Mcleodganj’s famous Parsi shop on its last legs


July 1, 2008

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One of the oldest landmarks of this town, the Nowrojee General Merchants shop set up in 1860, is taking a beating from time. Owned by a Parsi family, it is almost on its last legs commercially and otherwise. The shop used to be at the centre of all activity during the British colonial times and even in post-independence India.

But it is fast losing out to ghastly constructions all over the Mcleodganj square, besides competition from the many rival shops.

The last man standing at the Nowrojee mansion is 82-year-old Jimmy Nowrojee. A former banker from Dehradun town, Jimmy is putting up a fight to retain the past glory of the shop.

“I know that I am quite old. My nephews (who are settled in the US) want to close down the shop. But I will not let that happen – at least not during my lifetime,” Jimmy, who lives alone, told IANS here.

One way of keeping up with times is that all daily newspapers and magazines coming to this town are routed through this shop. It is from there that vendors and readers pick them up.

Jimmy took over the reins of the Nowrojee business and property – the property is valued at over Rs.60 million and commercially-minded businessmen have been eyeing it to set up hotels and commercial space – after his brother Nauzer Nowrojee, a institution in himself and a personal friend of Tibetan spiritual leader the Dalai Lama, died in 2000.

In fact, Nauzer was a famous name in his own right, thanks partly to his social work – second only to the Dalai Lama.

“We as a family had the best time of our life here. Besides our house below the shop, we had orchards around this place. Now this place – and we are going through the worst phase,” Jimmy points out in a sad tone as he sits reading a newspaper at the shop counter.

Much of the commercial activity around the location is a result of people cashing in on the tourism boom in this hill town. Thousands of foreigners and Indian tourists visit it annually as it is the abode of the Dalai Lama.

The shop was re-built after a devastating earthquake in Kangra Valley in 1905. Five generations of the Parsi family have lived and done business here after the original Nowrojee and Son general store was set up in 1860.

Much of its business has been taken away by shops in the Mcleodganj market that sell everything from mineral water and pastries and traditional Tibetan crafts to ‘Made in China’ goods. Not many buyers, other than those coming to pick up newspapers and magazines, come to shop here any longer.

But Jimmy is trying to keep the Nowrojee flag flying high.

The inside of the shop is nothing less than an antique museum. The counters, jar containers and some unsold products tell the tale of a bygone era when the shop used to do roaring business.

Among the priceless things still in the possession of the family are newspapers announcing the conquering of Mount Everest by Edmund Hillary and Tenzin Norgay May 29, 1953. Even the advertising posters of decades-old products are still prominently displayed in the all-wood shop.

The family once used to deal in wines, selling famous brands, but it no longer does so. The ‘wine’ sign on the shop board “Wine and General Merchants” has been covered clumsily by paint.

“At one time, we also used to sell arms and ammunition under licence,” Jimmy says.

Jimmy may be holding fort at the shop for now but behind his bespectacled eyes, the worry about the future of the landmark shows quite clearly.

Original article here.