THE QUEST IS ON TO SAVE THE DYING ZOROASTRIAN TONGUE
Zoroastrians are dwindling, but Russian academic Anton Zykov is making sure their distinctive tongue is not forgotten.
Growing up in Moscow, Anton Zykov was surrounded by “all things Indian.” Jawaharlal Nehru Square, where the statue of India’s first prime minister stands, was just around the corner from his home. His bookshelf was lined with children’s biographies of Indian rulers like Tipu Sultan and Hyder Ali. He learned to speak Hindi in school. With both his parents being doctors, he was quite sure one day he would grow up to be one too — a typically Indian thing, he admits.
While his calling in medicine never arrived, the Indian connection persisted. Today a scholar at the Oriental Studies School of Sorbonne University, Zykov, 31, is documenting the dynamism of Parsi-Gujarati — a language (some consider it a dialect) spoken by Parsis, a Zoroastrian community in India.
One of the world’s oldest religions, the monotheistic Zoroastrianism (named for the Persian prophet Zoroaster) probably influenced the development of Judaism, Christianity and Islam. Zoroastrians migrated to India between the eighth and 10th centuries A.D., fleeing persecution by the Arabs in Iran (then Persia). They found refuge off the coast of Gujarat, a northeastern state in India. While assimilating certain aspects of local culture, including their language with regionally spoken Gujarati, they retained their religious identity.
They flourished into one of the world’s most successful minority groups, with an intense focus on education that helped produce an incredible collection of billionaires and business titans in the Tata, Godrej, Poonawalla, Mistry and Wadia families. The late Queen frontman Freddie Mercury and classical music conductor Zubin Mehta also come from the group. “Parsis can’t become complacent because they don’t have a country of their own,” Houtoxi Contractor, head of the Zoroastrian Association of Pennsylvania, told United Press International.