Ignoring community’s help, Parsi family lives on footpath

They were given monetary assistance and put up at a dharamshala, yet the family of three have, for four years, been embarrassing the community by living outside the Petit Sanatorium at Cumballa Hill.

Author: Sayalee Karkare | Mumbai Mirror

A Parsi family, comprising an aged mother and a son and daughter in their 50s, has been living off a footpath at Cumballa Hill with their three dogs for the past four years – something unheard of in the closeknit community known for its benevolence and generosity.

In this rare exception, however, the community cannot be faulted – they tried their best to help the family: the Petit Trust gave them Rs 10 lakh, and Bombay Parsi Punchayet rehabilitated them at a dharamshala. But, in no time, the family was back on the footpath of their own accord.

Long-time residents of the F D Petit Sanatorium at Cumballa Hill, the Umrigars – mother Mehroo, son Viraf and daughter Sanobar – were asked to leave sometime in 2009 when the 112-year old building was due for repairs.

A source told Mumbai Mirror, "Actually, you are not allowed to stay at the sanatorium longer than two months since it is supposed to be a transit accommodation. But families have continued staying there for decades. The Umrigars had already lived there for 15 years when they were asked to vacate." Much to the chagrin of the trustees, the Umrigars promptly settled down on the footpath outside the institute.

Last year, the Bombay Parsi Punchayet rehabilitated them at the Parukh Dharamshala in Khareghat Colony at Hughes Road, where they received free breakfast, lunch and dinner. However, the arrangement was not to the satisfaction of the Umrigars, who preferred squatting on the pavement.

The source said, "Since the pavement is located at a convenient distance from the Parsi General Hospital, Viraf and Sanobar prefer living off the generous handouts from people visiting the hospital instead of fending for themselves. When, at times, they even get as much as Rs 1,000 to Rs 2,000 as handouts, why would they want to work and earn a living?

The source continued, "Because they are elderly, they cut a sorry figure, easily evoking sympathy from passersby. But, in doing so, they are maligning the name of the trustees."

Despite the efforts of the community, the family still persists on living on the footpath. BPP Chairman Dinshaw Mehta said, "The Petit Trust gave them Rs 10 lakh in 2011 with which they bought a house in the distant suburbs. But they soon sold the flat, squandered the money and were back on the pavement. We got them into a dharamshala and also gave them about Rs 15,000 in cash, but it didn’t seem to help."

The community, known for its largesse, is at its wits’ end. A nearby resident on condition of anonymity said, "They are bringing shame to our community and making a nuisance of themselves. They behave as they like. If you try talking sense into them, they threaten to turn their three dogs on you. Earlier, they would even perform their daily ablutions on the footpath itself. But after several complaints, they now go to public toilets."

The resident further said, "Parsis are known for their generosity, so they will certainly help one of their own. But this is going too far. There’s a limit to doles and handouts and it is high time the community sees through this sham." The BMC and Gamdevi police too have asked the family to leave. But after disappearing for a few days, they are back to their usual spot on the pavement.

When Mirror approached the Umrigars for their version, they flatly refused to comment.