There is an employee in Godrej who loves to collect everything old. He loves antique clocks and watches, he loves to collect old coins, old notes and old stamps, and enjoys listening to Western classical music. Contrastingly, he loves to design and construct modern structures such as the unique Godrej Baug off Napean Sea Road and the heavy duty shop using concrete and steel in the challenging project of construction of Plant-19 at Pirojshanagar, among various other constructions to his credit. Yes, you’ve guessed right. It’s none other than Maneck Engineer.
Although son of the late Hormusji Engineer, who had served the Company loyally under founder-consolidator Pirojsha Godrej, Maneck, an expert in his field, stands out as a valuable assistant to Pirojsha’s son, Naval Godrej and his grandson Jamshyd, on his own merit. Maneck’s urge to serve the Company comes through strongly and naturally. Simple, hardworking and creative, what is most striking about him is that both his feet are firmly on the ground and he has no airs about being Vice-President.
An ardent and self-tutored homeopath for the last 30 years, Maneck derives immense satisfaction in prescribing medicines for friends. A lover of flora and fauna, he loves to play with his Alsatian, Simba, apart from breeding aquarium fish at home for the last 50 years. So, what do we call Maneck? Collector? Doctor? Animal lover? Or, "Architect, Structural Engineer & Licenced Plumber"?
Know the multi-faceted man, a true Zoroastrian at heart, who has served the Company so well for 38 long years (he joined Godrej on January 1, 1964) and still wishes to leave behind "a long-lasting impression by way of concrete structures and thousands of drawings in our office with my signature, which will remain on record till such time the structures exist."
BUILDING HABITATS FOR GENERATIONS
Ch. What was it that made you join Godrej? Was it the name, was it your father, Hormusji, who was already working in the Company or was it the salary?
M.E. Frankly, I had no intentions of joining Godrej. I had, for the second time, come to Vikhroli to meet Naval Godrej to convince him to give me a scholarship for further studies in Civil Engineering abroad. I was with him for more than an hour and a half. I vividly remember the evening of December 1963 when he asked: "You wish to go next year in September to the States, right?" I confirmed. "Aapre pachchi joysu (‘We shall see later?. At least for now you start working here." Times were different. Pay scales were low. At the same time, it was very expensive to go abroad for studies. I think Naval Godrej wanted to see my calibre before sponsoring me.
I’ve always believed in getting totally involved in whatever I do. I got so involved in my work in Godrej that I totally forgot about going abroad. Besides, I had known quite a few people who, having once gone abroad, never returned to India, and I being the only son, my father was not too keen on sending me.
Ch. What were the early beginnings of your career like?
M.E. I was made to go from one site to another. At that time Plant-3 was under construction. Plant-13, housing colony?was already constructed. In April 1964 I planned and designed the first 4-storeyed structure which began the very next month. In the same year in September we planned and designed six more buildings, from X-65 to X-71, all residential quarters for workers at Station Road. Since then, I have been connected with the construction of 13 factory plants and over 3,000 tenements.
Ch. How many people worked under you?
M.E. I had three juniors working under me ?Varshi, Govind Raman and Sundaraman, all senior to me, but none of them were qualified engineers. However, I must say that although Varshi did not know much about designs, I still learnt a lot from him before taking over.
Ch. What was the level of job satisfaction you had every time you constructed, say, a new factory shed?
M.E. I am immensely satisfied seeing a whole township being designed, constructed and executed under me, especially in the last 20 years, heading the Construction Department. With all the confidence reposed in me by Naval Godrej, I have always felt that I am a part of the Godrej enterprise and I should give my best to it, always. I personally feel that I am in a singularly enviable position, as I will be leaving behind a long-lasting impression by way of concrete and steel structures and thousands of drawings in our office bearing my signature as Architect, Structural Engineer & Licensed Plumber, which will remain on record till such time the structures exist.
Ch. In fact you have mentioned in Godrej: A Hundred Years, Volume II that "I consider my workplace as my second home". Also, your Department’s Mission reads as: "Building Habitats for Generations to Cherish." Both, your words and your Mission are inter-related.
M.E. No, I think they are two different issues. Whereas the first quotation talks about work culture, my views about the workplace and how I feel about it as a part of my life, the second talks about quality and commitment which in turn shows in my work in the form of structures which will survive for generations.
Ch. What are the hurdles you face when you construct factory sheds or tenements?
M.E. (Laughing): Plenty of hurdles. To construct even one building, we have to take sanctions from 80 to 100 government departments. Whether it is the Municipality or the Collector’s Office or the Fire Brigade or any other statutory body, things move at a snail’s pace.
Ch. How much time does that take?
M.E. It depends upon their whims and fancies. They are so corrupt! For people like us who stand by our values, it is next to impossible to get things done by them. We have now appointed outside consultants to deal with them.
Ch. Could you please relate to us some anecdotes or tell us about your interactions with Pirojsha Godrej and Naval Godrej during the designing and construction of Pirojshanagar?
