Road to Enterprise

Part 1 : The Rise of the Parsis

The Parsis are one of Indias most well-known business communities. Catch the story of their journey from a predominantly agrarian beginning to the pioneers of Indian industry.

Part 2 :

Naushad Forbes, Co-Chairman, Forbes Marshal, shares his thoughts on his family legacy , the Parsi way of doing business and the way ahead .



Looking for Old Pictures of Bharda House – Udvada

I am interested in any old pictures that you may have of the old Bharda House in Bharda Street, Udwada.  That house was occupied by my grandmother and aunts and uncle from the Katila family and I spent almost all my school vacations there in that house.

This is of sentimental value to me and I would be very grateful if you would oblige.

Thanks ,
Mrs. Nawaz Vijayakumar

Valiant Parsis in War and Peace

I am happy to announce that my new book VALIANT PARSIS IN WAR AND PEACE was
released by Dasturji Khurshed Dastoor at Iranshah Udvada Utsav on 24th
December 2017.

You may take a printout of the outer jacket and display it at your nearest
agiary/colony notice board.

I am currently in Mumbai for three weeks.

Marzban Giara



320 pages, hard bound, illustrated, printed on art paper

Foreword by Air Chief Marshal Fali Major (Retired)

An index of names – surnamewise of 550 Parsi officers and men with 200

Price:Rs.700/- plus courier chargesRs.200/- per book in India

Available from:

Marzban J. Giara,  WZO Trust Funds Senior Citizens Centre,  Pinjara Street, Malesar, Navsari,
Gujarat, India Pin 396445


Available from 1st January 2018 at Mumbai:

  1. Mr. Hoshedar E. Ichhaporia. Desai Building, ground floor, (opp. Bank Of
    India). 668, Katrak Road, Dadar Parsi Colony  Tel. 24124303

  2. Rustomfaramna Agiary Dadar

  3. Karani Agiary, Cusrow Baug, Colaba

  4. Tata Agiary, Bandra

  5. Mevawalla Agiary Byculla

  6. Parsiana book shop, K. K. Chambers, A. K. Nayak Marg, Fort, Mumbai Tel

  7. Jame Jamshed office, 2282020223

The author Marzban Giara has documented the lives and contribution of Parsi
officers and men of the armed forces, police, fire brigade as a labour of
love. It has an index of names surnamewise of 550 Parsis and 200

This book has an attractive outer jacket with colour pictures of all the
Parsi service chiefs on the front cover and Lt. Generals, Air Marshals,
Vice/Rear Admirals on the rear cover. It has a foreword by Air Chief Marshal
Fali H. Major (Retired)

There is a special section 24 pages with colour pictures of medals pre
independence and post independence and life sketches of the Parsi service
chiefs – Field Marshal Maneckshaw, Admiral Jal Cursetji, Air Marshal Aspi
Engineer, Air Chief Marshal Fali H. A. Major, as also Vice Admiral Rustom
Contractor, Director General, Indian Coast Guard and Khusro F. Rustamji,
Director General, BSF; Keki Dadabhoy of Black Cat Commandos and Lt. Col. Adi
B. Tarapore, the only Parsi winner of Param Veer Chakra.

There is a chronological record detailing the contribution and preparedness
of the Parsi community during the Second World War. Pictures of the two War
Memorials at Khareghat Colony, Mumbai are included. A list of Parsis who
died during World War II, Indo Pakistan Wars and Indo China War of 1962 is
also given. Date of disbanding of the Parsi Battalion is also given as also
obituaries of several Parsi officers and men.


Table of Contents


Dedicatory page

Table of Contents




Recipients of Awards and Medals

Pictures of Awards and Medals

Life sketches of Parsi officers and men (arranged alphabetically
surnamewise) 200 pages

Parsis in Police Service

Chronological record from 1919 onwards

Parsi Ambulance Division

War Memorials

Index of names – surnamewise

Press announcements




Marzban Jamshedji Giara is the author and publisher of books on Zarathushti
religion and Parsi history.  In the eighties he helped Dr. Bahman Surti to
publish seven volumes of SHAH NAMAH OF FIRDAOSI in English Prose.  What
started as a hobby has become a full time obsession.  During the past 33
years he has produced many firsts including the first illustrated Global
Directory of Zoroastrian Fire Temples in 1998 and its 2nd edition in
December 2002, The Zoroastrian Pilgrim’s Guide in 1999, Parsi Statues in
2000, All India Directory of Parsi Institutions in 2010 and its 2nd edition
in 2015 and The Contribution of the Parsi Community during the First World
War (1914-1918). He has to his credit thirty six other books, some authored
or compiled by him, some translated from Gujarati into English.  He is
perhaps the only one who has had a track record of consistent performance in
bringing out new and informative publications that meet the needs of the
community and most of these with his own resources, without seeking any
sponsorship. A keen student of Parsi history and Zarathushti religion, he is
an independent thinker, writer, public speaker, free lance journalist and
research worker.

