Navroze in Udvada, Where The Sacred Fire Never Goes Out

Can you spot Boman Irani and Ratan Tata?

All pictures by Shantanu Das

About 206km north of Mumbai on the NH8 to Agra is the sleepy town of Udvada on Gujarat’s palm-fringed southwest coast. It is to Zoroastrians what Vatican City is to Catholics. The holiest of holies. Not the town itself as much as the Iranshah Atashbehram which stands monument-like at the heart of Udvada. It is one of the oldest and most important spiritual centres for Zoroastrians in the world. They are a fire-worshipping people. And the Iranshah is a fire temple. It is where the holy fire that was consecrated in 1742 when the Zoroastrians came to India to escape religious persecution in Persia is still burning. I understand that Zoroastrians living in Yezd and Homuz in Iran make pilgrimages to Udvada to pay homage at the Iranshah even today.

I visited Udvada one Navroze out of curiosity. Navroze is the dawn of the spring equinox, when the sun crosses the celestial equator, signifying the passage of winter and onset of summer. It always falls in March. This year the festival is being celebrated today, starting at 3.58 o’clock and 40 seconds. Not just by the Zoroastrians of India, but also those of the faith in Iran, Iraq, Afghanistan, Turkey, Azerbaijan, Turkmenistan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan. Udvada is a four-hour drive from Mumbai, most of it on appalling, bone-jarring roads. Finding a place to stay is easier. The pilgrims can choose from a number of inexpensive dharamshalas in the coastal town. These are all located in the Udvada village that is huddled around the Iranshah.

A lack of money and soul has reduced it to a decrepit pilgrim centre Zoroastrians visit only occasionally. But yet it has a certain charm…

I stayed at a friend’s bungalow on Udvada beach. It is a dirty beach with a dark and forbidding sea on whose waves, I am told, smugglers come riding at night with liquor from the duty free union territory of Daman a few nautical miles away. Udvada, like the rest of Gujarat, is under prohibition. But the Zoroastrians there down their Parsi pegs at night with grateful thanks to the friendly neighbourhood smuggler. If Narendra Modi did not change the prohibition rule when he was Chief Minister of Gujarat for two terms, he won’t do it now as Prime Minister. Visitors who are non-Zoroastrian and who do not enjoy local patronage like I did, can stay at Percy Sidhwa’s Globe Hotel, the Mek Hotel or Ashsisvang Hotel, all of which are simple and friendly.

The weekend I was there, Navroze fell on a Sunday. I explored the entire town the Saturday before in one hour flat. Udvada is in a sorry state of neglect. A lack of money and soul has reduced it to a decrepit pilgrim centre Zoroastrians visit only occasionally. But yet it has a certain charm, with its crumbling old houses. Some have been sold, others pulled down and replaced by modern structures that look incongruous in the old township with their modern, indifferent architecture. It appears nobody wants to stay in Udvada anymore. Except the old and original residents who have nowhere else to go. They are a quaint people whose children left them to go to colleges in cities and jobs abroad. And now their grandchildren come visiting Udvada like the rest of the Zoroastrians do, on an annual pilgrimage.

Click Here for an interesting essay with some exotic pics!

Udwada’s life style on 14th December 2010. Udwda is the holy place of Parsi religion.

Boman Irani in Udvada












“The Rites of Spring”

As I try extending to you the Zoroastrian New Year  Greetings, The Earth is spinning towards the Spring Equinox, the Moment of NOWRUZ, an appropriate time to share with you,  this link to a beautiful multimedia show on YouTube, “The Rites of Spring” created by Niloufar Talebi, that,  I’m sure every Zarathushti  would enjoy.

Though she starts of in Farsi, the explanation in English follows,  60 seconds later.

Have a blessed NOW RUZ.

