Eminent Parsi botanists

The Marathi Vigyan Parishad has brought out a booklet titled 100 Botanists (in Marathi) listing the achievements of Indian botanists of eminence who have contributed substantially for the advancement of knowledge.

Among these 100, figure six Parsi botanists.

Prof F. R. Bharucha, director, Institute of Science, Bombay and pioneer ecologist of India;

Prof Jamshedji Chenoy, economic botanist and plant physiologist at the Indian Agriculture  Research Institute, Delhi and later at Gujarat University, Ahmedabad;

Dr Ardeshir Damania, currently at the University of California, Davis. His research speciality  is genetic resources;

Prof Rustomji Dastur is best known for his path-breaking research on cotton crops;

Dr Nariman Irani of St Xavier’s College Bombay figures for his noteworthy work on flora;

Dr V. M. Meher-Homji, research director at the French Institute of Scientific Research and honorary dean, School of Ecology, Pondicherry University, for his research on forests and distribution of species.                           


Parsiana – 21-Jul-2018

Khao, Piyo, Maja Karo: Explore the Parsi mantra with Kunal Vijayakar

#MaskaMaarke: There’s a lot more to Irani Parsi food than bun-maska and berry pulao. This is a rich cuisine that retains its delicious Levantine roots.

(HT Illustration: Sudhir Shetty)

Which community in India celebrates three birthdays for each person and four New Years per annum? It’s the Zoroastrian Irani Parsi community. Every Irani Parsi (and I am going to refer to them as such) celebrates ‘Roj nu Birthday’, which is the Zoroastrian calendar birthday; the Irani calendar birthday; and a regular birthday by the Gregorian calendar.

As if celebrating three birthdays each was not enough, they also celebrate four New Years — Jamshedi Navroz, the Shehenshahi New Year, January 1, and the Kadmi New Year, which has just gone by on July 18.

Kadmi is the Iranian New Year. It’s got something to do with the respective calendars and some wrangling over months or dates. But none of that matters to the Irani Parsis, if it means one more reason to celebrate!

Most Irani Parsis migrated to India in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. They came bearing such time-honoured, euphonious and rhapsodic surnames as Shirazi, Khosravi, Faroodi, Kermani, Dehmiris, Yezdani, Kayani and Jafrabadi. Some of these names you may recognise from Mumbai cafés instituted by members of the community. Cafés named romantically after Iranian traditional surnames, like Yazdani and Kayani, some christened out of obsequiousness to the British like George V, Edward VIII and Britannia, and some made to sound exotic and non-Indian like Cafe De La Paix.

These bakeries and boulangeries that once served French style buns with butter, English mutton sandwiches, samosas, chicken puffs, cream puffs, mawa cakes and tea are now few and far between. Some still stand tall, like Sassanian Bakery and Boulangerie, Kyani & Co (who still makes patties and samosas), Yazdani Bakery who are master bakers, and B Merwan & Co who still bake their world famous mawa cakes.

The Khoresh-e Anjeer ,or chicken stew with dried figs, on offer as part of an Irani festival menu cooked up by Perzen Patel and Subhashree Basu.

Today, the most Mumbaiites know of Irani food begins at bun maska-chai and ends with berry pulao. But there is so much more to the cuisine. Irani Parsi food is vastly different from the Parsi food we are familiar with. The cardinal distinction between the two cuisines is that Parsi food, with its spicy Dhansak, Salli Boti and Patra Ni and Saans ni Macchi, blends Persian, Gujarati and British influences, while Irani Parsi food is milder and meatier, with elements such as eggplant, dry fruit, saffron, beans, and lashings of yogurt, that reflect its Mediterranean and Levantine roots.

Iranian food is essentially a repast of bountiful kinds of Kebabs, Kaftehs, Breads, and Oosh or Ash, which are slow-cooked, thick soups. Khoresh-e Fesenjan (the stew of kings) is the national dish.

