Monday, March 22, 2010

Eat, drink and be Murree...

The late Minoo Bhandara was, in the words of his sister Bapsi Sidhwa, a “complex person”. He ran the Islamic world’s most successful brewery in a country where some 97 per cent of the people are barred from drinking alcohol and was a fierce champion of the secular Pakistan envisioned by Muhammad Ali Jinnah.

So when friends and relatives of the late Bhandara, who died nearly two years ago after being seriously injured in a road accident in China, gathered at his home near the famous Murree Brewery in Rawalpindi on March 21 for the launch of a book of his selected writings, there was nothing maudlin about the event.

The people had come together, as Sidhwa put it, to celebrate Minocher Peshaton Bhandara’s life and speaker after speaker recounted colourful stories that showed he was indeed one of Pakistan’s foremost champions of secularism and entrepreneurship. 

“He made many enemies but he held enmity towards none,” Sidhwa told the gathering that included businessmen, diplomats and prominent members of Pakistan’s minority Parsi community to which Bhandara belonged.

And it was an unusual sight to see shalwar kameez-clad waiters serving chilled beer among guests seated on the lawn of Bhandara’s house, located a stone’s throw from the official residence of the Pakistan Army chief. Ah well, at least one former occupant of Army House – General Pervez Musharraf – was known to favour a Johnny Walker Black Label Scotch or two in the evenings.

Bhandara’s son Isphanyar told me his father had always held fast to Jinnah’s vision of a Pakistan where “all angularities of the majority and minority communities...will vanish”.   

“My father was the biggest fan of Quaid-e-Azam (Jinnah)’s speech of August 11, 1947 to the constituent assembly of Pakistan, in which he said people should not be judged by their religion and should be free to go to their mosques and mandirs,” said Isphanyar.

“My father was also a staunch believer in India-Pakistan friendship and led many peace missions to India. Honesty and speaking the truth were two hallmarks of his life as a businessman and politician,” Isphanyar said.

Under Bhandara’s stewardship, Murree Brewery’s turnover grew from four million rupees in the 1950s to 2.5 billion rupees in 2008, despite the fact that the company cannot advertise its products in any way within Pakistan and not many Pakistanis are even aware of its slogan: “Eat, drink and be Murree.”

Born in 1938 to a prominent Parsi family of Lahore, Bhandara graduated from Punjab University and studied philosophy, politics and economics at Brasenose College in Oxford but had to return to Pakistan in his final year because of the death of his father in 1961.

Besides serving as the managing director of Murree Brewery, Bhandara was known for his efforts to promote arts and his political career as a parliamentarian. He even served as adviser on minorities affairs during the reign of Zia-ul-Haq, the dictator who ordered that anyone consuming alcohol should be punished with 80 lashes. (As we recounted earlier, alcohol continues to be available, albeit at a premium, in most urban centres of Pakistan.)

Bhandara was also a raconteur par excellence, and if ever proof of this was needed, it is there in plenty in “Calling A Spade A Spade”, the new compilation of his selected writings. Beginning with a colourful and risqué piece describing an encounter with Hollywood star Ava Gardner during her visit to Lahore for the shooting of “Bhowani Junction”, the book contains a series of incisive and insightful articles on issues as diverse as prohibition, terrorism and nuclear diplomacy.


  1. Sounds like quite the personality!


  2. @Saad, thanks for reading. He was quite a personality and I regret that I never met him while he was alive.

  3. This is my first visit here. Very interesting.I had heard of Bhandara, but never read about him. All Parsis are great and he seems to have carried it forward.

  4. @Chowla sahab, welcome to the blog. Thanks for the comments.

  5. I so hope they make alcohol legal again in Pakistan... vesey i don't think it was Zia who banned it, if i am not mistaken then i think it was ZA Bhutto who succumbed to pressure from the religious right and banned alcohol before Zia came on to the scene...

    I think Murree brewery makes kinno flavoured vodka, i would love to try it but i dont know where to buy it from... I tried their beer once in London and it was quiet nice!

  6. The Parsi community have contributed a lot to India also , if only more people where like them .....

  7. Another excellent post. The reason I visit your blog regularly is because I learn something new every time. You have contributed to showcasing a moderate Pakistan that does exist, something newspapers or 24 hour news-channels have failed to do. Best wishes!

  8. @anonymous, Premal and Anirban, thanks for reading and sharing yr thoughts.

  9. @anonymous, you're correct about the alcohol ban being imposed by ZAB. An appropriate correction has been made in the post. I met Isphanyar Bhandara last night at a party and he confirmed that Murree makes triple-distilled vodka, including a citrus-flavoured version. He was amused to hear your thoughts :)

  10. @Indrablog, thanks for reading.

  11. Loved this post. I wonder if you could get me the mail id of Bapsi Sidhwa. I read her Icecandy Man sometime back and loved it. It struck a chord somewhere. Have searched her website and all, but couldn't get her mail id. So, it would be really great if I could get it. Thanks

  12. @wordsmith, thanks for reading. sorry, don't have any email ID for Ms Sidhwa.

  13. http://www. i have visited to this site and found to get the latest news about the all site.

  14. WOW, great to know this. I had 100+ Pakistani friends but none of them talked about this, most probably because they still do not know about this! By the way, if I will visit Karachi to meet any friend then will taste for sure!

    Parsi people are really great, where ever they are!

    Eat, Drink and Be Murree!!!