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The Magicians of Mazda: Absorbing thriller with immense history lessons about Parsis

Ashwin Sanghi’s book is worth reading because it will enrich us with the history and philosophy of a great community on the verge of extinction but that deserves to live long for the sake of humanity

The Magicians of Mazda: Absorbing thriller with immense history lessons about Parsis

Photograph by Mazda Studios

Ashwin Sanghi has an extraordinary talent for bringing ancient wisdom alive with his thorough research, then whipping up a fast-paced thriller by blending facts with fiction. In his latest offering too, he doesn’t disappoint.

The most interesting and surprising is his choice of the Zoroastrian religion and its followers as the central theme of this thriller. Were it written by a Parsi, it might have been easier. But, for a Sanatani to take up this challenge is a tribute to his readiness to dive into unknown waters. One comes to know about one of the oldest religions of the world and its followers who have suffered worse persecution, genocide, and atrocities. After reading the book, one might wonder if they suffered more than many other races and communities. Only a few Parsis are left to tell their tale.

Hardly any Parsi is left in the land of her origin, Persia or Iran as it is known today. Not much is known about this great religion due to its antiquity and the nature of Parsis who treat their religion as an intensely private affair. They, like Hindus, haven’t cared to tell the world about their history of sustained persecution and holocaust. They have been with us for centuries and have contributed immensely to the progress of this nation much beyond their numbers. We lionise them but we don’t know them in a real sense.

Ashwin Sanghi fills up this huge gap in our knowledge and helps us understand their legacy. Being a total outsider, one is wonderstruck by the humongous and honest effort put in by him. I might say, it is an Indian’s tribute to his brethren who came all the way to escape their persecution. They not only became one with their land of adoption but also enriched it.

The Magicians of Mazda Absorbing thriller with immense history lessons about Parsis

Screenshot from Amazon.in

It is not a good idea to reveal the plot of a thriller. But, to give you a bare idea; the chief protagonist is the keeper of a relic that is as old as the Zoroastrian religion itself as he belongs to a priestly class of the community. He doesn’t know its importance till the intelligence networks from various countries come after him. He is a prodigious scientist who has created a wonder drug, so a pharma MNC is after him to get the details. Soon others are after him as they too smell the scent of the trail. So, for him it is a double whammy. He passes through a nightmarish situation, helped along by her devoted non-Parsi scholar wife who is a researcher of history. In this book the scenario shifts to Ayatollah’s Iran with strings being pulled from across the globe till the hero is finally flown out of hell with the help of Mossad and RAW. On the way, there are masters of espionage, unpredictable twists and turns and double-crosses — a hallmark of Sanghi’s writings.

For a change, this thriller flows a little easier as compared to the wild roller coaster ride of The Rosabell Line or The Vault of Vishnu. He delves deeper into the philosophical and historical side of storytelling here. The build-up to understanding the significance of Zoroastrian teachings, the horror faced by the Parsi community, exodus of a small number of Parsis to Bharat, repeat of the horrors they faced in their motherland due to renewed attack by Islamist zealot on them in Gujarat till the peaceful settlement, their hard-earned success, the hell faced by their brethren in Iran over centuries after having ruled a huge empire for nearly 400 years — all this is brought out vividly by the master storyteller.

It is worth every page that you turn over, to learn about them. One can’t help but note that just as Kashmiri Hindus had a brief 140 years of peace during Raja Ranjit Singh and Dogra rulers in Jammu and Kashmir after centuries of persecution, Parsis too enjoyed the spring of Pahlavi rule in Iran for a few decades. But, alas, both thought that spring would last; it didn’t.

The piece de resistance comes in the last section as the author exploits his key strength of finding the common threads between Zorastrian and Vedic texts and challenges us with his conclusions. Similarity between the ancient Avestan language and Sanskrit is brought alive by the dextrous pen of the author, and one is wonderstruck.