His parents and his teachers have been the inspiration for him.   Right from
childhood, his father ingrained in him the idea: “Son, be a creator and not
a spectator in life.  We must give back to society more than what we have
received from it.” These words have motivated him to pursue his noble work
of bringing out new and innovative books in the service of the community.
Married to Bapsy (nee Daruvala) since 1969, they have a son Zareer and a
grandson Farhad. The family’s support and encouragement from friends and
well wishers drives him to carry on with his work in his chosen field of

He has been featured in The Times of India, Jam-E-Jamshed, Afternoon
Despatch and Courier, Indian Express as also in Parsiana and was interviewed
on Doordarshan TV and ZEE TV alpha Humata Hukhta Hvarashta for his
publications. He is interested in devotional music and has compiled and
published two song books Jarthosti Gayan Sangrah, and Gaavo Maari Saathe
Singalong Treasure Trove of Parsi Songs and also produced audio CDs of
devotional hymns Zoroastrian Melodies, Khushaline Bandgina Geeto, Ame
Chhaiye Parsi.

Mr. Rusi M. Lala has acknowledged his contribution in his book For The Love
Of India biography of Jamsetji N. Tata. His article Through the Lens on
Parsi photographers co-authored along with Dr. Nawaz B. Modi is included in
Vol. III of the tome Enduring Legacy published in 2005. His article “Statues
in the making of Bombay” has been published in the tome Threads of
Continuity by PARZOR in March 2016. He has presented slide shows on Parsi
statues highlighting their contribution to humanity.

Ancient Persian temple discovered in northern Turkey could rewrite religious history

Archaeologists have uncovered an ancient Persian temple from the fifth century B.C. in Turkey’s northern Amasya province that could rewrite the history of the region.

Istanbul University Archaeology Professor Şevket Dönmez said discoveries at the ancient Persian Oluz Höyük settlement in Toklucak village have the potential to change long-held notions of religion and culture in Anatolia.

In 11 seasons of excavations, the team uncovered thousands of artifacts, as well as temple structure.

“In this settlement from the fifth century B.C., we discovered a temple complex which is related to a fire culture, more precisely to the early Zoroastrian religion, or to the very original religious life of Anatolian people,” Dönmez told Anadolu Agency.

Zoroastrianism, one of the world’s oldest extant religions, is believed to have originated from the prophet Zoroaster in present-day Iran. The discovery of a temple for fire worship suggests the religion may have had roots in Anatolia, as well.

“No 2,500-year-old artifacts have been found in Iran, yet they appeared in Anatolia. [With this discovery] Anatolia has entered the sacred geography of today’s Zoroastrians,” said Dönmez.

Describing the temple, Dönmez said it includes a holy room for burning fires and other stone-paved areas with many goods used in worship practices.

“They built a massive religion system here,” added Dönmez.

Dönmez also said Oluz Höyük is the only known Persian settlement in the region.

Excavations at Oluz Höyük started in 2007, after the site was first discovered during surface research near Tokluca village in 1999.

Dönmez and his team plan to continue research work at the site, possibly working on restoring the temple area in the future.

The mystery of Gustad Merwanji Hathiram

Today is the 44th death anniversary of my grand uncle and world cyclist Gustad Hathiram and an apt day to recount his incredible adventure and tragic disappearance… A real man, incredibly brave, a true hero… They don’t make them like him anymore!

The three men knelt before Pope Pius XI, thanking God for their luck so far, and asking for blessings from the pontiff for their onward travails. It was 15th October, 1924. Dressed in khakis, Gustad Hathiram, Keki Pochkhanawala and Adi Hakim were once again at the outset of a dare – one in a series of adventures that had started off exactly one year ago, from the dusty streets of Gowalia Tank, Mumbai, from where 6 gallant Parsi youth had set off on an unbelievable expedition – to circumnavigate the globe – on bicycle.

After weaving an intricate web of lies to avoid their parents’ ire, holding secret conclaves and making fledgling attempts to gather money, these 3 along with their colleagues Jal Bapasola, Rustam Bhumgara and Nariman Kapadia had set off with a few clothes, a battered second hand compass, and copies of the map of the world. They choose their route to make sure that they passed through some of the most inhospitable terrains on Earth, for their objective was to show the world that Indians could do something never done before, even though the British ruled them.

From Mumbai the cyclists headed to Delhi passing through various parts of central India. After meeting the Viceroy, Lord Reading, they cycled through the Punjab and on to Baluchistan, crossing the Duki pass at 11,000 feet in three feet of snow and temperatures of minus 13° C, finally reaching the last outpost of colonial India – Varechhah on 20th January 1924. From there, the group sent its first post card to their parents, giving them details of their real journey and assuring them that they would soon be home. Crossing into their ancient motherland – Iran, the 6 Parsis eventually reached Tehran in May 1924, meeting Reza Shah Pahlavi. At Tehran, Nariman chose to return back to India, while the remaining 5 proceeded on to Baghdad. Despite dire warnings to turn back, the cyclists set a new record – crossing the Mesopotamian desert from Baghdad to Aleppo – a distance of 956 kilometers. Struggling through shifting sand, temperatures over 55° C and delirious with sand-fly fever, the cyclists were saved from certain death by Bedouins and reached Aleppo after 23 days.

