Prof. Jamshedji Chinoy: First Among Equals

IRST AMONGST EQUALS

By Dina Bilimoria

Our Zoroastrian Community is rather famous for firsts in many fields. Our men and women have excelled in whatever they do and this quality prevails even today. Since time immemorial individuals have been born in our illustrious community who have reached and received greatness by sheer hard work and focused ideals held high by them. It is these great people who realize the worth of human values, who respect the ideals of ones less fortunate than them and extend a helping hand and motivate individuals to attain what they set out for. Today, I will tell you a true story of a person who excelled in what he set out to achieve and how he did so with the help he received.

Exactly a hundred years ago on Feb 18, 1909 a baby boy was born to Jeejeebhoy and Gulbai Chinoy in the small town of Anjar , 22 KM off Bhuj in Gujarat . He was named Jamshedji. At the age of four years he lost his father and thereafter his first helping hand was his maternal grandfather, who gave him the support to educate himself. After completion of school, Jamshedji had to move to Bhavnagar to pursue college education. Anjar and Bhuj during those days, had no colleges. By the time Jamshedji finished his second year , his maternal grandfather also passed away. Having to fend for himself this young man was forced by circumstances to migrate to Mumbai where he joined the Elphinston College and later the Royal Institute of Science.

Meagre economic conditions made Jamshedji seek financial assistance to pursue his studies. It was Lady Nawajbai Tata of Tata Endowment Trust who being impressed with Jamshedji’s talent helped him and also took keen personal interest in his progress. Whilst studying at the Royal Institute of Science, Mumbai, Dr. R. N. Dastur, an eminent professor of the Institute, befriended Jamshedji. This erstwhile educationist guided the young student and became his Philosopher, Mentor , Guide. Jamshedji focused his academic interest to the extent that he attained his B.Sc. and M.Sc. with distinction in 1929 and 1931 respectively. All work and no play would make Jamshed a dull boy. So he also took interest in things other than studies. He played tennis , hockey and was interested in boxing as well. His interest veered towards the Philosophical Society of the Royal Institute also.

It was the continued personal interest of Lady Nawajbai Tata in Jamshedji’s career that resulted in the latter receiving a research fellowship award to pursue studies from 1932 to 1935 for Doctoral Thesis in Plant Physiology at the Imperial College of Science and Technology, London. Here the fortunate Jamshedji was guided by the renowed scientists Profs. Blackman and Gregory. In 1935 the thesis was approved for Ph.D degree and Jamshedji became the FIRST PARSI to receive Ph.D. in plant physiology from Imperial College of Science and Technology, London .

Once back in India , travel abroad became a big agenda for Jamshedji. Being an internationally renowned Plant Physiologist, he was Economic Botanist at Indian Agricultural Research Institute as well as head of Botany Department , Delhi University . Director , School of Sciences , Ahmedabad. Professor Chinoy also presented papers at conferences held in Germany , Sweden , Belgium , Scotland etc. He visited Soviet Union in 1951 as member of first delegation of Indian scientists where he introduced the new concept for explaining the phenomenon of heredity in plants. Prof. Jamshedji was credited with more than 500 research publications and received coverage in Indian and International Scientific journals.

Prof. Chinoy was a simple , straightforward , forthright man with high values. His love for his country of birth brought him back inspite all the accolades. This love of land was transferred in his son Navzar who rose to the rank of General in the Indian Army. Prof. Chinoy was devoted to his work, which was emulated by his daughter Niloufer who became Director of School of Sciences , Gujarat University . His daughter, Meherangez settled post marriage in UK , undertook research in Oral Physiology in New Castle , UK and became a school teacher. Both father and daughter were educationists in the true spirit. Prof. Chinoy’s son Rohinton , working with Tata Motors , is now at the Nano Plant in Ahmedabad. Son Nosherwan was M.Sc. in Economics before he passed away to realm beyond. These children of Prof. Chinoy had the life of their father as an example to follow. No wonder it’s said that the parents are the first teachers of their children. The life their parents live has the biggest impression upon gentle , fragile minds.

Behind every successful there is a woman. Prof. Chinoy had a great supporter of his values in his wife, Rhoda. She not only took interest in his work, made herself knowledgeable in Botany and plants , but also proudly escorted her husband at University Functions. Prof. Chinoy was a man young at heart in spite of his experienced years. He loved to read comics and was jovial. Jolly good man that he was, he learnt Russian language at the age of 50 with distinction. There is never a limit to learning for those who want to do so.

Every educationist is responsible for the development of values and the future of the student community. With this as a focus Prof. Chinoy guided every student of his through their university career. He never forgot the help and interest of Lady Nawajbai Tata in his career. He upheld his respect and gratitude for her gesture by doing the same for his students who liked him tremendously. He demanded hard work and dedication from them as these were the same qualities which helped him focus and reach immeasurable heights. He wanted his students to taste the success and result of these values. His colleagues also appreciated all that Prof. Chinoy stood for and both they and the students founded a Commemorative Gold Medal for the Best Research Fellow in Botany. That’s what real appreciation for a man is.

Finally in conclusion , Prof. Chinoy was a true Parsi. He loved good food and a loud hearty laugh. The Ahmedabad Parsi Panchayat felicitated one more proud Parsi for his achievements on Sept. 12, 1976. Other accolades that came his way were K.G. Naik Medal awarded by Gujarat University in 1961 for outstanding research in Botany. Raffi Ahmed Kidwai Award 1974-75 by Indian Agricultural Research Institute Delhi , Congress Medal by XII International Botanical Congress , Leningrad . Fellow of Indian National Science Academy , 1976.

12 th May 1978 was the last day in the life of Prof. Chinoy. He passed away to God’s good world, but left behind his exemplary life for our young generation to follow.

Our great community is dotted with such life histories. If and when the mothers recite these stories to their children , perhaps somewhere in the near future some of our great men and women of the past may be reborn in today’s Behzaad , Shahzaad, Shahruk , Sanaya, Laila, Samaira. Worth a try , what says you , dear friend?

Dina J. Bilimoria

  • Dr Jimmy Carter

    A fascinating life history and an inspiration to us all. I have read several of Mrs. Bilimoria’s writings and they are all splendid. Keep up the good work!