NAVROJI THE SOFT DRINKS MAKER WITH A SOFT HEART
Worldwide, there were 110,000 Parsis in 2006 but their consistently low birth rate, mixed marriages and no stigma attached to singlehood means they might shrink to 20,000 by 2020 by some estimates.
Mr Noshir Mistri, an only son, trained in London to be a mechanical engineer and in 1966 set up his own business inspecting the welding of ships and tanks.
He recalls his mother telling him that when their family was still in Gujarat, the legendary Parsi industrialist Jamshedji Tata, founder of the sprawling Tata empire, was in town. Spotting the young Navroji, Mr Tata took the boy by the hand and told him: “When you grow up and if you work hard, you will be a success.”
FACTORY BASEMENT TURNED WAR SHELTER
He used to take in people who were homeless because their houses had been bombed, and let them stay with him as long as they liked.
MR NOSHIR MISTRI, on Navroji sheltering the homeless in his factory basement throughout the war
Navroji became an engineer and in 1909, his employer United Engineers sent him to Singapore to help build Keppel Wharves.
He arrived with 10 rupees in his pocket and learnt there were only six Parsis in Singapore, including soft drinks maker Phirozshaw Framroz.
Nicknamed “Naval” by his fellow Parsis, Navroji was soon hanging out with them at Mr Framroz’s factory and helping to repair the machines. In 1913, he finished building the wharves and Mr Framroz made him his business partner.
In 1925, Navroji set up his own soft drinks factory in Anson Road. “He called it Phoenix Aerated Water,” says Mr Noshir Mistri, “because the phoenix is a big bird rising from the dead and he liked the sound of that.”
Business boomed quickly because the young businessman sweet-talked the British armed forces into letting him supply them soft drinks here as well as in India, where his brother Hormusji was living and could keep an eye on that branch of his business.
He also opened GH Cafe in Battery Road, serving his soft drinks with popular curry tiffin meals. He did so well that before war broke out in 1942, he had to move into a bigger factory in nearby Palmer Road. Along the way, he hired Parsis from India for his factory and cafe.
But luck ran out when the Japanese jailed him for not sending them trucks from his factory on time. “He heard people being dragged out screaming, tortured and shot,” Mr Noshir Mistri says. The Japanese released Navroji after the trucks arrived, but only after beating him up badly.
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