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Time is running out for Parsi culture. Race to save it from extinction is on

When Delhi-based professor Shernaz Cama told the Parsis about the disgrace in which historical accounts were lying at the Meherjirana library, it became an emotional discovery for them.

Navsari/New Delhi: There were tears in Shernaz Cama’s eyes when she stumbled upon a Parsi hidden treasure in the depths of a 120-year-old library in South Gujarat’s Navsari. What she discovered that summer of 1999 wasn’t a cache of gold or precious stones, but ancient Parsi religious texts worth more than a king’s ransom. She carefully unearthed crumbling manuscripts from dusty old wooden almirahs of First Dastoor Meherjirana Library.

“It was the history of an entire community simply vanishing,” says Cama, a professor of English at Delhi’s Lady Shri Ram College for Women and co-founder of the NGO Parzor Foundation, which works for the preservation and conservation of Parsi Zoroastrian culture and history.

The Parsi Zoroastrian handwritten manuscripts—some as old as 700 years—in Persian, Urdu, Gujarati, Avestan, Pahlavi and even Sanskrit, were rotting away in these cupboards, victims of India’s nasty habit of not preserving and archiving historical accounts.

Cama’s discovery all those years ago injected an urgency in the small close-knit community that is trying to reverse the tragedy of its slow extinction. For the Parsis, it is a crisis of memory as well as memory-keepers. The loss is at once urgent and historical. They fear that the tangible and intangible threads of their history, culture, philanthropy, and memory would vanish as well. And it has united all factions of the community–the wealthy and the not-so-rich, the young and the old, the traditionalists clinging to the ways of purity and the modernists demanding change.

It was the history of an entire community simply vanishing
– Shernaz Cama,
co-founder, Parzor Foundation

From Mumbai to Hyderabad, and Navsari to Kolkata, photographers are scouring family homes across India for old artefacts, memory-objects and stories to preserve, archive and exhibit history. Researchers and conservationists are preserving parchments. Scripts of plays are being digitised, heritage bungalows and baugs are being restored and oral histories are being recorded for posterity.

Many Parsis around the country have banded together to save their collective consciousness, generously giving away family heirlooms, and writing cheques to researchers and organisations active in this field.

Cama informed the Parsi community about the disgrace in which historical accounts were lying at the library. It became an extremely emotional discovery for Parsis who came together and donated money and expertise to preserve and restore the library as well as its rich literature. Parzor carried out the restoration project with the Indian National Trust for Art and Cultural Heritage (INTACH).

Today, the restored farmans of Mughal emperor Akbar, the three volumes of Shahnama, an epic poem by the 10th century Persian poet Ferdowsi, a khayal by Tansen (still under restoration), letters by Abul Fazal who was Akbar’s grand vizier, and other scholarly work in Persian, Urdu, Gujarati, Avestan, Pahlavi and Sanskrit languages are stored in a tiny air-conditioned room in an annexure at Meherjirana Library. There is nowhere else to store them.

Cama’s efforts have also encouraged young researchers from the community to dedicate their careers to their community’s the conservation cause.

The First Dastoor Meherjirana Library. | Manisha Mondal | ThePrint

UNESCO memory of the world project 

A chance conversation in 1999 with Spanish scientist Fredrico Mayor who was the then director general of UNESCO put Cama on the path to discovery. The two spoke at length about the culture, traditions, and heritage of the diminishing Parsi community. The same year UNESCO agreed to sanction $4,500 to a young Cama if she could come up with a project proposal.

“I was told that I would get the money if I could prove that the intangible Parsi heritage is of value to the world, and if the community supported my work,” said Cama. “Back then the world had not understood the value of oral traditions, nor had it realised that we were losing small communities at a rapid pace,” Cama said, sipping Irani tea at her South Delhi bungalow.

Parsi priests across the country gave her letters of support, as did all anjumans and punchayets — governing bodies representing the community. And the Parzor project was born.

“UNESCO’s intangible heritage programme started in 2001, I did my work in 1999. I take pride in saying that I heralded this project!” she said with a smile.

For the last 20 years, Cama has been travelling the length and breadth of India during summer breaks gathering stories, trinkets, and even valuable items. She has collected family portraits, jewellery, recipes, a water filtering system dating back a hundred years, lost songs, sandalwood boxes. She has recorded the processes of making kustis (a sacred Parsi thread), the methods used by bonesetters (chiropractors), as well as torans (a wall hanging made of glass beads), and Parsi embroidery work, among other things.