At Damascus, the 5 split into 2 groups. While Gustad, Keki and Adi proceeded onto Europe, Jal and Rustam went on to Jerusalem. The trio reached Brindsi in Italy by steamer and then went on to Naples and Rome – receiving the Pope’s blessings for another audacious dare – crossing the Alps on cycle. The three reached Zimplo and proceeded to cross the Gothard pass. After getting caught in a relentless storm, suffering from severe frostbite and bleeding, all three passed out and were buried in the snow, and would have perished had the Franciscan monks and their St. Bernard dogs not rescued them! They reached Paris and proceeded thence to London, where they received media coverage and adulation. After 23 days of travel through England, they caught the steamer to reach New York.

Here Gustad announced to the others that he had no plans of going further or coming back to India – he wanted to live in New York. The other two cyclists who had separated at Damascus soon reached New York. All four went to convince Gustad to change his mind. But Gustad refused to meet them and instead slipped a letter under their hotel door. ‘Think that I drowned in the Atlantic, my friends, for the Gustad you knew is now no more…’ Heartbroken, Gustad’s soul mate on the trip Keki returned back to India by steamer. The remaining three decided to go on and cycled throughout the States. On 15th October 1925 – their third anniversary, they set a new record, cycling non-stop for 16 hours covering 307 kilometers.

From America, they crossed over to Japan and from there became the first cyclists to enter Korea. Crossing Korea they entered Manchuria and cycled through some of the most difficult terrains, braving the intense hatred for foreigners, often starving for days. They became the first cyclists to cross the great Gobi desert and reached Canton in October 1926. From there they proceeded to Hong Kong, and cycled through Vietnam, Cambodia, Thailand, Burma and the North Eastern states to Calcutta and from there to Colombo, the whole of South India and eventually reached Mumbai to the accompaniment of over 1000 cyclists and widespread media coverage on 18th March 1928 after covering nearly 71,000 kilometers in 4 years, 5 months and 3 days.

Amid the festivities, one family nursed its grief. Dinshawji Hathiram, the elder brother and guardian of Gustad, and my grandfather, was inconsolable. In 1930, he received a letter from Gustad warning him against trying to contact his brother and asking for some Sudreh and Kusti and a prayer book. My grandfather kept his word – and that was the last we heard of Gustad Hathiram. The last link in the chain was lost when Dinshawji passed away in 1987. The question remained unanswered – what happened to Gustad?

Many years later I was giving a talk on the importance of the Muktad and the need for Parsis to remember their dear departed. The next day as I sat down for prayers I doubled over in pain as though someone had punched me in the stomach. Still gasping for breath, there was only one thought in the mind – ‘you talk of remembering the dead, what about your Gustad kaka?’ After the prayers were over, I thought long and hard about what had happened. I realised that Gustad kaka would have been over 100 years old and was most probably dead. Yet no prayers had ever been done for him. Shortly thereafter, on Roj Fravardin Mah Fravardin – All Souls Day and the day to remember those whose date of death was not known, I performed the first Baj for Gustad kaka and begged forgiveness for my carelessness. A few months later, while praying, I was once again punched in the stomach by an unseen force and the same thought: ‘what about Gustad kaka?’On the next Fravardin Roj, I consecrated a new Karasya for him and put the same on our family table during the Muktad. A few days after the Muktad, I got my final blow in the stomach and the thought: ‘You are not doing enough! Search for Gustad kaka!’.

A few days later, in September 2002, as I was browsing the Internet at office, a headline ad banner flashed: ‘Search for your lost ancestors!’. As I clicked the ad, I was redirected to the genealogy site Half-heartedly I typed in ‘Gustad Hathiram.’ A few seconds later I was staring at the screen that read: ‘One death record found.’ The record revealed that Gustad Hathiram had passed away in the sunny town of St. Petersburg, Florida on 27th November 1973. In this manner, through the power of our prayers and my constant thoughts about his destiny, I was able to locate my grand kaka, nearly 30 years after his death! My joy at finding my grand-uncle was tempered with sadness at the circumstances. The details on his death certificate told us he worked as an auto mechanic, and he had never married. Why did he not contact us all these years? Did he have any friends? What were his final thoughts? These and a myriad other questions will haunt me for the rest of my life.

Thereafter, on 24th November 2002, I performed the first four days ceremonies for Gustad Hathiram and continued with the other prayers later on. As the prayers progressed, more and more information became miraculously available on him. Old photographs tumbled out of cupboards, a newspaper article written by me resulted in the relatives of the other Parsi cyclists contacting me. A few months later, we all met – descendants of the original 6 who had taken off from Bombay in 1923. Through these interactions and the hard work of the Hakim family, the original book written by Adi Hakim on their fantastic journey was re-published by Roli Books.

