The brick-red tiles of the Police Gymkhana on Marine Drive reflects the crimson of the setting sun. A man in his early 70s hops out of his car at the gate of the Police Gymkhana on Marine Drive, his shorts, tennis shoes and wet shirt all signs of a jog taken not long ago.
He sprints up the stairs into the gymkhana compound, and stops to feed stray dogs in the verandah. This is a daily ritual for NJ Maneckshaw, (retd) assistant commissioner of police (ACP), who has been the joint secretary of the gymkhana since his retirement over a decade ago.
Age has failed to take the steely glint from the eyes of the policeman who proudly carries the legacy of gentleman-officers, which his community has offered the state’s police force from even before the country achieved independence.
But the dwindling numbers of the community has cast a long shadow on its representation in the force, over the past five decades. Of the 70,000-member community, 40,000-50,000 of whom are in Mumbai now, just two remain in the 2-lakh strong Maharashtra police.
This is an alarming ratio, considering that until a few decades ago, the weekly crime meeting conducted by the city police commissioner with officers at Apollo Florist in South Mumbai was referred to as a ‘Parsi Punchayet’ meeting, because of the concentration of attendees from the community. For a little more than the past two decades, no one from the Parsi-Irani community has joined the force. The last to join were Irani brothers Cyrus and Kayomerz from Godrej Baug in the early 1990s, who stepped into the shoes of their uncle, retired ACP Homi Irani.
“When I joined the force in 1962, there were at least 30 Parsi-Irani officers in the Bombay police,” Maneckshaw said. “While many were of ACP level, a majority of them were inspectors, a top post in those days. They were inducted into the force in the late 1930s and early 1940s.”
“Without any exaggeration, I’d say almost all officers from our community were of impeccable integrity and professionally outstanding. I am happy and proud that I was part of the force,” he said.
Maneckshaw remembers a steady participation of the community, though smaller in number, through the 1960s and 70s – Russi Chowsky, Homi Irani, Feroze Ganjia, Naval Driver – all of whom had retired as ACPs by 2010. “The involvement in the force took a major hit in the 1980s, and after the Irani brothers, it stopped,” said Maneckshaw.
“It is quite likely that the new generation does not want to work hard and face the tough physical tests involved in the MPSC exams. Those who study well are bagging lucrative private sector jobs. Those who don’t, get into clerical jobs in banks and private companies,” he said. “However, the biggest impediment is their ignorance of the Marathi language, which is the medium for the exams. Those from our community who made it into the force in the last 20-30 years are either from districts, or were made to learn the language.”
Homi Irani, who retired as ACP of the traffic branch, agrees with Maneckshaw. “Kids of the community are not interested in taking up strenuous jobs. The new generation has lost its nerve, they are scared to join the force,” he said. “When I joined, every branch would have at least three-four officers from ParsiIrani community.”
Maneckshaw and Irani agree that the government and the Parsi Punchayet should encourage youngsters to join the force. “The department should advertise more, like they are doing to encourage participation from other communities,” said Irani.
Meanwhile, Maneckshaw puts the onus on the Parsi Punchayat to spread Marathi education on a priority basis, at the Parsi colonies spread across the city.