Minoo Pirozshaw Mistri, beloved husband of Mrs. Mistri passed away peacefully, on Saturday 4th March 2006 (Meher Mahino and Meher Roj according to the Parsee calendar). He was 94 years old.
Mr. Minoo Mistri served as the Honorary Secretary of the Managing Committee of the BVS Parsi School and was the in-house architect of the school for nearly 50 years. He designed the new stage, library and technical drawing room building, for the school.
Mr. Mistri was a renowned architect in Pakistan and got his degree as an F.R.I.B.A. (Fellow of the Royal Institute of British Architects), a degree only a handful of Pakistani Architects could attain. Mr. Mistri has left a legacy behind and has built some of the major landmarks in Karachi like the National Grindlays Bank, Police headquarters and the famous Teen Talwar, just to name a few.
May God grant him eternal peace in heaven.
The following article was reported in Daily Times of March 08, 2006.
Minoo Pirozshah Mistri (1912-2006)
Rock solid architect of Teen Talwar leaves this earth
By Mahim Maher
Karachi has many landmarks, but none stands out more in the popular imagination as Clifton’s Teen Talwar. The Three Swords, as their rather phonetically awkward English name goes, is a massive monument, commissioned by President Zulfikar Ali Bhutto for Clifton chowrangi, that consist of three flat, sky-high marble swords inscribed with Mohammad Ali Jinnah’s creed: Unity, Faith, Discipline. Sadly, though, the man who designed this monument, and many other stunning buildings in Karachi, passed away on Saturday March 4th, at the age of 94.
The Uthamna ceremony and Sarosh prayers for Minoo Pirojsha Mistri, or Dada as everyone referred to him, were performed on Sunday afternoon in Avari Colony, Parsi Gate, Mehmodabad. A soft breeze tempered the rays of the afternoon sun under the shamianas that were erected on Dada’s nephew Zubin Mavalvala’s garden where friends and family had gathered to pay their last respects. There is an air of impossible peace and serenity at Avari Colony, so much so that the voices of the priests reading the prayers inside the house wafted out from the open drawing room French windows into the front lawn where the well wishers were gathered. In ones and twos, people trickled in: the men were in trousers with black velvet skullcaps and the women in saris and skirts. Each person took up a seat on the lawn ands sat in silence as the prayers continued.
When the prayers finished about an after an hour at five o’clock, Mrs. Deena Mistri nee Soparivala received people. She was dressed in a white sleeveless sari with a black handkerchief over her head and primly knotted under her chin. For anyone who has known her as the principal of BVS Parsi High School, the look was almost reminiscent of the picture of grandmothers in children’s fairy tale books.
Till the day he died, Dada asked Deena if a plaque had been put up at Teen Talwar with the name of its architect. “My sons and I would tell him it would happen, it would happen, but it never did,” Mrs. Mistri says. She often tried to convince her husband that a plaque with his name really did not matter but something in him yearned for the acknowledgment so that generations, later children would know. Just like writers, musicians and painters, surely architects, who create the world around us, also deserve to be known.
Teen Talwar in Karachi a prominent landmark
“He always wanted to create buildings that would last at least 100 years,” says Mrs. Mistri told Daily Times, adding that her husband designed Capital Cinema, Paradise Cinema and even the police headquarters on I.I. Chundrigar Road. He was also the architect of the Theosophical Hall opposite the Radio Pakistan building. But, perhaps the greatest feather in Dada’s cap was Teen Talwar. “Mr. Bhuttto ordered many designs and my husband’s design was chosen out of 400. As soon as Mr. Bhutto saw it, he said that was the one,” his wife says.
The first word that pops out of Mrs. Mistri’s mouth, when asked what her husband was like, is “Humble”. “He was a very simple man,” she stresses. So much so that despite many requests from his wife, one of Karachi’s greatest architect never ended up building a house for himself. “He would always say, ‘One day…I’ll do it one day’, Mrs. Mistri recalls. Dada was born in Bombay in 1912 and his father died when he was very young. The family was very poor, nearly lived as paupers, which is why Mrs. Mistri says she thought her husband was so humble and generous to a fault. “He had seen that kind of life,” she says. “And whatever he had he would either give away to people or, because he was simple, people managed to get out of him.”
Minoo Mistri with his two sons and wife
Dada studied at the J.J. School of Art and went to become a Fellow of the Royal Institute of British Architects (FRIBA). Dada and his mother moved to Karachi in 1935, after he took a liking to the city after several work projects. They lived in a flat on Frere Road where Mrs. Mistri lived when she married him. They moved to Parsi Colony in 1949. And after sixty years of practicing architecture Dada retired in 1996.
According to Professor Kauser Bashir Ahmad, one of Dada’s students from 1956 to 1960, the Teen Talwar project was completed in the 70’s. Dada was also the founding member of the Institute of Architects in Pakistan. “When he retired, he gave us his books,” recalls Ahmad while referring to Dada’s affiliation with Dawood College of Engineering and Technology. “Today, a small teak desk, which he worked on for 50 years, stands in the college.”
Minoo Mistri with the Queen of Iran Shahbanoo
One of the highlights of dada’s life was a trip to Iran on the invitation of Queen Farah who called all the best architects in the world. This trip held particular significance for Dada as Iran was his ancestral and religious birthplace. “He also took the opportunity to travel to Europe and visit all the sites,” Mrs. Mistri recalls.
Dada is remembered as one of the most senior architects of Karachi. “He was educated in the British system”, says Aqeel Bilgrami, who knew Dada professionally. “They were the conservatives. But he was a solid man, a competent architect, nothing fancy about his style. He was upright and had good sense of humour, a wry sense of humour.”
This is how Mrs. Mistri remembers her husband. “Girls would come over,” she says, referring to students who often came to the house for advice from Dada, “and all of a sudden this giggling would [erupt] from the room. I would be in the kitchen making tea and when I asked them what had happened they would say: Dada just told us a joke, but we can’t tell you. That was wonderful, I’d say,” she, continued with a gruff smile, “These girls are in my house, are going to drink tea I’ve made and they won’t tell me the joke.” (The family often laugh that Mrs. Mistri, the formidable disciplinary at BVS, would be called the Iron Lady or Mrs. Thatcher.)
At a time when the earthquake and encroachments have made us aware of the importance of good solid architecture by responsible people, Dada’s name should be remembered as an example for all to follow. And perhaps, at a time of Master Plans and flyovers, it would do the City District Government of Karachi well to put a plaque in Dada’s name at Teen Talwar for all to see in the years to come. ■