I often go to Colbeh, an Iranian mom-and-pop joint, whenever I’m in London. On a wet chilly morning in Porchester Place, a hot roti straight out of the tandoor with chelo khoresh fesenjan, a portion of tender melt-in-the-mouth Kabab Koobideh (chargrilled minced lamb kababs) and a bowl of chilled Mast-O-Khair (strained yogurt dip with cucumber and mint) feels like a warmhearted hug.

Unfortunately, none of the Irani cafés in Mumbai does Iranian food; it’s just a lot of Bread and Breakfast. Even the Berry Pulao at Britannia is eventually little more than some version of a Biryani sprinkled with zereshk or sour berries. Café Universal, another Irani-owned eatery, serves two Persian dishes — Ghormeh Sabzi (vegetables, kidney beans and dried Iranian limes with chicken, mutton or veg) and Gheimeh Bademjan (brinjal and mutton kheema in a tomato sauce), and that’s where it ends.

For the recent Kadmi New Year, Patel and Basu’s takeaway enterprise, Greedy Foods, was also making ‘Land & Sea Koofteh’, meatballs stuffed with seafood, cashews and raisins.

But two women have decided to buck the trend. Perzen Patel (half Irani and half Parsi) and Subhashree Basu (not Irani at all) have been experimenting with Iranian food for a couple of years. At their takeaway enterprise, called Greedy Foods, they have produced Irani festival menus quite successfully. In celebration of Kadmi New Year, they’ve introduced a Persian-influenced menu. Mind you, they are far from traditional, but they do bring together the heart and wisdom of Iranian cooking and the taste and bite of change. If I tell you what they’re cooking this season, you’ll hate me for finishing most of it.

Their menu includes Ash-e Reshteh (also known as Osh-e-Meer, a thick and hearty noodle soup with slow-cooked lentils, greens, mutton and spaghetti); Land & Sea Koofteh (lamb meatballs stuffed with tangy seafood, cashews and raisins); Khoresh-e Anjeer (chicken stew with dried figs) and an Irani Berry Pulao (pulao layered with meat, kebabs and zereshk).

So, I spent the Irani New Year with my Irani friends, Boman Irani and his family, with a song on my lips and a prayer in my heart that they celebrate even more New Years and many more Birthdays, with even more food.


Guarding the faith

A bold new initiative to safeguard the community’s 150 or so fire temples all overIndia has been launched by a group of traditionalists, old and new. Called rather unimaginatively the Parsi Zoroastrian Guards of the Holy Fire (PZGHF), the trust lists five objectives including collecting data on all the fire temples, looking to their welfare, ensuring a regular supply of firewood and the services of a part-time mobed on a daily basis.