In one place, a character notes, “It is fashionable these days to ignore history in order to preserve the peace between faiths. And I am all for peace and interfaith understanding. But, that process must start with recognising what happened.  Forced conversions did happen, and destruction of Zoroastrian places of worship did happen. Redeployment of fire temples as mosques did happen. Identification of Zoroastrians as a polluted being, najiz, did happen…. Compulsory humiliation of those paying jizya did happen.”

Sounds ominously familiar. Lessons of history need to be learnt by all civil societies or they are in danger of being run over by uncivil brute forces, as it happened during the medieval period.

American historian Will Durant had aptly said, “The Islamic conquest of India is probably the bloodiest story in history. It is a discouraging tale, for its evident moral is that civilisation is a precious good, whose delicate complex of order and freedom, culture and peace, can at any moment be overthrown by barbarians invading from without or multiplying within.” He might as well have been speaking about the Zoroastrian nation of Parsis.

This book is worth reading because it will enrich us with the history and philosophy of a great community on the verge of extinction but that deserves to live long for the sake of humanity. It is an absorbing thriller that has lessons for the current generation too. For, history repeats itself if we don’t learn from it.

The reviewer is a well-known author and writer. Views expressed are personal.

Ratan Sharda

https://www.firstpost.com/opinion/the-magicians-of-mazda-absorbing-thriller-with-immense-history-lessons-about-parsis-10762151.html

 

Book Available on Amazon at https://www.amazon.in/Magicians-Mazda-Ashwin-Sanghi/dp/9354899080/ref=sr_1_1_sspa?crid=3R8I0XO8TSMGW&keywords=the+magicians+of+mazda&qid=1654657763&sprefix=the+magicia%2Caps%2C267&sr=8-1-spons&psc=1&spLa=ZW5jcnlwdGVkUXVhbGlmaWVyPUEzN0U0VFJBUkc4MzkzJmVuY3J5cHRlZElkPUEwOTcwMjg3VU5TVEM1RFY5TjExJmVuY3J5cHRlZEFkSWQ9QTAxMTY4MjgzOVA2NkpUVzI0WUszJndpZGdldE5hbWU9c3BfYXRmJmFjdGlvbj1jbGlja1JlZGlyZWN0JmRvTm90TG9nQ2xpY2s9dHJ1ZQ==

Adi Pocha Launches His Debut Novel “Behram’s Boat” Published By Leadstart

Mumbai: Author Adi Pocha released his debut fiction Novel “Behram’s Boat” published by Leadstart in Mumbai. Born into a show-biz family, (his father was a comedian, his mother a doctor and a singer, and his aunt is Usha Uthup) Adi Pocha started his writing career in 1984 as a copywriter in an advertising agency called Shilpi, after which he was hired by Lintas in 1985. Adi has a love for writing and that inspired him to write his Novel. The launch event witnessed the presence of Usha Uthup, Farhan Akhtar and other celebrities

“Behram’s Boat” is a funny, whimsical story of one eccentric, cranky old Parsi’s struggle to build a boat that will save his people. And bring meaning to his life.

“Behram’s Boat is a fascinating narrative of one eccentric old Parsi’s struggle to find meaning in life by attempting to accomplish a task destined to doom. We at Leadstart are proud to publish this book with a unique storyline,” says Swarup Nanda, Founder, and CEO, Leadstart.

When satellite TV was launched in India in 1992, Adi Pocha conceptualized and directed the immensely popular game show, “Saanp Seedi”. Then went on to create, write, direct and executive produce India’s first daily soap, “Shanti”. While he now runs his own corporate and documentary filmmaking company, he has always thought of writing as his first love. “It took me 5 years to write Behram’s Boat and another 10 years to get it published. It is my labour of love. And I hope that it touches the lives of even a few people in some way.” Adi Pocha said.

