Eminent Parsis – By Manju Gupta
Sugar in Milk: Lives of Eminent Parsis, Bakhtiar K. Dadabhoy, Rupa & Co., pp. 462, Rs. 795.00
This collection of 12 profiles of eminent Parsis of India covers the era from the 19th century to the contemporary times to cover the freedom fighter, industrialist, lawyer, scientist, Field Marshal and even a conductor of western classical music.
The Parsis came to western India from Iran more than 1,000 years ago to escape religious persecution at the hands of Arabs. As per the oral tradition, the local ruler Jadi Rana, concerned at the arrival of strange people, presented the Parsis a bowl of milk filled to the brim, denoting symbolically that he had no place for them. A nice Parsi priest added sugar to the milk, suggesting the adaptive and accommodating nature of the Parsis. Over the years the contributions of the Parsis to the moral, social, intellectual, political and commercial life of India-be it in industry, public life, scientific endeavour or profession can never be ignored.
The book describes the life of Sir Jamsetjee Jejeebhoy, the first Baronet (1783-1859) who was benevolence personified. Born in a ramshackle house in Yatha-ahoo-vanyo Mohalla of Bombay in 1783, he took apprenticeship in selling old empty bottles as his parents died when he was young.
The story of another Parsi, Dadabhai Naoroji, begins with his birth in 1825 and becoming the first Indian to advocate Indian self-rule (swaraj) from a public platform as president of the Indian National Congress. He became the first Asian Member of Parliament to sit in the House of Commons in Britain.
Jamsetji Nusserwanji Tata was an industrial visionary and philanthropist who began his life as a navar, which is the first step of initiation into priesthood.
Sir Pherozeshah Mehta, who came to be known as the ‘Lion of Bombay’, graduated with distinction and did his post-graduation in six months. On special recommendation, he left for England and on return to India started his legal practice. He was a strong nationalist and never tired of declaring that he was an Indian first and a Parsi afterwards.
Madame Bhikhaiji Rustom Cama is considered the high priestess of Indian nationalism; the firebrand nationalist, who worked tirelessly in exile to further the cause of Indian nationalism. She dared to defy an Empire and made history by unfurling India’s first national flag on foreign soil.
Ardeshir Godrej was a pioneer industrialist and inventor. He collected wealth but gave it away to his siblings as he did not believe in keeping what he had not earned. He was stingy but donated a large sum of money to the Tilak Swaraj Fund.
Ardeshir Dorab Shaw Shroff, eminent industrialist, banker and economist was one of the architects of free India’s industrial development. His forthrightness and strong convictions distinguished him from other businessmen and economists.
Jehangir Ratanji Dadabhoy Tata was an aviation pioneer and eminent industrialist. For 52 years, he was the chairman of the House of Tatas and apart from Air India, he launched Tata Chemicals and TELCO (now Tata Motors).
Homi Jehangir Bhabha, architect of India’s nuclear programme, dominated both science and policy in India’s nuclear affairs. Born in a wealthy and highly cultured family, he was an artist, an accomplished piano and violin player apart from being a scientist. He was responsible for setting up the Atomic Commission, Department of Atomic Energy.
Field Marshal S.H.F.J. Manekshaw, the national hero of the 1971 Indo-Pak war, Nani Palkhivala, legal luminary and Zubin Mehta, the maestro with the golden baton have also been discussed.
In a few cases though the biographical details are sketchy, however good to read about a community which has produced such great stalwarts and which is slowly declining in number due to inbreeding.
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