Readers of Frashogard! We have often recounted the miracles which happened many hundreds of years ago on this blog. But this is a miracle which took place just a few years ago – to an average and hardly pious person, in an age filled with pollution, materialism and no respect for God. If our Avesta prayers have this much effect that they can verily locate a person long dead in an alien land and pull his relatives back on track, can we imagine the power of Avesta when a really pious and holy man were to utter it? There is no lack of miracles, there is only lack of faith – in ourselves and in Ahura Mazda.

On 24th November 2003 – exactly one year after performing Gustad kaka’s four days ceremonies, I was appointed as the Panthaky of the Ustad Saheb Behramshah Nowroji Shroff Daremeher at Behram Baug Jogeshwari. Today, as I finish seven years in that post I offer my deep and humble thanks to the Creator and the Holy Fire for allowing me to attain what I always wanted and for giving me a chance to serve Him in this day and age. My thoughts are also with the Ruvan of Gustad Merwanji Hathiram – may it progress from whatever station in nature it may be and may it continue to watch over me and guide me to my ultimate destiny.

Ervad Marzban J. Hathiram

Parsis: The makers of Karachi

A Parsi religious monument in Karachi | AFP

Being Parsi works to your advantage at Karachi airport. “At the security checkpoint they often look at our names and say, ‘Let them go ahead; they’re OK,” smiles Arnab Lakdawala, 56, looking over at her mother-in-law, who is nestled comfortably on the drawing room couch. They live in Karachi’s Parsi Colony, a clean, gated enclave of the city. Shirin Lakdawala nods vigorously in agreement, gesturing with animated strokes that belie her 83 years. “Even when we go to shops, we get a little bit of preferential treatment,” she says. “Parsis are known for being honestand hard-working.”

She is not wrong. To conclude that Parsis (or Zarthustis, in the more traditional terminology) have enjoyed a relatively hassle-free existence compared to Pakistan’s other non-Muslim communities would not be an exaggeration. But perhaps this is because, upon arrival in Sindh in 1825, they wasted no time in getting down to business — pun intended.

According to the late Jehangir Framroze Punthakey,author of The Karachi Zoroastrian Calendar, Parsis are “the makers of the Karachi of today.” In the mid-1800s, around the time of the Indian mutiny, Parsis quietly setup shop while Muslims and Hindus were more preoccupied with one-upmanship. Records of Parsi contractors, doctors, watchmakers, tradesmen, candle-makers, jockeys, tax collectors and even auctioneers are abundant from 1830 onwards.

But despite the empires they once built, Parsis do not, by a long shot, have the influence they once did. “These days everyone feels a little unsafe here,” Arnab explains quietly, “so most of them are leaving Pakistan because of that. Many younger ones went abroad to study and stayed back.” And the community is not just spreading itself out — it is also shrinking. By 2020, it is estimated that there will be only 23,000 Parsis worldwide, reducing their status from rom a community to a tribe.

But Arnab has stayed in Pakistan by choice. Even though her entire family has a Plan B by way of either Australian or British citizenship, she is one of the few who is here for the long haul. “I have no plans to move,” she says. “This is home, whatever happens, and it will always be.” She pauses. “Sometimes I just regret that people are leaving, it’s the law and order situation, that’s what gets you. Otherwise it’s great.”

Arnab’s mother-in-law, Shirin, believes the community is dwindling because most of the older generation has died and their children are scattered across the globe. “There were 5,000 to 6,000 of us when we first came,” she says. “Now there are a little over 1,000 here. The youngsters migrated and the old people died, so what do you expect? They don’t come back, like my own children. My daughter took a Swiss husband and settled down there. My other son went abroad and stayed.”

The Parsi graveyard 'Tower of silence' in Karachi | AFP
The Parsi graveyard ‘Tower of silence’ in Karachi | AFP

Shirin herself was forced, in a manner of speaking,to move to Pakistan from India following Partition because her husband was working with Habib Bank at the time. “When they started in insurance, they asked my husband to come to Karachi,” she says.“We knew about Parsi Colony, we had heard of Britto Road and that’s where we ended up.” Hailing from Santa Cruz, a suburb of Bombay, Shirin did not know what to expect when she reached Karachi. “It’s funny but I never found any discrimination at all. I would be out all the time, walking freely in Bohri Bazaar and such. We went to the Gymkhana and Karachi Club, Boat Club, Sindh Club … we had a great circle of friends,” she recalls. “When we were leaving India they gave us a real scare. They said, ‘Look they’re all Muslims there,’ and this and that and God knows … but when we came here we found it was nothing.

