knowledge he gained in export of kerosene brought him further business. A company called SAMUEL and COMPANY allotted him in 1893, the agency for exporting Kerosene in ships and with this D”mel emerged as one of the big exporters of Colombo.
Luck favoured him further.The Asiatic Petrol Company which was started in 1902 appointed D’mel as a sub agent of their company and wanted him to distribute kerosene throughout Ceylon. The company commissioned D’mel to visit Madras to study the distribution system obtaining in Madras. He studied the system and on his recommendation, the Asiatic Petrol Company authorized him to set up distribution depots in different parts of the island and use bullock carts to deliver Kerosene at the door steps.He utilized his Sivan and D’Mel Company to do this distribution with 50 central distribution depots and bullock carts to carry kerosene to inner parts of the island.
Who constituted the Sivan and D’mel company? It is people from Vembar. The native affinity, the consanguinity of people who constituted the company, coupled with the benevolence and generosity of D’ mel to his staff made the distribution a grand success.
D”mel gave jobs to all those Paravas who came to him. He ordered that those who come to Colombo seeking jobs should be offered shelter and food by his company till they find their jobs. To ward off homesickness of those who had come to join his company he established a club called Immaculate Jubilee club for which he was president.
Back home at Vembar ,he was affectionate to one and all. Not a function or a ceremony at Vembar in any family passed off without his presence.His munificence to church was impressive. He contributed to church workers rs 15000/- and for the construction of the church according to Jesuit records he contributed rs 50,000/= a princely sum. In the entrance of the church there is a tablet praising his generosity in Latin and announcing that all that he needed back is a yearly mass for him from the church.
Though he was not formally schooled he mastered English and accountancy.maintained a diary.The details of barrels of kerosene sent had been culled out by his chroniclers. His contribution to Ceylon business, to say in modern business parlance is that he architected the RETAIL CHAIN. Should we not call him THE RETAIL CHAIN GIANT.
BY A.X. ALEXANDER