As Cama continued on her mission, she got support from the government of India, and helped conduct demographic studies on the Parsis, which led to the conception and implementation of the central government’s Jiyo Parsi scheme.

And along the way, she roped in young students, aspiring researchers and photographers to look after various aspects of the preservation efforts. 33-year-old Vanshika Singh,now a PhD scholar,helped in the digitisation of Parsi theatre scripts, while students like Pune-based Freny Daruwalla took up the mantle to record oral histories of members of the community. Ruzbeh Umrigar, a Navsari resident,started conducting heritage tours and walks in Navsari.

Parzor has organised more than 50 photographic and other exhibitions in the country and around the world on Zoroastrian and Parsi culture. They have made movies, published books, conducted workshops on Parsi embroidery, stained glass making and have also made more than 100 presentations on academic and professional writing on Zoroastrian culture and art forms.


Digitised Parsi theatre 

Vanshika Singh, then 23, was a sharp, ambitious English literature student at Lady Shri Ram College when she did an internship with Parzor. She was entrusted with one of the most interesting projects: collection and digitisation of Parsi theatre scripts written in Gujarati.

In 2012, when she visited Parsi families in Mumbai she was welcomed. Many people entrusted the young woman with family antiquities, and parted with them towards the larger cause of the community’s history and humanity. These include adaptations of Shakespeare’s plays, photographs of old Parsi plays being staged, as well as now long-gone Parsi theatres in Mumbai. Some of the scripts include personal diary of Jehangir Pestonjee Khambata – a thespian of Parsi Theatre, on his voyage to Burma. Other earlier scripts from 1871 to 1875 refer to Harishchandra Natak by KN Kabraji, Jehangir by Adilji Jamshetji.

She interviewed people about the thriving Parsi theatre culture, and returned to Delhi with precious recordings, and two bags full of scripts and photographs on the train back to Delhi.

When I heard the recordings and went through the photographs, I realised the Parsi influence on the development of cities like Mumbai and Kolkata not only shaped them commercially, but culturally as well –
Vanshika Singh, PhD scholar at the National University of Singapore

The digitisation efforts were primarily carried out with the help of the Calcutta Parsi Amateur Dramatics Club and with two separate grants from the Sangeet Natak Ackdemi. Parzor currently has PDFs of digitised scripts in its repository, waiting for a website. Some scripts are with Parzor and some have been returned to the families, according to Singh.

“When I heard the recordings and went through the photographs, I realised the Parsi influence on the development of cities like Mumbai and Kolkata not only shaped them commercially, but culturally as well,” said Singh. “Yes, on the face of it you do have NCPA and other art galleries, but not all developments are grand.”

A lot of the anecdotes and snippets of history she gathered gave her a “micro-view” of the Parsi community and its impact. “You’re left wondering what prompted these communities to create space for cultural expression to thrive,” said Singh who is now doing her PhD in Social and Cultural Geography at the National University of Singapore.

Theatre is an intrinsic part of Parsi cultural identity. It was developed as the earliest form of entertainment, and to date the genre that rules Parsi theatre is comedy. Performed in Parsi Gujarati, they would run ahead of festivals and New Year celebrations, in pavilions set up in colonies or in theatres. But as the Parsi population dwindled, so have these traditions.

“There was a time, till even 5-6 years ago, when I used to perform 5-8 plays before New Year celebrations in Mumbai every year. This year I didn’t even go to perform there,” said theatre actor and Padma Bhushan awardee, Yazdi Karanjia. The living room of his 100-year-old home in Surat is filled with theatre memorabilia and awards earned in his seven decade-long career.

But Karanjia was nevera full-time theatre actor. He taught accountancy, much like many members of the community, who continue family traditions and professions, and provide services to the community while working other jobs.

As a boy, his friends would discourage him from pursuing a career on stage– he was too short for any role. But that didn’t stop him from pursuing his love for the performing arts. He goes on stage for the love of his art, not money. And now, some of the plays that he acted in will be part of the repository.

Parsi theatre doyene Yazdi Karanjia. | Manisha Mondal | ThePrint

The scripts were digitised under the advice of scholar Rashna Nicholson, currently professor of theatre studies at University of Hong Kong and Cama. “Conservatism is expensive but digitisation is not so much. By digitising the scripts, we made them accessible to scholars across India and globe,” Singh said.

