Category Archives: Books

How the name of a Gujarati language printer and publisher who died in the plague lives on in Mumbai

Jehangir B Karani’s business rose, fell and then rose again posthumously.

Jehangir B Karani (1850–1897)

Descending the broad steps of the Town Hall of Mumbai after spending a few hours at the Asiatic Society of Mumbai has always felt like walking on history. The layout of the roads branching from the grand circle laid out in front of the building is exactly the same as it was in 1860, when the vast open space called the Bombay Green was truncated into the Elphinstone Circle, later the Horniman Circle. Many of the buildings also date from the same period, while a few are older. The roads and buildings might have new names, but the old ones linger on.

As I walk past the Mint, built in the 1820s, turn on to Pherozeshah Mehta Road, and head towards Dadabhai Naoroji Road, I am transported to an almost mythical Parsi Land. Both these political heavyweights have been dead for over a hundred years, but their presence still looms large in the city. On my right is Modi Street, a name which can be traced to the last decades of the seventeenth century, when the Mody or Moody family were ship-chandlers to the East India Company.

Further up is Bazaar Gate Street, now Perin Nariman Street, which leads to one of the main exits of the erstwhile Fort of Bombay whose ramparts were demolished in the early 1860s. To the right is a structure, part-clock tower, part-water fountain, erected in 1880 in memory of the businessman Bomanjee Hormusjee Wadia.

Topped by a flame eternally burning in stone, guarded by lamassu – larger than life sculptures that are part-animal, part-bird, with a heavily bearded human face – and adorned with cuneiform inscriptions of the Zoroastrian credo, it was the first attempt to leave a Parsi architectural imprint on the city. On my left is Homji Street, “an old street, named after Behramji Homji (died about 1750), a rich Parsi Merchant,” according to Samuel T Sheppard in his Bombay Place-Names and Street-Names (1917).

Right ahead is a major intersection where the road meets Parsee Bazaar Street. As its very name suggests, it was a market in which most of the shops and establishments were run by Parsis. In the 1890s, the neighbourhood was populated by printing presses, bookshops and newspaper offices, many of them owned and run by Parsis, such as the Frasho-gard Printing Press and the Fort Printing Press.

Most of these names have long disappeared but there is one that is still around: the ground-floor shop at Behramji Mansion bearing the name Jehangir B Karani’s Sons. A prominent printer and publisher of Gujarati books in the nineteenth century, Karani was struck down by the plague in 1897. How has his name survived for over 120 years?

The present shop at Pherozeshah Mehta Road | Image credit: Ganesh Raghuveer

A Bombay childhood

Jehangir Bezonjee Karani grew up in a city which was rapidly transforming itself into a metropolis of the British empire. After experiencing an unprecedented boom in the first half of the 1860s, which swelled its population to over eight lakhs in 1864, the city’s economy collapsed in 1866 but was on the path to recovery by the early seventies when Karani entered business. Karani’s childhood, representative of that of most lower class Parsi men in the mid-nineteenth century, is best described in his own words, which appeared in the introduction to Jehangir Karaniwali Navi Arabian Nights.

“I was born in 1850. My father was a respectable merchant and my mother was a sweet-mannered, innocent soul with a measure of intelligence. As the youngest son of my parents, I was showered with love but in no way was I ever pampered. As was usual in those days, my early education was in a local school run by a mehtaji…In spite of being quite a mischievous boy, I managed to reach the fifth grade under the guidance of a mehtaji named Baldevram.

With some luck, I was able to join the Seth Rustomjee Jamsetjee School at Dhobi Talao with a scholarship. I started learning English in the class of Hormusjee Master. Though he was good in every other way, this Hormusjee Master had a great fault. Once he worked himself up into a mood, he would administer beatings on any student in his line of sight. It did not matter whether you had done your lessons or not; if his jaundiced gaze fell upon you, there was no escape, no argument! Having survived this onslaught for about six months, I was promoted to the class of Dadabhai Dorabjee Master. Under his excellent tutelage, I was able to acquire a little knowledge of English and was generally ranked either first or second in the class.

Around this time, I had to pitch in quite often at my father’s shop. The business was not doing too well at that time and as my presence seemed to be rather useful, I used to take leave from school. My father was toying with the idea of making this arrangement permanent but my mother had other ideas. She was keen that I study further and disapproved of this proposal. However, my father’s resolve was getting stronger by the day, and after the summer vacation in 1868, he never sent me back to school. When he began to take me with him every day to his shop on Parsee Bazaar Street, my distraught mother tried to dissuade him…My dear mother’s protests were swept aside by my father who soon transferred the entire responsibility of the business to me.”

