Where there is a Will, there is a Way
The Great Dasturji Nadirshah Pestonji Unvalla – hats off ..I salute him !
A memorable episode in Nadirshah’s life as Panthaki of the Bangalore Anjuman involved stopping of an Indian Airlines Plane.
In October 1978, at the time of the Emergency (declared by Indira Gandhi) a group of Parsees from Navroz Bagh, Bombay came on a visit to Karnataka. They arrived by train in a reserved bogie and visited the Agiary at Bangalore before proceeding to Mysore and Ooty in several buses. They were on a sightseeing trip. Unfortunately one of the group, a Mrs. Dalal, expired at Ooty having suffered a heart attack.
The tour conductors obtained the death certificate and a necessary letter for the dean of the St. John’s Medical College & Hospital where a post mortem & embalming was to be undertaken. The body had to be sent for funeral rites to Bombay by air. In those days only one Indian Airlines flight a day operated on the Bangalore-Bombay sector. It arrived from Madras, halted briefly at Bangalore and proceeded onwards to Bombay. The departure time from the Bangalore HAL Airport was 12.30 p.m.
The conductor of the tour and four or five others brought the body in a van to Bangalore at 5.00 a.m. on Sunday morning and knocked at the Agiary gate. Nadirshah immediately opened the gate and inquired about the incident. He was told that the body had to be sent by air to Bombay urgently and requested him to keep the body in the Agiary compound as the plane was to depart only at 12.30 p.m. He advised them that a dead body cannot be brought into the Agiary compound and suggested they take it to the Tower of Silence and keep it there. Besides, the body had to be embalmed so the visitors showed him the letter they had brought addressed to the Dean of St. John’s Hospital. This hospital was rather far from the Agiary. So Nadirshah took them to St. Martha’s Hospital, where they were refused entry. Next they were taken to Victoria Hospital where the doctor was not available finally they took the body to St. John’s. (This episode is being narrated in detail to show how difficult it is to help stranded people and there were many, many over the years).
The Dean of the hospital sent them to the department where embalming was done. To their misfortunate, this being a Sunday, and no other bodies needing attention, the surgeon on duty had left the hospital. The dean was keen to help so he gave a quick note requesting the surgeon to come to the hospital urgently. They were given the address of the surgeon who was staying at the other end of Bangalore in Fraser Town.
With great speed Nadirshah rushed the relatives from Koramangala to Fraser Town, found the surgeon, gave him the dean’s note and requested him to go to the hospital by auto-rickshaw. They were then asked to immediately procure a coffin, one bag of sawdust and 50 kilograms of ice. They collected these and made haste to the hospital.
Nadirshah took Mr Savak Antia with him because his own small car could not reach quickly enough. Around 11.00 a.m. they reached the hospital and Nadirshah rushed to the department where the embalming was in progress. Mr Antia being nervous refused to enter the room. Nadirshah ventured forth in all earnestness but what a ghastly scene he witnessed! God forbid it should ever happen to a Parsi! He fervently prayed for the soul of the departed. The doctor while carrying on his work told Nadirshah that the coffin he had bought was rather small. Nadirshah asked if it was possible to fetch another given they were fighting against time. The hospital staff managed to fit the body into the coffin after all.
A strict set of rules needs adhering to, the coffin has to be hermitically sealed. Nadirshah and the relatives had taken a long piece of silk cloth, some nails and a hammer to nail down the coffin lid. Then putting the coffin into the van they hastened to the Airport. By now it was 11.30 a.m. the van followed the car up to Mahatma Gandhi Road then Nadirshah told the van driver to go to the airport by asking directions along the way. Nadirshah and Mr Antia sped onward in the Ambassador car to reach the airport earlier and started making arrangements. All along Mr Antia was most disheartening saying that the flight would surely be missed.
Before rushing to the hospital with the coffin Nadirshah had asked Mr Shereyar Vakil (who had been invited to his home for lunch that day) to immediately head to the airport and book five tickets for the relatives (at that time the airfare to Bombay was Rs.500/-).
As soon as Nadirshah reached the airport he heard the sound of the aircraft starting. Simultaneously Mr Vakil met him and informed them that he had just given away the tickets as they had all reached very late and the plane was departing.
Dear friends, here Nadirshah’s ingenuity, influence and resourcefulness were all on trial. In those days there were no strict security regulations at airports as there are today. Nadirshah requested the aerodrome officer to stop the plane, he refused to interfere saying that the plane was about to move and was now entirely under the command of the pilot. Nadirshah jumped over the cordon and frantically signaled the pilot to stop the engine. He too refused and started moving the aircraft. Nadirshah kneeled in front of the plane and shouted and pleaded that the plane be stopped. After much persuasion the pilot stopped the aircraft from moving but did not shut off the engine. He told the aerodrome officer to load the body hurriedly.
After stopping the plane Nadirshah came out but the van had not yet arrived. They had to wait for some time before the van arrived. The coffin was immediately removed, weighed and loaded on to the plane. There was no time even to collect the weighment voucher. Again Nadirshah had to plead with the pilot to allow at least three of the relatives to travel along with the body. The pilot finally gave in to the request, charging the fare but saying there were no seats available and the passengers would have to stand in the aircraft all the way to Bombay!
Nadirshah and Mr Antia returned home at about 2.00 p.m. Nadirshah took a full bath with ‘Taro’ and water as he had entered the room of the hospital where the embalming was in progress. He then telephoned Mr Darvish who was in charge of the Doongarwadi at Bombay and told him to take charge of the body as it arrived at Bombay Airport.
Finally the body was consigned to the Tower of Silence in Bombay at 5.30 p.m. after Sachkar and Gehsarna in the presence of the relatives of the deceased.
Mr Antia who was with Air India kept harping that by delaying the plane for nearly an hour (and that too, at a time when a National Emergency had been declared) the staff of the Bangalore Airport and the Pilot would lose their jobs. Next day Nadirshah wrote a polite letter to the Chairman & Managing Director of Indian Airlines explaining and apologizing for the delay caused by the above incident. Within a week he got a reply from the Indian Airlines Manager that – “It is our duty to help the people” Nadirshah hopes to remind our readers of the saying “Where there is a will there is a way”.
Behram P. Dhabhar