From the Tamil play ‘Dharaniyin Perumai’ | Photo Credit: K_V_Srinivasan
Dummies’ play brings on stage the remarkable personality of Nani Palkhivala
One of India’s most prominent economists and jurists was Nanabhoy ‘Nani’ Ardeshir Palkhivala. On his centenary birth anniversary (January 16), the Dummies Drama troupe inaugurated its new play, ‘Dharaniyin Perumai’ (translates to “The pride of the world”), a docu-drama of Nani Palkhivala (their second docu-drama play after ‘Vaayu’). The two-hour play, staged at Mylapore Fine Arts, covers several important aspects in Nani’s life, from his childhood till his seventies.
First, we are introduced to Nani’s family — his parents, brother and sister. Right from his childhood, Nani is shown to be a voracious reader of books. By the time he has become a young adult, Nani has earned a Master’s degree in English literature, and in the process, overcomes his stammer. Despite his initial aversion to law, Nani eventually enrols at the Government Law College in Bombay and becomes an excellent barrister, with his remarkable presentation skills and memory. He also authors The Law and Practice of Income Tax, which has since become a primary reference for the Indian Tax Code.
From the late 1950s, Nani becomes famous for his budget speeches and also for being a strong defender and protector of the Indian Constitution (including the famous 1973 case, when the Supreme Court of India ruled that Article 368 of the Constitution “does not enable Parliament to alter the basic structure or framework of the Constitution”). The play ends with Nani being conferred Padma Vibhushan.
With nearly 40 actors portraying different characters — including most of Dummies regulars — this is the largest crew the troupe has put together for a play. Lead actor Sridhar — who also supervised the set design — was all praise for the backstage crew. He also said that while Sreevathson gave instructions on acting, he did allow them freedom to use their own mannerisms and creativity. This is also the first time different actors have played the same character — Srijith, Prasanna and Sridhar portray Nani at various stages of his life. Although most of Dummies’ plays employ simple household settings, now and then they manage to impress the audience with extraordinary set pieces (as they did in ‘Hanuman’ and ‘Vaayu’). ‘Dharaniyin Perumai’ is yet another example where elaborate sets are used.
The most challenging task in making a biopic or a docu-drama, according to this writer, is to decide what to present and in how much detail. Director Sreevathson has done a commendable job in depicting the life of Nani while covering most of the important events in his professional career, as well as giving enough time for key incidents in his personal life, especially the “rivalry” he had with Indira Gandhi (a sublime performance by Prema Sadasivam). Look out for some biting exchanges as the two face off in a battle of wits. Prema, who played Indira Gandhi, found it relatively easy to adjust to the role because she has portrayed the same character in ‘Vaayu’ as well, and being a lawyer by profession enabled her to be comfortable with all the technicalities. She also credited Sreevathson for giving her enough freedom to experiment with the body language and also for the way he maintained the right balance between sticking to the facts while also using imagination to make the tale exciting.
Sreevathson also maintains the right balance between sticking to the facts while also using creativity to make the tale exciting. The dialogue is a strength — with a touch of humour and occasional punchlines, which one would find in most of Dummies’ plays. Nani’s “Law must win, not lawyers” and “We’re not an underdeveloped country; we’re ruled by underdeveloped minds” would be two of my favourite quotes.
In an aside, Sreevathson said that he worked for nine months on the script, doing intense research. Being a fan of Nani after listening to his budget speeches in the mid-1980s, Sreevathson’s main aim was to inspire and create an awareness of this great personality among today’s generation through his play. “I hope that those who watch the play get intrigued enough to read about Nani on their own,” he said. He plans to make the play entirely in English and take it across India in the future.
‘Dharaniyin Perumai’ is certainly one of Dummies’ more ambitious projects, but the packed audience and their support indicate that it has paid off well. With an engaging script and brilliant performances by Prasanna and Sridhar, the play serves as a good source of entertainment while also being highly informative.
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I am Dinyar Patel, a professor of history at the University of South Carolina, currently based in Mumbai on a Fulbright fellowship where I have been researching some aspects of Parsi history. I would like to ask my readers for assistance with one topic of interest: the Parsi connection with the Indian soda or “aerated water” industry. In particular, I am interested in the history of the longstanding Parsi soda companies: Duke’s, Roger’s, Pallonji’s, etc. I have already interviewed a member of the family that ran Duke’s, a former manager at Roger’s, and I have been consulting newspaper sources and Parsee Prakash. I would be very interested in talking with any members of the families that ran the other soda companies, anyone who worked in a soda factory, as well as anyone who might have relevant source materials (such as company reports or publications).
Parsis were pioneers of the soda industry in India and other parts of Asia where they settled in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. In India, at least, the aerated water industry originally catered to a British clientele, but soda consumption quickly became popular within the community. It may interest readers to know that the earliest reference that I have found, so far, to raspberry soda in Bombay is from 1907, manufactured by Duke & Sons and sold for “12 annas, per dozen.”
