* $83 bln Tata Group a family business founded by Parsis
* Diversified Godrej and Wadia Groups also Parsi
* Parsi industrialists spearheaded Mumbai's development
By Henry Foy
MUMBAI, Nov 26 The days when Mumbai's
Parsi community dominated a city they helped to build may have
faded, but the rise of Cyrus Mistry to the helm of the Tata
Group reinforces the clout it wields in some of India's biggest
Mistry's selection as chairman-designate of India's biggest
corporate house keeps the group close to the founding Tata
family as he is a member through the marriage of his sister. The
choice also keeps the business in the hands of the close-knit
community which is as old as the city itself.
From shipyards to textile firms, Mumbai's Parsis,
descendants of Persians who first landed in India in the ninth
century, led the city's commercial development from sleepy
fishing islands to one of Asia's business capitals.
Big business houses led by the Tata, Godrej and Wadia
families keep that tradition alive today.
"Tata is a Parsi business, and so it is important that
someone who grasps the culture of the group is at the top," said
Zubin Karkaria, a Parsi and chief executive officer and managing
director of international visa administration firm VFS Global.
Bombay House, the brick colonial building in the heart of
south Mumbai where Mistry, 43, will take the reins of the $83
billion Tata empire next December, is the seat of power for a
community Parsis say is inseparable from the city's history.
Mistry is the youngest son of construction magnate Pallonji
Mistry, known as "the world's richest Parsi" with estimated
wealth of $8.8 billion, according to Forbes.
Octogenarian Pallonji and the 73-year-old Ratan Tata are
stalwarts of business groups that date back more than 140 years,
carrying on a legacy of more than 300 years of Parsi-led
industrial development in India's commercial capital.
Other Parsi industrialits such as Adi Godrej, head of the
consumer goods and real estate-focused Godrej Group, and textile
and property baron Nusli Wadia, ensure their business influence
far outstrips their dwindling numbers.
"Parsis really were the pioneers of the Indian industrial
movement and have put a lot into the industrial development of
the country," said Shernaaz Engineer, editor of Jam-e-Jamshed,
the 179-year-old Parsi newspaper.
Nariman Point, which is losing its stature as the city's
prime business district, is named after the Parsi who built it,
while many of Mumbai's hospitals and colleges bear the names of
Parsi merchants who forged the city's development as a trade hub
in the 19th century.
350 YEARS OF HISTORY
The Parsis settled in Mumbai in the 1640s when the city was
under Portuguese control, according to the Bombay Parsi
Punchayet (BPP), a 330-year-old administrative body.
By the mid 19th-century, Parsi industrialists had launched
trading, printing and engineering businesses and in 1854,
founded the city's first commercial bank.
"They have really put a lot into the city," said Engineer.
"Mumbai and the Parsis are absolutely interlinked."
Surnames like Engineer, or Contractor and their job-specific
Indian equivalents are common among the Parsi community.
Today, BPP administers over 4,000 Parsi-only apartments
across the city open only to vetted applicants, runs a
Parsi-only blood bank and awards scholarships and other
financial support to students from the community.
But the group's numbers are sliding. From 112,000 in 1951,
the population of Parsis in India dropped to just under 70,000
in 2001, according to census data. Sociologists say the trend
will likely continue.
"The community faces the threat of extinction," wrote the
award-winning Indian screenplay writer Sooni Taraporevala in her
2004 book "Parsis: The Zoroastrians of India".
"Zoroastrianism is a non-proselytizing religion -- there are
no converts," she wrote. "One can only be born into it. Marriage
outside the community is not encouraged."
That has to change, say liberal members of the community, if
the it is to survive. Taskforces have been set up to develop
strategies to encourage families to have more children, and
promote marriages to non-Parsis.
(Editing by Tony Munroe)