A book about Finding Purpose, “Behram’s Boat” tells the story of Behram Rustomjee, a 65-year-old eccentric Parsi, and reforming alcoholic, who feels he has one last chance at redeeming his hitherto not very noble life: By building a boat that will save his tribe, the Parsis, a people on the verge of extinction. He will build a ship of wood and sail, similar to those that carried his ancestors more than a thousand years ago when they fled from Persia. He will sail this vessel as his forefathers did, but the other way around, from India to Iran. And he will invite 50 young Parsi couples to voyage along with him… and fornicate like hell. In the hope that at the end of his epic journey many little Parsi children may be conceived and his race, his kind, his people, will be saved. Unfortunately, his grand idea, his one last shot at leaving something to mark his time on the planet, isn’t exactly well-received.

The book was highly praised at the launch by the guests for the hard work the author has put up in the work. The book is a must-read for everyone. “I read the book in one sitting! I started reading it in the evening and finished at 4 am! A fabulous book. Loved it.” says Prahlad Kakar, Ad Film Guru. “Behram’s Boat” traces the funny, whimsical, and fatally hopeless story of one man as he struggles to build his boat, to end his life on a note of significant achievement.

https://indiaeducationdiary.in/adi-pocha-launches-his-debut-novel-behrams-boat-published-by-leadstart/

Ardeshir & Pirojsha Godrej – Pioneers of Success – Amar Chitra Katha

125 years ago, Ardeshir Godrej, a young man of 29 years, set up a small

factory in Lalbaug in Bombay to make locks – the first of its kind in India.

This was the humble origin, of what today has become a trusted household

name—‘Godrej’. The story of the Godrej family is a tale of courage, innovation

and entrepreneurship.

Ardeshir Burjorji Godrej dealt with personal tragedy and many

disappointments before finding his true calling – making complex mechanisms

for locks. He was an inventor, who looked up to nationalist leaders like

Dadabhai Naoroji, Gopal Krishna Gokhale, Lokmanya Tilak and Mahatma

Gandhi. Infuriated by India’s impoverishment at the hands of the British, the

call to action of the Swadeshi Movement resonated deeply with him. After

successfully launching businesses in locks, safes, and soaps; his agile mind

never ceased to look for new products to prove that ‘Made in India’ quality

could not only meet, but exceed world class standards.

Pirojsha Burjorji Godrej was Ardeshir’s younger brother, who had a

penchant for numbers, and shared the same nationalist ideals as his sibling.

He expanded the business into steel furniture, typewriters, refrigerators,

forklift trucks, trucks and machine tools. Meticulous about quality, customer

satisfaction and worker’s welfare, his most notable achievement was the

transformation of the tiny hamlet of Vikhroli (a suburb in Mumbai) into a

thriving industrial township, renamed Pirojshanagar after his death in 1972.

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“ JOY, AWE AND TEARS – My association with Sargam” by Shireen Isal

I was delighted when, during my recent trip to Mumbai, Jane Borges from Mid-Day, offered to interview me.  I have just released “Joy, Awe and Tears”, an account of forty years of artists’ management in Europe and she offered me the opportunity to expound on precisely those joys, awe – and tears too – of what was, in total, a magical profession.

Please find below the Mid-Day article, for which I thank Jane very warmly.

https://www.mid-day.com/sunday-mid-day/article/the-parisian-impresario-from-bombay-23221178?fbclid=IwAR1F6kWR4LE2BlS4DfJHysjvsjSutdIyme-2mtsFi81V0ljx8Np73VpXMp0

The book is available: in India at www.parsiana.com ; in the UK at www.amazon.co.uk and in France and continental Europe at www.amazon.fr

Did you know about half-Parsis?

Did you know about the ‘fifty-fifty’ Parsis?

Turns the spotlight on a previously unexplored community in Mumbai

Published by Speaking Tiger, Half-Blood by Pronoti Datta is a shining new debut that announces the arrival of a bold, witty and intelligent writer in the spectrum of Indian fiction.

