Broadcast on Gold 90.5 FM, Vintage Show, 12 August 2018
In the 1820s, this area was designated as the de-facto Indian business area by the British administration*. This was the first and premier Indian business area in Singapore from about 1822 – 1977, or 150 years. Nearby Tanjong Pagar was the largest Indian enclave by population – due to the shipyard, hospital and railway workers. For business Market Street was the main area. In those days, Tekka – today’s Little India – was only a sleepy suburb. It has incubated many Indian businesses including:
· Mohamed Mustafa – whose father sold Indian tea at the street corners in the evening from a thanda** that is carried on the shoulder. Mustafa was a boy then.
· Scotts Holdings/Jumabhoys – they started as spice traders on Market/Malacca streets – they went on to list ASCOTT Holdings, develop Lau Pa Sat and Hippo tour buses, etc.
· Second Chance – Salleh Marican, who was nominated as a candidate for the last Presidential elections, had his first tailor shop at Bonham building in Chulia street and went on to develop his chain of tailor shops and Golden Chance jewellery shops.
· Syed Mohamed Rice Traders – their original rice import business was at Market street – they are one of the largest rice importers and known for the Anarkali rice brand today. This is a photo of their shop house on market street where Golden Shoe complex is today (Photo courtesy of National Archives).
· P Govindasamy Pillai or PGP – his chain of provision stores was headquartered at Market street and he was the richest Tamil in the 1960s and 70s.
· Nomanbhoys – another large commodity trading house started from Market street.
The list can go on. Basically when the Raffles Place and Tanjong Pagar areas were redeveloped in the 1970s and 80s all the Indians and Indian businesses moved out. Many, especially retail businesses, went to Tekka and this is how today’s Little India grew in importance in the late 70’s. Trading businesses and professional firms moved into the new commercial buildings along Cecil Street and Shenton Way. Many are still there in these buildings like Shenton House, Tong Eng Building, Afro-Asia Building, etc.
*The Jackson Plan or Raffles Town Plan, an urban plan of 1822 titled "Plan of the Town of Singapore" shows an area earmarked as “Chuliah Campong” near to where the Clarke Quay MRT station is today. This was apparently never executed, as this area has never had any record of links to Indians. It appears to have been a Teochew quarter from very early days. Though the presence of an Arab built mosque, Masjid Omar Kampong Malacca in 1820 (the oldest mosque in Singapore) and the existence of a Kampong Malacca (till the 1910s) indicates that there would have been a Muslim settlement there prior to the Jackson Plan. It is likely to have been a mixed settlement of traders with connections to Malacca – Bugis, Arabs, Indian Muslims and Malays.
** Thandas were vessels to carry hot tea/coffee. They were carried around by being hung on both ends of a flexible wooden/bamboo pole and balanced on the shoulder. This was a very common device used by all types of itinerant food vendors. For a photo please see article on "Raffles Place Residential Life".