My initial interaction with Dhunji Naterwalla took place about four years ago, during a Union negotiation between Dhunji and the BPP Board.
As a BPP Trustee, I remember entering into a one-on-one discussion with Dhunji, when things had gone south and it appeared that both sides would end up in court. My aim was to try and come to some arrangement with the Union, under Dhunji, which otherwise was proving exorbitantly expensive for the cash-strapped BPP. I asked Yazdi and the Board for one day’s time to try and negotiate a settlement, at which point they laughed at me, thinking it an impossible feat to accomplish. However, not only was I able to negotiate the settlement, but was also able to save the BPP a whopping Rs. 4 crores.
Even so, what distinctly stood out – before, during and after the negotiations – was Dhunji’s exemplary character and professionalism. He was truly a kind-hearted man, fighting sincerely and selflessly for the cause of his workers. In a short span of time, we were able to work out a solution. He was truly an honest, upright and pragmatic man who cared equally for all – the Union workers that he represented, the BPP Trust and most importantly, the community that he belonged to.
He was proud to be a Parsi at the forefront of a Union, headed by a Muslim (Ms. Chand Bibi), working together for the welfare and protection of a dominantly Maharashtrian workforce. He believed that for the status quo to survive, the Union needed to get a fair settlement for its workers, alongside a financially viable solution for the Trust and the community.
Over time, he became a friend and at one point, he wanted to donate money towards community welfare, in particular, towards the repair of Doongerwadi. I was privileged to have earned his trust insomuch that he told me he would put a condition towards the donation, insisting that his donations were to be employed only under my direction and not that of the collective BPP Board. I was humbled by his show of faith in me. This was along the same lines, as another donor, Mr. Jal Sethna, who shared a similar confidence in me.
As we continued our discussions vis-à-vis the workers, the Trust and the community, he agreed to facilitate a golden handshake with the workers and work with me towards the same. This would go a long way in bringing down the cost of wages for the Trust, as most of senior people earning large salaries would move out and the BPP wage-bill would drastically reduce.
He was kind enough to give me four or five different agreements, signed by his Union with other organisations, which I passed on to the BPP-appointed consultants. Unfortunately, the consultants who had been paid 80% of the fees, were unable to deliver in time and the Board was unable to carry this to its logical conclusion. I am told that the consultants have restarted their work and I hope that this shared vision of Dhunji and I, will culminate in fruition.
Dhunji was an endearing soul – and he was brave, he spoke his mind. For this, he would get into the bad books of many who disliked hearing him speak highly about me, especially post the agreements forged between BPP and the Union, where he and I played pivotal roles. He would make his regard for me public and obvious, when giving interviews to the media post the signing of agreements, where he would emphasize that were it not for me, the bad blood between the Union and Board, would have surely led to litigation.
Dhunji took seriously ill a year ago, needing hospitalization. A few months back, his health marginally improved and I was delighted to be able to speak with him, over Chand Bibi’s phone, even while he was in the ICU. Unfortunately, he finally succumbed to his long-standing ailment.
A thorough gentleman whose life was dedicated to the service of others, Dhunji will be missed. May his noble soul rest in eternal peace.