SHERNAAZ ENGINEER's blog on the Parsi community
Thursday, September 25, 2008
JIMMY MISTRY: “I’m not eyeing the BPP with ambition”
Jimmy Mistry should have had an identity crisis by now, because he’s so many different things to so many people. To some he is the flashy guy who flaunts his fancy cars and goes over-the-top with his extravagance! To others he is a bawa Barack, the youthful agent of change, who organises friendship rallies and Gary Lawyer dinner-and-dance nights at the Dadar Gymkhana (like he has this Sunday).
Still others see him as a spendthrift and allege he is sometimes in financial straits. Yet, for many, he is a philanthropist who has dug into his pockets time and again, to support a slew of causes adopted under the umbrella of his Parsi Resource Group (PRG), where many volunteers come forward to work with him for the uplift of the community.
Will the real Jimmy Mistry please stand up! Well, the only way, is to let him have his say…
Why do you want to become a BPP Trustee?
I desperately want to bring change into the community. Let us understand one thing. I don’t need the BPP to get anything going for me. I have too much going for me already, whether it is on the work front or with PRG. But given my ability to drive things to a logical conclusion, I can shake, rattle, roll, push and even kick people into action, in order to make things happen. It doesn’t make sense for me to put my time into it otherwise. I intend to take over certain things and make them happen, and move in with my infrastructure if necessary to ensure that this gets done.
Any specific plans?
A cashless medical scheme across the community would be the first. According to my research, there are 50,000 plus Parsis in Mumbai. Let us assume 1000 or even 2000 of them need housing, this means barely 10 per cent of the community has a housing problem. Then why is it that housing takes up 90 per cent of our energy! My focus would be to improve the living conditions of those who have been housed.
How do you intend doing it?
As I see it, the community has three big challenges. Ninety per cent have a roof over their heads. But medical expenses are a big issue. As parents grow older, their life’s savings get spent on hospitalisation and often their children also have to dip into their savings. For the past three years, I have been paying out of my own pocket for cashless medical insurance for mobeds, their wives and children. Countless mobeds have benefited from this. It is well known that in a group policy the premium comes down by 40 per cent. So the whole community can come under this umbrella. Those who can afford will pay their own premium, and for those who cannot we’ll pitch in. I wish to bring out a certified list of poor Parsis in Mumbai, where the collective family income is less than Rs. 15,000, which will be verified by the baug committees for authenticity. Once we have that data, we will look out for donors to subsidise these families.
The next challenge is education and jobs for our youth. I am very serious about getting Minority Status for the community and Dr. Mehroo Bengalee has recommended my name to the Maharashtra Chief Minister for appointment to the State Minorities Commission. I want to hold a referendum on our Minority Status issue, so that when we take our petition to Delhi some Parsis don’t stand up and say we don’t need this. It is my intention to go in for Minority Status within a year’s time.
The third challenge is retaining Parsi property within the community. I opposed the proposal to turn the Cama Athornan Madressa into an international school because I believe community property has to be used for community purposes.
There’s a great fear of letting a builder into the BPP…
I know. But you require a builder if you want to solve the massive housing issues that keep arising. Who better than a builder to help with municipal laws, government permissions, repairs, and so on? I am developing a township in Indore right now that is the size of Dadar Parsi Colony and Matunga put together. Let me bring that expertise in. And I repeat, no Parsi property will ever go into the hands of a non-Parsi as far as I am around. Besides, I will be with six other Trustees, so it is not as though I can do what I like at the BPP.
Your own building in Dadar, Della Tower, is mired in controversy.
Yes, there was litigation, protests and petitions, but the courts dismissed them. Let someone come forward and prove there is one thing wrong with what I have done. I have re-housed all the old tenants, ensured that the ‘Parsi-only’ covenant status has been kept, when I could have had it annulled and sold the flats at far higher rates to non-Parsis, if my intentions were not on track. And I am creating a 9000-square feet Zoroastrian exhibition centre that will tell our story to the younger generation. I have also spent Rs. six crore on the Persian elevation of the building to assert our pride in our roots and culture. I want this building to be a symbolic masterpiece for the Parsi community. I have recently acquired an old Kutchi building at Wadala, where the covenant status had lapsed. I have restored the covenant to ‘Parsi-only’.
Why are you spending so much on your campaign?
I am grateful to God for blessing me with abundance and am only doing my best to reach out to the community that is spread all over Mumbai. How else do I connect with them, unless I organise election meetings? Please also realise that such a lot of ill has been spoken about me that I need a fair chance to counter it. Also, it’s a fact that I pull in large crowds, so I have to ensure people can hear and see – hence the lights, the projection screens, the stage. When I do something, it has to be up to a certain standard. Do I have a choice about not spending? But it’s true that because of me the others have ended up spending more than they would have. My brochures and hoardings are slick – I like doing things well!
Are you in alliance with any group?
Not at all – my campaign is going so well it speaks for itself. I see myself as the bridge that will connect everyone. Let’s face it, we’re going to get WAPIZ, AFP and independents into the BPP. I can talk straight and won’t be cowed down, and can be the connecting point between the others.
Will you be able to get along well within the BPP?
When you are on the job, you do it and move on. If you cannot do it, you shouldn’t be there. It’s time we had a professional work culture within the BPP, starting with the Trustees.
Where do you stand on religious issues?
I am completely orthodox and do not support any change within the religion. We have no right to change anything that has been part of our religion and rituals for hundreds of years. I am totally opposed to a ‘Cremate Ni Bunglee’ at Doongerwadi. Those who want to opt for alternate systems of disposal should buy their own piece of land and construct their own ‘bunglees’ or prayers halls. This cannot happen inside Doogerwadi or any of our agiaries. They must also arrange for their own priests, and not expect any of our priests to oblige.
Whatever anybody may say, through PRG I head the largest mobed’s association in the world today, and I have not tried to change a thing because I claim no understanding of our religion, only a great love for it. Whether it is conversion or anything else, things must continue as they are. Because one small change results in a string of changes – and the repercussions come much later.
Are you all set for Trusteeship?
I’m not eyeing the BPP with ambition. I believe I am destined to bring change into the community. Just give me one year – and see the difference I make. Despite all my professional achievements, what brings me real pride and joy is when I see myself doing something for my community.