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B. K. Karanjia


 "Mission  Mode"  Lacking

In a recent article in the Mumbai Samachar, D.K. Tamboli, a former trustee of the Bombay Parsi Panchayat and Chairman of the World Zoroastrian Organisation, deplored the failure of the leadership of the Parsi community to harvest the power and potential of Parsi youth — not because of a lack of resources, but because of “a problem of attitude” whereby the leaders are unable to outgrow their mindset of limited achievement. In other words, lack of the “mission mode”, with a vision for our youth.

This is not the first time that the community’s leadership has been found wanting. More than half a century ago the number of Parsi families in the city numbered 50,000, nearly a quarter of whom eked out a meagre existence on doles dished out by various Parsi charitable institutions. Disgusted by the sight of the long queues outside these institutions, the Company’s pioneer-founder Ardeshir Godrej, having successfully established the steel and soap manufacturing industries, bought 600 acres of land in Nasik for the purpose of running a farm and a dairy. He realised, as did his mentor Mahatma Gandhi, the importance of village uplift and of simultaneously providing an independent, remunerative and dignified means of employment to able-bodied Parsis. Ardeshir believed that Parsis who had contributed to the growth and development of Bombay would be able to do likewise for rural uplift once they had established a foothold in the villages.

Ardeshir’s was an unusual case of a successful industrialist taking to farming as a profession. He himself brought the land under cultivation and laid the groundwork for establishing both the farm at Pimpalgaon and the dairy at Mashrul. But then, in the early 1930s, an inner compulsion led Ardeshir to withdraw from public life altogether. Nevertheless he took care not only to make financial provision for the farm from his estate, but also laid down specific instructions on how to run the farm and the dairy in his will. After Ardeshir’s death in 1936, the Godrej Farm Management and Advisory Committee was, accordingly, formed with the assistance of the Parsi Panchayat, which assumed full responsibility: “The members did the best they could, in the unfamiliar, rather bewildering circumstances in which they found themselves — born and bred city men, confronted with the problem of setting up a farm miles away from Bombay. They went through the motions in all sincerity and tried to do their best, but unfortunately their best was not good enough.”*

There were several reasons for their failure, in spite of the expert advice available to the Committee about the promising commercial prospects of the undertaking. Settlers of the right type were difficult to find in an urban community like the Parsis. To make matters worse, little or no publicity was given to the attractive terms that were being offered — free accommodation on the site, the opportunity to learn a new trade, excellent prospects of earning a decent living, even the promise of regular entertainment. Regular meetings were held to discuss the farm’s affairs. But no consistent effort was made to establish proper communications within the farm by building a bridge over the River Godavari cutting across it at Savargaon. No fresh initiatives were taken. No visits were made to the farm. Inevitably, there were losses.

There was, however, a clause in Ardeshir’s will stating that if the Trustees felt it was not worthwhile to continue with the project, they could close it down and use the income for the relief of the poor in the community. The community’s akabars seized upon this clause with almost unseemly eagerness, and wound up the farm as well as the dairy, no doubt with a sense of considerable relief.

Ardeshir’s lofty idea came to nothing. The once-in-a-lifetime opportunity offered to the community of developing the rural sector with its characteristic enterprise and initiative was not taken. The pernicious, self-perpetuating system of doles still continues, and Tamboli has good reason to lament the continuing failure of the community’s leadership.

B.K. Karanjia


* The full details are given in a monograph on Pioneer-Founder Ardeshir Godrej, VIJITATMA, to be published shortly by Viking Penguin India.