Nostalgically Speaking — 4: Farrokh K. Irani
Abracadabra By K. B. Ganapathy, Columns

Nostalgically Speaking — 4: Farrokh K. Irani

August 9, 2020

Among the most interesting and colourful persons that I met in Mysore was the Founder, Chairman and Managing Director of the famous Jawa Motorcycle Company, Ideal Jawa India Pvt. Ltd., Mr. F.K. Irani, Farrokh Khudamurad Irani — famously and popularly known as Farrokh Irani. I was introduced to him by my brother Dr. K.B. Subbaiah at the Rotary Mysore when I was in Mysore on leave from Bombay. A magnetic personality — stout, ruddy faced with absolutely pure white hair luxuriously covering his head. A hearty handshake and a winning smile ended my meeting with him.

The second meeting with him was when he came for the inauguration of the Academy Press and obliged me and my brother by inaugurating the Press when the chief guest failed to turn up. In retrospect, his Midas touch seemed to have done its magic. We succeeded, in our own way. ‘God fulfills himself in many ways,’ said Lord Tennyson. It was so with Academy Press.

Later, when I came to Mysore for good and started the Star of Mysore, I met him in his Factory office to seek advertisement. He received me with great elan, made me comfortable with a ‘please take your seat’ and ordering for tea. As an advertising man myself, I knew Jawa Motorcycle did not need advertisements in a local, small newspaper. But in business, PR works. I took a chance. He was frank. All his advertisements were looked after by his Bombay office…, he said adding that local ads if needed would be given to Star of Mysore. In his own style, rather in a loud                                                                        voice called the jawan and pressed the calling bell. An officer was called in and instructed accordingly. Incidentally, at that time I was using a Jawa Motorcycle!

Later on, I was seeing Farrokh here, there, everywhere in almost every function that I covered for the newspaper. He did not deliver speeches as we know but often delivered a homily or gave a pep-talk. Mercifully, a brief one with a streak of humour. Once he was asked to speak at a function in the small hall of the Institution of Engineers, organised, I guess, by CITB about environment and pollution. To highlight the toxic pollution on the Bangalore-Mysore Highway he said, “I was driving from Bangalore to Mysore yesterday. The road was congested with traffic and when I reached home my wife asked whatever happened to the right side of my head.” It was black, she said in utter surprise.

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Yes it was. The black fumes from the passing vehicles left this mark on his otherwise white mane. No doubt, fertile imagination. Let it be.

Farrokh was the most visible and prominent Parsi (Zoroastrian) of Mysore known as an industrialist and a philanthropist. He was highly respected by the people of Mysore. He was also known as a close friend of the late Maharaja Sri Jayachamaraja Wadiyar, the last ruler of Mysore Kingdom with whom he used to play golf.

He moved to Mysore in 1951 at the age of 30 with his wife Sheila Irani as the Managing Partner of Dasharath & Co. In 1961 he established the iconic Ideal Jawa India Pvt. Ltd., and was its Chairman between 1961-1985. It was closed down in 1996 due to several reasons. He had many business and industrial interests, including the Yezdi Distilleries, Mysore, started in 1970. A successful industrialist and most loved socialite, a celebrity of our city with a charitable disposition of such nature that nobody went empty-handed from him when donation was sought.

It is said in England that whenever there is trouble in Heaven, Gods always sent for the Englishman. Likewise, whenever there was some social work to be done or a calamity was to be managed, the first person called for the crisis management was Irani. When Dasara was stopped he was there as the President of Citizens Dasara Revival Committee 1975; when the Devaraja Market caught fire in 1981, he was the first one to be there at night with men and equipment and later as a member of the Reconstruction Committee. 

When former Chief Minister R. Gundu Rao wanted to build the Chamundi Vihar Sports Complex, I was there at the foundation laying function. Irani was the first to announce a handsome donation even as Chief Minister Gundu Rao beamed a broad smile!

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He was so much in demand by the city people of different groups and organisations seeking help that it was no surprise he was a Member or a Trustee or the President of over 30 such bodies in city.

He was like a Life President of the City’s Premium Social Club Sri Kanteerava Narasimharaja Wadiyar Sports Club. I think he was its President  for 25 years. He was the Chairman and Senior Steward of Mysore Race Club (MRC) continuously for 14 years and when he quit in 1983, I guess, due to health reason, I gave the following headline as the lead: The King Abdicates! That  evening he called me and asked how I knew his middle name was indeed King and appreciated the headline. I thought it was a fine co-incidence  because I used the word King only as a metaphor to a man who held the highest office of the MRC continuously for so long and thanked him for calling. It was only later I  was told his middle name was Khudamurad and hence Farrokh K. Irani. He was merely joking with me!

Rajya Sabha Bhushana and Rajaseva Dhurina Sirdar are the two titles he was given by H.H. Jayachamaraja Wadiyar, former ruler of Kingdom of Mysore. I think by virtue  of the title Sirdar, he could have used it as a prefix to his name like others who got that title were using it and we would be addressing him as Sirdar Farrokh Irani !

I learn he was also being considered for a Padma Sri Award but just missed it. However, a grateful city would always remember him as one of its role models of a son. He had indeed enriched the social and industrial life of our city to its full potential at that time.