Rusi Sorabji


Nowruz greetings from FEZANA

People from diverse communities have celebrated NOWRUZ for thousands of years. It is celebrated as a secular holiday in many countries by people of different faiths.
But NOWRUZ has a special significance for Zarathushtis. With its Zarathushti origins, Nowruz is our New Year. I take this opportunity to wish all North American Zarathushtis and Zarathushtis of the world NOWRUZ PIROOZ and NOWRUZ MUBARAK. May Ahura Mazda shower us all with HIS choicest Blessings to follow the path of Righteousness.
The above is the Haft Sheen table laid out in the home of Mantreh Atashband and Sharukh Tarapore in Philadelphia, PA
Hama Zor, Hama Asho Bade!
May we be united in Righteousness!
Homi D. Gandhi
President, FEZANA

How are champions made? Ask the ‘Racing Patels’ of Byculla

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While other Mumbai families took their children for a joy ride to Marine Drive, the Patels took theirs on four-wheel off-roading adventures.

 In Rustom Patel’s apartment, in the old, Art Deco-inspired Parsi neighbourhood in Byculla, hangs a framed picture of him from 2001. Its easy to miss, hanging as it does amidst a jungle of brass – cups, shields, awards, mementoes, citations – he has collected over a lifetime of racing atop two wheels. Over the years, it has colonised all the shelf space in his apartment and is now threatening the cutlery in the kitchen. And this is just the metal he has collected. His brother Zubin and his cousin Kaizad, have a similar need for industrial quantities of Brasso – the brothers Patel have dominated the sport of motocross racing and off-road biking in India, from the late ‘80s to the late 2000s.

The “Patels of Racing” they were called and if you were a young speed junkie gunning the throttle for glory in those times, it was always a little annoying to see a Patel in the line up. It meant that the field was now open only for the two spots below number one. Kaizad, the oldest of the three, is a six time national champion, who won the prestigious Rodial trophy in 1988 against foreign competition, at a time the sport was nascent in India. Zubin, who became a legend in the Indian bike racing world in the 1990s, won a rally championship six years in a row apart from being a national motocross champion in both the years he could compete. The youngest, Rustom, whose career took off in 2000, won the national motocross championship eight times and amassed a trophy count nearing 300 before he retired in the late 2000s.

Kaizad at home with his brass collection

All this mettle in one family was of course no accident. According to family legend, the fetish for winning began with the grandfather – Manocher Jamshedji Patel, whose exploits survive in an old Gujarati newspaper cutting, safely tucked away in the family scrapbook. In the early 1900s, a young Manocher chased the record in endurance Indian club swinging: picture if you will, an old black and white reel of a retro sport involving mustachioed strong men from the early 20th century, swinging a 1.5 kg gada or meel, akhara style, 80 revolutions per minute (competition rule) without break for hours on end. Manocher did it for 73 hours.

The single mindedness required to be a champion has an early lineage in the Patels, but a passion for wheels found high gear in Manocher’s sons, Kersi and Fali. The brothers grew up around vintage cars and like many Parsis, found that the roar of the engine spoke a special language to them. One of their pet projects in the 1970s was fashioning a formula racing-style car using an old Jaguar engine and racing, to a 5-year-old Rustom’s delight, on the runway of Juhu airport. While other families took their children for a joy ride to marine drive, the Patels took theirs on four wheel off-roading adventures. It must’ve been quite a sight in the 1970s for motorists to find that they were being overtaken on the dirt tracks of the Himalayas, in the midst of a rally, by a car full of Parsis with a bunch of kids cheering in the backseat. Here is when the monicker “Patel Racing Family” was born.

The Patel cousins: Kaizad, Yezdi, Neville,Zubin and Rustom (Fali and Kersi's children)
The Patel cousins: Kaizad, Yezdi, Neville,Zubin and Rustom (Fali and Kersi’s children)

Blood sport

But a chronology and a history do not cut to the essence of this family. When the Patels say “Racing is in our blood,” they speak of more than just a long familiarity with wheels. To understand them, one must go back to that framed picture in Rustom’s living room, lost among all those trophies, in which a 22-year-old Rustom is on his knees, his hands clenched, looking skyward in thanks.

Kunzum La, the mountain pass connecting the Kullu and Lahaul valley on the eastern Kunzum range in the Himalayas, is among the highest motor-able passes in the world at 4.5 kilometers above sea level. Raid de Himalaya, India’s toughest motorsport event where bikes and cars race a marathon across the Himalayas, is in its second edition. Zubin was on his 150 cc, 5 speed Suzuki Shaolin which could reach speeds of 160 kmph. He was there against better advice: he had a National Championship race coming up in Bangalore in just a few weeks, and given the little time, doing a marathon event in the tough conditions of the Himalayas was foolhardy, or at least that’s what his coach said. Zubin was 27 and the hottest thing on wheels. He’d won everything in India and was on course to win another national championship.

