Category Archives: Books

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.

Bombay Dreams – Anosh Irani

MUMBAI -raised Anosh Irani is out with a new book and it’s making the right kind of noises in international literary

circles. To start with, there’s a heads-up from the book in the writers’ bible, Granta, for their latest ‘Canada’ issue, as well the revered Los Angeles Review of Books magazine. Irani’s newest book is a collection of short stories called Translated from the Gibberish: Seven Stories and One Half Truth. It deals with Irani’s experience of leaving India for Canada to pursue a career in writing. Irani is a playwright and author who has been nominated for multiple awards, including Roger Writers Trust Fiction Prize, Governor General’s Awards for English-language Fiction. And the Man Asian Literary Prize. “It is my most personal book till date,” Irani tells your diarist. “It is part-memoir, part-fiction, what one would call ‘auto-fiction’. It’s simply about what it means to be between two worlds, there are stories of exile, but also stories of Bombay.” Irani prefers to call the city by its old name. “One of the stories is about a penguin in the Byculla Zoo called Mr Molt, he really does exist there.”

Courtesy : Pune Mirror

Digital Zoroastrian at the British Library

The British Library is fortunate in having an unparalled collection of over 100 Zoroastrian works ranging from the oldest, the ninth century Ashem Vohu prayer written in Sogdian script discovered by Aurel Stein in Central Asia in 1907, to, most recently, manuscripts collected especially for the Royal Society in London during the late-nineteenth century. Although Zoroastrianism is Iranian in origin, most of our manuscripts in fact come from India. They are written in Avestan (Old Iranian), Middle Persian, New Persian, and also in the Indian languages Sanskrit and Gujarati.

In the past few years several of our manuscripts have become familiar through exhibitions such as Everlasting Flame: Zoroastrianism in History and Imagination held at SOAS (2013) and New Delhi (2016) and also through the Zoroastrian articles and collection items included in our recent website Discovering Sacred Texts. Building on this and thanks to the philanthropic support of Mrs Purviz Rusy Shroff, we have now been able to complete digitisation of the whole collection. This introductory post outlines the history of the collection and is intended as the first in a series highlighting the collection as the manuscripts go live during the next few months.

One of the holiest Zoroastrian prayers, the Ashem vohu, discovered at Dunhuang by Aurel Stein in 1907. Transcribed into Sogdian (a medieval Iranian language) script, this fragment dates from around the ninth century AD, about four centuries earlier than any other surviving Zoroastrian text (BL Or.8212/84). Public domain

The collection is made up of three main collections described below, dating from the seventeenth, the eighteenth and the nineteenth centuries, in addition to individual items acquired by British travellers to India and employees of the East India Company. I’ll be writing more about these individual collections in future posts.

Thomas Hyde (1636–1703)

Samuel Guise (1751-1811)

Burjorji Sorabji Ashburner

Other sources

The remaining manuscripts were acquired in India, mostly by East India Company servants Jonathan Duncan Governor of Bombay (1756–1811), Sir John Malcolm (1769–1833), and the Scottish linguist and poet John Leyden (1775-1811). They range from the sixteenth to the nineteenth centuries.

The beginning of the Qissah-i Sanjan, the traditional story in Persian verse of the settlement of the Parsis in India composed by Bahman ibn Kayqubād at Nausari in AD 1600. This copy is undated but was written, most probably for John Leyden, on paper watermarked 1799 (BL IO Islamic 2572, f. 1v). Public domain

Further reading

Samuel Guise, A Catalogue and Detailed Account of a Very Valuable and Curious Collection of Manuscripts, Collected in HindostanLondon, 1800.
Almut Hintze, An introduction to Zoroastrianism, in Discovering Sacred Texts, British Library 2019.
Jenny Rose, Zoroastrianism from the early modern period, in Discovering Sacred Texts, British Library 2019.
Ursula Sims-Williams, Zoroastrianism in late antiquity, in Discovering Sacred Texts, British Library 2019.
—————-, “The strange story of Samuel Guise: an 18th-century collection of Zorostrian manuscripts,” Bulletin of the Asia Institute 19, 2005 (2009), pp. 199-209.
—————-, “Zoroastrian Manuscripts in the British Library, London,” in The Transmission of the Avesta, ed. A. Cantera. Wiesbaden, 2012, pp. 173-94.

We are grateful to Mrs Purviz Rusy Shroff, Mr Neville Shroff and Mr Zarir Cama for their generous support towards this project.

