Parsis of Kashmir
Pistonjee, Dhanjiboy, and Patels arrived in Srinagar during Dogra rule
In a face to face television interview with me, she elaborately spoke about the genetic study about Parsis. She said, Parsis are closed to pre-Islamic Iranians, even more than present day Iranians. There are some female genes from Indian sub-continent showing some mixing, but for the most part we have retained the traits of our ancient Iranian forefathers. Upon asking the cause of their shrinking population, she was candid in her reply, “with regular fall in the population inter community marriages are increasing, which in turn catalyzes the shrink. But we are completely happy withour lives, unlike other communities. We have given the host country more than any other people like Dr. Homibaba, Ferozshah Mehta, Zubin Mehta, Tata to name few.
She was curious to know about few Kashmiri Parsis that were living in Srinagar. Dr. Salah-u-Din, heading the Department of Immunology and Molecular Medicine, who was hosting the event, arranged a meeting with a close friend of the Parsi family at hotel Ahdoos, the property that belonged to them once upon a time.
He revealed the family history of Kashmiri parsis as:
Three Parsi families with the names of Pistonjee, Dhanjiboy, and Patels had arrived in Srinagar during Dogra rule, and chose to live on The Bund, Srinagar, near the banks of river Jehlum.
That is the most prestigious addresses in Srinagar city, as historically, the bund Srinagar is the site of first house boats in Kashmir, and a place where the ‘Resident’ (British commissioner), their staff, and missionaries lived. After some time all the three families either constructed the properties or hired few on the state leased land, both for private and commercial use. Mr. Patel was appointed by Hari Singh to serve in the traffic wing of the police department which was nick named as patel police’ by the locals. Mr Patel had two sons and a daughter, Rustom alias Russy, Jahangir alias Jangu. Russi is living in Bombay and Jahagir too is on and off to Bombay.
Dhanjiboy, another Parsi was allotted around 11 kanals of state land on lease under the JK Land Grants Act, by Hari Singh, and allowed him to use the site for commercial purposes namely to run a horse-drawn postal carriage services between Srinagar and Muzaffarabad. Mr Dhanjibhoy constructed a stable for horses, and a small residential hut on the same premises now housing ‘Sadiq Handicrafts, Mehata photographers, ‘Suffering Moses’. Dhanjiboy sold the whole property to Sheikh M. Abdullah (former CM) and Haji Ghulam Mohi-u-Din, a renowned businessman, through an irrevocable power of attorney, in 1967. Dhanjiboy and her two daughters, are presently living in Mumbai.
The third and most influential among the Parsi families in Kashmir was Mr. Pistonjee (Sr.). He was registered state auctioneer who too was allotted a patch of land on lease near by. He also constructed a couple of buildings both for his residence and commercial purposes. One of the properties housed India Assurance Company where two of the Pistonjee family members by the name of Behram Pistonji and Khusroo Pistonjee are working; Khusrroo was the class fellow of Dr. Farooq Abdullah. They have two sisters, Fehmi and Mehar. Khusroo is fond of visiting a famous hair cutting saloon at Sonwar area of Srinagar in his Parsi traditional dress.
Pistonjee (Sr.) rented out the premises to many commercial houses, including bank of Baroda, Subhana Tailors.
2021:White horse history
White horse that stands in the premises of Pistanjee building is brand model of scotch whisky from Edinburgh. It was gifted by the company to its sole distributor Pistonjee (Sr.) in Srinagar and was specially packed and brought from London to Srinagar. Fortunately the present owner has preserved the model in its original form.
There is a funny story about the white horse, says Javeed Makdoomi, former I.G Kashmir.
D. W. Mehra was l.G (Chief of Police). He was residing in a house quite adjacent to the official residence of the then Prime Minister on Moulana Azad road. He had to host a dinner at his residence. All arrangements were made except liquor.
Shortly before evening he asked one of his subordinates (perhaps S.H.O. Kothibagh) to arrange and deliver White Horse whisky at his residence. The subordinate Police officer, who was a competent and well known professional, naively got the white horse picked up from Pestonji’s premises and delivered at the residence of the Chief. By then a few guests had checked in. Whosoever saw the wooden horse incredulously at the lawns could hardly stop laughter. It took them quite some time to be normal again.
The white horse has stood the vagaries of time, and seen many upheavals during all these decades; it stands firmly in its pristine glory and a reminder of few families of Parsis who were living once upon a time in Kashmir; and left of their own choice to Bombay, now Mumbai, for good.
THREE PARSI FAMILIES AND PATEL POLICE IN KASHMIR
DINA NATH PATEL, PATEL POLICE AND TWO PARSI FAMILIES OF KASHMIR
Sometime around 1937, traffic police segment was carved out in J&K Police. It had ten to twelve personnel. The department was headed by a Parsi officer who had ‘Patel ‘ as his surname. The ‘Traffic Police Department ‘was created at the specific intervention of Maharaja Hari Singh and Mr Patel was personally selected by Maharaja. All ten persons working under him were also known as ‘ Patels ‘. Kashmiris even called it ‘ Patel Police ’ and not Traffic Police. There was one Ghulam Hassan who came to be known as Ghulam Hassan ‘Patel ‘. Kashmiris also remember Dina Nath Trackru ‘Patel ‘ who lived at Tankipora locality in Srinagar city. He also served in this Traffic Police wing and became a favourite of his Parsi boss. Dina Nath Patel was the son of well-known lawyer Pandit Chadarjoo Vakil. Dina Nath Patel also served as Traffic Inspector Muzaffarabad ( now in POK) before 1947. He rose to become Commissioner of Police in J&K state. He was honest, disciplinarian and lived like a European. He married a Maharashtrian girl ( second time ) from Pune and died issueless at an age of 88 years in 1987.
The Parsi Patel or head of traffic police in Kashmir had three children, one daughter and two sons. The elder son, Rustom Patel known as Russy, was a cricketer who joined S.P. college as Physical Director. The second son, Jahangir Patel, known as Jangu was also a cricket player. Russi Patel later left the job and moved to Mumbai. Jahangir became a monk and joined Ganesh Puri Ashram of Swami Muktanand at Thane.
The Patels were residing on the upper floor of the building now occupied by Ahdoo’s Hotel in Srinagar. Pestonji family ( another Parsi family residing in Kashmir) also lived close by to Patels. The Patels were possibly related to Pestonji. Behram Pestonji and K.B. Pestonji from this Pestonji family of Srinagar served the New India Assurance company. The Pestonji building had a wooden white horse outside it and it used to be a landmark structure in Srinagar city. This building was gutted in 1992 and the white horse was moved inside a shopping mall that was raised in the area. When Ski club was established at Gulmarg in 1927, Mr B .N.Pestonjee from Srinagar was made its secretary.
Dhanjiboy was another Parsi family that made Kashmir their home .The Dhanjiboy family was allotted 11 Kanals of land by Maharaja Hari Singh on long term lease .The family was allowed to use the land for commercial purposes. This family managed the horse drawn postal carriage services between Srinagar and Muzaffarabad. “Dhanjiboy Ka Ihaata” was a famous place in Amirakadal , Srinagar.
So long so much…
(Avtar Mota )