MEHERWANJI NANABHAI MEHTA, 1-10-1857 – 15-7-1928
MERCHANT OF CALCUTTA AND PHILANTHROPHIST OF NAVSARI
THE MAN WITH THE MIDAS TOUCH
Meherwanji was born in his maternal grandmother’s house on the day of Dhanteras 1-10-1857 Roj Ram, Mah Farvandin,1226Y.Z. As it was Dhanteras his grandfather was cleaning money when he got the news about the birth of his Grandson. He immediately proclaimed that, real wealth has come with this boy and he will be rich enough. Instead, Nanabhai suffered a huge loss in his work on the Railway line as the contractor who was entrusted with their funds 50,000 rupees disappeared with the money. He had taken money on loan from his uncle Cawasji, and that too was lost. At that time King Malharrao came to Navsari and he had an astrologer with him. His uncle Cawasji asked the astrologer, why their condition had become so poor; the astrologer asked if there was a birth of a boy in the family. He asked to see the horoscope of the child. He saw the horoscope and replied that this difficulty has fallen due to the birth of the boy. But, when he will become 21 years of age, he will be the benefactor of the family. This prediction has proved true in his case.
Meherwanji studied in Bombay till the age of 13 until hard times fell on the family and they shifted to Navsari. He and his brother Dorab studied at the Sir Cowasji Jehagirji Madrasa in Navsari. When he was 17 years old his uncle Edulji Navroji Mehta came to Navsari from China. Edulji was impressed with Meherwanji and he sent him to Calcutta where he studied at St Xaviers College for 3 years. His uncle Edulji gifted him 10 sets of clothes when he left and Meherwanji had to manage with these for the 3 years he spent in college .After graduating he worked in a commercial firm for a meagre salary of Rupee’s 7. He was not happy and he wrote to his uncle Edulji to call him to China, in the hope of starting his own trading business. In reply his uncle sent him 13 crates of gold-plated bangles worth Rs 4000. These Chinese bangles were very popular in India and in 1879 he started his own business and soon became The Bangle King of India. Together with bangles he used to sell other articles from Japan, England, Germany and Austria. In 1897 he went to China and opened a branch of his business there leaving his brother Dorabjee in charge of his affairs in Calcutta.
In 1914 Meherwanji was trapped in Germany in World War 1, however he managed to escape and make his way back. In 1915 he went to Japan and opened a branch of his office and put his nephew Manaji in charge. He also opened a branch in Mumbai in 1916. He started a glass factory in Calcutta named MN Mehta Glass works and a Match Factory in Ootacamond. He had a business in hosiery Goods and electronic Goods. People said he had the Midas Touch and anything he touched turned to Gold.
Meherwanji contributed over 1.5 crores to charity. In addition, every month he would donate Rs 350 for helping the poor Parsis and Rs 1000 for the muktad fund. Moreover, he would give gifts on the navjote and wedding of poor Parsis, and also for the education of poor Zarthusti boys
His charitable donations included: –
- Rs700 for Tarapore Nasakhana
- Rs2,000 for Calcutta’s Late Ervad DB Mehta Zoroastrian Anjuman Atash Adaran.
- Rs4,000 for Calcutta
- Rs 4,000 for Dharamsala in Calcutta.
- Rs2,400 for buying the house Navaz Baug in Zampa Street.
- Rs 4,000 for building Mehta Club in Lunsikui in Navsari in memory of his uncle Edulji Navroji Mehta
- Rs 2,000 for giving shelter to poor Zarthostis in memory of Seth Pestonji Edulji Mehta
- Rs 20,000 for gifting a building for Seth R.J.J.A.V. School
- Rs 1,00,000 for the D N Mehta Parsi Maternity Hospital and its maintenance
- Rs 500 to build a well at Mogar village in Jabalpore
The wells of Navsari were of salty water, hence people brought water from outside.
The people from Navsari brought water from a big well with steps inside it, which was outside the city. But there was only one well and Parsi women would quarrel with Hindu women. A new well was built for the Parsis.
- Rs700 to build Navsari Sayaji Vaibhav Library compound wall
- Rs 500 in Ratanji Faramji Dabu general Hospital Fund
- Rs 500 to build a Parsi block at Kunoor
- Rs 20,000 to build a separate building at the Navsari Atash Behram
- Rs 1,200 for an extra wing at Sir R J J A N School
- Rs 2,300 for repairing Navazbaug
- Rs 2,500 for an additional wing at Navsari Mehta Club
- Rs 1,000 for building Hat Bana Club
- He established a building called Navazbaug at Zampa Street for the functions of Zarthustis
Inscription at Navaj Baug:-
This building was bought by Meherwanji Nanabhai Mehta in memory of his late mother Navajbai and his Late father Nanabhai Manaji Mehta 26-12-1899
Inscription at Mehta Club
This building was built by Seth Meherwanji Nanabhai Mehta in memory of his uncle Edulji Navroji Mehta and wife Nalibai Merwanji Mehta. It is built for the use of the members of the Club.16-6-1906 AD
He gave his own residence at Dudha Street for the Seth R J J A N School
Inscription on the building of the school
This building was built by the citizens of Navsari and the businessman of Calcutta Seth Merwanji Nanabhai Mehta in memory of his late wife Nalibai Merwanji Mehta.
D N Mehta Maternity Hospital
Mehta Bldg. – Parsi Orphanage, NavsariInscription at the D N Mehta Parsi Lying in Hospital
The D N Mehta lying in Hospital (erected by M N Mehta) was laid by Rao Bahadur Khaserao Balvant Jadav, 3rd March 1913 AD.
The building was built in memory of his brother Dorab N Mehta who died young. At first it was a twelve-bed hospital but as the concept of women going to a hospital to deliver became popular a huge building was added with 40 beds. The orthodox Parsis did not want a maternity hospital at Navsari as they thought it would pollute the area which was a “Dharam ni Tekri”. But public opinion was in favour of the hospital and permission was granted.
The Maharaja Saheb of Gaekwad of Baroda awarded him the gold medal of ‘Datar Mandal” on the occasion of his birthday in 1916.
When he died at the age of 71, he left behind 6 buildings in Calcutta, 5 in Kobe and Canton and a large palatial home in Navsari.
A meeting of the entire Parsi Anjuman of Navsari was held in Khurshedwadi to mourn his death and to record the community’s appreciation and gratitude, under the chairmanship of the Head Desaiji Saheb Ardesher Maneckji. A decision was taken to include his name in the list of those remembered in Zoroastrian prayers, and to place his oil portrait in the main hall of the Atash Behram and to install his statue at the maternity Hospital. His admirers and well wishers raised funds for the statue and portrait and on 25th January1930 Sir Phiroze Cursetji Sethna unveiled his statue and portrait. Two such statues must have been ordered. I have the privilege of having the statue in my house. Samara Mehta Vyas, Nirvhan Mehta Vyas, Ariyanah Mehta and Viviana Mehta (pictured below with the bust of Meherwanji) are the youngest descendants of his brother Dorabji.
All the above from Mehta Vanshavali – Courtesy: Prochy Mehta
Mehta Vansavali – in Gujarati