At first glance, nothing seems to be extraordinary about Maya, who is the protagonist of the novel. A 34-year old journalist, she is the adopted child of a Bengali couple who constantly seems to be swimming in the deep waters of an existential crisis (who isn’t?), and in an attempt to cope with said crisis, frequently resorts to smoking pot or hanging out with her latest boyfriend. And Maya’s story would have continued along this vein, had it not been for an intriguing box of inheritance that arrives for her one day – an inheritance that leads her to Burjor Elavia.

Born in Gujarat, Burjor Elavia is a ‘fifty-fifty’ or an Adhkhachru, which means that he is the illegitimate son of a Parsi man and a tribal woman. As an young-adult, he makes his way to the vibrant city of Mumbai (erstwhile Bombay), where he lives a life in the shadows – revelling in promiscuity and recklessness. As he journeys through life, he encounters other ‘fifty-fifty’s just like himself, all of whom are leading similar lives, trying to get through from one day to the next. In their colourful, sometimes moving life stories, Maya tries to trace her own beginnings and in the process, chalks out what her future might look like.

Despite addressing serious questions of community, belonging, womanhood and life, the charm of Half-Blood lies in how it manages to keep the tone light-hearted and simple throughout the book. A rare mix of entertaining and thought-provoking, the novel promises to be an enjoyable read from start to finish.

 

https://www.telegraphindia.com/my-kolkata/try-this/read/half-blood-by-pronoti-datta/cid/1857408

JOY, AWE AND TEARS – My association with Sargam

JOY, AWE AND TEARS – My association with Sargam

by

Shireen Isal

Joy, awe and tears: a range of emotions experienced over forty years of artists’ management through Association Sargam!  Intense feelings in unequal measure, for the joy and awe has vastly outweighed any angst or tears.  For this I owe immense thanks to the fifty Indian musicians and dancers, and their accompanists, that I was privileged to invite to tour Europe over four decades (1978 – 2018).  “Joy, Awe and Tears” is that story, of my love affair with the performing arts of India, a discovery that infused me with a passion to reveal its timeless beauty on the shores of that continent – Europe – where destiny brought me: in France, the UK and innumerable European countries.

The vision started with a seed, planted, in the early seventies in Mumbai, through a simple encounter with an Indian dance recital and its protagonists: the iconic Jhaveri Sisters (Manipuri danceand that awesome connoisseur of Indian dance, Shri Sunil Kothari.   And, from that moment, there was no turning back. Revealing the magic of India’s classical heritage to a western audience became akin to a personal calling, which consumed my professional life for forty years.  All was not smooth sailing. I have encountered generosity and gratitude but experienced extreme personal hurt and disappointments too; eccentricities and clashes of egos amidst humility and kind understanding.  Some of those negative experiences did take their toll but the overwhelming feeling that remains with me today is one of pure magic!

“Joy, Awe and Tears” relates all this simply, as it happened.  Above all, it is a catalogue of Sargam’s achievements over four decades and grateful recognition of those – artists, organisers, audiences and family – who made it all possible. I hope you enjoy reading it.

The book is available: in the UK, at Amazon.co.uk.  Price: £7.95 + postage (link: https://amzn.to/3gDNeF0).  In France and continental Europe, at amazon.fr (link: https://amzn.to/3LF8Xuw ).  Price: 9.45 Euros + postage.  In India, from 15th March 2022, at www.parsiana.com and in the Parsiana bookshop (K. K. (Navsari) Chambers, Ground Floor, Opp. Cathedral School side entrance, 39B, Amrit Keshav Nayak Road, Fort, Mumbai 400001. Tel: +91-22-22074347, +91-22-22074335). Price: Rs.599 + postage.  It can also be ordered directly from me, the author.

Please share this information via email and on social media.

Thank you so much.

Shireen Isal

 

Why we need more books on Parsi businesses, culture and memories

Parsis in India: Why we need more books on Parsi businesses, culture and memories

Given their dwindling population, it is important that as many of the memories that are still available with the older generation, are captured and retained for the future.