Rustom, Kersi and Zubin with their racing bike, retro-fitted at the family garage.
Rustom, Kersi and Zubin with their racing bike, retro-fitted at the family garage.

On the second day of the race on Kunzum La, riding without a pesky oxygen mask, Zubin’s Shaolin flies off the edge of the world. No one knows what could have caused a seasoned rider to go off the edge but the most likely theory is a blackout caused by paucity of oxygen on a fast moving bike, eating up altitude. The bike was never found, but Zubin was – after 8 hours of searching, the race halted and night approaching. Zubin was found cradled in a tree, unconscious without a scratch on his body.

On receiving the news, Kersi and Rustom fly out of Mumbai and rushed to Apollo Hospital in New Delhi, where where Zubin lay in the ICU, following an airlift operation by the army. Father and brother were informed by the doctors that Zubin was, for all purposes, dead. He had three blood clots in his brain and was in a coma he was unlikely to emerge from.

But Zubin is also part man, part metal. He’s got metal in his ankle and knee. He’s got a metal plate in his left elbow and jaw. His right forearm he has broken three times before and so is now basically a rod. His collarbones survived three fractures and somewhere in one of the sockets in his body is a metal ball. He is strong, he is fit and he can’t be broken – or so his family hoped.

Back in Byculla, the Patels organised an intervention with the Gods. A havan was arranged in the club house. Prayers by a whole community over fire, for the sparing of a single life. In this case, Kersi’s chokra who used to win everything in the colony’s annual sports day.

Rustom, meanwhile, who was dealing with the possible loss of a brother he idiolises was informed by his father that not only will he be racing in the national championships in three weeks time but “win it for Zubin or don’t enter the home.”

The national motocross championship that season was fought over six rounds. The first five had been completed before Zubin’s fall, and he was leading the points table, in all the categories that he was racing in, clearly on his way to a title. But in an added excitement for the Patels that year, Zubin wasn’t the only Patel in the race. Rustom was racing too. The brothers were sharing the same pit for TVS’ professional motoracing team. And Rustom was tied for the second place. With Zubin, unable to compete, it was now up to Rustom.

Rustom had just begun coming out of his brother’s shadow recently and he had the actor Amisha Patel to thank for it. A year or so earlier, Rustom was a nobody in the sport, known only as Zubin’s brother. At a big 15 laps Grand Prix race, in the B J Medical Ground in Pune, he found himself shaking hands with the chief guest Amisha Patel, along with all the other riders, before the start of the main race. “She said, you are a Patel? So I said, I am Rustom Patel, you are Amisha Patel. I will win this race for you,” recalls Rustom. “Arrey, I got fully charged after shaking her hand ya,” he said, laughing at the memory. Rustom, a complete outsider, riding an older bike, against pros, led the race from start to finish and became a Patel in how own right.

Now, with his brother fighting for his life and his fathers words ringing in his ear, Rustom had to win to keep the Patel name flying again – he did, and that picture of him kneeling, is from the moment he realised what he had done.

On the 21st day of his coma, Zubin blinked his eyes, refusing to recognise anybody. His memory had gone. The Patels brought him back to Mumbai and on his doctors’ advice began to jog Zubin’s memory with objects, stories and childhood friends herded in from the colony. Zubin’s memory began to return, but very slowly.

Until one day in the middle of 2001. Zubin had begun insisting that he be allowed to get back on a bike for sometime, until finally, presented with an ultimatum, his family relented. Taking the keys to the Honda Activa, Zubin said he’d be going to the family garage, less than 2 km away. He hadn’t been out of the house much since his return from the hospital – would he remember the way, when he had lost so much of his memory in the accident? Rustom and Kersi each got on a bike, Kersi following Zubin at a discreet distance. At the garage in Mazgaon, amidst the grease, the gears and the sprockets, to the sounds of engines being tuned and mechanics welcoming him back, Zubin’s memory returned. The Patels love a good laugh, but when they say racing is in their blood, take them seriously.