Within two years, Jehangir Karani bought out his father’s stake in the shop at Parsee Bazaar Street and started a small bookshop in 1870. There were perhaps two other independent bookshops in Mumbai for locally published books in Gujarati and Marathi at that time.

Karani initially catered to the school market and stocked a wide range of textbooks and exercise books. He quickly built a reputation such that his name became shorthand for a bookshop among school-going children. Soon enough, author-publishers began to stock their books in his shop. By the mid-1870s, Karani began to enter into pre-publication deals with them and his name began to appear on the title pages as sole bookseller of the book.

Within a few years, Karani had acquired the appellation of “Book-Seller”. If this had happened a few decades earlier, it might well have become the family surname like numerous other trade-based Parsi surnames.

Becoming a publisher

Even in the 1870s, when printing had been established in Mumbai for nearly a century, there was little or no specialisation in the literary food chain. More often than not, the printer doubled up as the bookseller, while the author or creator was the publisher who underwrote the expenses. Sometimes, all these roles were subsumed in one person. Furdoonjee Murzbanjee, the pioneer of Gujarati printing and publishing, whose literary career spanned over three decades until his death in 1847, was also the creator of most of his imprints as author, translator or editor. Furdoonjee printed, published, and sold his own books.

Most authors, however, had to publish their own books and pay printers to get them printed. Alternatively, the author could extend an advance to the printer and in return would get an agreed number of copies, while the rest of the print run could be sold by the printer on his own account.

The three biggest printing presses in Mumbai which focused on Gujarati – the Bombay Samachar Press, the Jame Jamshed Press, and Duftur Ashkara Chhapakhana – were all owned by Parsis and had been in existence for several decades. Their mainstay was a portfolio of magazines and eponymous newspapers. Though they had been publishing books, mainly related to the Zoroastrian religion, on their own account, most of the books printed at these presses were commissioned print jobs.

It was only in the 1870s that the role of the publisher began to evolve in Mumbai when the city experienced a fresh phase of growth. Besides the construction of public buildings, private investment in real estate and industrial infrastructure provided an impetus to all sectors. The increase in the city population from 644,000 in 1872 to 773,000 in 1881 was ascribed by the Bombay City Gazetteer (1909) “to the general progress of trade, particularly of cotton spinning and weaving industry, the extension of railway communication, and the advance of urban administration.” The increasing demand for books in a variety of genres created conditions where publishing could become a profitable business.

For Jehangir Karani, it was just one more step from being a sole seller of books to becoming a publisher. There was a thriving market for guides and tutorials and Karani first began publishing these books which had an assured market among students. Perhaps the first popular book that Karani published on his own account was Hindustani Gayan Sangraha in 1879catering to an insatiable demand for Urdu poetry among the Parsis.

Jehangir Karaniwali Navi Arabian Nights (published 1897)

This was followed by many others in the coming years on topics as varied as the constitution of England, Indian classical music, folk tales and popular stories, medicine, history, astrology, and Zoroastrian religious texts. Many of these books sported titles which emphasised his personal brand; for example, Karaniwalo Ragastan (1882) was a collection of ghazals, lavanis and other musical pieces.

Karani also began to build up a portfolio of periodicals as part of his publishing business. In 1880, he acquired the Gujarati monthly magazine Dnyan Wardhak, which had been in existence from 1873 and was already popular for its articles on drama, history, literature and practical skills. In January 1882, Karani started a weekly newspaper titled the Mumbai Punch, which was intended to provide a humorous take on the week’s events with cartoons and satirical pieces. It, however did not last more than a year.

In 1888, he acquired the Pakhwadiyani Majah, a fortnightly magazine in the same genre. Occasionally, his longer books, like Gujarati translations of classical tales like Don Quixote and Arabian Nights, would first be issued in monthly segments before being published as a book.

A publishing conglomerate

Karani had been getting his books and magazines printed at various Mumbai presses, such as the Nirnayasagar Press and Ripon Printing Press. By the mid-1880s, his publishing business had grown large enough for him to consider setting up a printing press. In 1886, he established the Standard Printing Works, where he printed his own publications besides doing job printing for others. This venture was so successful that he set up a type foundry in 1889 to support the press. Karani’s business was now comparable to that of the three largest Gujarati print establishments.

His original trade of book selling seems to have paled in comparison to the meteoric growth of his printing and publishing business. Karani however had bigger plans. In 1892, he acquired the printing press of the magazine Indian Spectator, owned by the Parsi social reformer BM Malabari, and recast the entire business into a joint-stock company, Jehangir B Karani & Co. According to the prospectus published in The Times of India (4 April 1892), Karani hoped to “bring greater profits when aided by the capital and resources of a company than by the limited means and resources of a private firm.”

