Construction pioneer who took building blocks overseas | Bombay News

Mumbai: In a congested lane off Girgaum Road in South Mumbai, a nondescript old man dressed in simple white clothes frequently strolled through the city’s oldest Parsi Atash Behram, the Dadysett Fire Temple.
Few passers-by outside or worshipers inside would recognize one of India’s richest men, Palloji Mistry, the leader of Shapoorji Pallonji Group, who died 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 a while,” a devotee told TOI.
On another occasion during the Atash Behram’s anniversary, Pallonji Seth came with an assistant, who distributed Mava cakes to congregants, a lady who was present at the time recalled.
“He was humble, soft-spoken and generous to the end. The Pallonji family made a generous donation for the repair and renovation of 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”, author Coomi Kapoor says it may have been Pallonji who was the real mastermind behind the purchase of Tata shares. “It was not until 1980 that JRD reluctantly agreed to make Pallonji a director of the board of directors of Tata Sons…Pallonji made it clear that he would respect the decisions of Tata’s management, offering little of resistance to JRD,” she said.
Pallonji’s father, Shapoorji Pallonji Mistry, lived in a small, lower-middle-class Parsi house with 11 siblings in Grant Road, south Bombay. He performed his first freelance construction work of the Girgaum Chowpatty. 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,” 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 Co. It was one of the companies involved in building the reservoir of Malabar Hill in 1887.
In 2006, together with his wife Patsy, Pallonji funded and established a home for the aged at BD Petit Parsee General Hospital in Mumbai.