Style icon Parmeshwar Godrej passes away at 70

CaptureMUMBAI: Businesswoman and philanthropist Parmeshwar Godrej, wife of industrialist Adi Godrej, died on Monday night in a Mumbai hospital after a prolonged lung illness, family sources said.

She was 70.

She was Mumbai’s original queen bee and will be fondly remembered by many as a style icon in her signature beret, who hosted some of Mumbai’s most memorable evenings peppered with a globally eclectic guest list – including businesspersons, Hollywood actors and beautiful people – with an ease which no one has since been able to match.

Godrej used her position and natural charm to champion many social causes. She campaigned for AIDS at a time when people were still embarrassed to talk about it. One of her biggest initiatives in philanthropy was joining hands with actor Richard Gere, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and the Clinton Global Initiative to combat AIDS through the launch of the ‘Heroes Project’ in 2004.

She is remembered for her public persona as much as she is for being a devoted wife, mother and friend with a warm heart. The daughter of an army officer, Parmeshwar was 17 when she met Adi Godrej, who was 21. She was then working as an air hostess with Air India. They married in 1965, and had three children — daughters Tanya Dubash and Nisa Godrej who are associated with the flagship company Godrej Consumer Products, and son Pirojsha who leads the group’s listed realty arm.

In the second volume of his book ‘Godrej – A hundred years’, BK Karanjia wrote: “One cannot think of Adi Godrej without thinking of Parmeshwar Godrej. The other way round, too. It isn’t only that together they are often in the news, doing the social round. Their complementariness is a way of life with them. Each freely acknowledges what is owed to the other.” Adi Godrej, who recently described Parmeshwar as a “strong woman”, gained immensely from her extroverted personality. She helped her introvert husband to become a leader of excellence by coaching him in art, culture and the finer things of life, according to the book.

Harsh Goenka, chairman, RPG Enterprises, reveals that he acquired his taste for art from Parmeshwar Godrej. “She was a true diva with various facets. The one facet I came closest to was her strong sense of design. She helped design my home and office. That’s when we developed our friendship of 30 years. She gave me my passion for art. She exuded natural warmth. ‘Socialite’, in that sense, is a wrong term to use for her,” Goenka told TOI. She is remembered by many as one whose ideas were ahead of her time. She set up a series of businesses, all of which were successful in their own right. She also contributed to the family business of soaps and toiletries by offering her astute marketing ideas.

In the book, Adi Godrej has been quoted as saying: “Our best advertising was due to her (Parmeshwar)”. The campaign to revive Cinthol after Godrej split with American multinational, Procter & Gamble, was an example of that.

Hoshedar Press, former vice chairman, Godrej Consumer Products, recalls how Parmeshwar Godrej was instrumental in roping in Imran Khan and Vinod Khanna, her close friends, to endorse Cinthol, a relatively small brand compared to the rivals. It added immense value to the brand and its image, he said.

As an interior designer, she refashioned the homes of the wealthy in Mumbai, Delhi and London as well as several iconic restaurants, including Khyber and China Garden. Godrej had also designed clothes for actress Hema Malini on the insistence of director friend Feroze Khan for the film Dharmatma in 1975.
She had teamed up with director Shekhar Kapur to launch a production house called Starlight in 2000, which was preceded by co-producing the Merchant-Ivory production ‘The Perfect Murder’ in 1988.

Given her own wide range of interests, her network of friends were from diverse fields. In a recent book, Nobel laureate Amartya Sen had spoken richly about her, calling her a “brilliant conversationalist” and “wonderful company”. As word spread about her death, social media was filled with rich tributes to her and her passion. Salman Rushdie wrote, “A dear and unfailingly generous friend and a tireless fighter against the spread of HIV/AIDS in India. A wonderful woman and a force of nature.”

Author Shobhaa De said, “She did raise the bar for how India entertained but there was much more to her than her exaggerated glam public persona.” Businessperson Nina Pillai said, “She had that big Punjabi heart and her laughter was one that came from her soul.” She was cremated, according to her family.t

Published on The Times of India