While the other directors of the company were Parsis, Karani was the chief executive officer of this company. His family firm Jehangir B Karani & Sons, the designated managing agent of the company, would receive a ten per cent share of the profits besides a percentage of the sales. It had all the makings of a large publishing company with interests across genres, a portfolio of periodical publications, and control of all aspects of the business from printing to distribution.

Gujarati translation of Gulliver’s Travels (1930s edition)

However, not all his associates were happy with this development. They felt that he had relinquished control over an established book selling and publishing business for too little a consideration. The Kaiser-i-Hind (3 April 1892) noted that it was rather courageous of “Mr Karani, who had started his business on a very modest scale, and grown it to its current size by his personal efforts and dedication, to convert it into a public limited company to accelerate its growth.”

Karani began with a bang by establishing branches at Medows Street in the southern part of Fort and on Kalbadevi Road besides the main bookshop at Parsee Bazaar Street. As he had acquired a printing press with expertise in English, Karani began printing and publishing books in that language, besides expanding his Gujarati offering. He also started dealing in books imported from England and began issuing advertisements in newspapers like the Times of India. It did seem that the Karani brand would become a major presence in the Indian publishing industry.

Reversal of fortunes

Towards the end of 1894, however, Karani’s business imploded, likely caused by too rapid an expansion and a mismatch between cash receipts and expenses. Perhaps the other investors were not happy with its prospects under Karani. The business was taken over by three Bhatia businessmen through their company, D Lakhmidas & Co, and Karani had to completely disassociate himself from it in 1895. To ensure that he had a regular income, he began managing the Saraswati Printing Press on behalf of its proprietors from February 1896.

Karani was now neither a bookseller or publisher, but his personal brand name still had a cachet in the Mumbai market. In March 1896, he decided to make a fresh start by restarting the small bookshop at Parsee Bazaar Street under his own name. Like his father did thirty years ago, he installed Manekshah, his eldest son, who was just sixteen then, to handle the shop which was named Jehangir B Karani’s Sons.

He also began to consider publishing projects and decided to issue the third edition of the Arabian Nights, which had been one of his most popular books. But he seems to have had a premonition of worse things to come when he wrote the introduction to the book in April 1896.

“The circumstances under which the first edition of this book was published were very different from my current situation. However these things cannot be helped; change is the only constant. Everybody has seen the changes which have taken place in the fortunes of Jehangir Karani and only God knows what the future holds for him!

If he is still alive, Jehangir Karani will write the introduction to the fourth edition of this book, else my heirs will do so.”

Much of the printing for the book had been completed when the city of Bombay was swamped by the plague epidemic in September 1896. Most of the working population of Bombay under the colonial government was “migrant labour”, whose employment conditions and minuscule wages precluded even a toehold on the city.

They fled the city at the first sight of the disease with its characteristic symptoms: high-grade fever accompanied by swelling of the lymph nodes. Many printing presses had to shut down as there was no one to work the machines. The Saraswati Printing Press also shut down in January 1897. Karani was out of a job and his book project also had to be suspended.

Meanwhile, on 29 November 1896, his wife Deenbai died suddenly. She might have died during childbirth as was the fate of many women during those days, or perhaps she was an early victim of the plague. Karani did not have much time to mourn the loss of his wife, as he had to take care of his eight children.

He moved them to Baroda for their safety but did not stay there for long himself. He returned to Bombay on the 24th of January when the first wave of the epidemic was at its peak. By the 31st, he was afflicted by the disease. When his condition deteriorated steeply, he was admitted to the Parsee Fever Hospital at Byculla where he died on the 4th of February 1897.

Seal of Jehangir B Karani’s Sons

Afterlife of a publisher

The bleak situation of the eight orphan children who had lost their parents in quick succession can best be imagined. However, Jehangir Karani’s eldest son, Manekshah, stepped up to fill the breach. With the help of his father’s friends, he completed Karani’s unfinished book project and published it in June 1897 as Jehangir Karaniwali Navi Arabian Nights.

The firm continued to publish Gujarati novels and books connected with Zoroastrianism on a modest scale. In 1911, Manekshah started the New Art Printing Works, where he printed a variety of greeting cards to be sold at his shop. Designed specially for Parsi festivals, these cards in the Gujarati language proved to be extremely popular.

