Akbarallys: the story of India’s first department store

More and more urban Indians are switching from pop-and-mom kirana outlets to do their groceries at swanky large-format retail stores. Their upscale experience, not just deep discounts, has made shopping a pastime.

Yet, long before these malls became commonplace, there was Akbarallys. By all yardsticks India’s first departmental store, Akbarallys was founded by Fakhruddin T. Khorakiwala, who serves as a shining example of a Muslim’s entrepreneurship, one that was ethical yet ambitious.

Fakhruddin T. Khorakiwala’s son, Habil Khorakiwala, is chairman of Wockhardt, an Indian global pharma company with subsidiaries in the US. Khorakiwala had founded the Akbarallys departmental stores in 1956, which introduced modern Indians to the idea of all-under-one-roof convenient shopping and organized retail.

Fakhruddin T. Khorakiwala also served as chancellor of New Delhi’s Jamia
Millia Islamia and was president of the Indian Merchants’ Chamber.

In early 1897, twelve years after the formation of the Indian National Congress, a young Akbarally Ebrahimji had bought a 30-square-foot space near Bombay’s Gunbow Street to start a “department store”, selling a range of items, even imported articles, from toiletries and biscuits.

Fakhruddin T. Khorakiwala’s father, Taherbhai Ebrahimji, took over Akbarally. Khorakiwala later opened more stores in south Bombay, turning it into a flourishing chain.

Fakhruddin T. Khorakiwala was a Dawoodi Bohra Muslim, a Muslim sect that has immensely contributed to modern Indian business, like others, such as, Azim Premji of the Wipro group.

During his later years, Khorakiwala worked untiringly for Hindu-Muslim unity. He was sheriff of Mumbai, when post-Ayodhya communal riots tore the city apart in 1992-93. Khorakiwala had then organised a 100-km human chain against
sectarian clashes.

Khorakiwala also started the Mohalla Committee movement for communal harmony. He died in July 2011. India had lost a great entrepreneur. His life holds out a key lesson: profits alone do not a business leader make.

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