Each Oct. 12, Homyar Nasirabadwala, the gaunt, white-haired priest of Hong Kong’s Parsi community, pays a visit to the University of Hong Kong to conduct a brief ceremony of thanks on the birthday of its founding benefactor. Standing alone with his head bowed, in a crepuscular corridor next to a broad, stone staircase, he looks up at a bronze bust of Sir Hormusjee Nowrojee Mody, a Parsi who was the principal donor of funds for the university’s establishment in 1911. The priest raises his arms and hangs a garland around the bust, whispering a prayer as he does so.
Today, remnants of Hong Kong’s Parsi connection are everywhere. There’s a Mody Road, Kotewall Road and a Bisney Road. You’ll find a Ruttonjee Hospital in Happy Valley and a gleaming office tower, Parekh House, in the Central business district. A Parsi, Dorabjee Naorjee Mithaiwala, was behind the establishment of the iconic Star Ferry. As well as coughing up the cash for the university, Mody was a benefactor of the Kowloon Cricket Club and its first president. The Parsis also played an instrumental role in the founding of the Hong Kong and Shanghai Banking Corporation in 1864.
However, academics and members of this tight-knit community say that apathy on the part of the Hong Kong public, and within the Parsi community itself, means that a distinctive ethnic and religious community that played a pivotal role in building modern Hong Kong is in danger of fading away.