Kersi with wife during a Parsi dress competition standing next to their vintage Morris.
Kersi with wife during a Parsi dress competition standing next to their vintage Morris.

Parsi Food for Navroz

On the eve of Navroze, Meher Mirza cherry picks her way through a bunch of caterers who specialise in Parsi food

Jamshed Navroz, a holy day for Zoroastrians will be observed on March 21. It’s the perfect time to throw a party to celebrate for your Parsi friends. And although there’s something wonderful about pottering about in the kitchen, clanging pots and pans, creating a feast of food for friends, sometimes, you just can’t. Luckily, there’s an army of caterers at your disposal, chopping and churning in their kitchens to bring you a wealth of delicious dishes. Here, though, I’ve listed a few home caterers of Parsi food, caterers that my family and friends have often ordered from. (This is, by no means, an exhaustive list; there are plenty of other excellent purveyors of Parsi food such as Godiwala’s, Katy’s Kitchen and Bawi Bride).

Flavoursome menu – Aban Pardiwala

Well-known for making the plump, salty, whey-submerged, topli na paneer. “Parsi paneer has really caught on with the non-Parsi population,” she smiles. Along with the paneer, she also offers a comprehensive Parsi party food menu with the usual Parsi party staples — think sali boti, chicken farcha, lagan nu fish saas, kid gosh and the wintry Parsi dish, kharias (trotters). “I love Parsi food because it is flavoursome. Italian food, with a drizzle of this and a drizzle of that, I don’t like at all. I am quite a Bbawaji that way,” she laughs.

Pardiwala offers a few Continental dishes (such as aspic jelly salad and pork chops in orange sauce), chocolates, pickles, and sweets (ravo, caramel custard, cheesecakes). But it’s her ready masala packets that are flourishing. “I started making curry masalas when my elder daughter was studying in the U.K. I make three types of curry — green curry, Goan red curry and brown Parsi curry — and I make a vindaloo, dhansak paste and green chutney. You only have to thaw them and add coconut milk.” She never advertises because, “I don’t want to bite off more than I can chew, because I am the only one cooking with my Rosie, who has been with me since my birth. She is now 79,” she says. All the cooking can be exhausting, but there are rewards. “The best thing about my job is getting a compliment from my client,” she says. “Someone recently called and told me, you are better than Godiwala!”

Call: 9322277950

Gher nu bhonuZareer Lalkaka

“Parsi food is my absolute passion,” says Zareer Lalkaka. “I love it, although I also do the odd Western thing like a quiche or mousse, what Parsis call Western party food. The accent for me is on tasty food. I believe that in most parties, many people are very happy to settle down to a sali marghi, rather than a very fancy chicken creation. Basic good food is where I fit in. Good gher nu bhonu. People order homey dishes like bhida ma gos from me.” That is, aside from the oft-ordered dhansak and patra ni macchi. “Somehow, those two dishes are extremely popular among the non-Parsis”. His sali boti, sali marghi and farcha are also much sought-after. His quiches are also extremely popular; he makes onion, spinach, mushroom and bacon. When winter comes round, Lalkaka adds kharia to the menu.

Call: 9820123543

Sweet toothHavovi Shroff

On her menu, Havovi Shroff juggles what are popularly known as Continental dishes (quiches, lasagne, chops, risotto, roast meats), cakes and desserts. She also offers all the usual Parsi favourites like dhansak, patra ni macchi, sali boti and lagan nu custard along with less popular prawn patia and vegetable stew. “Parsi food is so much easier to make than dessert,” says Shroff. “Very popular is my sali boti, sali marghi and my lagan nu custard.”

Shroff strongly recommends ordering her desserts, “I have a pretty extensive menu; I keep chopping and changing it all the time, and going with the tide, what is popular at the moment. I do a lot of seasonal stuff like strawberries in winter. I soak the fruit for Christmas from May, so my clients know that they have to book in advance.” But perhaps the best recommendation for her sweet dishes comes from fellow caterer, Zareer Lalkaka. “Havovi Shroff makes the best Parsi custard ever,” he says.

