Champo Man - Sake Dean Mohamed

There was an Indian whose story is one of sheer chutzpah or guts, who challenged all established norms and charted an audacious journey to the West, to leave a strong imprint. In the mid-18th century. Sake Dean Mohamed became one of the first Indians to move to England, set up a restaurant there and hold your breath, also introduced shampoo. You heard it right; it was this Indian who Invented Shampoo!

 

Sadly, chances are, you have never heard of Sake Dean Mohamed.

 

When we think about shampoo, we tend to take it for granted. But do we ever wonder where the word ‘shampoo’ came from? The origin of the word ‘Shampoo’, the common word used for the liquid preparation for washing hair, was derived from an Indian word ‘Champo.’ Champu means to press or to massage. The shampoo has been used on the scalp since 1500 AD, when a combination of boiling Reetha (soapberries), amla (gooseberry), Hibiscus, Shikakai (Acacia), and other hair-friendly plants were prepared together and used on the scalp to cleanse and nourish the hair strands and as a natural hair fall remedy. Even now, in many Indian households, women make pastes at home using these herbs and they have resulted in the strengthening of hair for hair fall treatment and adding natural shine and glow.

 

Dry shampoo, which is a very trendy topic of our time, has a long history itself. It wasn’t just the savvy millennials who hopped on to the dry shampoo trend but Asians from the 15th century were huge dry shampoo fans too. While we go back to history, dry shampoos or hair pastes were the most famous forms of products that could cleanse the hair.

 

Since then, many English hair stylists experimented to create effective hair care products by boiling soap shavings in water or adding fragrant herbs and oil essences to make a soap water solution that offers shiny and nourished hair. And by the early 1900s, people started using a regular soap bar to wash their hair. However, the hard surfactants led to soap coating hair strands with a dull, unhealthy-looking film which led to discovery of newer solutions.

 

When a chemist from Berlin Hans Schwarzkopf invented a violet-scented powder called ‘Schaumpon’ that became available in German drugstores. When the popularity of the product grew in the next 25 years, he introduced Europe to the world’s first bottle of liquid shampoo. Shampoos post that became a product of massive commercialisation.

 

By the 1970s, shampooing your hair became a cultural phenomenon with hair care and hygiene. And the rest is history!

 

Then where does the inventor of Shampoo, Sake Dean Mohamed, stand in all this? Let’s go back into history books to trace the journey of this great man. 

 

Far from the salons of Europe, Sake Dean Mohamed was born in 1759, in Patna, which was then under the Nawabs of Bengal. His father was a member of the ‘Nai’ or barber community and worked for the British East India Company, which was on the ascendance, recently taking control of the region after the Battle of Plassey in 1757. The young Dean learnt techniques of making herbal potions, soaps, cleansers and of ‘Champi’ or therapeutic and ubiquitous Indian term for head massages, from his father.

 

Dean was only 10, when his father died and he was taken into the care of a British officer named Captain Godfrey Baker. Baker served the East India Company’s army as a trainee surgeon, and participated in the wars against the Marathas. But when Baker resigned and chose to move back to his hometown in Ireland, Dean accompanied him and they landed in Cork in 1784. Here, the 25-year-old Dean began to study to advance his education, especially in English language and literature and fell in love with Jane Daly, ‘a pretty Irish girl of respectable parentage.’ In 1786, the couple eloped to another town to get married. In those race conscious times, the marriage created a furore, but the couple tided over it. By 1799, Mahomed and Jane had several children, a house and were financially comfortable. 

 

In the year 1793, he took out a series of advertisements in newspapers seeking subscribers for his book ‘The Travels of Dean Mahomet’. Almost 320 people subscribed to the book, which was published as a series of letters. This book is a milestone in publishing history, as it is the first known English book written by an Indian. In this book, he describes cities of India such as Delhi, Allahabad and Patna, Mughal Emperor Shah Alam II, the decline of Nawabs of Bengal, Rohilla wars and the wars with Hyder Ali.

 

 

By 1807, he and his family settled in England, where he introduced Indian steam baths and "champu," or “champi '' (head massages) , as we know it today and later known as shampooing. Mohamed's legacy includes treating British royalty, earning the title "Shampooing Surgeon," and popularising the term "shampoo." 

 

Not satisfied with his career, he opted for a new one and in 1810, opened London’s first Indian restaurant, the Hindostanee Coffee House. A newspaper advertisement read, ‘Hindostanee Coffee-House, No. 34 George-street, Portman square—Mahomed, East-Indian, informs the Nobility and Gentry, he has fitted up the above house, neatly and elegantly, for the entertainment of Indian gentlemen, where they may enjoy the Hoakha, with real Chilim tobacco, and Indian dishes, in the highest perfection, and allowed by the greatest epicures to be unequalled to any curries ever made in England with choice wines...’

 

 

Interestingly, the restaurant even offered home deliveries. As an another advertisement reads –

‘Such ladies and gentlemen as may desirous of having India Dinners dressed and sent to their own houses will be punctually attended to by giving previous notice…’

 

However, the venture was not a success. There was no ‘eating out’ culture developed at the time and those who could afford to, still preferred to have ‘authentic’ dishes prepared at home by their private chef. Dean had to disassociate himself from it due to financial difficulties and filed for bankruptcy in 1812. Interestingly, in June 2018, the handwritten menu was auctioned for 8,500 pounds.

 

He moved with his family to the seaside town of Brighton and his passion for enterprise and previous experience made him open Mahomed’s Baths in 1821, in which he offered ‘the Indian Medicated Vapour Bath’.

 

 

This was a turning point in his professional career. Over the years, his aromatic oils and massages treated King George IV and King William IV and he was awarded Warrants of Appointment as ‘Shampooing Surgeon’ to the royalty. Hospitals began referring patients to him, his reviews made him a celebrity and also earned him the moniker Dr. Brighton. He even published a book ‘Shampooing; or benefits resulting from the use of the Indian Medicated Vapour Bath’ which went into three editions. It is during his time, that the word ‘Shampoo’ entered the common English lexicon.

 

After an eventful life, Sake Dean Mohamed died in Brighton in 1851, at the age of 92. He was soon forgotten in history. It was only in the 1980s that his story was rediscovered in England. Today, he is considered a pioneer among the British-Asian community, though in India, he is still relatively unknown.

 

@ Yeshwant Marathe 

yeshwant.marathe@gmail.com

 

Thanks: Prashant Naik for initial inputs. 

Leave a comment



Madhav Tembe

1 month ago

It is a new information for me. Thanks for unearthing this jewel of India.

PRASHANT Naik

1 month ago

Its a wonderful write up on a small bit of information provided. I am amazed by the indepth research done by you and reduced down the bare facts in a very lucid narrative. Great job as always.

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