One would normally dismiss such an effort as a wishful endeavor by well meaning individuals. For, how can a shrinking community sustain the numerous institutions that were created for a population double that of today? The former president of the Delhi Parsi Anjuman (DPA) raised this issue in a letter to the editor (see “Of greater import,” page 6). The Mengusi Dharamshala in the DPA agiary complex resolved the issue of low occupancy by allowing non Parsis to avail of their rooms. The agiary is out of bounds to non-Zoroastrians, though the children of interfaith marriages where one parent is a Parsi are permitted.
These are some ways to preserve Parsi institutions but the PZGHF and like minded bodies are unlikely to follow any of these steps. In fact such thinking would be labeled heresy. The very inclusion of the term “Parsi Zoroastrian” in their nomenclature means these are hard core traditionalists.
Doongerwadi is a prime example of inflexibility. The Bombay Parsi Punchayet (BPP) incurs an annual loss of Rs 4.5 crores (USD 6,56,017) or Rs 66,000 per corpse last year (4,50,00,000/675) yet the trustees refuse funerary prayers in their 11 bunglis (most of which lie idle or are rarely used) to those opting for cremation. The BPP is bound by their trust deed to see to the welfare of the living, yet spends the largest amount of their dwindling, financial resources on the dead. Salaries are delayed, while mobed and third child monthly subsidies remain unpaid for sometimes as much as six months. Some trustees justify their lopsided priorities claiming the trust was created to preserve the dakhmas, everything else being secondary. A cursory reading of Sapur Desai’s book The History of the Bombay Parsi Punchayet, 1860 to 1960 would dispel this misconception. The book has a foreword by then chairman of the BPP B. K. Boman-Behram, a traditionalist, who noted, “Events compelled the Parsi Punchayet to shed its quasi-traditional character and assume that of a social welfare organization of the community.”
Another former chairman of the BPP was asked about the justification for spending so much on Doongerwadi where less than two bodies are consigned a day to the two or three Towers of Silence in use. He replied, “What do you want us to do?” He noted the trust had to safeguard the 55 acres of the Malabar Hill estate. Property as always is the BPP’s prime priority, beneficiaries come second.
To the traditionalists, a non Parsi intruding in their religious sphere is anathema. A former BPP trustee with mobility problems who was accompanied by his non-Parsi assistant onto the verandah of an atash behram found other worshipers loudly objecting to the presence of a parjat, even at the edge of the portico. In another, earlier incident, a traditionalist called for action against the priest at the Godavara Agiary run by the BPP because he permitted a non-Parsi assistant to wait on the open porch (otla) while her elderly mistress prayed within.
Thus emotions run high on these perceived transgressions and should the Guards make an attempt at any reasonable, logical compromise, they would face the full wrath of the orthodox. As it is the traditionalist World Alliance of Parsi Irani Zarthoshtis received flak for defining a Parsi as a child born of a Parsi father (the legally correct definition) instead of both Parsi parents.
The Guards hopefully will have their priorities right. They have at their helm the astute and efficient lawyer Berjis Desai, who retired as the managing partner of one of the country’s largest legal firms and now engages in a busy private practice. Though he describes himself as an “unsuccessful community activist” he has most of the time succeeded brilliantly. He engineered the scheme for Universal Adult Franchise (UAF) over 10 years ago with the support of the then BPP chairman Minoo Shroff and some of his co-trustees and saw the reform through the legal labyrinths. He subsequently derided  UAF alleging decision making was handed over to the masoor pav (lentil and bread) eating Parsis instead of the elite, National Centre for the Performing Arts  going types. His legal skills along with that of another traditionalist lawyer, Zerick Dastur persuaded the Bombay High Court to stay for a short time the construction of the Metro underground rail near the two atash behrams and to realign the tunnels by 3.5 meters.
A former liberal turned conservative and a perceptive and highly skilled writer, Desai has straddled both sides of the divide. He will bring his considerable persuasive skills and networking abilities to the task. With him heading the trust, raising a corpus of five crores will be an achievable goal. But whether they will then be able to deliver the goods is a question mark.
Parsiana asked him why the Guards should succeed when other organizations have failed. His reply, “I am determined. (I’ll) dedicate 30-40% of my time… office recruitment (is) in progress.” Other potential trustees named are Jamshed Sukhadwala, Ervads (Drs) Parvez Bajan and Ramiyar Karanjia, Hosi Dastur, Pervin Mistry and Jehangir Bisney.
But even a Berjis Desai with all his skills and with the likes of blogger and Secunderabad-Hyderabad Anjuman trustee Bisney on the trust, the PZGHF will face invincible foes: diminishing numbers, indifference and an obdurate community. Will fire temple trustees share with others their trust deeds, their financial position, number of worshippers, mobeds and also permit an inspection? How many of them even know the answer to some of these questions? Or even care?
Even if the trustees succeed in keeping the flame burning, preserving the physical structure and obtaining the services of a mobed, the dearth of worshipers will remain. The PZGHF has plans to encourage frequent visits to more fire temples but for the elderly, mobility is an issue. Transport and assistance will have to be provided.
We can only wish the Guards well in their endeavor. Any and every attempt to preserve our heritage is to be encouraged. But by being exclusive instead of inclusive, they have limited their slim chances of success.





Urgent Medical Help Required

Ladies and Gentlemen,  This boy is a Young Practicing Ervad at our Bandra Agiary. He is currently in ICU at Bhatia hospital. The below message is an appeal from his parents.
Any help for the young Ervad is welcome.