And it was from nothing that the Parsis created a great deal of Pakistan’s economic infrastructure. Founded by Dinshaw Avari, the Beach Luxury was the premier luxury hotel in Karachi before the arrival, much later, of establishments such as the Pearl Continental and the Sheraton. Today, to picture a public – let alone swinging – party scene in Karachi requires imagination, but Beach Luxury’s now defunct 007 was something of a nightlife institution in the 1950s. There were other big contributors, such as the Cowasjee Group, which began shipping and stevedore businesses. It is now the oldest shipping firm still running in Pakistan.’

Today, Parsi culture seems to be bleeding out along with the community’s decreasing population. Jennifer, Arnab’s 28-year-old daughter, enters the room and joins the discussion. Three generations are now here, each with a different sense of identity. Jennifer recalls being much more involved in the Parsi community when she was a child. “I’ve definitely made a few more friends in the Parsi community since we moved to Parsi Colony around 15 years ago,” she says. “But most of my friends are still Muslim; I didn’t go to a Parsi school or anything. I used to be more active at the Karachi Parsi Institute before but now, well,” she laughs, “it’s just so hot there and it’s so far. Does Shirin still have any Parsi friends that she met when she first came to Karachi? “Darling, at my age it is very difficult to remember things like that,” she laughs

Some Parsi beliefs have recently been scrutinised and deemed impractical. It is Zoroastrian culture, for example, to take a person’s body to a Tower of Silence when they die so that it can quickly be consumed by vultures. Cremation and burial are not permitted because earth, fire and water are considered sacred elements that should not be involved with death. Of late, however, a shortage of vultures has developed in Karachi and Mumbai due to extensive urbanisation, which leads to bodies slowly decomposing outdoors.

Parsis are being urged to switch to other methods of burial. They now have to make a choice between efficiency and preserving their culture and customs. And with their rapid global displacement and numerical decline, Pakistan will soon have even fewer reminders of the builders of Karachi.

Names have been changed to protect privacy.

This was originally published in the Herald’s August 2009 issue. To read moresubscribe to the Herald in print.

Parsi delicacies on sale in London late 19th century

Paper bag reveals forgotten history

This 130 year old paper bag reveals that Indian sweetmeats were being sold in London in the late 19th century, much earlier than most people would expect. This lovely piece of ephemera is one of my favourite items in Connecting Stories: Our British Asian Heritage, an exhibition at the Library of Birmingham until 04 November. It is one of many items in the exhibition that illuminate the forgotten story of early South Asian influences on British life and culture.


The paper bag is at the British Library thanks to the enthusiasms of Henry Evans, a conjuror and ventriloquist, who performed under the stage name ‘Evanion’. He collected this bag as well as posters, advertisements, trade cards and catalogues which give lively insights into popular entertainment and everyday life in the late 19th century. Connecting Stories also features this beautiful poster which gives more details of the Indian themed entertainments on offer at Langham Place – snake charmers, wrestlers and dancers known as nautch girls.

Parsi Influence In Mahatma Gandhi’s Life

Later Gandhi acknowledged, “I soon found that Indian students had free access to the Grand Old Man at all hours of the day. Indeed, he was in the place of father to every one of them, no matter to which province or religion they belonged.” Dadabhai was a regular source of advice and inspiration to Gandhi, particularly when the latter was in South Africa. They exchanged hand written letters almost every week. Gandhi was candid enough to say, “I have always been a hero-worshipper and Dadabhai became real Dada to me.”

In one of Gandhiji’s letters to Dadabhai he wrote, “I am yet inexperienced and young and therefore prone to make mistakes.” He said that the responsibility that he had undertaken was out of proportion to his ability. However, he said that just as Dadabhai was fighting for the rights of Indians in England, he was fighting for the rights of Indians in South Africa, and in this he requested Dadabhai to kindly guide and advise him and make suggestions, which Gandhiji said, he would follow as advice coming from a father to a son.

According to R P Masani, Gandhi is “the apostolic heir and successor to the place occupied by Dadabhai in the heart of the people of India.” Coincidentally in South Mumbai, Mahatma Gandhi or MG Road begins where Dadabhai Naoroji or DN Road ends. Indeed, the true test of a leader is that he leaves behind him in other men the conviction and will to carry on.


Parsee Rustomjee (Ghorkhodoo)
Parsee Rustomjee was the first friend that Mahatma Gandhi made when he was in South Africa. Rustomjee was a founder member of Natal Indian Congress and it was this Parsi who gave shelter to the young Mohandas Gandhi on 13th January 1897, when he was attacked by a European mob in Durban. But for Rustomjee, Gandhi could have died in Durban. But, Gandhi had a destiny in and for India and Rustomjee played a crucial role in ensuring that, as one of the best supporters of South Africa Satyagraha during 1907 to 1914. As a revolutionary he was also sentenced to jail.


