The Ostowari Story
This is a love story.
It is a story about a family’s love for their community and the lengths they went to.
I am writing about the Ostowari family of Sydney and especially Akhtar and Nawzar Ostowari.
Akhtar was born in Kerman, Iran while Nawzar was born in Bombay and grew up in Poona.
Nawzar was one of 9 siblings, 6 boys and 3 girls.
Akhtar was sent to India from Iran when she was fifteen to get married. Nawzar’s father, her uncle, came to meet her at Poona station with all his sons. Akhtar famously narrated that on her arrival he lined them all up at Poona station and asked her to choose one for her husband. She chose Nawzar for his good looks. He did look like Omar Sharif as photographs show. Apart from his looks, Nawzar was a highly skilled and talented man. He was a glider pilot, a mechanical engineer, a very good photographer, an accountant and a natural with his hands. Apparently he was asked by the Shah of Iran to come and start a Glider training school in Tehran. Nawzar accepted this invitation and moved with his young family to Tehran.
In Tehran apart from running Glider training Nawzar also started a photography business and combined his aerial and photography skills to do photogrammerist work to produce maps for surveys done by oil companies of possible locations for oil exploration sites. His sister Shera had a daughter Marokh who was married to a Canadian oil driller working on the BHP Bass strait oil fields in the mid sixties. That induced Shera and her family to migrate to Australia. Shera’s husband Fereydoon had throat cancer and was dying. Nawzar decided to migrate to Australia to be with his sister to help out. Nawzar, Akhtar and the children came to Sydney in 1967. Nawzar bought a large house in 14, Nelson Road, Lindfield and put his inventive skills to work and started a successful Labels printing business in Australia.
When I came to Australia in 69 that house on Nelson Road, Lindfield was the focus of community meets. I landed at the start of the Labour Day long week end and went to visit Akhtar and Nawzar the next day. A knock on the door was opened by this beautiful lady who looked like Princess Soraya. It was Akhtar in her late 30s. I did not know her from a bar of soap but the warmth of her welcome was so overwhelming that as a stranger in a strange land I immediately felt at home. This was the magic she had on people. Nawzar and Akhtar’s generosity and hospitality did not just extend to me alone. I know of several families who stayed at their house in the first months of arrival until they had found work and could move out. This was a true Zoroastrian act, asking for nothing in return, they just got pleasure from giving!
I would visit Akhtar and Nawzar regularly. There were only about 20 Zoroastrians then but growing very slowly. One day when I visited, Akhtar said she was going to start a Zoroastrian Association and ask for government land for our community. At that time such allocations were being done in new suburbs like Terry Hills. We were between 25-30 people at this meeting. Some were brand new arrivals who I had not even met. After a discussion of the aims and objects we passed the hat around and close to a $1000 were collected with the Ostowaris putting in $500. The next day Akhtar went with Jehangir Mistry and Pervez Kolsawalla to register our association in the Corporate Affairs Commission office in Clarence Street, Sydney and AZA was born. This was also the occasion for the first “jashan” in Sydney with Zoroastrian hymns chanted by the late Jangoo Unwalla who was from a mobed family. A write up of this event based on material provided appears on the AZA website.
As the 70’s moved on the community grew. I lost touch with the Ostowaris and I got caught up in my work and moved to study in the UK. Cyrus, Akhtar’s eldest son, went to Texas to do a PhD and teach Aeronautical Engineering. Akhtar and Nawzar also went to the US and considered settling there but eventually decided against it.
When I returned to Sydney in 1981 I married Dinaz Sadri who got involved in fund raising with the Foundation Committee and other AZA activities. After a lot of both written and verbal communication, in 1982 a pledge was gained from the Guiv trust for US$60K to purchase land for a Darbe–Meher and community centre. To push for early release of these funds Akhtar and Nawzar rushed to California at their own expense to make direct representations to Dr Sarfe the chair of the Guiv trust. They also went to Canada to appeal to Mr Meherboon Zarthosty for funds. They got an encouraging hearing.
A debt free property of $143,500 with legals etc. of an extra $4000 was purchased by AZA by the end of 1985.
How was this possible? There were no funds from the Guiv or Zarthosty trusts and by Dec.1985 only 49K had been collected in community donations?
The answer is straight forward.
