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Mistry millionaires

The marble lions on the porch may be asleep but everybody in Pune knows that visitors are not welcome at this sprawling White House-styled b...

Written by SUNANDA MEHTA & DEV CHATTERJEE | Pune/mumbai |
August 29, 2004

The marble lions on the porch may be asleep but everybody in Pune knows that visitors are not welcome at this sprawling White House-styled bungalow in the elite heart of the city.

Don’t take it personally. According to sources even when the Aga Khan wanted to stay at this holiday home of India’s most reclusive tycoon—Pallonji S Mistry—the signals sent out to him were fairly discouraging.

‘‘Mr Pallonji is very particular about his bungalow and does not like people staying here when he’s not there,’’ says caretaker Dhruv Narang, who has kept guard for 25 years.

At last count, with their 18 per cent stake in Tata Sons and after this week’s Tata Consultancy Services listing, the Mistrys are worth Rs 19,280 crore. Only three Indian residents are richer: Wipro’s Azim Premji with a net worth of Rs 30,000 crore and the Ambani brothers (Rs 27,000 crore).

‘‘Pallonji’s being a recluse may well be a family trait because his father was known to be just that way too,’’ says Khushroo Dhunjibhoy, chairman RWITC, who occasionally encounters the industrialist at the races.

Seventy-five-year-old Pallonji Mistry—who lives with his interior decorator wife Patsi and two sons Shapoor (40) and Cyrus (36) in a sea-facing mansion in Mumbai’s Walkeshwar—has earned his wealth building a large chunk of this city’s buzzing skyline. Mistry’s daughter is married to Noel Tata, half-brother of Ratan Tata.

The young Mistrys are now moving beyond the core businesses of construction and textiles. Coming up: A shot at retailing, an 80-acre info park and an attempt to redo the classic Mughal-E-Azam.

The family has weekend homes just across the bay in the beach town of Alibaug and in the nearby lush hill station of Matheran. Summers are spent abroad at their London or Dubai homes, while Christmas is usually the time they head to Pune.

 
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At his 10,000 sq ft Pune bungalow, adjacent to the Osho Commune, Pallonji’s ideal evening includes drinking his whiskey on the balcony that overlooks a spectacular garden of marble statues, fountains and an abundance of giant dahlias.

The rare parties at the bungalow are mainly thrown by son Shapoor. ‘‘Finding good cooks for them is the biggest problem as they want someone who can cook both Parsi and Continental food,’’ says Narang, adding, ‘‘He is very reserved though he loves to potter in the garden and often asks details about the plants and flowers.’’

Company insiders say Mistry—who often wears the traditional Parsi vest to office—rarely loses his cool and commands great respect in the close-knit community. ‘‘Though he is very democratic in his style of functioning, he is also a man of strong convictions. If he makes up his mind about something, there are no further arguments,’’ says a manager.

These days Mistry takes a backseat in the day-to-day running of his business. Son Shapoor has taken over as the chairman of the Rs 436-crore Forbes Gokak Ltd and director of Indian Hotels Company, while younger son Cyrus is managing director of Shapoorji Pallonji & Co Ltd.

Says Dr Cyrus Poonawalla, owner of the Poonawalla Stud Farm, who has often attended parties at Pallonji’s Mumbai home: ‘‘He is a very low-profile person and though he did inherit quite an empire from his father he has built on it too.’’ Poonawalla, whose huge house is one of the few homes made by Shapoorji Pallonji, adds: ‘‘I would say he’s a very lucky businessman and almost everything he has touched has turned to gold.’’

The Mistrys, rarely seen at parties, are passionate about horse racing and often spend weekends at their 200-odd-acre Manjri Stud Farm in Pune. One of the oldest in the country, it was started by Sultan Chinoy and later taken over by the Maharaja of Gwalior. Mistry bought it from the Scindias in 1986. The farm is a nature lover’s delight thanks to the owner’s strict instructions that not a twig be harmed from the thousands of trees.

Though the stud farm is his son Shapoor’s baby, Mistry is also known to enjoy long walks there and has a soft corner for stallions Senure, Major Impact and Don’t Forget Me.

Yet it’s the cowshed with its 35 cows and six bulls that is a major draw for the industrialist. ‘This cream on bun or bread is a favourite snack that we always keep ready whenever he is on the farm,’’ says a farm official.

In general, Pallonji has a soft corner for animals. ‘‘Many of the mares that may not be productive after a few years, are still kept on the farm and looked after,’’ says one of the managers. Incidentally all the drinking water given to the 100-odd horses is filtered through Aqua Guard—after all, the Mistrys do own Eureka Forbes.

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