He died in Mumbai in 1985 at rather young age of 64. I would say, Farrokh K. Irani served our city well and passed away leaving a legacy for all of us to emulate.

Note:  Nostalgically Speaking – 3 on ‘Mr. Srikantadatta Narasimharaja Wadiyar’ was published on Aug. 2. Watch out for Nostalgically Speaking – 5 on ‘Mission Hospital – Old Glory’ next week.—Ed

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3 COMMENTS ON THIS POST To “Nostalgically Speaking — 4: Farrokh K. Irani”

  1. Hare Krishna! says:

    If the history serves right, the Ideal Jawa was the combined effort of 2 Iranis: Farrokh and his uncle. Nevertheless, it lasted that long of 3 decades, because it was led by Farrokh.
    1960s was the period, India dabbled in manufacturing, with the Czechs providing the know how. HMT Tools division was Czech-supported. Initially these factories assembled imported Czech components, with HMT watch factory assembling Japanese components. One could discern the quality there. Motor bikes, lathes and watches were in demand. The problems arose when the indigenous manufacturing began at a time, the world was chi. For motor bikes, the Japanese competition with efficient petrol consuming bikes were a great head ache. The manufacturing sector should always re-invent itself periodically which means not assuming the monopoly thinking, but with competition in mind. Ideal Jawa should have collaborated with Japan , when it was clear that Japanese bikes were superior: the old adage: ” if you cannot beat them join them”. For Jawa motor bikes, there was also competition from three wheelers called scooters; the genteel vehicle for educated professionals like doctors, engineers etc.. Linking with Japan would have ensured the survival of the company, and diversification would have even expanded the company.
    With the decimation of HMT group of companies reduced to small outfits, the massive NGEF which started with bells and whistles manufacturing electrical generator and motors with Germany’s AEG collaboration, also hitting the dust within 3 decades, Ideal Jawa folding within 3 decades was not a surprise at all.
    India, having burnt its fingers in manufacturing thus started looking at service sectors more. It was easy for MGK Menon’s panel to recommend software , no hardware of any kind. The easiest option was cheap IT labour to serve big Western IT companies etc..
    The governments’-state and central shortsightedness towards manufacturing was a massive mistake, which India after Chinese latest incursion, has realised all too well, but it is too late.

  2. Hello, hello! says:

    Mr Irani should get the kudos for this venture. During the 1960s, Jawa Yezdis were the preferred bikes, with their good rhythmic sound. The technicians who gained experienced in assembling Jawa parts and testing the bikes, left the company and became workshop owners, around the City, to fix any Jawa bike problems and necessary repairs and made money.
    The Czech engineers, we used to see a few of them with their wives, in the Gayathri theatre to watch James Bond movies, which they could not do in their communist Czechoslovakia, which was a Soviet Union satellite then.
    The arrival of scooters: Vespa particularly, which as the poster above put it, a genteel vehicle for professionals, and the fact that Japanese bikes were making inroads in Indian market, through assembly in India, and which were very fuel efficient killed off the Jawa bikes.
    In 1960s, Nijalingappa and the Lingayat successors of him as CMs from Uttara Karnataka, following the Unification had no interest in factories like Ideal Jawa, and indeed any factories in part of the Old Mysore state, preferring the arid and useless regions of Bijapur, Belgaum etc,, for development. An active state government interest would have seeen Jawa-Japanese tie up, and would have put the factory in more stable footing.

  3. Mysore is happened to be a Galaxy of stars and F.K.Irani a socio -industrial celebrity who pulled the grand old classic city of palaces to the enjoin with the modern technical world by introducing famous double cylindrical IDEAL JAWA MOTORBIKE and thus converting the Mysore to a youth Mysore. Hitherto such an industrial revolution the city has not witnessed, and to the surprise, the Mysore did not have a son like F.K.Irani.I was shocked to know about the death of a legendary through my M.D. Mr.M.Vonode Rao who had great regard for this industrialist. It will never go from my memories when I received the “Business Organisation” a Book as a gift during college day celebration from the hands of this great Industrialist.Mr.B.V.Banumiah the principal of D.Banumiah’s college of commerce & Arts who was a very close friend of F.K.Irani and was invited as chief guest during the occasion.F.K.Irani was one of the Gems of the necklace worn around the neck of Mysore.Irani always encouraged local Mysoreans in all fields and the employees were more from the city. Mysore has been inherited with industriousness, either Classical, Technical, Handicraft, or Natural and there seems that the skill is in the blood of Mysore. Right from the “MYSORE ROCKET” till IDEAL JAWA there is a chain of consensus. Mysore Rockets of H.Tippu sultan a technology recognized and displayed at NASA and one of the nerves of the same socket again reborn in the shape of “IDEAL JAWA MOTORBIKE”.Mysore is a land of enchantment, only the dynasty like Wadiyars, Sultan Like Tippu, Dewan like Sir Mirza Ismaiel, Engineer Like Sir M.Vishveriah, Industrialist like F.K.Irani and Hollywood Hero like Mysore SABU are required.
    THEN YOU SEE WHAT IS MYSORE.

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