The Ostowari family contributed the rest. Their contribution was given in stages at different times, by different members of the family and in different lots and therefore there is much confusion around how much they actually gave. What is clear is that Nawzar’s parents gave 15K of which receipts are available with the AZA. Akhtar and Nawzar gave 50K initially as per a note by Peshotan Katrak in his Memorial article to Nawzar in the December 2008 issue of Manashni. A further $1900 was given by the children bringing their total contribution to 66K+. An additional 12K+ was given which brings their major donor contribution to 78,927. This amount squares with the amount shown in a spreadsheet on pp4 of the Souvenir Issue published when the new Darbe-Meher was inaugurated in July 1994.
The funds collected to the end of Sep. 85 were:
Direct Ostowari Family contribution: $66K+
Community Donations $49K
TOTAL (about) $124K
As the MC of that time was also looking for suitable property for a Community Centre, they felt they were short of funds by around 24K considering the prices prevailing for properties in those days. To back up this shortfall there is a communication by Dr. Boman Kalapesi (then MC President) to this effect. In the community there was a general expectation that any such shortfall would be made good from Guiv Trust funds which had already arrived in Sydney and were sitting in a Guiv Trust account in the Turramurra Branch of the Westpac Bank. However, by a turn of events this was not to be! Peshotan Katrak writes in the Manashni issue I mentioned earlier, that there were “protracted negotiations lasting 12 years” (starting from 1980, 1982 when the pledge was given, 1987 when the Deed of Release(DOR) was signed) to 1992 when funds were actually released to AZA. Unfortunately there is a false belief that the Guiv Trust released funds straight away for purchase of Annangrove property. Some believe that the funds were released when the DOR was signed which is again simply not true. In reality the precious funds were only released after AZA passed resolutions at an EGM in 91/92 to meet stringent Guiv Trust conditions to appoint trustees etc. to protect their donation.
So who made good the shortfall of close to 24K?
It was the Ostowaris.
How do I know this? Akhtar told us in 2011, when Dinaz and I were seeing her virtually every day that Nawzar did not want to miss out on purchase of the Annangrove property. A deposit had been paid which would be lost if AZA did not go to settlement like any conveyancing deal. Furthermore, to meet a stringent condition set by the Guiv trust that the AZA community should match their contributions as well, Nawzar made the decision to increase the Ostowari contribution to AZA. He also made contributions in other AZA members’ names to increase community contributions. Dinaz in fact remembers that one day in 1985 when I was at work we got a call from Nawzar asking if he could make a donation of 2-3K in our name. They were going round asking the old original AZA members to use their names. This indirect contribution done by the Ostowaris privately in other people’s names saved the day. It buffered the community contribution so strongly demanded by the Guivs and Zarthoshty Trusts, satisfied the strong preconditions and finally enabled AZA to purchase Annangrove.
In private conversations, 27 years after Annangrove was purchased, Akhtar spoke of this modestly, recalling the many hurdles they had faced. Furthermore we have to keep in mind that AZA’s records as minuted at the time are unreliable as they are incomplete and not all available. The MC in the past have claimed many times when questioned in AGMs that many minutes and other records have been lost or inadvertently destroyed.
A similar group of direct and indirect contributions were made by Nawzar Ostowari when money was collected for the new Darbe-Meher. However here there are well documented figures available of their generosity. Akhtar said that a family property was sold by Nawzar whose proceeds were used to fund these AZA donations.
In addition to their donations for the purchase of Annangrove and the building of the new Darbe-Meher the Ostowaris gave material things such as Fridges, Ovens, Stoves, Pressure Cookers and so on both for the old and the new building. There are people still alive who went with Akhtar to purchase these things. In addition to this, Nawzar worked night and day come rain, come shine to oversee the construction of the new Darbe-Meher. The landscaping at the front, namely the rockery and the fountain were his pet projects. I have some photographs of the building getting constructed which I will post with this article.
As if this was not enough of Ostowari contributions, Cyrus Ostowari built, all by himself, the beautiful furniture in the library and paid for all the materials and quality timber. The shelving, the tables and chairs are all done by Cyrus. But there is more. The pergola at the back of the Darbe-Meher with the paving was designed and built by Cyrus with the help of the Working Bee group. Special timber was ordered and paid for by Cyrus from a timber yard in Orange. There are back issues of Manashni that the curious can look up on this. We don’t know what Cyrus spent on these two projects but the raw materials themselves would have been over at least $10K- he never accepted any reimbursement for his expenses.
Further to all this contribution Akhtar did three more major things for AZA.