From the time the followers of Zoroastrianism came to India 1,300 years ago, the lives of the Parsis have been inextricably intertwined with the evolution of the country. (Illustration by Suneesh K.)

There has been a spate of new books on the Tata Group in particular and the Parsi community in general over the last few years. In 2019, Berjis Desai’s Oh Those Parsis came out, while in 2021, Anastasia Damani’s illustrated picture book under Puffin’s Have You Met series Have You Met the Parsis? and Coomi Kapoor’s intimate history of the community, The Tatas, Freddie Mercury & Other Bawas were published.

The Tata Group has, of course, been the focus of this writing. In 2020, Arun Maira’s The Learning Factory: How The Leaders of Tata Became National Leaders, was followed by Tata: The Global Corporation That Built Indian Capitalism by Mircea Raianu and Peter Casey’s The Story of Tata: 1868 to 2021 which were released in 2021. By the end of this year, Ratan Tata’s authorized biography, being authored by bureaucrat and retired IAS officer Dr Thomas Mathew, is also expected to hit the stands.

Welcome as the new additions are – since they give us a rare insight into their lives, culture, customs and heritage – they are also a grim reminder that as a people, this illustrious community is slimming in numbers at an alarming rate. The Parsis of India, a four-volume series, in fact seeks to capture this very demographic decline.

More the pity, for the Parsis have for years been the pride of India. The Godrej group set up 125 years ago by Ardeshir Godrej, the Wadia family that started out way back in 1736, and of course the 154-year-old Tata Group are three of the largest conglomerates in the country. Outside of these, there have been so many other Parsi businesses along with their enormous contributions to every other field of endeavour in the country.

From the time the followers of Zoroastrianism came to India to escape from Muslim persecution in Persia 1,300 years ago, the lives of the Parsis have been inextricably intertwined with the evolution of the country. Records show that by the 1600s, Parsi traders were doing business with merchants in Persia, Arabia and South-East Asia. The arrival of the Europeans on Indian shores gave wings to the community’s creativity and spirit of adventure, driven by their love for learning. Coomi Kapoor’s book points to their early embrace of British schooling. In 1860, there were 615 Parsi students in high school in Bombay compared to 441 Christians, 239 Hindus, just 15 Muslims and 22 others. Again in the early 1920s, Parsis earned 7 percent of the engineering degrees, 5 percent of medical degrees and 2 percent of science degrees. Given their minuscule share of the population – 0.03 percent – those are telling figures.

By 1941, the Parsi population in the country had risen to 114,000, and in 1951, the percentage of the population which identified Zoroastrian as its religion was about 0.13 percent. Yet, since then the number has been dropping precipitously, with some estimates placing it at under 50,000 now.

Even that number is seriously threatened with birth rates in the community dropping and marriages becoming rare. While earlier, as an immigrant community, the tendency was to have many children, for the last few decades that’s hardly been the case. A government program to help grow the population hasn’t really succeeded nine years after it was launched. A bigger reason for the decline is also the refusal to recognize those that marry outside the community, a number that has been growing with a third of all marriages now involving another community.

Given their reclusive and self-effacing nature and a rapidly ageing population, it is important that as many of the memories that are still available with the older generation, are captured and retained for the future. While the Parsi museum in Udvada, and the revamped FD Alpaiwalla Museum in Mumbai are efforts to preserve fragments of their 1,300-year-old history in the country, the spate of books is another facet of the same objective.

Memories are the perpetual zeitgeist of mankind. Towards the end of the 2019 film The Song of Names, the mystery of the lead character’s 35-year disappearance is resolved to a recitation of the names of all those who died in the Treblinka concentration camp. The song is haunting but what it conveys, how a community tried to keep its memories alive for posterity, is universal.

SUNDEEP KHANNA is a senior journalist. Views are personal.
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