Mafatlal brothers at war: Atulya was not aware of Ajay's death

Even in death, Atulya Mafatlal didn’t know of estranged sibling Ajay’s Saturday demise until this paper took the news to him via a close aide

So estranged were their ties, that when his 58-year-old brother Ajay Mafatlal took his last breath on Saturday morning at the surgical intensive care unit of Breach Candy Hospital, brother Atulya wasn’t aware or informed. In fact, it was a call made to a close aide by sunday mid-day that took the news to Atulya, 55, at 5.30 pm.


Illustration/Uday Mohite

By that time, Ajay’s last rites had been wrapped up at Walkeshwar’s Banganga crematorium. The aide, telling this paper of his conversation with Atulya, said, “I phoned Atulya to inquire if he had heard about Ajay’s demise, to which he responded in shock, saying, ‘What are you telling me! I am not at all aware, nobody informed me.

Sheetal had filed a case of domestic violence and mental harassment against Ajay Mafatlal (left) and his sister Gayatri Jhaveri (right)
Sheetal had filed a case of domestic violence and mental harassment against Ajay Mafatlal (left) and his sister Gayatri Jhaveri (right)

I knew that he was critical and admitted to Breach Candy a fortnight ago, but nobody told me of his death. His body wasn’t brought home’.” The estrangement between the siblings was the result of a decade-long tussle that had split the industrialist family down the middle.

Barely 40 relatives and friends made it to Ajay Mafatlal’s funeral at Banganga on Saturday afternoon. Pic/Tushar Satam
Barely 40 relatives and friends made it to Ajay Mafatlal’s funeral at Banganga on Saturday afternoon. Pic/Tushar Satam

After their father and promoter of Sungrace-Mafatlal group, Yogindra Mafatlal passed away in 2005, Ajay (born Aparna) went through a divorce and later underwent a sex-change operation to return as the eldest son to the family’s 10,000 sq ft wing housed in the Mafatlal Bungalow at Altamount Road.

Madhuri and Yogindra Mafatlal in a file photo
Madhuri and Yogindra Mafatlal in a file photo

Things soured between their mother Madhuri and Atulya and his second wife, Sheetal. He divorced his first wife Payal in 1997, and has a son and daughter from her. The bungalow was bought by Yogindra’s father Navinchandra, and uncle Bhagubhai. Navinchandra’s will stated that Yogindra would get 10,000 sq ft of it.

Sheetal Mafatlal, Atulya second’s wife, married him in 2000
Sheetal Mafatlal, Atulya second’s wife, married him in 2000

The rift, unfolding over the years in police stations and courtrooms, was largely on account of control over family heirlooms. That the empire had been declining since Yogindra split from his brothers in the ’70s, and took a further hit during the textile recession, was made worse when Atulya took over the reigns and couldn’t hold off exasperated lenders.

In October 2005, Madhuri filed a suit in the Bombay High Court accusing the couple of harassment and intimidation, fearing that she and Ajay would be expelled from their home.

A quiet, quick funeral
Close family friend and legal advisor to Ajay, advocate Bhavesh Parmar says that Ajay, the third child of Yogindra was admitted to Cumbala Hill Hospital and Heart Institute a fortnight ago, after he complained of uneasiness and chest pain.

“His condition worsened and he was shifted to the surgical intensive care unit of Breach Candy Hospital. For the last five days, he had been unconscious and could barely communicate,” says Parmar, who represented Ajay in numerous court cases concerning the family.

While Dr KP Balsara, gastrointestinal surgeon at Breach Candy Hospital, who was reportedly treating Ajay, was unavailable for comment, sources say he had developed an infection which lead to multiple organ failure.

His funeral — the body was brought in at 3 pm and last rites were completed in 45 minutes — was attended by no more than 40 people. While no one from the immediate family was ready to speak to the press, one of those who had come to offer their condolences said that two of his sisters — Gayatri and Malvika — were present.

Gayatri, who is married to Nanavati Hospital trustee Priyam Jhaveri, and Malvika Taktawala also have a troubled relationship with Atulya. It is believed that Gayatri and Malvika had been apparently supporting Ajay, even meeting his day-to-day expenses. The sisters were with him till the end.

A page-3 dispute
Following Yogindra’s death in 2005, Madhuri got embroiled in a bitter dispute over property with Atulya and Sheetal, following which the family decided to live in two separate wings of the bungalow.

According to Yogindra’s will dated December 16, 2004, where he appointed his son Ajay, daughter Gayatri and chartered accountant NY Iyer as executors, all his properties were bequeathed to his wife Madhuri. But the famed family fortunes weren’t many.

Even the 10,000 sq ft apartment saw his family live as tenants. The last property that the family owned (bungalow) was at Shahibaug, Ahmedabad, which was sold in 2003. Madhuri passed away in 2013. It’s however, the paintings that adorned the bungalow that continue to be at the centre of the most public of the city’s family feuds.

In fact, close family aides remember the late Madhuri telling her lawyer, “Had my husband (Yogindra) been alive today, the family dispute would not have become public and the talk of the city.”

In 2011, Atulya’s daughter from his first marriage, Marushka, filed an FIR against his estranged wife Sheetal at Gamdevi police station, accusing her of stealing paintings by masters MF Husain, SH Raza and Manjit Bawa, valued at crores and belonging to the Mafatlal Group.

When a month went by, without the police taking any action against Sheetal, Ajay moved the High Court seeking action against the police officers. In a saga that is still being heard across various city courts, Sheetal initially claimed that the paintings were hers.

She also alleged dowry harassment against Ajay and Madhuri prompting them to apply for anticipatory bail. She made allegations against three other acquaintances, accusing them of replacing her original paintings with fakes. The originals were eventually found in January 2014 at a Princess Street office, owned by one of Sheetal’s firms.

The relationship between Ajay and Atulya, which was tenuous at best, worsened when in the midst of multiple complaints, Atulya tendered an unconditional apology to the police blaming his mother, brother and sister for instigating him against Sheetal. As part of the consent terms, Sheetal got to keep the paintings.

However, the relationship between Sheetal and Atulya soured. In 2011, she accused Atulya of beating her and demanding dowry from her parents, Rajni and Manohar Bhagat. But, Ajay was keen to see that justice was done to him and his mother, says Parmar.

Even in his last conversation with Ajay, legal matters were seemed on his mind. “This is one grudge which he carried in his heart for the longest time, and it’s probably what took him to the other world”. When asked if Ajay had left a will, Parmar replied in the affirmative, saying, “Details will be shared at an appropriate time.”

- With Inputs from Vinod Kumar Menon and Varun Singh

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