Hormusjee Bomanjee Memorial (erected 1880) | Image Credit: Rajesh Agrawal

In 1937, over forty years after Karani had lost control of his publishing business, Manekshah purchased the defunct D Lakhmidas & Co so that he could acquire the rights to the books published by his father before 1895. By the time Manekshah died in 1940, the focus of the business had however evolved to stationery, diaries, and cards – embroidered, perfumed, photogravure, Indian views – for every occasion from Christmas and New Year to Diwali and Navroze.

After moving across a few locations on Parsee Bazaar Street, the shop settled at its present location on Pherozeshah Mehta Road in the 1920s. Drawing on the prestige of its founder, it has always retained the name Jehangir B Karani’s Sons, thus becoming one of the last links connecting the city to a time in the nineteenth century when Parsis played a major role in the printing and publishing world of Mumbai.


This series of articles on the impact of the coronavirus pandemic on publishing is curated by Kanishka Gupta.

How a Gujarati cookbook came to symbolise love and gratitude during the bubonic plague in Bombay

The story of Vividh Vani

Walking down Churchgate Street, I noticed a ubiquitous Mumbai institution: a raddiwalla with neatly arranged piles of books. Closer inspection revealed that most of them were Gujarati books of a certain vintage. An old Parsi book-lover had died and the family got rid of their book collection. As I rummaged through the novels and books on the Zoroastrian religion, I spotted a hefty tome with its cloth-bound cover depicting a dainty lady cooking on a kerosene stove. It was the first volume of the third edition (1915) of Vividha Vaani, a cookbook which had enjoyed cult status among Parsi households for over half a century. I snapped it up for a few rupees.

When I mentioned this to my friend, the scholar Virchand Dharamsey, he said not only did he have both volumes of the third edition but also a copy of the second edition of Vividha Vaani. Luckily for me, his interests did not extend to cookbooks and those copies also found their way into my collection. Many years later, I met Jayant Meghani during a visit to Bhavnagar in Gujarat. The soft-spoken writer and translator, who for many decades ran the bookshop Prasar, had also built up a wonderful collection of rare books. As we got talking about our interests, he fished out a copy of the first edition of Vividha Vaani.

It was this edition which appeared on 9 August 1894 when a Parsi lady named Meherbai Jamsetjee Wahadia wrote and self-published a Gujarati book of recipes titled Vividha Vaani, subtitled Pakwan Banavavnu Pustak. This could be translated as An Assortment of Culinary Dishes or The Book of Cooking. Written in the Parsi idiom of the Gujarati language, the book contained 1248 recipes arranged alphabetically.

Meet the authors

Meherbai hailed from the famous Parsi clan of Wahadia (Wadia) shipbuilders who had later diversified into a range of businesses and professions. Her father Jamsetjee Nusserwanjee belonged to a family that owned a range of industrial enterprises including cotton and jute mills, insurance agencies, and banking companies, alongside their traditional brokerage business. However, they lost control over these investments in the aftermath of the Share Mania of 1866.

When Meherbai was born on 24 November 1866, the family had been reduced to a relatively modest lifestyle. Before he died, her father had made extensive notes on the history of his family; perhaps this inspired Meherbai to develop her writing skills. A generation earlier, most Parsi girls from her social background would have been educated at home, but Meherbai went to school. Besides learning to read and write, the girls were taught a curriculum that emphasised the domestic sciences – cooking, sewing, knitting, and gardening.

During the 19th century, when print in Indian languages was still in its infancy, Gujarati cookbooks were hardly commonplace. The first Gujarati cookbook which I could trace was the Pakshastra Vishe Granth by Uttamram Purushottam. It was published in Ahmedabad in 1857. Uttamram wrote the cookbook based on his own experience coupled with references to Sanskrit writings on cookery. He was convinced that cooking was an art, and though a book might be useful to consult, it was “the touch of the hand” which made all the difference.
Title page of the third edition of ‘Vividha Vaani’ (1915)

He continued to revise and enlarge the book and a third edition was published in 1869. The first Parsi to publish a cookbook was Burjorjee Nusserwanjee Heera, whose Pakwan Pothi contained 400 recipes and was issued in 1878. A second edition appeared in 1882. This was followed by the Pakwan Sagar of Burjorjee Sorabjee Chikan Chhapnar in 1887.

Though it was not an innovation when it appeared in 1894, a cookbook like Vividha Vaani was still quite a rarity as it was the first Gujarati cookbook to be written by a woman. Just a few years ago, it would have seemed too forward to reveal one’s name and claim authorship, but by the 1890s, Parsi women were willing to have their names published along with their writings.

Even though she was 28 years old when the book was released, Meherbai was unmarried, exemplifying a trend towards late marriage which had just set in among the Parsis. Contrast this with her father who was only 17 when she was born, and her mother Pirojabai must have been younger.

