Farewell To A Great Host

With the death of Byram D. Avari, a long tradition of hospitality, social service and academic patronage has come to an end.

By Mahmood Shaam | March 2023

It is time to remember Byram D. Avari, a person who was fully devoted to Pakistan from the word go and went an extra mile to serve the country and its citizens till his last breath. A firm believer in putting the country first, Byram Avari was a true-blue Pakistani from head to heels as he never thought about moving and settling abroad, together with his entire capital and hoteling business even in adverse conditions.

Other than a business-savvy enterpriser with an enlightened mind, he was a consummate knowledge-seeker and had great respect for the peoples associated with art, performing arts and literature. Thinking beyond identity confines, he was truly a progressive and moderate soul, free from all kinds of religious, lingual, racial, communal and ethnic biases. He was a real mentor to his many a friend as well as a helping hand to lots of deserving people. He always welcomed everyone with open arms with a beaming smile on his face.

Alas and alack, Byram D. Avari is no more with us and with his sad demise, the country has lost a wonderful citizen and the hotel industry has lost a legend. Being a business tycoon, he was in fact such a big name for the common people. Having had envious business credentials, he was one of the few Pakistanis who were deeply concerned about the future of the country. Especially when the elections were near, he would call all his friends to come to his abode and sit together to think about the future. When the disagreement took place between former president General Pervez Musharraf and the then Chief Justice Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry, Byram D. Avari was the first to call and inform me about the alarming, yet decisive situation, which was, according to him, a bad omen for the future of Pakistan. His apprehensions were proved right with the passage of time.

I have also happened to be in touch with his father Dinsha Avari, who was also a benevolent businessman and cared about the country. Spreading his business all over the country, his son Byram D. Avari not only took care of his father’s legacy but also inherited his golden words and advice and put them into practice. The general manager of the ITC Maurya in New Delhi once told me that on the requests of their guests they tend to order some food from the Avari Hotel in Lahore, almost every day.

Having spent some lucky moments with him in Karachi, Islamabad, Toronto, Lahore and beyond, I am unable to truly describe how many memories are floating through my mind at this time because of him passing away. If truth be told, the situation in Pakistan has never been normal and that’s why he seemed to be always worried about the country. One wonders how many presidents, prime ministers, ministers and opposition leaders had been in his contact. With them, Byram Avari was always vocal about his thoughts and political views. He was open to all of them.

Byram Avari with the author Mahmood Shaam.

When former prime minister Mian Muhammad Nawaz Sharif was in the Opposition, he had promised Avari that when he would became the prime minister, he would come to the Beach Luxury Hotel to have a cup of tea with him. Nawaz Sharif kept his promise and it was a very heart-warming party. During his prime ministership, Nawaz Sharif announced many economic policy changes after consulting with Byram Avari, who was also in regular contact with Makhdoom Muhammad Ameen Faheem. When Malik Meraj Khalid became caretaker prime minister, he also came to meet Byram Avari. Meraj Khalid was also one of the few committed politicians of Pakistan who never gave up on principles. Veteran journalist Mustafa Sadiq, who played a key role in facilitating negotiations between the government and the Opposition, was also among Avari’s close friends.

Though he could not read Urdu, he had a deep respect and reverence for Urdu teachers, writers, novelists and poets. The literati of Karachi and Lahore are well aware of the fact that on most of the occasions the Avari Hotel offered its accommodation, venue and food services free of charge, particularly for book launching events and for the functions organised by social welfare organisations. Though the hotel management was not in favour of that, it was Byram Avari who believed that the business is much more than merely a money-making venture and is an outlet to earn respect and good will. In the days of the global pandemic, the hotel and tourism industries were hit hardest and reduced the salaries of their employees first and then laid off a large number of them. However, Byram suffered the loss, but he did not lay off any of his employees, paid their salaries at home and waited for good times.

He was also a member of the National Assembly from 1988 to 1993 on a special minority seat. The constituency of a minority member is the whole of Pakistan. Although he belonged to the Parsi community, the rest of the non-Muslims, such as Hindus and Sikhs of the Kailash region, were all his responsibility. Representing the non-Muslims of all over the country, he also took care of various temples and gurudwaras, including Nankana Sahib. He approved the schemes of drinking water supply and drainage for the Bahai community of Thatta.

The Parsi community of Karachi has made many contributions to the field of education in particular. As the Chairman of the Karachi Parsi Anjuman, Byram Avari continued his efforts to maintain the standard of schools of the Parsi community. Although he withdrew from Pakistani politics after 2000, he kept his humanitarian activities alive and out of the limelight.

Byram Avari received formal training in swimming and sailing and won the gold medal in the Asian Games. He won the first gold medal in Bangkok in 1978 with a partner and then in New Delhi in 1982 with his wife Gushi Avari. He used to hold diplomatic gatherings in Khurshid Villa, the residence named after his mother. With his death, a long tradition of hospitality, social service and academic patronage has come to an end. Goodbye, Byram D. Avari!