Malavika’s Mumbaistan: A Modern-Day Mumbai Miracle

What does one say to a woman who has donated land worth 120 crore (approximately USD 16 million) to a hospital without wanting anyone to know about her act of staggering altruism? A woman who hails from an ordinary middle-class family, one which is certainly not steeped in wealth, who says that she does not expect anything in return for her largesse, not even any personal acclaim?
Her story is nothing short of a modern-day Mumbai miracle and must be told, for the simple reason that it restores one’s faith in humanity and in the goodness of ordinary people. (Illustration: Gajanan Nirphale)
Her story is nothing short of a modern-day Mumbai miracle and must be told, for the simple reason that it restores one’s faith in humanity and in the goodness of ordinary people. (Illustration: Gajanan Nirphale)
Published on Sep 17, 2021 07:49 PM IST
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ByMalavika Sangghvi

What does one say to a woman who has donated land worth 120 crore (approximately USD 16 million) to a hospital without wanting anyone to know about her act of staggering altruism? A woman who hails from an ordinary middle-class family, one which is certainly not steeped in wealth, who says that she does not expect anything in return for her largesse, not even any personal acclaim? A woman, who having performed this amazing act of generosity almost three years ago, has since then, laid low, lived anonymously, carried on her life quietly, not breathed a word about it to any one besides her inner circle, and what’s more, has sought neither praise nor publicity for it; in fact a woman who agrees to an interview with me as long as her privacy is respected and her name strictly does not figure anywhere?

What indeed can one say to such a person, except to tell her that at a time when self-interest, greed and materialism appear to have spread their tentacles everywhere and colonised every heart — her story is nothing short of a modern-day Mumbai miracle and must be told, for the simple reason that it restores one’s faith in humanity and in the goodness of ordinary people.

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A few days ago, a rare ray of sunshine broke through the usual doom and gloom that dominate our present-day news cycle; ricocheting through WhatsApp chats and online sites, before one could say Melinda Gates and MacKenzie Scott, came the news that a 61-year-old Mumbai lady had donated her ancestral property worth around 120 crore to Tata Memorial Hospital — India’s largest cancer hospital, where 60% of the patients who come for first aid are treated free of cost — for the construction of a new chemo centre which will greatly alleviate the colossal demand for beds and suffering of patients.

“Could this be even true?” was the query on everyone’s lips, when the news began to sink in. A Mumbai woman. Who no one had even heard of. Had given away 120 crore worth of. Prime Mumbai real estate…

And along with the incredulity came the curiosity about the mystery lady…

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“All the credit for making me who I am goes first and foremost to my parents, who gave me my sense of values and taught me to stay grounded. I also credit my teachers at The JB Vachha School at Kings Circle who further inculcated those values, and of course my husband and his family who have supported my decision all along,” said the mystery lady, when, with a seasoned newshound’s nose, I manage to track her down, a couple of hours later. “I don’t know how the news with my name came out last week, even after I had requested that it shouldn’t. And I was hugely embarrassed by it,” she said.

As she tells it, DM (for those are her initials) who grew up at Dadar’s King Circle, the daughter of an unassuming Gujarati father and Parsi mother, inherited 30,000 square feet of property, on which her father’s printing press stood in Parel, on his passing in 2005. Being an only child and, as she says, having been brought up in an atmosphere of giving, she thought that the best way she could honour her parents’ memory was to donate the entire property to Tata Memorial Hospital, which lies just 400 metres away, so that it could construct an additional chemotherapy centre. Currently, the hospital, which is said to treat one-third of the country’s total population of cancer patients, has 100 beds for chemotherapy, vastly inadequate for the over 500 patients who require the lifesaving intervention.

“I used to see the condition of patients when I used to visit my dad’s press, many of them were in a pitiful state, sometimes waiting even on the roads and pavements outside the hospital in extremely harsh conditions,” she tells me by way of explanation of what led her to her act of unbound magnanimity and selflessness. “Later, through my aunt Dr Zarin Bharucha, who was a leading figure in the Red Cross and the establishment of blood banks in India, I had many opportunities to visit the hospital to donate blood and see first-hand the immense suffering faced by patients due to the shortage of beds. So, when I inherited the property, I had no doubt that this was the right thing to do,” she says.

Here, I interject with the 120 crore questions on everyone’s mind: Was there no opposition from her family to the idea? No one who discouraged her saying there could be more pressing, personal compunctions to be considered? After all, how many people would turn down the opportunity to enjoy the windfall of such a large fortune?

“Fortunately, with God’s grace, my husband who is a successful chartered accountant and hails from a solid middle-class Maharashtrian family that believes in giving, encouraged me to do so. And touch wood, even my son who is working as a techie in Bengaluru did not have any objections. I guess we were all brought up to know the difference between one’s needs and one’s wants,” she says, adding “Also, my parents taught me that when it comes to charity, one’s right hand must not know what one’s left hand does.”

As she tells me, it was her aunt Dr Bharucha, her mother’s sister-in-law, who had been instrumental in making her wish to donate her land to the hospital a reality. “My aunt introduced me to the hospital trust, got the ball rolling and encouraged me through the entire process of dealing with authorities in the hospital and the civic body which took around two-and-a-half years,” she says.

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Ironically, it is a day after Dr Bharucha’s funeral that I have my conversation with DM. “She will not be there to see the opening of the new wing,” says the doting niece about her aunt who passed away last Sunday, due to age-related illnesses, after a life spent in service and selflessness.

Finally, I ask DM, if in the absence of her name, she would at least like to share a photograph of her late parents, to be carried along with this article and she says she will reflect on it and let me know.

The next day, I receive the following message from her, as always, polite and to the point, but firm. “Good morning,” it reads, “Slept on your suggestion for the photograph, but I feel my parents would have also wanted it to be kept quiet…”

And that gentle readers, concludes my conversation with the amazing Mumbai lady who, in an age of rampant greed and self-interest where few acts of kindness and selflessness get done and then too never without accompanying hype and hyperbole, has proven that empathy, decency and humanity still exist. And that you do not have to be rich or famous to be generous, just an ordinary citizen of Mumbai whose heart beats for the city and its people.

And yes, although I know DM’s name and have her number, I have every intention of respecting her wish for anonymity and privacy and not revealing her personal details. After all, that’s the least she deserves — don’t you think?

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Wednesday, December 08, 2021