First, as a major donor she chaired the joint MC and Trustees meetings at which improvements and maintenance matters were discussed and funded. It was not just chairing as most of the time she was the first port of call for funding. Putli has told me that she carried $1000 in cash every time she went to AZA and spent it as she saw fit. There is no accounting for the total spent by her in this. Even if we take one visit a year (which is totally absurd) then over 40 years it amounts to $40K. We know she went at least once a month.
Second, she started with Dinaz the highly successful monthly Seniors program in 2008 after Nawzar’s death. This program is still running (with a name change!). At the Seniors meet alone she came with fruits, nuts, yogurts and other goodies of close to $100. For every prayer meet held at the AZA she would discreetly donate anything from 100-to 500/- dollars.
Finally as an outgrowth of the Seniors, Dinaz and Akhtar conceived of building a new modern commercial fully fitted out kitchen to replace existing facilities which were inadequate for feeding so many people monthly as also creating a modern facility suitable for the growth of an expanding, burgeoning community. The funding was kicked off by Putli whose generosity resulted in her being named a Major Donor by AZA. Again, we will never know the exact amount spent on the kitchen. A separate account was opened with $244K+ deposited over time but in addition many cash ex-gratia payments were made by Akhtar. A lavish inauguration jashan was funded by Akhtar attended by 425 guests with food and drink and catering to both Indian and Iranian menus. I estimate that as some teething repairs also have to be taken into account a figure of $280K-ish would be near the actual cost of the new kitchen.
Note that the new kitchen has been a great success and it is used by both AZA for its functions and rented out for private navjote and wedding functions. It provides income to AZA as it is separately charged when booked.
Finally it would be amiss of me not to mention individual charities, scholarships, medical bills, and other good works of Akhtar. Many AZA members visited her and she discreetly helped all.
So far I have mentioned how Akhtar, Nawzar, Cyrus and Putli have donated to AZA. The final one to mention is Kaikhosrov’s contribution. If you enter AZA from the front door, then in the porch outside the front door sit two beautiful solid marble sculpted lions. These were donated by Kaikhosrov, and are very valuable costing tens of thousands of dollars each.
It is amazing to find that one family has shown such munificence and generosity.
No one else comes anywhere close.
There are no also–rans and it is highly unlikely that there ever will be. The mighty heart of this one family is self evident. I do hope it stands as a beacon to inspire future generations.
All up they have given well over half a million dollars.
Of course there will be the knockers, “gold-coinwallas” as I call them who give a gold-coin and ask for a receipt. They will want to knock off a dollar here and there of my figures. To them we have to say that we will never know the actual amount given by the Ostowaris and what we give here is a low end estimate.
For the Ostowaris’ actions one can only dwell on an interpretation of a part of the Yatha Varyo which says that:
“Happiness comes from making others happy”
By being instrumental in buying and developing Annangrove, lots of happy events have been held for the Zoroastrian community and many people have been happy.
I started this piece saying this was a love story. You can see after reading it why, for unless the Ostowaris truly had a love for their AZA community, they would never have bothered. They could have simply enjoyed their life and their money in peace and quiet and done nothing for us. After all there are other wealthier Zoroastrians in Sydney, who do little to nothing for AZA and that is their call. Two generations of the Ostowari family were not only generous they are truly unique!
Paradoxically ZAV started in Melbourne about the same time as AZA but they regret that till today they do not have a place of their own as ‘finance is a problem’ and doubts they will ever get one. Their President rues this fact in the June 2022 issue of Parsiana. Why? I say because they did not have far sighted visionaries like the Ostowaris championing their cause. The same could be said for Perth or Adelaide or Auckland.
I believe my life was enriched in being fortunate enough to know the Ostowari family so well and today where the community is we can truly say that:
“We stand on the shoulders of giants”
In the Zoroastrian tradition there are four wonderful gathic hymns. They are: the Ashem Vohu, the Yatha Varyo, the Airyema Ishio and the Vengha Hatam. The first two all Zoroastrians know while the last two are known by few of us. The Airyema Ishio enjoins us to always remember and emulate the example of those people who have followed the good religion by doing good works. That is why we are asked to remember and never forget them and place them in our thoughts and in our prayers. I ask you my dear readers to do that, to remember Akhtar and Nawzar and Cyrus next time in your prayers.
 Ref. AZA House Inaugural Jashan Souvenir, Feb.9, 1985