Seated fourth from left: Parsee Rustomjee; seated fifth from left: Gandhiji



Mithuben Petit and the Captain Sisters
Mithu Petit and the Captain Sisters — Perin, Goshi and Khurshid – were active in the freedom movement, and a great source of strength to Gandhi. Born on 11 April 1892, Mithu was the daughter of the affluent Sir Dinshaw Maneckji Petit, well-known industrialist of his time. Young Mithu was influenced by her maternal aunt who was a follower of Gandhi, and Secretary of the Rashtriya Stree Sabha.

Mithuben as she was called by Gandhi, along with Kasturba Gandhi and Sarojini Naidu, played a major part in the Salt March with Kasturba Gandhi beginning the march at Sabarmati, with Sarojini Naidu picking up the salt for the first time at Dandi on 6th April, 1930 and Mithuben standing in support right behind Gandhi.
The march was one of the most important events in the Indian independence movement. Mithuben also participated in the Bardoli Satyagraha of 1928 which was a no-tax campaign against the British Raj where she worked under the guidance of Sardar Patel.

Mithu also set up an ashram in Maroli called Kasturba Vanat Shala which taught underprivileged children from families of Adivasis, Harijans and fisher folk, spinning, carding, weaving, dairy farming, leather-work and a Diploma Course in Sewing, to make the women self-sufficient. She also established a hospital by the same name for the treatment of mentally ill patients.

Ardeshir Godrej
In 1926 Ardeshir Godrej, one of the founders of the Godrej Group, contributed a sum of three lakhs rupees for the uplift of Harijans (considered untouchables at the time). This was a time when donations of such scale were unheard of. Mahatma Gandhi acknowledged this donation as the largest contribution to that cause and a particularly important one for him.


Excerpts from Gandhiji’s addressed to the Parsis (published in Young India dated 23-3-1921)
Apart from your being fellow-countrymen, I am bound to you by many sacred ties. Dadabhai (Dadabhai Naoroji) was the first patriot to inspire me. He was my guide and helper when I did not know any other leader. It was to him that I bore, when yet a boy, a letter of introduction.

It was the late uncrowned king of Bombay, Sir Pherozeshah Mehta who led me in 1896 and showed me the way to work. It was he who, (when I wanted battle a Political Agent as far back as 1892), restrained my youthful ardour and taught me the first practical lesson in ahimsa in public life. He taught me not to resent personal wrongs if I would serve India.

A Parsi merchant in Durban, Rustomjee Ghorkhodoo, was among my most valued clients and friends in South Africa. He gave freely to public causes, and he and his brave son were the first among my fellow prisoners. He gave me shelter when I was lynched, and now, too, he is following the swaraj movement with considerable interest and has just donated Rs. 40,000/- to it.

In my humble opinion, probably the first woman in India today is a Parsi woman (presumably Gandhiji refers to Mrs. Jaijee Petit, wife of Jehangir Bomanjee Petit) gentle as a lamb, with a heart that holds the whole of humanity. To have her friendship is the rarest privilege of life.”

Such was the influence that Parsis had on Gandhi!

Little wonder, he is believed to have said about the Parsis, “In numbers Parsis are beneath contempt, but in contribution, beyond compare!”

by Noshir Dadrawalla

Brothers-in-Arms : The Flying Engineer Brothers

In the undivided India of 1930, Karachi was the ‘aerial gateway of India’, boasting the first flying club in the country. One early morning in March two young men started up a small plane and, shrouded in secrecy, started on the journey of their lives. Seventeen-year-old Aspy Engineer and his friend R.N. Chawla, older by a few years, were attempting to fly to London in Aspy’s little single-engine aircraft. From there Aspy would return solo to compete in the race for the Agha Khan Cup. This pioneering event ushered in the era of civil aviation in India.

Click to Enlarge A young Aspy Engineer, in May 1930 with his DeHavilland Gypsy Moth. Aspy had embarked on the UK-India flight to win the Agha Khan Cup.

It was a heady period for young fliers. Lindbergh had flown solo trans-Atlantic and the likes of Amelia Earhart, Jim Morrison and Amy Johnson were making exciting headlines. To encourage aviation in India, the Agha Khan announced a trophy and a prize for the first Indian to fly solo between England and India within a period of 30 days. Aspy’s father had encouraged his children to ‘dare to dream’ and now he somehow put together enough resources to buy his son a DeHavilland Gypsy Moth.

Aspy won the race, and in so doing inspired his younger brothers to take flight on amazing Life journeys of their own. On hearing the news of Aspy’s winning the Agha Khan cup, half the population of Karachi turned out to greet him on his return. Asked by a reporter what he saw in his future, the youngster said “I would love the chance to serve my country in the Air Force”. A wish that came true for not one, but four of the brothers, with three of them receiving the coveted Distinguished Flying Cross. Aspy reached the highest position, Jangoo served in the Air force during the critical war years and then went on to make his mark in civil aviation, Minoo became the highest decorated officer in the armed forces, and the youngest, brilliant, enigmatic Ronnie charted a distinguished path of his own.