Call: 9820945024

Pickled goodnessZinobia Schroff

As a young girl growing up in Nagpur, Zinobia Schroff would earn all her pocket money by making squashes and jams for her neighbours and friends. “After all, Nagpur is the place for oranges,” she says. Today, they are a part of her culinary repertoire, one that is now bolstered by a plethora of Parsi dishes such as bheja fry, chicken cutlet, patra ni macchi and akuri na pattice, her bestselling beri pulao and pickles. Schroff’s pickles include the Parsi favourites:. doodhi murabbas, lagan nu achar, garab nu (roe) achar, prawn pickle, bombil pickle and mango mathia. “The USP for my pickles is that there are no preservatives,” she says. “Our grandmothers and mothers used to prepare them without any preservatives, so why do we need to put any?”

Call: 9869914472

Culinary goddessShirin Adenwalla

Shirin Adenwalla was 18 when she first began putting spoon to bowl. “Of course, it was just a hobby at the time,” but a hobby that, 33 years later, has bloomed into a thriving business. On Adenwalla’s menu is an impressive array of dishes, including several Parsi dishes (like veg stew, Parsi pulao, sali kheema, tomato fish with raisins and frilly lamb chops). “My business began with cakes, desserts and salads and now it handles full catering for up to 80 to 100 people. Our USP though, is catering for about 30 to 40 people. But then again, we even do one dish, like a cake. Mine is a very small and boutique business.”

Call: 9820058792

Dabbas and more – Nargish Lala

Nargish Lala and her brother run a small business supplying daily dabbas to senior citizens. “We keep our prices low to help the elderly people that we provide food for,” says Lala, who has been cooking for 15 years. While the bulwark of their menu is Parsi food, they also include a smattering of Chinese and other cuisines.

Lala’s excellent Parsi pickles have received plenty of good press. Less known is her party catering. “We can handle party orders for up to 40 to 50 people,” she says. “Our most popular dishes are dhansak, pulao dar and jardaloo sali boti. Even the chutney for patra ni macchi! It is surprisingly popular and people just want to purchase it plain!”

Call: 9819002500

Paneer specialistGool Postwala

For Gool Postwala, making paneers is just a small hobby. “I started making topli na paneer in 2013, because it is not too much of a hassle,” she admits. Like Pardiwala, Postwala’s paneers are also pure vegetarian and she needs the order to be placed a day or two in advance.

Call: 23628656

Ghau nu Doodh

Cool nutmeg infused gelatinous diamonds covered with droplets of condensation. This is the evocative image conjured when hearing the words ghau nu dhoodh, in my mind. Traditionally served up as breakfast, it is an essential ingredient in an old school rural Parsi diet centered on wellbeing. Ghau nu doodh, also known as dry cream of wheat, is an extract of wheat germ (Triticum vulgare L.). The extract contains lipids, proteins and the sugars of wheat. Studies have shown that its benefits aid in skin and hair conditioning, cell regeneration activity, antioxidant and anti-inflammatory activity.

Ghau nu DhoodhEvery so often, a large bag of a soft, lumpy white handmade powder would arrive from my grandmother’s ancestral home in Navsari, Gujarat. Generations of her family have been eating ghau nu doodh in multiple forms of preparation primarily for internal strength during the winter months. It has also been passed down as a regenerative food (back strengthening) for young mothers after having undergone the rigours of childbirth. The traditional steps in making ghau nu doodh require the grains of wheat to be soaked in water for two days. The water-sodden grains are ground and hung in a muslin cloth until all the milk from the wheat is collected. The extract dries into hard rocks that are pounded and powdered ready to use.

In its simplest and purest protein-rich form, it can be eaten as a delicate jelly. It is, however, also used in more complicated Parsi preparations such as ‘vasanu’ (an amazing power bar of 50 odd ingredients). Mithais, such as ice halwa, are also made with ghau nu doodh.

You won’t necessarily find ghau nu doodh in your neighborhood supermarket. You might have better luck finding it in a local ingredient ‘Kirana’ store, or in homes still specializing in these ancient recipes. But you must give it a try! It is an undiscovered bone and muscle building power food.