Our son Malcolm, aged 20, is in a very critical stage on ventilator at Bhatia Hospital, in an isolated ICU unit. He has been diagnosed with blood cancer. His WBC, PLATELET COUNTS, HEARTBEATS etc have dropped drastically.
Dr has said that approx cost wd be Rs.60000/- per day. The 3 lakhs mediclaim coverage is also exhausted by now. It is my earnest request to please help and donate as much as you can, either in cash or cheque in the name of Darayus Hozdar or by Bank transfer or personally handing over the donations to Ms Pervin Langrana, at D3- Flat No.82, Bharucha Baug, Andheri West (mobile 9819173501)
Bank account dtls :-
Bank of India
BKC Branch
IFSC code :- BKID0000122
Name : Darayus Hozdar
Branch code : 000122
Maharukh and Darayus Hozdar, D2-53, Bharucha Baug Andheri West.


Update : 22 July

Very sad news. Bharucha Baug’s 20 years old Malcolm Hozdar expired today early at 2:30 am. Paidust at 9 am today morning. May his soul RIP in Dadaar Ahura Mazda’s garothman behest. Sincere condolences to family and friends.

Scholarships for Minority Students : 70 lakh applications

The Cabinet Committee on Economic Affairs chaired by Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Wednesday decided to continue of pre-matric, post-matric and merit-cum-means based scholarship schemes for the students belonging to the six notified minority communities, Muslim, Christian, Sikh, Buddhist, Jain and Parsi, who are from the economically weaker sections of the society.

Under this scheme around 70 lakh fresh scholarships at a cost of Rs 5338.32 crore are likely to be disbursed in 2019-20, an official release said.

“These Schemes shall be implemented through the National Scholarship Portal (NSP) (https://scholarships.gov.in/) and scholarships are disbursed through Direct Benefit Transfer (DBT) mode”, the release added.

The scholarship is awarded to students, studying in Government Schools/ Institutes or recognised private schools/ institutes and who have secured not less than 50 percent marks in the previous final examination.

“In addition to the fresh scholarships, renewal of earlier scholarships is for students who have been awarded scholarships in the previous years and fulfill the eligibility criteria”, the release said.

Under pre-matric scholarship, a scheme introduced to encourage parents from minority communities to send their school going children, studying in class 1 to 10, students, whose parents earn less than one laksh annually, will be eligible to this scholarship.

In the year 2019-20, the Union government is targeting 30,00,000 fresh applications under this scheme.

For students, hosteller and day scholars, studying from class six to 10 will get Rs. 500 per annum as admission fees.

Likewise, these students are eligible to get Rs. 4200 yearly as tuition fees.

Students studying in class 1 to 5 will get Rs. 1000 per annum as maintenance allowance and students in class 6 to 10 (hostellers) will get Rs. 6000 and day scholar will get Rs. 1000 per annum.

Under post-matric scholarship scheme, students are eligible to get this benefit whose parents/guardians income should not be more than Rs. two lakh.

In the 2019-20 government is targeting 5 lakh fresh applications under this category.

Both hostellers and day scholars studying in classes 11 and 12 will get Rs 7000 per annum as admission and tuition fees.

For technical and vocational courses of 11 and 12, students will get Rs. 1000 as admission and course/tuition fees.

Students who are doing undergraduate, post graduate, Mphil and PhD will get Rs 3000 per annum as admission and tuition fees.

Students, who are studying in class 11 and 12 including technical and vocation courses at undergraduate and post graduate level, will get Rs.3800 per annum. Students other than doing technical and professional courses at this level will get Rs 5700 per annum.

MPhil, PhD students, who are hostellers will get Rs 12000 and day scholars will get 5500 per annum.

The merit-cum-means scheme, will provide financial assistance to poor and meritorious minority students to pursue professional and technical courses at under graduate and post graduate levels.

This scheme aims students, whose parents’ annual income should not exceed 2.50 laksh and government is targeting to give 60,000 fresh applications in 2019-20.

Under the scheme, full course fees will be reimbursed to the students from 85 institutes listed under the scheme; and for others at Rs. 20,000/- per annum.

Hostellers will get Rs 10,000 and day scholars will get Rs 5000 as maintenance allowance per annum, the release said.