Parsi society had seen major changes in the last decades of the 19th century and perhaps saw an opportunity to expand its cuisine and update its cooking practices. Though she belonged to the upper echelons of society, Meherbai seems to have spent a lot of time in the family kitchen. According to RA Wadia, the author of Scions of Lowjee Wadia, “In the preparation of this work, she had devoted all her energies and had prepared recipes by calling in the aid of special cooks.”

Between the covers

Vividha Vaani is a collection of recipes drawn from numerous cuisines. Meherbai never claims that she is documenting Parsi cuisine; on the other hand, she is insistent on introducing a variety of new dishes to her readers after she has perfected their recipes with the assistance of her “special cooks”, many of whom have earlier worked in European households. The book features standard Parsi fare like akuri, aleti paleti and patiyo, but there is also a plethora of cakes, jams, tarts, creams, essences, and dumplings.

As the entries are alphabetically listed rather than by genre, you could be looking at custard recipes one moment, only to encounter a variety of cutlets on the next page. Even the many “How to” tips are scattered all over the text. Most importantly, there is no separate listing of ingredients; each recipe is a single paragraph and might include numerous minor variations. Meherbai also includes Goan and Bohri recipes besides a number of Madrasi items. An omnibus cookbook, Vividha Vaani exposed the average Parsi housewife to a new world of culinary experiences.

The book attracted the attention of the two largest Gujarati publishers to this genre of books. In the following year, the Jame Jamshed Press issued a cookbook titled Pakwan Sangraha. The Duftur Ashkara Press, which had last issued Heera’s Pakwan Pothi in 1882, now had it completed revised by a Gujarati scholar, enlarged it substantially, and published it in 1896 as an 800-page behemoth under the title Duftur Ashkarani Pakwan Pothi.


Enter the plague

Exactly two years after Vividha Vaani was published, Bombay was struck by the bubonic plague in September 1896. It had probably been imported into the city by international travellers arriving by ship. The disease did not make any distinctions between the rich and the poor and spread rapidly in a densely packed city. The city emptied out as the rich moved to bungalows and tents in the suburbs while the poor went back to their villages.

The plague fever struck in waves for the next few years. Plague hospitals were quickly established all across the city on caste and community lines as people were still worried about ritual caste purity even in the worst of times. This applied not only to Hindus but to all the other religions of Mumbai. The Bombay Parsee Punchayet, whose main role was to administer the trust funds of the community, set up a fund to establish a hospital exclusively for Parsis.

Vignettes of (left) Meherbai Wahadia (1866–1897) and Dr KN Bahadurji (1860–1898)

The Parsee Fever Hospital was the brainchild of Dr Kaikhusru N Bahadurji, one of the most prominent Indian doctors of Bombay. When the city was overwhelmed by the plague, he was at the forefront of two critical initiatives – medical care for patients and research into possible treatments for the disease. Not only did he initiate the Parsee Fever Hospital project, Dr Bahadurji also equipped and conducted its operations.

Meherbai was unfortunately one of the patients to be admitted to the Parsee Fever Hospital during the first wave of the plague. She was taken care of by a strong contingent of female medical workers including Dr Manek Turkhud (the first woman to obtain a medical degree in Bombay in 1892) and the future nationalist, Bhikai Cama, who volunteered her services as a nurse. Writing to the Times of India (20 January 1897), a visitor to the hospital saw that food and drink were an important component of life in the worst of times. He wrote that he was…

“…greatly struck with the admirable arrangement of the wards, everything being scrupulously clean and arranged in order. I visited the kitchen and was surprised to find that the able conductors of the hospital with a wise forethought had succeeded in securing the services of Parsee cooks – so difficult to obtain now-a-days – so that even the orthodox people of the community could have no objections to avail themselves of the benefit of the institution during this critical period…To supply a quantity of pure milk for the patients, about a dozen buffaloes were kept in the compound, so that genuine article of nourishment for the sick without adulteration may be had on the spot at any hour of the day or night.”

Two deaths

Dr Bahadurji might have been already acquainted with Meherbai and her family and perhaps, she was admitted to the Parsee Fever Hospital at his urging. It must have taken some persuasion as hospitals were then viewed as places to which only the poor resorted; the upper classes preferred to be treated at home. She came under his personal care and experienced some of his new treatment protocols including prolonged immersion in ice baths. However, nothing could avail the dying patient, and Meherbai at the age of 30.

Meherbai was survived by her mother Pirojabai for whom her bereavement would have been very traumatic. Dr Bahadurji visited Pirojabai frequently after Meherbai’s death, both as a medical practitioner and as a well-wisher. Was there a romantic angle to the connection between Meherbai and Dr Bahadurji? Were they engaged to be married before Meherbai’s illness?