M.E. I never interacted with Pirojsha much. My father did. I do remember father telling me that Pirojsha was very much concerned about the cost of construction and that if ever he noticed any unnecessary expenditure, he would remark that we were not maharajas to spend money like that. He firmly believed in the saying, "Cut the cloth to suit the coat."
Naval Godrej was a genius. He had a sixth sense. Though not a qualified engineer, he used to catch us often on the wrong foot. I came in close contact with him after 1967-?8 when the Pre-Primary School was being constructed. He got involved right from the planning stage, understood all the drawings well and came at least thrice a week to check the work progress.
In January 1979 we were preparing for IMTEX. The fateful day was January 8, the day when he was stabbed. That very afternoon Naval Godrej had met me near Gate No. 7. He was with me for quite some time looking at the orientations of the sculpture, which still stands there, which I call "The Wheels of Industry". With our Lorain Crane in position, we rotated the structure in all directions to see in which position it looked best, whilst driving in as well as driving out of the premises, and finally agreed to its present position and welded the foundation’s reinforcements, so that even if a truck bangs into it, it won’t topple.
Ch. The Construction Department of Godrej is known today for quality and reliability in its work. You had an important part to play in it.
M.E. The Construction Department was established way back in 1948 when we started developing properties at Pirojshanagar. Naval Godrej visualised that a competent in-house Construction Department would not only ensure quality construction, but also achieve economies in construction and reliability, which, otherwise, continued to remain an issue of concern in the construction industry. He was of the firm opinion that a single fault in the design concept or workmanship could cost heavily in later stages, so he nurtured and guided the Department leading to this wonderful industrial garden township.
When the Koyna earthquake occurred on December 10, 1967, Naval Godrej asked me: "How strong are our structures?" I replied: "Sir, I assure you that if there is an earthquake of high intensity in a nearby vicinity whereby Mumbai is affected, I am sure our structures will withstand the earthquake. However, if the calamity is enormous, even the insurance company will not survive to pay us the dues." In fact, at least thrice in the past, we have gone through the exercise of premium on structures towards earthquake insurance. The premium went up to crores and, ultimately, we dropped the idea.
The quality of the structures and the construction is totally assured, which can be seen from the buildings existing for over five decades. Believe it or not, we applied the first coat of Snowcem only in 1997, our centenary year. Even today, there is not a single crack in those buildings.
I would like to add here that Mumbai is sitting on a time bomb. In a recent earthquake, the epicenter of which was near Panvel with a Richter scale of around 3.5, had the scale gone up to 6.5, Mumbai would have been demolished.
Ch. We do have a Disaster Centre here run by the Indian Red Cross Society.
M.E. Yes, but it is not functioning. I always see it closed!
Ch. You have played a major role in designing and constructing Godrej Baug. How did this plan come up? Any hurdles you faced during the planning or construction stage?
M.E. In 1978, the then Trustees of the Parsi Panchayat Funds & Properties approached Pirojsha Godrej Foundation as also Naval Godrej to develop fallow lands on the western side of the Towers of Silence (Doongerwadi) comprising three plots, totally admeasuring 29,325 square meters. The Trustees were earlier given a donation of Rs. 6 lakhs for the construction of Pirojsha Godrej Foundation Building at Contractor Baug, which they had had constructed through M/s. Shirke of Pune. There were a lot of complaints about the quality of construction.
So, when the trustees approached the Godrej Foundation for the development of these plots, Naval Godrej agreed to contribute from the Trust provided the work was carried out departmentally through our Construction Department. The late Bohman Behram, the then Chairman, and other trustees had a meeting with the trustees of the Godrej Foundation, when it was decided that we start with the development of Plot ‘O? comprising four buildings and 110 tenements for which funds would be made available by the Godrej Foundation. The later developments of Plot ‘M?and ‘P?would only be partly financed by the Godrej Foundation. However, the major funds would come through cross-financing from the construction of Spenta. Our Department toiled for over 15 years to complete this colony under adverse conditions.
There was no access to these plots and obtaining ULC Clearance was another obstacle. The entire Plot ‘M?was an open-air lavatory for the adjoining Simla House zopadpatti. Removing them was a problem. Besides, the Plot was also under reservation. The contours, too, were treacherous. Plot ‘P?was sloping from one end to the other, the difference in the level being a hundred feet! To construct buildings on the slope and with an approach from Napeansea Road, which is usually crowded with truck traffic not allowed during certain hours of the day, was really a challenging task. Taking advantage of drops in level, we not only constructed buildings at different levels with each wing one floor lower than the other, when each floor was connected with an elevated path in such a way that the persons staying in the last wing either climb up 1 ?floors to go to the top floor or go 2 ?floors down to go to the ground floor. This is a unique concept, the likes of which I have not seen any where in the world.
Also, there are three levels of parking and the road to these levels is intricate and winding, going below the buildings and coming up the other way around, it is a delight to manouver one’s vehicle up and down the slopes, the planning and designing of which was done when Naval Godrej was alive.
Most important amongst the many problems we faced was that of constructing buildings skirting the cemetery grounds. We got it done through the trustees of the Bombay Parsi Panchayat.