Few passers-by outside or worshipers inside would recognize one of India’s richest men, Pallonji Mistry, the leader of the Shapoorji Pallonji Groupdied early Tuesday morning.
The late billionaire tycoon was emotionally and spiritually attached to this Atash Behram and found himself praying before the ancient fire almost every day. “He has been visiting this fire temple since his father’s time, I guess well over 80 years. But due to poor health, he was not seen for some time,” a devotee who knew him told TOI.
On another occasion during the Atash Behram’s anniversary a few years ago, Pallonji Seth came with an assistant, who distributed Mava cakes to the devotees, recalled a lady who was present then.
“He was humble, soft-spoken and generous to the end. The Pallonji family has made a generous donation for the repairs and renovations of the decrepit Parsi fire temples in Mumbai and Gujarat. But he also kept a low profile and never enjoyed the spotlight,” said a person who did not wish to be identified.
It was Pallonji who developed the construction activity overseas, notably in the Gulf where he built the Sultan’s Palace in Muscat in the early 1970s. Thus, his company became the first Indian construction company to have completed the project. His father, Shapoorji, died in 1975 aged 87, but Pallonji continued to execute major projects, including the Sterling Apartments in Pedder Road, Dhirubhai Ambani’s Sea Wind residence in Cuffe Parade and the World Trade Center (Cuff Parade).
In his book ‘The Tatas, Freddie Mercury & Other Bawas’, the author Coomi Kapoor says it may have been Pallonji, not his legendary father, who was the real mastermind behind buying Tata shares. “It was not until 1980 that JRD reluctantly agreed to make Pallonji a director of the board of directors of Tata Sons…As a director, Pallonji made it clear that he would respect the decisions of the direction of Tata, offering little resistance to JRD…” she said.
Pallonji’s father, Shapoorji Pallonji Mistry, lived in a small, lower-middle-class Parsi house with 11 siblings in Khetwadi, Grant Road, South Bombay. He performed his first independent construction work of the Girgaum Chowpatty Causeway over a century ago. Every day young Shapoor and his father Pallonji walked to work to save two anna’s tram fare. “He made a profit of Rs 2,000 on the trail contract in six months,” said Jamsheed Kanga, who was Mumbai’s city commissioner in the mid-1980s. Kanga, who died in 2020, delved into the history of the Mistry family and wrote an exhaustive chapter on Pallonji’s father as part of a compilation, “Parsis of the 20th Century”, edited by Nawaz B Mody.
It was another Pallonji (Pallonji’s grandfather) who had started a small construction company in partnership with an Englishman, Littlewood, called Littlewood Pallonji and Company. It was one of the companies involved in the construction of Malabar Hill Reservoir in 1887.
In 2006, with his wife Patsy, Pallonji financed and set up a home for the elderly of The BD Petit Parsée General HospitalMumbai.