Good climate, low rents draw Parsis to Pune


Shernavaz Katrak was driving her car in Mumbai in 2004 when an army truck crossed the median and crushed her vehicle. The accident left her with multiple fractures in her arms, legs and hips. And though she could walk soon afterward, climbing the stairs to her fourth-floor flat in Grant Road proved impossible.

“I would sit on a chair and people had to carry me up and down,” she recalls. After two years of suffering this indignity, Katrak, who worked in a bank, sought a transfer to Pune where she could afford to buy a house in Wagholi. “Buying or renting a ground-floor flat in Mumbai was not in my means,” she explains, “I was living in a flat belonging to a Parsi trust so I couldn’t even sell it.”

Today, Katrak has sold her Wagholi home and lives in Jeejeebhoy Building built by the Poona Parsee Punchayat (PPP) in Lullanagar opposite the Tower of Silence. The four buildings in the colony with 232 flats have many residents, who have moved to Pune from various parts of Gujarat and Maharashtra drawn by the city’s pleasant climate, good education and medical facilities, and low cost of accommodation.

“The number of Parsis in Pune has definitely increased due to migration in the last 10-12 years,” says PPP chairman Farokh Irani. “Many have come from Mumbai and places in Gujarat like Bharuch and Ankleshwar.” There is also an ever-fluctuating “floating” population of Parsis, who live in Mumbai but have holiday homes in Pune, adds PPP trustee Polly Patel.

The trustees are careful to explain that they didn’t construct the colony because there were suddenly more people clamouring for houses. The main reason, they say, was to protect the 63-acre property from encroachers.

However, the generous leave and license agreement, which charges poor Parsis with an annual income of less than Rs 2 lakh just Rs 750 a month, has proved attractive for retirees living off savings and pensions.

Accommodation isn’t the only reason why Parsis are moving to Pune. Hoshang Wadia, 65, moved to Pune in 2003 from Umbergaon in Gujarat so his son could go to a good college. And a 76-year-old wine merchant from Nandurbar in Maharashtra wanted to be closer to a hospital after both he and his wife were diagnosed with cancer.

Others like Sarosh Bharucha-Gamir moved here in 2003 from Gujarat’s Bharuch district so they could live amidst other Parsis and regularly visit the fire temple. “I had to sell my home and farmland to come here,” says Bharucha-Gamir. “But it was worth it because in my village, we were the only Parsis and we used to get very lonely.”

There are only 57,264 Parsis left in India and the children of Parsi women, who marry outside the faith, aren’t accepted into the fold. Growing up in a Parsi colony increases the chances that youngsters will marry within the faith, which many consider essential to the community’s survival. Aspy Dadabhoy kept this in mind when he chose the Parsi colony in Pune. “We lived in an adivasi area with no Parsis,” he explains. “So we wouldn’t have been able to find a good match for our children.”

Nergish Sunavala
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