Minoo, Aspy and Ronnie Engineer, all awarded the D F C. Jangoo Engineer, who is not in this photograph made his mark in civil aviation as well Click to Enlarge

Four years apart in age, the boys were four out of eight siblings who grew up in Karachi where their father was the Divisional Engineer for the Northwestern Railway. Their mother was gentle, talented, very spiritual and a great moral force in their lives. Both parents groomed the children to be good Zoroastrians, with a great emphasis on honesty, high thinking and hard-work. One day around the year 1919, Alcock and Brown landed a small aircraft on the racecourse just below their spacious Railway bungalow, which was on a rise. Seven-year-old Aspy watched in fascination and an obsession was born. Ten years later, Aspy joined the newly formed Karachi Aero club and got his flying license within a year.

Promoters of the ‘nature vs. nurture’ theory would have a field day with the growing Engineer brothers as subjects. Being the eldest, Aspy developed strong leadership qualities. At times he had to be quite harsh on the boisterous younger ones. A free-spirited, euphoric spirit of adventure was never curbed by the adoring parents, but rather given free reign. However, perfection was made a goal, and the boys did not disappoint. A streak of extreme academic brilliance also ran in the family and the two brothers who didn’t take to flying excelled in other spheres, one topping the Civil Service exam and the other finishing school at the age of fourteen. Believing in ‘a healthy mind in a healthy body’, a Japanese gym instructor named Yamaki was put in charge of the brood’s fitness regimen. In later years, Aspy was to record with humour: “ My problem was that Yamaki wanted me also to become a ‘champion swimmer’ like my brother Jangoo, although swimming was anything but my strong point or budding love. As it happened, I could barely keep myself afloat and avoided entering deep waters in the same way as some so-called hunting dogs do, who prefer other pastimes to entering the cold waters of a duck ‘jheel’ early on a February morning!”

Aspy in the IAF

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Aspy trained at RAF Cranwell, U.K. where he was adjudged the best all round cadet. On commissioning from Cranwell, he joined ‘A’ Flight of the IAF, flying Wapitis in the North Western Frontier Province. He helped nurse the newly formed Indian Air force into a self-sufficient, high-morale fighting force and led several missions which resulted in the training of pilots and technicians for other developing countries.

A constructive period followed as M.D. of Hindustan Aircraft Ltd. (HAL), when the Marut flew its first sortie during his tenure. In 1960, on the sudden demise of the first Indian Chief of Air Force, his close friend Subrato Mukherjee, Aspy was appointed his successor. The Goa Operations and action in the Congo kept his forces busy.

Throughout his tenure there were ominous signs that Pakistan was preparing for war and that China was encroaching from Tibet. He ably guided his force through the 1962 aggression by the Chinese. After retirement from the Indian Air Force in 1964, he served as India’s ambassador to Iran. He passed away in 2002.


Jangoo Engineer

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Jangoo, the third Engineer brother, was the next to take up flying. In core areas like love of flying, patriotism, honesty and courage he was a lot like Aspy. However, while leadership came naturally to him too, he was kind and generous to a fault, with heart ruling head. He exulted in competition, and with fair-play as his standard, won in everything he set his sights on. Bridge and chess found him competing on a national level just as did swimming and squash. A brilliant science graduate, he had started his Medical studies while at the same time getting his flying license, when financial straits in the family led him to join Tata Air Lines as a pilot. He had flown for two years when the call went out for volunteers for an Emergency Commission in the R.I.A.F. in 1939. His response was unhesitating. On being recruited he immediately set about topping the armament exercises and building a formidable reputation. His first posting was with No. 1 Squadron at Miranshah.

In 1941 he was with the Madras Coast Defence Flight. He shadowed a Japanese fleet off the Madras coast and was in turn shadowed by a couple of Japanese planes 30 miles inland. Ironically, though his life was spared then, Jangoo was to meet his end tragically at the hands of two other fighter pilots in Pakistani Sabre jets during a cowardly attack on his unarmed civilian ‘plane in the 1965 War. Strangely, against all odds, he had also survived a fall from the sky when, during an aerobatics display in 1941 in Bangalore, his plane hit a vulture and plummeted to earth. Though his body was thoroughly shattered, his spirit was indomitable.

After a near-miraculous recovery, nothing could prevent him from taking to the skies once more. At the end of 1942 he was in Calcutta as personal pilot to the Air Officer commanding, 221 group. He also spent 11 months as Group Training Officer at the G.H.Q. board for Permanent Selection. At the end of the war he made the difficult decision to return to Civil Aviation, where the uncharted skies called for his kind of dedication and expertise. He rose to be Director of Operations, Planning and Training of Indian Airlines (a combined post created especially for him, and split in three after he left the Airline).

In 1964, after a distinguished career with the Airline, he resigned on principle over differences with the Pilots’ Union, and made the fateful move to fly for the Maharashtra Government. When his life came to an abrupt end at the age of 49, time stood still for his brothers, so loved was he. “Too beautiful for this world”, grieved Aspy.

