Maneck Engineer is no stranger to the Parsi Zoroastrian community in Mumbai. As a former Trustee of the BPP, and a reputed professional, his soft spoken and down-to-earth demeanour has always been appreciated. Despite having lost the last election in October, he has bravely flung himself into the fray again. Predictably, several dormant controversies have clambered out of the closet. However, it needs to be acknowledged that this is an election where ideology matters as much as ability.
Today the community is split ideologically. In a nutshell, what do you stand for?
I stand for change, without infringing upon our traditions and culture. The world is changing and we have to accept some changes. We don’t dress today the way we did 100 years ago – but that hasn’t affected our traditions.
Have you abandoned the AFP banner this time – or is it the other way around?
The AFP was only a temporary arrangement. We came together to fight the October election so that a group of seven like-minded people could get elected and work harmoniously. Unfortunately, only one person got through.
Was that a huge disappointment?
Of course… definitely.
When people are elected as Trustees should they work unitedly for the community, or continue their factional fights?
I think there should be no politics in a Trust body. Factional fighting should cease. But, then, there are differences even within a family.
Do you think the courts are an appropriate forum to sort out the community’s differences?
We should not go to the courts and we should not create tamashas on TV. People are laughing at us. We should sit around together and resolve our differences. I’m prepared to try and bring about reconciliation.
You resigned citing irreconcilable differences with Dinshaw Mehta. How will you work harmoniously with him if elected?
I have no problems. I have known Dinshaw for 30 years, and we have still not had a box fight! For the sake of the community I’m willing to sit down with him… I am sure he will also give in.
As a prominent candidate in this election, what is your mission for the Parsi community?
The bogey of housing has to be resolved. It will take 3-5 years to remove the list if we categorise people properly. Many people are offered homes in the Western suburbs – but they refuse to move there. So just building in the suburbs isn’t enough.
The younger generation is migrating. If you go through the statistics you will see that the Parsi population between 25-40 years is almost missing in India. For instance, both my daughters are in Australia. The younger generation wants to keep out of ‘bawaji’ politics, and many don’t get a good quality of life with independent housing in India. If we don’t look after their needs more will go away. I believe Parsis can survive (as we have for 1400 years) and keep our identity, traditions and culture only if we live in Mumbai/India. If young Parsis from abroad want to come back, we have to encourage that… the BPP should say here is a house.
Could you enumerate upon your achievements during your last term as Trustee…
A new layout was drawn up for Neville Baug at Nirlon, and a building was put up. I am proud to say that Neville Baug is coming up as a really nice colony. I was also responsible for the solar panels and the greening at Doongerwadi. When I joined there were only 5 solars, but today there are 12 and all are working effectively – we had to modify and tropicalise them. I also worked on the 45-year old Kapadia Building at A.H. Wadia Baug. They had written it off, but we repaired it and today the tenants are happy. Redevelopment has to be done judiciously. Often repairing is a better option.
You stand by Dokhmenishini and the Doongerwadi?
I’m not against Doogerwadi; I’m in favour of it. But because of the vultures becoming extinct we had to go in for solar panels, which are working very well. I’m totally against cremation. At the same time, if it’s somebody’s wish I cannot stop them. I’m not in favour of conversion either.
You call yourself traditional and say you stand by Dokhmenishini. Yet you did not sign the affidavit against the Cremate-ni-bungli?
I wasn’t in India at the time, and since I’d missed the discussions on the subject I decided to abstain from signing either for or against it.
So are you for or against it?
I am totally against a Cremate-ni-bungli at Doongerwadi. It would be against the settlors’ wishes. But we could have one at another location.
You may not be aware, but earlier we had bunglis at various locations across Mumbai. I have lived at Cusrow Baug since my first birthday, and we had one there. When my grandfather died, he was taken there and the prayers commenced. The body was later consigned at Doongerwadi. Likewise, there were other bunglis. We could consider giving one to those who wish to opt for cremation. After all, we cannot stop anybody. Why bring about a split in the community – why come in the way?
How much reverence do you give to the views of the High Priests? Or do you, like some, believe the Parsis should pretty much do as they please?
No, I don’t believe that. But the priests should be united – they need to resolve their differences amongst themselves. There should be a Dasturan Dastur, like the Pope, and they should speak only in one voice.
But we don’t have a Papal tradition, and our High Priests have been virtually unanimous on key issues…
You are right. They should have a say in religious matters. They are highly educated and understand their responsibilities.
The BPP is a hotbed of politics – now more than ever before. What motivates you to stick your head into the crossfire?
I have a burning desire to serve my community. These are the few years at the end of my life when I can serve. I began my association with the BPP back in the CER days with (late) Siloo Kavarana. It has been an interesting tryst, I have enjoyed it! I don’t like to malign, and only retaliate when I am compelled. I had supported the candidature of (late) Rustom Tirandaz – I think it was in the 1995/96 elections. I helped him win. But in the next elections I stood against him because I felt he had joined hands with Dinshaw.
You are professionally associated with Godrej. It's felt that some members of the family influence you in the context of the pro-reform agenda?
No, my bosses have never tried to influence me in any way. They will never interfere.
It's also said that Smita (Godrej) Crishna, who is associated with the Association for Inter Married Zoroastrians (AIMZ), exerts influence over you in matters concerning inter-married Parsi women?
She may discuss matters with me… it’s not that she influences me.
Do you support navjotes for children of inter-married Parsi women?
I wouldn’t like to comment on that.
Your friend (and former colleague) Kersi Randeria and his AZA are filing numerous cases, running aggressive election campaigns… all of which must cost a lot of money. Who is funding AZA?
I have no idea. Probably Kersi is using his own money. Let me be frank, I don’t know. Kersi has taken this cause to his heart. But there may also be some others involved… I don’t know. I am not in close touch with Kersi, no matter what Dinshaw says. We meet sometimes. But very often I don’t even know what affidavits or cases they file. I have no connection with that organisation (AZA). In fact, Bergis (Desai) was much closer to Dinshaw than to me. We don’t know why they suddenly split up…
Any parting thoughts?
We need harmony in the community. The youth are important; they are the real wealth of the community… not our lands or assets. The BPP should have specialised committees on every subject, with just one or two Trustees connected with each committee, and there should be a budget for everything with proper management.
What happens if you lose the election?
I’ll forget about it and never contest again. I think ours is one of the finest communities and we can survive only if we help ourselves. By bickering we will not achieve anything, expect destroying ourselves. We have survived for 1400 years and we will survive till the end of time… I’m sure. I’m not a religious scholar, but from what I’ve read we once ruled half the world. We may be on the top again some day.
What will take us there?
Behramshah Varzavand, perhaps.
Anything can happen! We must have faith in our religion and in ourselves.
Here’s wishing you the best, Mr. Engineer…