Why do Zoroastrians, especially in Mumbai, need to be grateful to Bai Jerbai Nowrosjee Wadia? (TMY, JJ of 7 & 14-4-19)

1. Bai Jerbai was born in 1852 to Navajbai and Rustomjee Wadia. From her mother’s side she belonged to the illustrious family of Sir Jamsetjee Jeejeebhoy, and from her father’s side she was a descendant of the illustrious shipbuilding family of Lowjee Nusserwanjee Wadia.

2. Sir Rustomjee Jamsetjee Jeejeebhoy was her maternal grand-father. As a child of five, she performed the launching ceremony of a sailing ship called “Mary”, which was built by her own father Rustomjee Ardaseer Wadia.

2. She grew up to be a simple lady with an extra-ordinary vision. As there was no facility for English education for girls in those times, she was tutored at home by a European lady. She was adept at many other arts like knitting, stitching, sewing and Kasti weaving. She later on became a shrewd and successful investor and an expert on pearls.

2. She was married to Nowrosjee Nusserwanjee Wadia. She took keen interest in her husband’s business and supported his charities. From an early age she herself had a desire to offer an opportunity to less privileged people, especially Zoroastrians. In those days many Zoroastrians came from Gujarat to Mumbai looking for jobs and did not have a roof over their heads.

3. In 1907, her husband suddenly died, leaving her a large sum in his will. She utilised most of this amount to fulfil her desire to assist people by creating affordable and secure housing colonies for them.

 4. Jerbai arranged for land to be purchased at Lalbaug for the construction, initially, of 8 low cost rental apartment blocks (Chehlis) for Zoroastrians. She personally supervised the planning of the buildings.   She made sure that there would be a Chulā-vati (a Hearth Fire) in each kitchen for the proper maintenance of a continuous house fire, a necessary part of Zoroastrian religious life.  After this, Jerbai established the Naoriji Nusherwanji Wadia Building Trust Fund in 1917.  She named her eldest son, Khurshetji (later, Sir Cusrow) Wadia, Sir Jamsetjee Jeejeebhoy, Mancherji P. Kharegat and herself as Trustees and built 24 more blocks. Thus bringing the total to 32.  This colony was named Navroz Baug in memory of her husband.

5. She herself took the responsiblity of allotting houses to needy families, who could present a valid reason to justify leaving their time-honored joint family homes in Gujarat.  She kept a close eye on the welfare, health and harmony of the families and timely repairs of the constructions. She herself, after studying the income of the tenants, fixed the monthly rents based on the size and location of the apartment. In many cases, she waived the rent, for a few months, of those who were unable to pay due to unavoidable circumstances.

6. On 19 June 1923, through unfortunate circumstances her youngest son, Rustom, died at the age of 47, leaving a sizeable amount to her in his will.  To this amount, Jerbai added some of her own, and from this sum she ordered the purchase of land adjacent to Masina Hospital to build another housing colony.  This colony had houses of different sizes, built over a period of many years, to house 168 families.  It was named Rustom Baug in memory of her late son. 

7. In the meantime, there was a smaller piece of land available on the other side of the Masina Hospital. Here, a colony of 5 blocks of smaller apartments were constructed, which could house 136 families.  Unfortunately, she did not survive its completion, as she died on 8 May 1926.  The housing colony was named Jer Baug in her memory.

8. Apart from housing, she was also very passionate about healthcare. To this end, her other generous donations include: a. The extension to the Khandala Charitable Clinic, which was built in 1902 by her late husband. b. A hostel for Nurses at the Sir Jamsetjee Jeejeebhoy Hospital in 1903. c. A charitable Hospital on the grounds of the Bombay Parsi Panchayat at Chowpatty in 1906. d. An additional block and a new dispensary for the Dr. Bahadurji Sanatorium in Deolali in 1909. e. A block at the Jehangir Marzban Convalescent Home in Khandala. f. Dr. Rustom Billimoria T. B. Sanatorium. g. She also gave regular donations to Dr. Tehmulji Nariman Obstetrics Hospital, Parsi General Hospital, Shirinbai Cama Convalescent Home at Bandra and Mahableshwar Parsi Gymkhana.

9. Jerbai’s dream of having as many low cost housing for Parsis in Mumbai, was kept alive by her two sons, Sir Cusrow Wadia and Sir Ness Wadia after she passed away. Among their many important contributions were the building of Cusrow Baug, Ness Baug and Bai Jerbai Wadia Hospital for Children. �

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