Singh and the Parzor team digitised 230 scripts over the course of six months in 2015-16 but they haven’t been able to develop a website for them because they lack the funds and resources to organise such lengthy archival work. Even though the scripts have no online home, word has spread across the world. Filmmakers from Australia and California and scholars from SOAS, London and other universities are reaching out to Parzor for PDFs of the scripts.

Recording and archiving are an important part of the process of documenting Parsi history, but for Singh, the fact that others find value in the work is fulfilling. “It leads to a question I think about. For a community like the Parsis, how can we create meaning? What does it want to circulate about itself or beyond it for us to make sense of its history?” Singh said.

Karanjia is not too worried about the future of Parsi theatre.

“As long as a single Parsi remains on the planet, Parsi theatre shall remain alive,” he insists.

A digitised archive of a photograph of Parsi theatre in action | Parzor and Sangeet Natak Academy Grants

Bonesetters, weavers, actors

Like Karanjia, many Parsis perform a ‘service’through which they contribute to the larger community. It’s a family tradition that’s not their main source of income.

Among Navsari’s Parsis there are astrologers, weavers, and even bonesetters (chiropractors) who provide people with alternative ways of healing broken bones. There’s no recorded literature of the techniques they employ, but knowledge passed down from father to son over generations.

“I am the eighth-generation bonesetter in my family, and my son is the ninth. My great great grandfather had gained the knowledge from a seer,” said Bezat Minusuraliwalla from Navsari, adding that he served at Mumbai’s Bhatia Hospital for five years though he doesn’t have a degree in medicine.

At his home in Navsari, he pulls out photographs of his ancestors who helped heal bones of people at a time when plasters, especially, weren’t effective. His knowledge and technique are now part of Parzor project archives.

Photo of a Prasi bonesetter. | Manisha Mondal | ThePrint

During one of her many visits to Navsari, Cama recorded how the kusti, the sacred girdle worn by Zoroastrians around the waist, is handwoven by the women of Ava Baug and distributed to other Parsis. Shehnaz Dastoor (50) has been weaving the threads on the mechanised machine at her house for 20 years while humming to old Bollywood music playing in the background.

This is her primary family business–she learnt it from her mother who learnt it from her mother. But her daughters have chosen a different profession, “They don’t enjoy this kind of work. They are well educated and work in MNCs, where they earn significantly more money,” said Dastoor. She weaves the sacred thread for almost 12 hours every day, but is able to earn only Rs 15,000 a month.

As younger generations take up new jobs, recording these traditions becomes even more necessary, said Cama. Only memories will remain, so for archivists like her, there’s an urgency to record.

Oral history recordings

Freny Daruwalla who is in her mid-twenties, grew up in Pune, agnostic of her religion or religious traditions.

“I just didn’t have any interest in it,” she said.

That was until college, when she became more aware about her identity and wanted to get to know more about her community. “I had felt like an outsider till then, not knowing much about my community or participating in cultural events. As I grew older, I wanted to know more about my people.”

In November 2021, Daruwalla started working with Evergreen Story, a platform with a mission to record, preserve and (tell) humanity’s storiesand use the medium of storytelling to support the environment.” For every story published, the platform plants a tree in the name of the person documented.

Daruwalla started recording Parsi stories for the platform and has so far met more than 300 Parsis across the country and published their stories. Among her favourite stories are the recording of Mona Jaats, which are hymns sung before any religious function. Only the older generation of Parsis today have knowledge of Mona jaats, which are endangered.

She also interviewed the grandson of one of the last Parsi healers, who were called Va Ujavanu– those who used prayers to heal.

“The Parsis I had interviewed during my oral history recordings are mostly dead now. So Daruwalla is now traveling 20 years after I did to record the experiences of the younger generations,” Cama said.

The memories and micro-histories of Parsis are rich in vignettes and encounters with India’s elite. India’s first woman photojournalist Homai Vyarawalla who passed away in 2012 spoke to Cama at length about her interactions with the Gandhis. And one project that she could never forget was the wedding of Rajiv Gandhi with Sonia. Vyarawalla was paid for the photographs and the negatives. She never got to see her work again. “But it was all in her memory,” said Cama. And now, in Parzor’s oral history archives.

Photographers from other communities also document the Parsis, their distinct culture and dying heritage that piques the interest of many, like that of Bindi Sheth who put up her photo exhibition at India International Centre in Delhi. Bindi documented the Parsis in her hometown, Ahmedabad.

The themes that stand out in her exhibition are loneliness, love, loss and celebration, as well as a lingering influence of the British. There are photographs of young bachelor Parsis living in baugs, of older Parsis alone in old houses filled with antique furniture, and of families gathering for weddings and Navjotes.

