Book Review – Marwaris: From Traders to Industrialists

I just finished reading this book (written in 1978) by Dr Thomas Timberg of Nathan Associates. This book was basically his thesis he wrote on the origins of Marwaris. I was alerted to the book thanks to this interview of Timberg in ToI. He recently released another book on Marwaris recently which is perhaps an updated and revised edition of his thesis. But somehow missed the launch completely.

Luckily found the old book which is a decent read.

There are plenty of books which show how businesses basically shaped up via the communities route in Europe and other countries. Much of international banking which exists today comes from the Jewish community. Likewise, most multinationals histories have roots in families which came from certain community which learnt the tricks of the trade and moved on.

Marwaris is one such community in India which has been part of Indian business history for ages. But there is hardly any discussion on its history and contribution to Indian business and society. Thanks to republishing of Timberg book, there is atleast some discussion. (BTW, this new Timberg book is part of a series on Indian business history).

So what does this book say? Well as one would expect it tracks the origins of Marwari community and how it got into business in India. Most usually started as traders and then got into banking and moved to industry later. The book has some interesting case studies on how Marwaris migrated from Maru pradesh (Rajasthan) to other parts of the country. Moreover, how they used their business and networking skills to replace other dominating business communities in other regions. Timberg also discusses the organisation forms the community used to expand its business.

Just like big companies have a headquarter and several branches, Marwaris too had a similar form called Great firm by the author. There was also a very interesting training system where people from the similar community were trained in basics of business management. These same trainees would either continue in the same firm or graduate to set up their own firms. We have seen the same thing in much documented history of consulting firms as well.

The sense of money was amazing in the community (but of course). Most were into banking themselves, financing businesses both within and outside the communities. India had a fair bit of banking development in regional places like Indore, Bikaner and so on as Marwaris set up banks in these places. Just an after thought. Unlike the Jewish community which set up banks which exist and dominate till date, why banks set up by Marwaris do not exist?

Timberg says it is true Marwaris do not dominate the Indian business space as much as it did. This does not mean decline in the community but other communities/companies have risen as well. So Indian business has become more proportionate.

Though, the book could have been organised much better. It is not consistent and there are gaps. I read the same review of the new edition too.

There are some interesting reviews and interviews of the book/author:

These are the kinds of history (not just Marwaris but other ones as well) which should be taught across several business schools in India. These histories should not just be meant for leisure reading.  Most case studies and material taught in India is just so west-biased giving a feeling we did nothing. I do not  even know any institute/university in India teaches the parta accounting system, hundis etc developed by the Marwaris. This could have atleast provided some historical sense on how businesses worked during those times. And mind you much of the basics remain till date.

India has a very rich history in all walks of life. In a country obsessed with economics and business as of now, this is the least we can do.


One Response to “Book Review – Marwaris: From Traders to Industrialists”

  1. Ray of hope for endangered Marwari horses | Straight from the Horse's Heart Says:

    […] Book Review: Marwaris: From Traders to Industrialists […]

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