Two days after Asia’s oldest newspaper, the Gujarati daily Mumbai Samachar entered its 200th year, one of its owners, Muncherji (Munchi) Cama, passed away on Saturday. The paper was founded on July 1, 1822, but the Cama family became owners in 1933.
Besides being a newspaper proprietor, not many know that Munchi also controlled the Ardeshir Hormusji Wadia Trust, which according to government records, is one of the biggest private landowners in Mumbai. It has over 361 acres in Kurla and a corpus believed to be a humungous Rs 700 crore. Some years ago, when I asked him about the trust’s phenomenal land holdings, he explained to me: “We cannot speculate on our land holding unless we take an audit. A lot of our land was acquired by the government decades ago, but it was returned to us completely encroached.’’
He told me that many builders had approached the trust, offering to rehabilitate slum dwellers and redevelop the land. In the early 20th century, the Cama family of Mumbai Samachar owned 1/3rd of the land in Chembur.
In the early part of the 19th century, Ardeshir Hormusji Wadia was given the lease for Kurla, which comprised the six villages of Mohili, Kole Kalyan, Marol, Sahar, Asalphe and Parjapur, for a yearly rent of Rs 3,587.
In 2018, I met Muncherji at the K. R. Cama Oriential Institute in Mumbai, where he was a trustee. The library, founded in 1916, has a treasure trove of ancient Avesta, Pahlavi and Persian literature and manuscripts including books on Islam and the Koran. I was pleasantly surprised when Muncherji readily agreed to show me a rare manuscript, which also happened to be the library’s most precious treasure– a 7th century AD Arabic manuscript called “Ahd-Namaha’’ or what is called “Covenants of faith’’ or charters granted by the Prophet Mohammad and his son-in-law Imam Ali.
In 2004, my front-page report in TOI about the sale of the Cama family bungalow, Cosy Corner, off Nepean Sea Road to a builder for Rs 108 crore, upset the Camas (So I was told). The builder was one of the tragic victims of the 26/11, 2008 Mumbai terror attack.
Goodbye Muncherji …
Muncherji Cama more popularly called Munchi is no more.
I got to know him better in 2008 when he was part of the AFP-7 Panel along with myself to contest the first Bombay Parsi Punchayet (BPP) elections by the process of Universal Adult Franchise. Unfortunately he lost.
He was well read, witty and had the most amazing sense of humour. At public meetings it would be a joy sitting next to him simply to hear his witty comments spiked with caustic humour.
At one election meeting a lady rudely called him a “fat potatoe”. Without batting an eyelid he said: “I am a (healthy) sweet potatoe”. The audience was bowled over.
At the food table he would tell you the right sandwich to pick or the right cut of meat to select. Oh yes he loved good food and that ran in his family.
When I resigned as trustee of the BPP in March 2011 he was elected in my place but he too resigned before completing his term of office.
Through the A H Wadia Trust and several other trusts he was helpful to a large number of people seeking medical other assistance.
He did not believe in making applicants run from one trust to another. I remember recommending the case of a lady in Poona suffering from cancer around the year 2008. The couple was retired and the expense was around Rs. 13 lakhs. He called the lady in my presence and told her “You focus on your recovery and leave the expense to me”. He lived up to his promise and from just a single source all her medical expenditure was covered.
There are innumerable stories about how he would go out of his way to help those genuinely in need. He would send his personal staff over to help some old lady or gent living alone and in need of non financial assistance such as cooking, cleaning paying utility bills etc. He would often even visit beneficiaries at their homes.
He was Director of Mumbai Samachar which will soon be celebrating its 200th anniversary. He sat on the Board of several other institutions including the K R Cama Oriental Institute.
He was ailing and homebound for several months but continued to take active interest in all his work till the end from home.
He loved life and tried to live it fully and cheerfully despite various health challenges.
He had his share of critics but non could doubt his honesty and integrity.
Goodbye Munchi! I’ll always smile thinking of all those comments you passed sitting next to me at the last meeting of the BPP that you attended.
Noshir H Dadrawala
Muncherji Nusserwanji Cama, a director at Mumbai Samachar, the oldest Indian newspaper in print, died on Saturday after a brief illness, sources said.
Cama, who was in his 60s, was active in the family’s publishing business till the onset of the coronavirus pandemic last year, the sources said.
The former trustee of the Bombay Parsi Punchayat (BPP) was a resident of Walkeshwar in south Mumbai. Founded in 1681, BPP is the apex body representing the Parsi Zoroastrian community in Mumbai and is among the oldest charitable trusts.
Keenly interested in history, languages and linguistics, Cama was on the board of several charities and was particularly interested in enhancing educational standards of the less fortunate and helped provide medical treatment for the poor.
His elder brother Hormusji N Cama is more active in the day-to-day operations of Mumbai Samachar.
On July 1, Mumbai Samachar entered its 200th year of publication. The Gujarati newspaper, with its office located in an iconic red building in south Mumbai’s Fort area, was first published in 1822.
Founded by Parsi scholar Fardoonji Murazban, the newspaper passed through several hands until bankruptcy turned it over to the Cama family in 1933. PTI