The library makes appeals to the Parsi community on an annual basis and asks for donations for restoration, preservation work. That’s our main source of income
– Chaitali Desai, Librarian at Meherjirana

“As an outsider, I realised I have the advantage of noticing minor details like their love for natural elements that set them apart and make them a unique, intriguing community,” she said.

Ruzbeh Umrigar, who conducts heritage walks in Navsari, remembers spending his summers in the hall of the then crumbling Meherjirana library. He had no clue about the importance of the literature the library has. It was only many years later, after Cama’s discovery, that he learned about the rich texts lying in the cupboards of one of his childhood haunts.

Today, the library has an annexe, and a trust board has been set up to look after its day-to-day functioning. According to the current librarian, Chaitali Desai, it doesn’t get government support, but runs on charitable donations.

“The library makes appeals to the Parsi community on an annual basis and asks for donations for restoration, preservation work. That’s our main source of income,” she said.

The library’s collection and contribution to the community’s heritage is a source of pride for her. There are more than 600 handwritten Parsi scriptures, Desai said.

“The restoration of the Meherjirana library is one of the biggest achievements of Parzor. And not only have all books been preserved, they have also been digitised,” Cama said. “When I first went there, the books couldn’t even be touched.”

Now that it is back in the limelight, the library’s future is caught in the local politics of who gets to run it. Its responsibility currently lies with a trust which is not comprised of academics. Some Navsari residents, like Umrigar, fear that lack of scholars or academics puts these records in jeopardy.

But even as these battles are playing out in the upper echelons of the community, the younger generation is looking at ways to add to the work archived and documented so far. School teacher Pinaz (27) got the opportunity to work with Parsi author and historian Marzban Jamshedji Giara. She assisted him on the research of his last book, Prominent Parsis of Navsari, which was published a year after he passed away in 2022. And since then, Pinaz has been a little directionless.

“I need to be financially independent, I haven’t been able to work out a model where I research and document but also earn money at the same time,” she said adding that “it is very important to record contemporary Parsi stories, otherwise us and our stories will die in the little circle orthodox of our community want to restrict us to.”

Freny Daruwalla has lived through countless personal histories. The Parsis she interviewed shared their experiences of watershed moments—the red dots in history. Ninety-year-old Tina Mehta’s heart is still heavy with the memory of the last time she kissed her Muslim friends goodbye during Partition in 1947. Daruwalla heard the heartbreaking account of Ahmedabad resident, Hafiz Dalal, who frantically searched for his daughter when Gujarat went into curfew during the 2002 riots. She has felt the frustration of Dilshad Mistry, who was called to office within two days after the infamous floods in July 2005 that left Mumbai flooded.

These oral histories have made Daruwalla a time traveller.

“It feels like people are not talking from memory at all. The story just flows out of them naturally, like they’re living through it in real time.”

This ground report is the third in a series called Parsipolis. Read all the articles here.

(Edited by Anurag Chaubey)

Time is running out for Parsi culture. Race to save it from extinction is on


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THIRD Episode of Season II W.H.Y. – WE HEAR YOU Series GROUP MEDICL INSURANCE – A must need of in our community Mazda Multimedia’s First Step – An attempt to understand & come to a general consensus towards Group Insurance. Please proceed to our YouTube Channel and watch this episode. Please do share, like and subscribe to Mazda Multimedia YouTube channel for updates. Thanking you Sarosh K.Daruwalla

UCC is everywhere in divided Parsi homes—WhatsApp groups, dinner talks, op-eds, letters

Marriage, divorce, inheritance, and temple rights are all skewed in favour of men. Four Parsi women see UCC as an equaliser but Bombay Parsi Punchayet wants ‘total exemption’.

Delhi/Mumbai: A viral message circulating within Parsi WhatsApp circles has become the most hotly debated topic within the closely knit community. It is a photograph of the trustees of the Bombay Parsi Punchayet alongside Justice Ritu Raj Awasthi, the chairperson of the 22nd Law Commission of India. For an hour and a half on 21 August, a delegation from one of India’s most powerful Parsi organisations presented their case before the government—the complete exemption of Parsi-Irani-Zoroastrians from the Uniform Civil Code.

“We seek total exemption from the UCC, especially since exemption for some tribes is being considered,” a trustee of the Bombay Parsi Punchayet (BPP) told ThePrint. 