Professor John Hinnells : Obituary

Determined expert on Zoroastrianism who founded degree courses on world religion and zipped across the world on crutches

As a child sick with tuberculosis of the bone, John Hinnells spent the best part of seven years isolated in hospital. When he was as young as six years old he was placed on wards full of adults. Only on Saturdays could his parents visit and John would weep as they left. He made sporadic appearances at school, missing months of teaching. “You’ll never work when you grow up” was a frequent taunt. Yet Hinnells, the son of a Derbyshire miner, possessed grit and resilience. Briefly suspended from school for tripping up his tormentors with his crutches, he left with the equivalent of 3 O’ levels. This proved no obstacle to a glittering future in academe.

Published in The Times London


Once a novice monk, he was drawn east to study the roots of Christianity. Later he became an authority on Zoroastrianism, one of the world’s oldest faiths, which originated in Persia (modern-day Iran). Sometimes obliged by his ailment to lecture from a wheelchair, Hinnells founded four degree courses in world religion at Manchester, Newcastle, the Open University and Soas (the School of Oriental and African Studies). Remarkably he also managed, while using crutches, to zip across the world from Zanzibar to Canada to survey the Zoroastrian diaspora. Staying with modern followers of the Persian prophet Zoroaster, he asked searching questions of their religious beliefs while savouring slow-cooked aromatic curries. He relished Bombay, once missing a flight because an elephant was squatting on the road to the airport. And he found Indians especially kind when they saw his physical difficulties. His frame was contorted, with one leg shorter than the other. Stoically he endured his knees being replaced and many operations on his feet. With a stiff, straight leg secured by pins he was unable to sit down, and could only perch on chair edges. By his thirties doctors suggested to Hinnells that he consider amputation. He always refused, and at a party met an orthopaedic surgeon who suggested that Hinnells should try a hip replacement, an operation then in its infancy, at the Wrightington Hospital, Wigan. “I’d like to do something I haven’t been able to before,” announced Hinnells, after successful surgery. Fearlessly he embraced white-water canoeing with his wife and sons. He had never let physical difficulties get in the way of adventure. Once with a friend he scaled Thorpe Cloud at Dovedale in Derbyshire, encased from chest to toe in plaster. Reaching the summit, he decided that navigating down on crutches was too tricky. So he gleefully slid down on his bottom, burning a hole as he did so in his plaster.

John Russell Hinnells was born in August 1941 in Derby, the only child of William, who after mining worked on the railways, and Lillian (née Jackson), a dinner lady and school cook. At the age of 13, Hinnells won a place at Spondon Park Grammar School in Derby. He taught art after taking a course at Derby and District College of Art. Sensing a call to priesthood, he began training in Cumbria then entered Mirfield Monastery near Leeds. His plans for a life with the Anglican Community of the Resurrection changed the day he met Marianne Bushell, a visitor whose cousin was at the monastery. Smitten, within 24 hours of first meeting they vowed to marry. Marianne (always known as Anne) and Hinnells married in 1965 after he had obtained a degree in theology from King’s College London. She taught literacy to children, and was a calm counterpoint to her husband’s taste for debate. Around the dining table of a home adorned with brass lamps and vibrant Bombay rugs, Hinnells sparked discussion with his sons, Mark and Duncan, on the increasing importance of world faiths because of global migration. How, he asked in a light Derbyshire burr, might religion influence social policy? Hinnells had obtained a lectureship at Newcastle when he was 26 and from 1970 worked at the University of Manchester, where he was made the professor of comparative religion. In 1993 he received the chair of comparative religion at Soas in London and became the founding head of its department for the study of religion. Geographers and sociologists alike were intrigued by Hinnells’s 30-year investigation into the world’s Zoroastrians that was published in 2005. More than 1,800 answered a questionnaire he devised that pinpointed religion as a key marker in the identity of migrants from southeast Asia.

As an adviser on religions to Penguin, Hinnells also edited succinct guide to faiths, including the Penguin Dictionary of World  Religion (1984). Other scholars offered the project felt swamped by its scope. However, by 8am daily Hinnells was in his study rattling out letters on a manual typewriter requesting contributions from the world’s most prestigious religious scholars. He asked Muslims, Sikhs, Hindus, Zoroastrians and Jews to write of their beliefs, at a time when accounts of world faiths were largely penned by western Christians.