Minoo Engineer

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Minoo Engineer remains to date the most decorated officer in the IAF. The sixth of the siblings and the third brother to join the Air Force, Minoo seemed to be born with the proverbial twinkle in his eye. Low down in the sibling ‘food-chain’ so to speak, he had a tough time keeping up with his brothers who grew rapidly stronger and taller than he. Even younger brother, Ronnie, was to become the college boxing champion, when both were in Elphinstone College, Bombay.

However, Minoo was to prove the ‘eternal warrior’ of the group. Below a jovial, genial exterior, he hid a steely resolve. He joined the Air force in 1940 and retired after 33 years of distinguished service. A grateful nation was to bestow on him the highest awards ever given to anyone in the history of the armed forces.

He was awarded the DFC when, in frontline combat duty in World War II, he commanded the first Spitfire Squadron in Burma and later the only Indian Squadron in Japan in 1946. In 1947 he formed the first operational air base in Jammu and Kashmir. Controlling all air operations there, he was awarded the Maha Vir Chakra for conspicuous gallantry. In 1962 he was specially selected as S.A.S.O. of new Operational Command in Eastern Sector, where the Chinese threat was developing. Coping remarkably with all the air support requirements projected by the Army within the meager resources of men and material then available, he was awarded the Param Vishisht Seva Medal. In 1965 he was appointed the Deputy Chief of Air Staff at Air Head Quarters, and in 1969 was selected as Air Officer Commanding-in-Chief, Western Air Command. His retalliatory air strikes on 3rd and 4th December 1971 took the air war deep into enemy territory and his leadership contributed greatly to an Indian victory, winning him the Padma Bhushan.

In 1990 the Maharashtra government honoured him with the prestigious ‘Gaurav Puraskar.’ On retirement, he plunged into a vastly different challenge. As CEO of an advertising agency, he found himself in unfamiliar waters, but despite rapidly failing health did a remarkable job. If one were to run one’s finger down a portrait of the Engineer clan looking for ‘Mr. Dependable’ it would come to rest on Minoo Engineer, to whom any friend, family member or even stranger could always turn for help and genuine advice.

Ronnie Engineer

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Ronnie Engineer was the youngest child. Bearing a striking physical resemblance to Jangoo, the youngster soon grew to hero-worshiping this gentle giant of an elder brother. Both brothers got used to winning at various sports and while Jangoo excelled at swimming, Ronnie was a boxing supremo. His charismatic personality and winning ways won him a legion of friends and admirers. But it was his superb skill at flying and his fearlessness in battle that put him in a category of his own. The RIAF quickly spotted the handsome flyer and featured him in films and posters for their recruitment campaign, He readily admitted to idolising Jangoo, and on the latter’s death was so grief-stricken that he could never speak of him again. But it was Ronnie who led his Canberra squadron to wipe out the Pakistani radar that had picked up Jangoo’s plane in 1965. And a year later when a son was born to Ronnie he proudly named him Jehangir after his adored sibling, and started him on flying training as soon as he came of age. In a cruel twist of fate, this young Jehangir was killed in a mid-air collision in Canada when just 25 years old.

Being the youngest in a string of illustrious siblings had both advantages and disadvantages. Struggling not to be over-shadowed, Ronnie had superb role models right within the family. With unique charisma and exceptional flying talent, Ronnie always looked skywards. He was deeply loved by all levels of the men he worked with. Always leading from the front, he would often gallantly take the rap to protect his juniors. His zest for life was infectious, and whether as leader of squadron 2 or as Commanding Officer, he suffused his crew with an amazing spirit of ‘bon homie ‘.

In the fledgling Air force of WW II, it seemed that whichever way one turned one came across one of the Engineer brothers. So it was inevitable that they came across each other. Ronnie was to record that seeing his eldest brother, he rushed up to him with an ebullient “Hello Aspy”, only to be dressed down with “ It’s ‘Sir’ and a salute from you, young man. You are in uniform”. A few days later, Ronnie spotted Jangoo and clicked to a smart salute, when Jangoo with an arm around his shoulders says, “Hey, when did I stop being your brother?” Coming across Minoo still later, a wary Ronnie queried “ which way should I go”?

Ronnie’s spectacular career in the Air force came to an abrupt end in 1966, when events drove him to leave and make a new life in Canada, shocking many and leaving a lasting void. In spirit he remained a son of Indian soil, and of its skies, carrying his Air Force within him till his heart failed in his 60th year.

Click to Enlarge Ronnie, centre, standing tall with his trophy. Minoo fourth from right, last row.

So, in 1930, as the young aviator, Aspy winged his way in his little Gypsy Moth across unknown skies to a world record, little could he foresee what was to come. The country and the Air Force were ready for the brothers. They, in turn , exulted in the Times and embraced the challenges; triumph and tragedy equal stowaways on their powerful, unforgettable formation in the sky.