Ursula Sims-Williams, Lead Curator Persian, British Library


Click Here for the full detailed story

Pioneering Parsis of Calcutta – Book Launch

It started as legal research but swiftly became a voyage of discovery. I was entranced by the stories that unfolded as I glimpsed history in the making. Various scenes played out in front of me as the kaleidoscope of society in the 18th, 19th and 20th centuries revealed itself. I was spellbound by the great deeds and wonderful accomplishments of our community members who strode larger than life on Calcutta’s stage. Their foresight, intelligence and broad-minded views were truly remarkable. It pained me that some of our history was never told and much of it forgotten. At the prompting of dear friends I decided to put my findings into a book. Come take a walk with me into the glorious history of Calcutta Parsis.

Sarosh Zaiwalla’s book launched by Adi Godrej on 6th Feb 2020

After a fantastic London launch, the highly acclaimed book ‘Honour Bound – Adventures of an Indian Lawyer in the English Courts’, was released in Mumbai at a special event at Mumbai Press Club, Azad Maidan, on Thursday 6th February 2020. The book was released by the illustrious Chairman of the Godrej Group, Mr. Adi Godrej.
The release was followed by a panel discussion which was a literary feast as it included many aficionados of the writing world. The eminent panellist’s included the talented author himself Sarosh Zaiwalla along with renowned Indian journalist and columnist Bachi Kakaria.
Harper Collins India’s Honour Bound is the official story of one of India’s leading lawyer in the United Kingdom, Sarosh Zaiwalla, the Mumbai-born founder and senior partner of the City of London solicitors’ firm Zaiwalla & Co LLP.
Within this elegantly written, detailed account of legal adventures, success, mishaps, trials and tribulations, Sarosh Zaiwalla’s story spotlights the journey of an Indian solicitor vying for the biggest cases overseas as a non-English national. His memoirs will bring readers closer to the world of a highly successful Indian lawyer in a foreign land, with an international client base. It is an insightful diary of the adventures of the international law firm based at the heart of London’s legal district. Honour Bounds recites the company’s most high profile, challenging and controversial cases, as Sarosh Zaiwalla shares his wealth of engrossing anecdotes.

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A Festschrift in Honour of Nani Palkhivala


January 16, 2020 is the birth centenary of Nani Palkhivala. Every year, on this day, The Nani A. Palkhivala Memorial Trust organize an annual lecture by eminent persons. This year, along with the annual lecture, the Trust is releasing a festschrift in honour of Palkhivala.

An Advisory Board consisting of Justice Sujata Manohar, Justice S.N.Variava, Y.H. Malegam, H.P. Ranina and Arvind P. Datar collected contributions from several scholars, counsel, and colleagues and friends of Palkhivala. Mr. Datar is also the General Editor of this commemorative book. The festschrift contains articles on constitutional and other laws, economy and governance, and reminiscences of persons who knew and interacted with Palkhivala. The complete list of contributors is given below.
Festschrift in honour of Palkhivala

Festschrift in honour of Palkhivala

The festschrift also contains few articles written by Palkhivala in his youth. These were originally published in several periodicals between 1937 and 1947. This is followed by reproduction of selected letters and correspondences, and other documents like written submissions etc.

Title of the book: Essays & Reminiscences: A Festschrift in Honour of Nani A Palkhivala

General Editor : Arvind P. Datar

Publisher : LexisNexis

Launch date : January 16, 2020 at NCPA, Mumbai

Mumbai Author Takes Indian Literature to Chinese Shores

Murzban F. Shroff

Commonwealth Prize-shortlisted Author and 6-times Pushcart Prize nominee Murzban F. Shroff’s Mumbai-based novel, Waiting for Jonathan Koshy, has been recently published by Zhejiang Literature & Art, one of China’s most reputed publishing houses.  In acquiring the book, the publisher said, “Waiting for Jonathan Koshy is a brilliant story for readers, not only because it is dramatic enough, but has great humor and passion. Besides, it provides us with a real picture of how an Indian looks like in his own country, in his hometown. It is both, complex and fascinating.” The novel which follows the turbulent (and often hilarious) life of an irrepressible character, Jonathan, was nominated as a finalist for the Horatio Nelson Prize in New York and received high praise from two top-drawer American authors, including a Pulitzer Prize winner and a National Book Award Finalist. Shroff’s other works include Breathless in Bombay, a collection of Mumbai-based stories, and Fasttrack Fiction, a one-of-its-kind digital book for cell phone readers. Shroff, who defines Mumbai as his perennial muse, says: “I am delighted that the cultural nuances of our country will now be enjoyed by readers in China. It is a deeply satisfying experience and proves that well-intentioned literature can, indeed, transcend borders.” The English edition of Waiting for Jonathan Koshy is available on and at independent bookstores in Mumbai.

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