At home he relished entertaining ministers of all faiths, including the Parsee High Priest, who was one of his friends and was often spotted in Hinnells’s garden lobbing a cricket ball to his sons. After Marianne’s early death from cancer in 1996 a devastated Hinnells left Soas and took up a visiting fellowship at Clare Hall, Cambridge. Later he invited Alison Houghton, the widowed former librarian of Robinson College, to share his bungalow. She had Alzheimer’s disease and they made a solid team — he was the memory, she was the manpower. Hinnells would remind her to switch off the gas before they left for trips to the Buxton opera festival. She carried the bag he could not pick up. Later Hinnells moved near his older son, Mark, who works for the engineering firm Ricardo. Although he was frequently unwell, his death was unexpected. After falling ill while sharing a meal with Mark, he was diagnosed with septicaemia in hospital. Surgery was planned, but Hinnells asked if he might sample his favourite beverage. “No,” said the doctor. “It’s nil by mouth if we operate.” The next morning he said that Hinnells was not well enough for surgery. Agreeing and aware that this meant death was imminent, Hinnells merely replied: “Can I have that Diet Coke then?” The many letters sent to his sons since his death speak of how often he helped others, whether that was with securing a university place, a book deal or a lectureship. “Dad saw what people were capable off,” recalled his son Duncan, who is a solicitor. Perhaps his own struggles inspired him.

Hinnells’s mother once bumped into her son’s former headmaster. He mentioned hearing that Hinnells had become a university lecturer. Assured that this was untrue, the headteacher replied, “I thought not,” only for Lillian to gently smile. “John,” she replied, “is now a professor.”

John Hinnells, professor of world religion, was born on August 27, 1941, and died on May 3, 2018, aged 76.



Once upon a time

We lived in the

Land of the Free

Where we did

Have the freedom to

Live a life without scrutiny

Without racism


Segregation and Bigotry


No one was inferior or

Superior but equal

On the same playing field

The Peacock did strut

Their beautiful feathers

Whilst beautiful birds

Of hue would sing

In full throated ease

Amidst the various

Delicious fruit trees


Fast forward a

Few hundred years

From where did

This bigoted ideology arose?

That women are denied

Access to our Religion

So for that matter

Any human

I would say

Use your judgement

Stop following blindly


“Pied Pipers of Hameline”


Mahatma Gandhi spent

His entire life fighting for freedom

So that we could breathe fresh air

And live free

Just to name a few

Let’s not forget

Martin Luther king


Last but not

The least

Asho Zarathustra

Who sacrificed

His life with

Blood Sweat tears

Whilst spreading the message

Of Equality Respect Tolerance

For all of humanity


Choicest Happiness



The Women Graduates Union in Mumbai is a part of the International Federation of Graduate Women.

We have the Mumbai Chapter here in Mumbai, of which I am the Vice President.

One of our Projects is to encourage women to educate themselves and thus, empower them.

To this end, we have been awarding scholarships every year, to women studying in all disciplines.

The criteria is financial need and merit.

I have attached below the information regarding this, and request you all to forward this to others, so that maximum number of women can take the benefit of these scholarships.

Thanks and regards,

Dr. Arnavaz M. Havewala

M.D.S. (Bombay)

Fali Chothia Scholarships

The Fali Chothia Charitable Trust is now accepting applications for its 28th annual scholarship awards. Scholarships are open to Zoroastrian students in North America enrolled in four-year or graduate-level programs. Awards are based on financial need, academic achievement, extracurricular activity and community service. They are given as outright gifts or no- and low-interest loans.
The Fali Chothia Charitable Trust was established in 1988 under the Zoroastrian Association of Metropolitan Washington, Inc. (ZAMWI). The Trust provides scholarships to deserving Zoroastrian students enrolled in universities in North America, regardless of their country of origin. Applications may be downloaded from: https://zamwi.org/fcct/