In Focus

An Actress Living Out Her Character

The Draft Colaba, in continuance of the International Women's Day celebrations held on 8 March 2021, profiles superwomen of sorts, from all walks of life, for a full week on till 15 March 2021
(Read all the Women's Week stories here)

By Sagarika Sen

Mumbai’s oldest heritage precinct and one of the original seven islands, Colaba has always had an interesting blend of people. But what makes the residents of Colaba different from their counterparts is that not just are they highly aware of their legal rights, they go to extents to procure them. 

So, among the sea of residents active and aware is septuagenarian Dorothy Yazdegardi, born on 9 July 1948 at Mumbai’s Masina Hospital and resident of Colaba’s Dubash Lane. The youngest of three children of Govher Kohinoor and Shahbehram Nowzary, both born in Iran, Dorothy grew up in Mumbai's Chandanwadi area in a building housing only Parsi Irani people.

Her father would run a "chai nashta ka place called XL Restaurant" in the area and mother was a homemaker.

VIGILANTE: Dorothy Yazdegardi has been proactive with regard to the citizen’s Right to Walk and Public Space initiatives

After schooling at the Villa Theresa High School first before moving on to St Anne's Girls High School at Thakurdwar in Mumbai, Dorothy went to H R College at Churchgate. 

“Right since the onset, I wanted to become a nun but my parents didn’t allow. I was inspired by Mother Teresa and inclined towards social work,” recalls Dorothy. "So, as a child, on weekends and holidays I’d help the elderly neighbours and building residents buy their bazaar, clean vegetables, etc." 

Her childhood was spent like a typical tomboy, "playing boys’ games, cycling like crazy with the rest of them, etc." Dorothy was very close to her nanny, a Kathiawadi woman named Hiru who raised her since birth. 

“She played a pivotal role in my life. She would give me bath, feed me and take me to school…in fact, at dinner I’d eat from her plate only. Hiru was a fish-eater and I’d eat that too. Now, I am a pure vegetarian,” says Dorothy.

MULTI-TASKER: Dorothy dons many hats
Originally Dorokhshanda Nowzary, Dorothy had to change her name because at the time of admission, the school staff couldn’t fit her name in the register. “At the time, my mami who had just returned from the UK, gave me the name Dorothy,” she adds.

Dorothy’s maternal grandfather happened to be the Late Rashid Kohinoor, owner of Britannia Restaurant at Ballard Pier who had come to India, from Iran, as a child with his family. He went on to have nine children, the eldest being Dorothy’s mother Govher.

In September 1968, at 20 years of age, Dorothy got married to Sohrab Yazdegardi. Sohrab’s family which owned several restaurants in Mumbai, at one time, are left with just one now. The couple went on to have a son and a daughter and several grandchildren. And, in 2018, she completed fifty years of marriage.

Dorothy moved to Colaba’s Lalchand Mansion in June, 1972. "Over the years, I got involved with several groups to fulfil my wish to help those in need. For some time, I even taught school children and got involved with a senior citizens group,” she says.

Over the last two decades, she has also been playing myriad roles in the Hindi film industry and achieved success as a character artiste playing strong personalities.

But, the most commendable of tasks that Dorothy has fulfilled is the one of an activist. Today, despite her age, Dorothy has been proactive particularly with regard to the citizen’s Right to Walk and Public Space initiatives across Colaba. 

GOLDEN: Dorothy with husband Sohrab at their
50th wedding anniversary

"There are several issues in Colaba, in Third Pasta Lane in particular. For example, vehicles entering into no-entry zones, illegal parking thereby blocking the roads where even emergency vehicles cannot pass, obstructions on footpaths making walking impossible and more."

Footpaths, in particular, are either in extremely bad conditions or occupied by addicts, hawkers and shopkeepers who have extended their shops, illegally, onto the pavement. It becomes difficult for the elderly, handicapped to walk," she says.

Colaba, as Dorothy rightly puts, is very "different from what it was in 1972" when she "first arrived." In Third Pasta Lane, despite there being footpaths on both sides of the road, there’s no place to walk on them. There is, sadly, no place for children to play too."

“Today, whenever I return to the lane, I am very scared and have to be extremely careful given the way motorcyclists speed through the narrow lanes. They pose huge risks to one and all, not just the elderly. It’s time everyone speaks up now before it gets too late,” warns Dorothy.

And, when she isn’t picking up a fight with a watchman for being discourteous or shopkeeper for encroaching upon the footpath, Dorothy stays in and enjoys dancing and music. Her day starts with breakfast, she cooks personally, and a cup of tea with her husband for company. “I love cooking and, till date, cook all the meals at home. My husband loves non-vegetarian food and I am a vegetarian but I cook all that he likes,” she says.