Byram D Avari will be remembered for his business acumen, love of sailing and philanthropy
yram D Avari, who passed away in Karachi on January 22 at the age of 81, was more than a tycoon of the Pakistani hotel industry. He was a leader of the Parsi community who also represented them in the National Assembly. He was a sportsman who brought medals for Pakistan in sailing. He was a philanthropist who participated in many campaigns for various humanitarian causes.
Besides the Avari Tower hotels in Karachi, Lahore and Dubai, he owned the Beach Luxury Hotel in Karachi that has been the venue of the much-awaited annual Karachi Literature Festival for many years. He also managed a Ramada hotel in Toronto, Canada.
Even though the number of Parsis living in Pakistan has declined through continuous migration, Avari did not choose to settle abroad. Even when the hotel industry in Pakistan, particularly Karachi, was affected due to grave lawlessness in 2013, he declared that he had no intention to leave the country.
In an interview with the Parsi News website, he categorically stated that nobody could scare him or force him to leave the country.
An article in Volume 22 of the Parsi research journal Fezana, published in 2008, says that the family business of the Avaris started in 1944 with Bristol Hotel, followed by the Beach Luxury Hotel in 1948, which was located away from the city centre at that time.
His son Dinshaw was quoted in the journal as saying, “The Beach Luxury Hotel has seen several momentous eras – martial law, prohibition, wars. During the war with India in 1971, Beach Luxury was affected because foreigners were evacuated from Pakistan. Our family was also advised to move [out] because we lived so close to the port. However, the family preferred to stay because we were responsible for more than just our home. We had to take care of the hotel.
“I remember cowering under the stairs for protection during those days. Even our mattresses were moved down. I remember the loud noise of the bombing because the oil tankers being bombed were docked at Keamari only five kilometres away. Our family has come a long way from Bristol Hotel in 1944 to our first international hotel, Avari Dubai launched in 1998.”
The late hotel industry tycoon was considered one of the most influential and active leaders of the Parsi community. He was also the honorary diplomatic representative of Pakistan in Canada.
He served as vice president of the Dastur Doctor Dhalla Memorial Institute Karachi in 1982 and became the chairman of the Parsi New Year Celebration Committee in 1988.
In 1990, he became the vice-chairman of the Karachi Parsi Anjuman Trust Fund. Earlier in 1989, he had served as president of the Jehangir Peerozshah Dubash Health Culture Institute in 1989.
Apart from the hotel industry and sports, Avari also earned a reputation through his philanthropic works. In his interview with a French media outlet Le Point, he stated: “The Parsis believe in giving back to the community. That’s why, for example, we grant interest-free loans to children who want to study abroad. The Parsis have set up hospitals and universities for the benefit of the people of Karachi.”
He represented the Parsi community in the National Assembly, where he highlighted crucial issues about the rights of minorities.
Byram was born on February 7, 1941, in Karachi. His parents Dinshaw Byram and Khorshed Dinshaw Avari were also influential leaders of the Parsi community.
Before going abroad to study hotel management, Avari studied at the Karachi Grammar School, St Patrick’s College and the University of Karachi, from where he obtained a degree in law.
For many youngsters of today, it would come as a surprise that the late hotelier represented Pakistan in international sailing competitions. He won two gold medals in the Asian Games.
His wife, Goshpi, shared his passion for sailing. She also represented Pakistan in international competitions and earned medals.
Avari served as commodore of the Karachi Yacht Club in 1976 and 1980. In 1978, he and Munir Sadiq of the Pakistan Navy won Enterprise Class gold medal in the 8th Asian Games held in Bangkok, Thailand. The victory opened a new chapter in the sports history of the country.
In 1981, the Avari-Sadiq duo earned more prominence when they were runners-up in the World Enterprise Class Regatta in Ontario, Canada.
The late industrialist went on to retain his title at the 1982 Asian Games in New Delhi. This time, he was partnered by his wife, Goshpi.
He was awarded the President’s Pride of Performance award for sports in 1982.
Apart from the hotel industry and sports, Avari also earned a reputation through his philanthropic work. In an interview with a French media outlet Le Point, he stated: “The Parsis believe in giving back to the community. That’s why, for example, we grant interest-free loans to children who want to study abroad. The Parsis have set up hospitals and universities for the benefit of the people of Karachi.”
Avari’s father was a self-made person who grew up in an orphanage. He inculcated humanism in his son. As a result, the Avari Group reportedly never laid off its workers, even in the worst economic situations.
He managed several Parsi schools and institutions and maintained Parsi properties and places of worship.
He had undergone intestinal surgery and was hospitalised for around 20 days before his death. According to the family, the surgery did not improve his health, and he had to put on a ventilator. His death was condoled by industrialists as well as politicians who remembered him as a kind person always willing to serve the country.
He is survived by his wife, Goshpi Avari, two sons Dinshaw and Xerxes, and a daughter Zeena. With the continuing emigration of the Parsis from Pakistan, one wonders if the country will ever have another like him.
The writer is based in Karachi and reports on politics and education