It is useless to speculate without further information, but Dr Bahadurji continued to be in regular contact with her mother who was grateful for it. He had also managed to antagonise a prominent section of the Parsi community; the severe restrictions he placed on the visitation rights of the family in view of the contagious nature of the disease were not viewed favourably, nor were his methods of treatment, especially the prolonged immersion in wet baths packed with ice.

Dr Bahadurji fell seriously ill with fever which was diagnosed as typhoid and eventually died on 15 August 1898. The Times of India (17 August 1898) noted that, “His services during the plague were characterised by all the strenuous zeal and devotion to duty which distinguished him, and it is to be feared that the excessive amount of work he undertook really hastened his death by weakening his constitution.”

Many Bombay organisations with which Dr Bahadurji had been associated began to debate the methods by which his memory could be perpetuated and his contributions recognised. Pirojabai also must have felt the need to commemorate her gratitude towards a doctor who had first tended to her daughter and then to her. What better way to do this than to give new life to her daughter’s creation?

She decided to issue a fresh edition of the Vividha Vaani and dedicate it to him. It would not be a mere reprint; the book was entirely rewritten and was expanded to include 1593 recipes. Recipes were structured such that the ingredients were listed first, and variations were spun off into new recipes. However the basic structure of the book with its alphabetical listing was retained and Meherbai continued to get sole credit. A Gujarati cookbook thus came to symbolise love and gratitude during the bubonic plague which raged for over a decade in Mumbai from 1896.

Recipe for revival

The second edition of Vividha Vaani, nearly 700 pages long, was released in 1901. Printed at the Jame Jamshed Press, it was published by its owners J B Marzban & Co, who also acquired the copyright to the book from Pirojabai. The book had begun to assume the form of a culinary encyclopedia.

In 1915, a third edition was issued under the same imprint. Nearly twice as big as the second edition, its 2050 recipes extended to over 1200 pages which had to be bound in two volumes. It was this edition which ensured the reputation of Vividha Vaani as a vade mecum for the Parsi housewife. The fourth and final edition of 1926, published before Pirojabai’s death in 1928, was over 1500 pages long and listed 2180 recipes. These editions were also credited to Meherbai Jamsetjee Wahadia and the dedication to Dr KN Bahadurji by Pirojabai was prominently featured.

Covers of the first three editions of ‘Vividha Vaani’

All editions of Vividha Vaani are handsomely bound in cloth with the text embossed and gilt. Each edition features a different image on the cover illustrating the changing times. The first edition of 1894 features a young woman, almost a girl, cooking on a wood-fired stove placed on a low platform. The 1901 edition features a middle-aged woman, a Parsi matron, with an apron tied over her sari stirring a pan on a coal-fired sigri placed on a wooden table. The third edition has a decidedly modern woman, with her hair done up in a bun, working at a kerosene stove placed on a countertop with shelving underneath. One can see the contours of the modern Indian kitchen emerging from these images.

Passed on from generation to generation, the later editions of Vividha Vaani became family heirlooms. From being a book of reference, it became an object of reverence not to be discarded even when it fell into tatters. However, by the 1950s, the archaic language of the book was incomprehensible to many Parsis who had drifted towards English as a primary language.

In the same decade, Indian weights and measures went metric and soon the tola, rattal, tipri, and sher measures used in the book rendered it all but unusable. Niloufer Ichaporia King notes in My Bombay Kitchen (2007) that Vividha Vaani “is enchanting in its vigorous Parsi eclecticism.”

Emulating the efforts of Meherbai Jamsetjee Wahadia and her mother Pirojabai, the later anonymous contributors to the book assimilated influences from numerous other cooking cultures and helped shape what is now globally recognised as Parsi cuisine.

This series of articles on the impact of the coronavirus pandemic on publishing is curated by Kanishka Gupta.

Gohare Jamaspi


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And here is Jamaspi in Pahlavi Pazand and Persian Texts

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Exile and the Nation

Exile and the Nation

The Parsi Community of India and the Making of Modern Iran
By Afshin Marashi

Connecting oft-disparate fields, this book explores the Zoroastrian diaspora living in India and its role in using antiquity to bolster twentieth-century Iranian nationalism.