But the winds of change that the Uniform Civil Code (UCC) threatens to herald have exposed fault lines within the seemingly homogeneous Parsi community, and at the forefront of this movement are four women. They are fighting for their own rights and those of their children against “archaic” laws that were established at a time when women had no rights, and they predate the Constitution of India.

Marriage, divorce, inheritance, and temple rights are currently skewed in favour of men. These women see the UCC as an equaliser, one that offers them a chance to be on equal ground with men. 

“The Uniform Civil Code will bring laws that will treat all genders equally. It is very important for Parsi women, so discrimination against us on the basis of centuries-old observations can finally end,” says author Prochy N Mehta.

Since Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s statement that a country cannot function with dual systems of separate laws for separate communities and the 22nd Law Commission began public consultations on the UCC, Parsis have joined the debate alongside Muslims, Christians, and tribal communities across the country.

Within the Parsi community, orthodox members worried about purity, bloodlines, and tradition want to preserve the old ways, while the more progressive members are rooting for change. Both sides are writing open letters and op-eds, pinging each other in WhatsApp groups, discussing it over dinner at their homes, and arguing about it within the confines of their walled enclaves. 

The Uniform Civil Code will bring laws that will treat all genders equally. It is very important for Parsi women, discrimination against us on the basis of centuries-old observations can finally end 
author Prochy N Mehta.

Photo: Manisha Mondal/ThePrint

“If UCC is implemented, it will infringe on the traditions of our peaceful community. Then, anyone will be able to enter the fire temple, and adoptions will be allowed in the Parsi community, which we can’t accept,” the BPP trustee said

A storm is brewing, and even Parsi High Priest Dasturji Khurshed Dastoor has been drawn into its vortex. Reports suggesting his support for the UCC have angered prominent Parsis. Dastoor subsequently issued a statement clarifying that he had been misquoted. “I have not said that Parsis would welcome UCC, nor do I feel that UCC will be welcomed by the Parsi community,” he was quoted as saying in The Free Press Journal

But this time, the women within the community have decided they won’t be accepting these diktatsThey have filed petitions in courts challenging practices they see as discriminatory, with the UCC serving as an impetus to their cause. 

If UCC is implemented, it will infringe on the traditions of our peaceful community. Then, anyone will be able to enter the fire temple, and adoptions will be allowed in the Parsi community, which we can’t accept — the Bombay Parsi Punchayet trustee

Prochy Mehta petitioned the Kolkata High Court after her grandchildren were denied entry into Kolkata’s Fire Temple. Goolrukh Gupta has challenged the decision of the Valsad Parsi Anjuman to bar her from performing her mother’s last rites since she married outside the community. Gupta argues that her rights under Article 21 and 14 of the Constitution have been violated. Sanaya Dalal, a former journalist, petitioned the Supreme Court in February 2021 against gender discrimination perpetuated by certain Parsi institutions, especially the Parsi Colony Gymkhana in Dadar, against women by not admitting children of those who marry outside the faith. Dalal’s five-year-old son has been barred from entering the playground at the Dadar gymkhana. And sculptor Naomi Irani petitioned the Supreme Court challenging several sections of the Parsi Marriage and Divorce Act 1936. She is the only one to do so.

“Why is my marriage governed by 100-year-old laws?” asks Irani, who filed for divorce in 2016.  Even after seven years, her divorce has not yet been finalised

Photo: Manisha Mondal/ThePrint

Court cases drag on

Every time, Naomi Irani stepped into the Bombay High Court, she felt as if the walls of the 150-year-old heritage building were closing in on her, as though ready to swallow her completelyIt’s where a jury of five prominent Parsi men and women should have been convening to deliberate her case, but so far it hasn’t assembled even once. 

The Irani-Parsi-Zoroastrian community is the only group in the country whose divorce cases are adjudicated by a five-member jury in the Bombay, Calcutta, and Madras High Courts, as per Section 18 of the Parsi Matrimonial and Divorce Act of 1936. Remarkably, these Parsi matrimonial courts are India’s last surviving jury trials—decades after India did away with them in 1959. The Act was amended in 1988 to recognise mutual consent as a valid ground for divorce. 

More often than not, the panel members are senior citizens, and coaxing them to attend courtroom sessions can take years, according to Irani, the frustration leaking into her voice.  

The jury panel members are appointed by the Bombay Parsi Punchayet and they participate in the proceedings, rendering judgement in line with the judge’s decision. If the jury’s opinion diverges from the judge’s verdict, the judgment becomes void, explained Firoza Daruwala, one of Irani’s counsel in the Supreme Court. 