Ghau nu Dhoodh – Nutmeg and Chilgoza Jelly

The beauty of this preparation lies in its delicate flavour with the consciousness of eating something incredibly good for you.


  • 2 tablespoons of ghau nu doodh
  • half a teaspoon of freshly grated nutmeg
  • sprinkling of chilgoza (pine nuts)
  • 2 teaspoons of sugar (moderate to your liking)
  • 1.5 cups water


  1. Add a cup of water to the ghau nu dhood.
  2. Stir, stir, stir.
  3. Let it rest for 5 mins.
  4. The impurities will rise to the top while the powder settles to the bottom. Discard the top half.
  5. Add 1.5 cups of water to the rinsed power and heat on a medium flame, stirring constantly.
  6. Add the sugar and nutmeg.
  7. Keep stirring till the mixture thickens.
  8. Once thickened, pour into a shallow tray.
  9. Sprinkle with chingoza and let it set in the fridge for an hour.
  10. Serve cool.

Bear in mind that it has a very delicate flavour, which can be enhanced with other ingredients such as a splash of rose water. A personal favorite is ghau nu dhoodh set with fresh blueberries.


Festival of Navrozes
Will come & go

Festival of Navrozes will

Forever flow


“A Mistake

Which makes you


Is much better than

An Achievement

That makes you



What a difference

A year makes

Though nothing

Much has changed

War Violence Rape, Murders

Eternally continue



“Live in Peace

Not in pieces”


“It’s not what you gather

But what you scatter”


“Life is a trip

The only problem is

That if doesn’t come with a map

We have to search our own routes

To reach our destination”


“Let your Faith be bigger

Than your Fear”


“Having God in your Boat

Doesn’t mean that you will

Not face any storm.

But it means that no storm

Can sink your boat!

Walk in Faith & you

Will never walk alone!
Smile is the best credit card

Because it is accepted world wide

Auto Reloaded,unlimited usage

No payment

It Keeps everyone Happy

So Keep smiling


Choicest Happiness



Jan 9th 2017



Sam Balsara on Daughters

I always encouraged my daughters to achieve something significant: Sam Balsara, Madison World

I always encouraged my daughters to achieve something significant: Sam Balsara, Madison World

Sam Balsara, Chairman & Managing Director of Madison World, is one of the most influential persons in the Media & Advertising world. He is also a loving dad to his two daughters, Lara and Tanya. Lara Balsara Vajifdar works with him as Executive Director at Madison World. Here, Balsara and Lara tell us how they drive each other to be the best version of themselves.  

Creating a legacy

The proud father tells us about how he wanted his daughter to find her own path to success. “Ours is a culture that celebrates achievement. People respect you for what you do. Looking back, I always encouraged my daughters to have fun and enjoy their lives, while also urging them to achieve something significant. I am delighted to have Lara join me at the workplace.  She helps me take important decisions in a very cool, distant manner without getting too emotionally involved. I learn from her every day,” he says, adding that she challenges the common stereotype that women are less rational and more emotional at the workplace.

Lara tells us how her early years at Madison set a strong foundation for her future. “More than 12 years ago, when I started working at Madison, I received no special privileges and had to work my way up from an executive level. My father’s philosophy, integrity and the way he conducts himself have really inspired me and helped me make tough decisions as I took on bigger roles.”

Why daughters are special

Balsara tells us he never felt disappointed at not having a son. “I was delighted to have two daughters, and now I have a little grand-daughter too! I am not sure why we, as a country, focus on having male children but I am confident that this attitude will change eventually. In fact, I never treated my children differently just because they were girls. I gave them the space and encouragement they needed to grow, and I would have done the same if they were sons.”

Nayi Soch

Lara is specific that being a woman is no impediment to success. “It is advantageous being a woman in the Advertising & Media world. This industry is full of successful and talented women. I take it for granted that I am an equal in this organisation, in the industry and even at home,” she says.

Balsara adds, “While our family has never believed in gender typecasting, there is a need to gently nudge the vast majority of the country towards gender equality. Parents need to recognise that their daughters can do as much as their sons, if not more. The Nayi Soch campaign is an excellent step in that direction.”

Sam Balsara and Lara Balsara Vajifdar on Star Plus’ Nayi Soch