Publication of Naoroji: Pioneer of Indian Nationalism

Dear all:

I hope that you and your families are keeping well at the current moment.
I would like to announce the publication of my biography of Dadabhai Naoroji, Naoroji: Pioneer of Indian NationalismIt is being released by Harvard University Press today, 12 May, in the United States and will be released in India and the UK on 31 May (in India it will be released by HarperCollins).
Dadabhai Naoroji was much more than just a pioneering Indian nationalist, an innovative economic thinker, and the first Asian to be elected to the British Parliament. He was also a proponent of women’s rights in India and Britain, a supporter of certain socialist ideas, and an anti-imperialist of global significance, someone who forged links with Irish home rulers, American Progressives, African-Americans and Afro-Caribbeans, and colonized people from around the world.
Given the current extraordinary circumstances, I am not quite sure about the availability of physical copies in India after 31 May, but the Kindle edition should be available shortly.
To supplement the book, I’ve made some resources on Naoroji’s life available on a website: photographs, information on his life and family, some of his correspondence, old newspaper articles, and maps of London and Bombay that show landmarks associated with his life.
The book has been recently reviewed in the Wall Street Journal, and you can read the review here.
Best regards,

Dinyar Patel, Ph.D.
Assistant Professor, Modern South Asia
Department of History
University of South Carolina
On leave on Fulbright and National Endowment for the Humanities fellowships during 2019-20

Jamsetjee Framjee Madon — a pioneer of Indian cinema and champion of Calcutta’s poor Parsis

In Pioneering Parsis of Calcutta, Prochy N. Mehta chronicles the little-known lives of the first Parsis who came to the city during British rule.

Jamsetjee Framjee Madon | Niyogi Books | Prochy N. Mehta
Jamsetjee Framjee Madon | Niyogi Books | Prochy N. Mehta
Jamsetjee Framjee Madon was one of the pioneers of Indian cinema. He owned over 120 cinema halls at one time. Jamsetjee was very modern in his outlook and a reformist in his religious views. He was one of the first trustees of the Late Ervad D.B. Mehta’s Zoroastrian Anjuman Atash Adaran and was a supporter of the young Bella, to whom he left Rs 5,000 in his will to help her in her legal case.

Jamsetjee Framjee Madon was born on 27 April 1856 in a very poor family in Bombay. The family being truly indigent, he had to seek employment at the tender age of twelve as a scene-shifter in the dramatic company of Cooverji Ratanji Nazir, at a salary of Rs 4 per month. The young lad got enamoured of the stage, copying the roles of the heroes and heroines of the plays and later playing small roles on stage. Since he had a good voice, he could act the part of a courtesan and became quite popular.

He then joined Elphinstone Natak Company which toured the country and in 1875, on an auspicious day, he came to Calcutta with this touring company. Some time later he took over this company in partnership with a few others. This company prospered, thanks to his experience, far-sightedness and hard work, and made Calcutta its permanent home. Simultaneously he started dealing in auctioned goods and in 1885 started another business as wines and provision merchant at 5, Dharamtalla Street. His honesty, perseverance and gentle nature soon attracted important Indian customers and the shop became extremely popular among government officers and Englishmen. There were seven branches of this store including those at Calcutta, Darjeeling, Lucknow and Delhi.

In 1903, at the time of the British invasion of Tibet, Jamsetjee opened food and provision stores all the way from Siliguri to Chumbi and assisted the armed forces in supplying food and provision to soldiers even at great personal risk. The British officers greatly appreciated Madon’s fortitude and bravery as a result of which Jamsetjee was given a large contract of supplying the army during the wars in Kabul. He carried out his work at great risk and in significantly difficult circumstances, to the utmost satisfaction of the military officers. In appreciation of these services, the British Government awarded him the Order of the British Empire in 1918.


On 30 March 1919, the Calcutta Parsis felicitated Jamsetjee at a function under the chairmanship of the trustee of the Anjuman, Seth Edulji Pestonji Guzdar. Madon Seth was congratulated on obtaining the Order of the British Empire and praised for his simple life, gentle nature, honesty and kindness and for his munificence towards the poor.

Seth Jamsetjee, like the other Parsi elders of the community, had a generous nature and was always anxious to assist the needy. Having grown up in poverty he felt for the poor and gave employment to many poor Parsi youngsters in his cinemas and shops. He was thus responsible for the livelihood of a large number of Parsi families. Many of his charities were done secretly and it can be truly said of him that his left hand was not aware of what his right hand gave away. It was estimated that such secret handouts averaged Rs 5,000 every month. This help was not restricted to Parsis exclusively; all the needy benefitted from his charity, irrespective of caste or creed. Many institutions of public welfare owed their existence and prosperity to him.

