He started working as a servant at a house. On his day off, he sold pencils on the street and carried British ladies’ packages. When he realized that he was making more money on the streets, he stopped working as a servant and and instead paid rent at the house. He may also have worked as a cleaning boy at an eatery.
He then became an apprentice and shop hand at the Karwakaji shop, which sold herbal medicines. The Karwakajis were very politically active and savvy for business purposes (they were from Surat, where the British presence was heavy, and so they had lot of connections to British officers. Their aspirations were different from many Indian people of the time and they were labelled “gora” ). There weren’t pharmacies back then, so perhaps these officers came in often to buy medicines.
Hussonally realized that he needed to learn English to communicate with the British officers. He bought some books, and studied English. This self-study took place under a street lamp because there wasn’t electricity at home (they were too poor). He did learn to speak and write English. He liked to read and was well-read for that time. When he read, no one could disturb him; he’d get annoyed if they did.
He put his grandson into Cathedral John Canon. Gulamhusein (Farzana’s daadi’s father) was also the head of the old students alumni. This was a big deal at the time because the school was mostly for British/Europeans. He was one of the first Indians admitted there.
At some point, he must have come in contact with someone who told him about printing. He imported paper, and when the First World War broke out and there was a shortage of paper, he was in a fortunate position of having a licence to import and he imported paper from Europe (one source says Belgium). His English brought him business contacts; no one in his own family would have been able to guide or assist him in those days.
He first built the British India Press (which no longer exists) and soon after, the Bombay Stationary Mart, which was known for its paper and artists’ materials. The two businesses connected to one another well.
BSM sold (in 1994, by Gulamhussein’s sons, Hussonally, Hatim and Mustansir) and a bank now stands in its place, but people still give the address to taxi drivers as BSM.
After the BIP was formed, he bought a large piece of land and used it to house, feed and employ his family. It is said that any Bohri who is a stationer can trace their roots to BIP.
Best Stationary Mart was an offshoot of BSM.
BIP was leased to Leaders’ Press, which printed mainly Bohra religious books. When the Trustees gave the press to Syedna on lease to run (there wasn’t anyone in the family available to look after this business) in the 1950’s, the name was changed to Leaders Press (he and other religious leaders took the press on lease as tenants, and did the day-to-day work of the press. The property was sold in the 1980’s by the Trustees).
Hussonally became wealthy in real estate. He bought hamlets and villages, and properties in Santa Cruz, the Fort Area and Mazagaon (before they were developed) then sold off the land. He had a penchant for figuring out what piece of land would become valuable. He also invested in Pune and started a printing press in Baroda.
The Koregaon property in Pune (which Khulsum inherited) is now the Osho Ashram now.
As he grew wealthier, he expanded his business, and delegated work to a family members, often grandsons.
His eldest grandson, Gulamhussein, took over running the business in his mid-20’s. This was during the Depression.
His social power grew in time. Police officers would salute him because of this high status and he was greatly respected. People would flock to see him, gather around him despite him being a simple man.
Politics and Religion
When Gandhiji announced the quit India movement Hussonally relinquished the title of “Justice of the Peace” that was to be conferred on him by the British.
However, he mostly believed it wise to take the “middle path” and not create animosities, so he had no particular alignments politically.
He was close to the Bohra priesthood (Syedna Abdulla Badrudin) and thought to be a religious man. Another report suggests that his relationship with them was more “diplomatic” and that he would have said “don’t get too close, and don’t get too far away either”. It is believed that he lent a lot of money to the priesthood at the time (they were poor at the time), and there were IOU notes kept in the safe at the Bombay Stationary Mart, but they have been misplaced when the property was sold.
He took his whole family to Karbala, including his whole staff, on a hired ship. But he didn’t accompany them.
He founded 3 masjids (one of them was for his mother who wanted to live close to a masjid). One of them is in Khar, and her grave is also in Khar.