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A tribute on his birth centenary – by Marzban Jamshedji Giara
Nanabhoy Ardeshir Palkhivala popularly known as Nani was born on 16th January 1920 at Bombay in a middle class Parsi family. He was not born with a silver spoon in his mouth. His father used to fix “palkhis” namely palanquins to be fitted with horse carriages. Hence the surname Palkhivala.
From childhood he was afflicted with writer’s cramp and a terrible stammer which he overcame by sheer will power. He became one of India’s foremost speakers. He studied at Master’s Tutorial High School where he was a brilliant student. He passed M.A. in English Literature from St. Xavier’s College, Bombay. He married Nargesh Matbar who was also a lawyer in 1945. They had no children.
He joined the Chambers of the legendary Sir Jamshedji Kanga in 1943. He stood First Class First in the first and second LL.B. exams in 1943 and 1944 from Government Law College. In 1946 he stood first in every single paper in the advocate (original side) examination of the Bombay High Court. At a very young age he was offered a seat on the Supreme Court directly from the Bar which he declined. He was a Fellow of the Government Law College from 1944 to 1946, a faculty member from 1949 to 1952 and later Honorary Professor. He was also appointed the Tagore Professor of Law at Calcutta University.
His forte was in the areas of constitutional law, taxation and company law, individual freedom and enterprise and economic affairs. His rise in the profession was meteoric. He rose to become one of India’s foremost legal luminaries. He combined eloquence with wisdom, sincerity with versatility vision with achievement. He was unsurpassable for sheer advocacy, clarity of thought, coupled with precision and elegance of expression, impassioned plea for the cause he espoused, excellent court craft and an extraordinary ability to think on his feet rendered him an irresistible force. He took up in the Supreme Court the Privy Piurses Case, the Bank Nationalisation Case in 1970 and Kesavananda Bharti Case on Fundamental Rights in 1972-73. He also represented India in three cases in international fora.
He was an authority on income tax, an advocate par excellence, a diplomat, an economist, a write and public speaker gifted with phenomenal memory who delighted his audiences. He was the conscience keeper of the nation. He was a severe critic of the taxation and budget policies of the Government of India and a champion of private enterprise. He was a voracious reader, a prolific writer and a perfectionist.
His annual budget speeches started in 1958 in a small hall at Green’s Hotel. These became so popular throughout India that Brabourne Stadium had to be booked for an audience of over 1,00,000 in 1992 which listened in pin drop silence – a one man public education effort on economic affairs.
His outstanding quality was the willingness to help people in need. He made frequent anonymous contribution to charitable causes. His rare quality was humility and modesty. Like most Parsis he had a good sense of humour and could laugh at himself. He walked with Kings and yet not lost the common touch. He was a Man of All Seasons who bestrode the world like a colossus.
The Janta Government appointed him as India’s ambassador to the United States from September 1977 to July 1979.
In the 1980s Nani and Nargesh donated one building at Godrej Baug, a Parsi colony managed by Bombay Parsi Punchayet. In 1987 Nani organized a function at Bombay House auditorium and released the third volume of Dr. Bahman Surti’s “Shah Namah of Firdaosi in English Prose.” He also interviewed him on All India Radio.
Mr. K. B. Dabke wrote in the Mumbai Samachar on 15th January 1995 an article entitled “To Nani With Love” on his 75th birthday: “Amongst the contemporary eminent jurists who have distinguished their presence at the Bar and Boardroom of corporate world alike Mr. N. A. Palkhivala ranks as the first. If transparent integrity is his calling card, an art to communicate is his forte. Gifted with an enquiring mind, penetrating intellect and photographic memory.”
. Member of the First Law Commission in 1955 and Second Law Commission in 1958.
. 1975 – Elected an Honorary Member of the Academy of Political Science, New York- in recognition of his “outstanding public service and distinguished contributions to the advancement of political science.”
June 1978 – Conferred the Honorary Degree of Doctor of Laws by the Princeton University, New Jersey (U.S.A.) describing him as “defender of constitutional liberties, champion of human rights, teacher, author and economic developer”
April 1979 – Conferred the Honorary Degree of Doctor of Laws by the Lawrence University, Wisconsin, U.S.A.
1982 – Nominated by the chancellor (the Governor) as a Member of the Senate of the University of Bombay.
March 3, 1993 – Honoured as “Person of the Year Award” by the Limca Book of Records.
November 1996 – Presented an award with the Scroll of Honour in Mumbai by the Navsari Parsi Association in great appreciation of his “magnificent work in promoting Human Rights, Fundamental Freedoms, an Unfettered Press, Political Science as an Author, Constitutional and Taxation Expert, an Economic Developer, and promoter of Social Welfare.”