In 1907 Seth Jamsetjee took up the mission of building a second Tower of Silence in Calcutta. Starting a subscription list with his personal donation of Rs 5,000, he went from house to house and managed to collect a lakh of rupees from the Calcutta Parsis. It was due to his influence that the municipality gave a grant of Rs 27,000 towards the purchase of land for this second Tower of Silence, and he personally bore the expenses of Rs 20,000 towards building it. Seth Madon’s efforts and far-sightedness resulted in bringing together the priests of the Kadimi and Shahanshai sections for the first time in Calcutta. The Kadimi priests performed the religious rites at the time of the foundation and the Shahanshai priests performed the consecration rites.

In 1912, at the time of the building of the Mehta fire temple, Seth Jamsetjee provided his devoted services. The building attached to the fire temple used as a residence for the priests was built and donated by him and his family to the Atash Adaran. He presented several chandeliers, lamps and carpets for the main prayer hall and also many tables, chairs, large cooking utensils for general use. This generous-hearted Parsi also had the foresight to start funds with initial personal donations to take care of the future maintenance of the Atash Adaran.

Seth Jamsetjee was deeply sympathetic towards the poor Parsi families in Calcutta. In Dharamtalla Street he built Khorshed Madan Mansion at an expense of Rs 1,10,176 in memory of his beloved daughter, Mrs Khorshed Rustomji Maneckji Mehta, who had died on 14 January 1920 during the lifetime of her parents. Seth Jamsetjee donated this house to the Anjuman on the understanding that the flats be rented out to the poor and middle-class Parsi families of Calcutta at a low rent. Further he set aside a sizeable fund for the maintenance of this building.

He also secured the land for the ‘aramgah’ for the Parsis in Darjeeling and donated funds towards its maintenance. On several occasions he gave donations to the Anjuman on behalf of his friends and relations. Seth Jamsetjee organised several ‘benefit nights’ in many of his cinema houses to collect funds for charities for Parsis as well as other communities.

In 1923, the British Government honoured him with the award of Commander of the Order of the British Empire in recognition of his many cosmopolitan charities.

About twenty years prior to the advent of cinema on a commercial basis in India, Seth Jamsetjee experimented with this new media and perfected it for public viewing. He was truly a pioneer of the cinema industry in India.

The young lad of twelve, who started his career as a scene-shifter at a salary of Rs 4 per month, aided by some lucky turn of events and greatly due to his own inherent ability, perseverance and hard labour, became, in the evening of his life, the owner of a hundred cinema houses in India. Seth Jamsetjee’s life is a shining example of Parsi adventure and philanthropy. Upon his death which took place in Calcutta on roz 22 Govad, Mah 10 Dae, Year 1292 y.z., corresponding to 28 June 1923, Calcutta lost a true benefactor of the poor.

This excerpt from Pioneering Parsis of Calcutta by Prochy N. Mehta has been published with permission from Niyogi Books.

Jamsetjee Framjee Madon — a pioneer of Indian cinema and champion of Calcutta’s poor Parsis

Stories from the Shahnameh : Stream Feathers of Fire this weekend in celebration of the Persian New Year…. 21 March 2020

As a NowRuz gift, Kingorama is offering a free viewing of their shadow-theater epic ‘Feathers of Fire’ which is based on the stories of the Shahnameh
We encourage you all to take advantage of this free screening before it ends this Sunday at 11.59 pm. Directions on how to watch are in the forwarded email.
Enjoy the show and stay safe and healthy!
Warm regards,
Perinaaz for ZACC-DC

Stream Feathers of Fire this weekend in celebration of the Persian New Year.


A gift to our community.

Dear friends,

Our community has supported us in so many ways on our creative journey, and now we want to say thank you!  During this time of quarantine, pop some popcorn, dim the lights, and enjoy the award-winning shadow theater epic Feathers of Fire.

In the last 24 hours, over 2000 people have watched the show.  Don’t miss out.  
Watch Feathers of Fire on Vimeo all weekend long.  Share this link with your friends and family, leave us a comment, and celebrate the coming spring with adventure and beauty.

This link is only available through this Sunday night 11:59 PM.

Happy Nowruz♥

To learn more about Feathers of Fire and Kingorama,


Marvels in the Life of Prophet Zarathushtra

Zarathushtra Spitama is universally accepted and recognized the first prophet to reveal religion to the world. His message was simple and at the same time deeply mystical, philosophical and spiritual. He was born in remote antiquity, anywhere between two to six thousand years before Christ. Though Zarathushtra was born a mortal, he was an angel in human form. Marvels and miracles not only preceded his birth, but they were manifest throughout his life as well. The story of his life is told in a lucid and gripping style, with parables and stories that introduce the reader to the philosophy of Prophet Zarathushtra’s teachings, which he not only preached but also lived, and which have survived several millennia.
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