1997 – Dadabhai Naoroji Memorial Award
January 1998 – Conferred the Degree of Doctor of Laws (Honoris Causa) by the University of Mumbai. This degree was conferred “as a mark of the University of Mumbai’s high esteem and appreciation of his contribution to the people at large.”
January 1998 – Conferred the “Padma Vibhushan” by the President of India.
March 17 1998 – On his being conferred the Padma Vibhushan, the Bombay Parsi Punchayet, the World Zoroastrian Organisation and the Parsi community felicitated Mr. Palkhivala at a grand function on the lawns of Cusrow Baug, Colaba, when he was presented with an award and a Scroll of Honour which read: “In sincere tribute to your many years of selfless, devoted and faithful service and mindful of the affection and esteem in which you are held by the common man in India and by the Parsi Zoroastrians all over the world.”
February 4 , 2000 – Conferred the degree of Doctor of Laws (Honoris Causa) by the Manipal Academy of Higher Education, Chennai.
Activities outside the sphere of work
Trustee of several charitable trusts to help those in genuine need.
Chairman, Oriental Heritage Trust founded in 1984 which funded the film On Wings of Fire.
Chairman since 1966, A. D. Shroff Trust.
Chairman, Lotus Trust
President of the Income Tax Appellate Tribunal Bar Association, Bombay
Associated with Forum of Free Enterprise from 1960 being its President from 1968 upto February 17, 2000 and later President Emeritus.
Chairman of The Leslie Sawhney Programme of Training for Democracy which trains people in democratic leadership.
In June 1977, he founded ‘The Jayaprakash Institute of Human Freedoms.’
President of the Federation of Blood Banks.
He was the Vice President of Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan. He donated every year 10% of his net income to Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan for its Sadachar Bharat work. He donated crores of rupees to Sankara Netralaya, Chennai.
Associations with Companies
Chairman Emeritus – (A.C.C.) Associated Cement Companies Ltd. He was its Chairman from 1969 to 1998 and was also Chairman of several overseas companies.
Director of Tata Sons Ltd., Tata Iron & Steel Co. Ltd. (TISCO), Tata Engineering and Locomotive Co. Ltd. (TELCO), Tata Infotech Ltd., Tata Energy Research Institute, Indian Hotels Co. Ltd., National Organic Chemical Industries Ltd. (NOCIL), Press Trust Of India Ltd.
He passed away on 11th December 2002 aged 82 at Mumbai. C. Rajagopalachari, Free India’s first Governor General said of him: “He was God’s gift to us. His passing away has left a dent in Indian humanity.”
A commemorative postage stamp of Rs.5/- was released by the Government of India on 16th January 2004 being Nani’s 84th birthday.
His nephew Mr. Homi Phiroz Ranina, an income tax expert and public speaker on the Union Budget has founded Jadi Rana High School at Sanjan and the school building is named after his illustrious uncle Nani Ardeshir Palkhivala Building.
Books by Nani Ardeshir Palkhivala
New Patterns of Taxation, Bombay, Forum of Free Enterprise 1958.
Recent Taxes in the Tax Structure, Bombay, Forum of Free Enterprise 1958
Income Tax Bill Penalises Honest Tax Payers, Bombay, Forum of Free Enterprise 1961
Privileges of Legislature, Bombay, Popular Prakashan, 1964
Highest Taxed Nation, Bombay, Manaktala, 1965.
Union Budget 1970-71, Bombay,, Forum of Free Enterprise, 1970
Constitution and the Common Man, Bombay, Popular Prakashan, 1971
A Judiciary Made to Measure: A Collection some of the Nationwide Protests against the Supersession of Justices Shelat, Hegde and Grover for the Office of the Chief Justice of India, Bombay, M. R. Pai, 1973
Our Constitution Defaced and Defiled, New Delhi, Macmillan, 1973
Fundamental Rights Case, the Critics Speak, Lucknow Eastern Book Co. 1975 by N. A. Palkhivala along with Surendra Malik (Eds.)
Kanga nd Palkhivala’s Income Tax Law and Practice, Two Volumes, Bombay, Tripathi, 1976
India Since Independence (First G. L. Mehta Memorial Lectures), Madras, 1978
January 16, 2020 is the birth centenary of Nani Palkhivala. Every year, on this day, The Nani A. Palkhivala Memorial Trust organize an annual lecture by eminent persons. This year, along with the annual lecture, the Trust is releasing a festschrift in honour of Palkhivala.
The festschrift also contains few articles written by Palkhivala in his youth. These were originally published in several periodicals between 1937 and 1947. This is followed by reproduction of selected letters and correspondences, and other documents like written submissions etc.
Title of the book: Essays & Reminiscences: A Festschrift in Honour of Nani A Palkhivala