“There’s absolutely no privacy. The dirty linen of our marriage is washed in front of a small community, where news travels fast,” laments Irani. Supreme Court lawyer Firoza Daruwala likens the proceedings to a TV serial. 

Photo: Manisha Mondal/ThePrint

Cases often drag on for years. At the Bombay High Court, Irani met many people struggling to get a divorce for over a decade. 

Unlike family courts, which specifically deal with familial issues and marriage-related conflicts, the same conducive environment in absent on the high courts, which can be a gruelling experience for families. 

To sidestep these protracted legal processes, many couples reach an understanding outside the courtrooma situation Irani labels as “justice denied.” 

“Our divorce cases stretch for decades. This personal law is discriminatory towards women. This is why I have challenged it,” says Irani.

She is the first woman from the Parsi community to challenge ten sections of the Parsi Marriage and Divorce Act 1936 and petition the Supreme Court for the abolishment of the jury system. Among the sections she contests is Section 50which stipulates that if a Parsi wife commits adultery leading to a divorce or judicial separationthe court might “settle” half of her property “for the benefit of the children”. The provision doesn’t apply equivalently to men.

In 2017, when she stood before the Supreme Court, she felt liberated. Accepting her petition, the bench of Justice Kurian Joseph and Justice Amitava Roy asked why such a law has not been challenged so far. “One voice is still a voice,” Irani’s thencounsel Neela Gokhale, now a judge in the Bombay High Court, replied to the bench. 

Photo: Manisha Mondal/ThePrint

Who is a Parsi?

phone call from the Parsi agiyari (fire temple) in Kolkata led Prochy N Mehta down the path of defining Parsi identity. Despite her daughter’s marriage to a non-Parsi, their children are being raised in the Parsi faith. Together, the family often visited the Kolkata Agiyari—the only one in the city—to offer prayers, particularly on special occasions like birthdays, anniversaries, and Navroze (Parsi New Year). 

And then the priest of the temple changed and decreed that her grandchildren—offspring of interfaith marriage—would not be allowed inside the temple. Children of women who marry non-Parsis are not accepted into the fold. 

Mehta wrote letters to members of the Parsi community in Kolkata, receiving hundreds of replies expressing solidarity. “We have only 30 Parsis below the age of 20 in Kolkata. Everyone here loves children, and nobody wants to alienate them,” she says. 

It also set her on the path to try and define the Parsi. She went through old records, spoke to religious and legal experts, and in 2022, published, ‘Who is a Parsi?’— a scholarly work featuring a foreword by jurist Fali S Nariman, which attempts to set the record straight. 

Photo: Manisha Mondal/ThePrint

Through her researchMehta tries to show that there is no legal, religious or social justification for depriving her maternal grandchildren of privileges accorded to Parsis. This extends beyond places of worship to include dakhma (tower of silence) and participation in funeral rites. Her conclusion? Being a Parsi and a Zoroastrian are inherently the same. However, orthodox Parsis do not subscribe to this view. 

“Anyone can convert to the Zoroastrian faith but they can’t become Parsi Zoroastrians,” reiterated the BPP trustee. 

Mehta’s book has become an integral part of the UCC debate.

For over 12 years now, she and her family have not stepped inside the Kolkata Agiyari. “Why should we go somewhere our children are not allowed?” she asks. Mehta has petitioned the Calcutta High Court against this discriminatory practice. 

“How can you refuse to accept the children of women? There’s nothing which says our children will or should not be accepted.” 

The origins of these stringent laws trace back to a 1908 case when the first Parsi Bombay High Court judge, Dinshaw Davar, and British judge Frank Beaman observed that Indian Parsis constitute a “pure” caste that need not accept individuals who might “contaminate” the community. However, children of Parsi fathers and alien mothers do not face discrimination. Parsis consider the 1908 Davar Beaman judgment as their personal law. 

Observations made by these judges are often cited by Parsis to make a case for certain practices, including restrictions at the fire temple or the tower of silence. “Whatever we do, we do as per what the law says,” a trustee of BPP said. 

These restrictions frequently seem discriminatory towards women. For instance, while even illegitimate children of male Parsis are recognised as members of the community, the same status is not accorded to children of Parsi women who marry outside the community.  

Photo: Manisha Mondal/ThePrint

This is why Goolrukh Gupta from Valsad, Gujarat, was denied entry into the tower of silence to conduct her mother’s last rites by the Parsi Anjuman Trust. Her choice of a non-Parsi husband stripped her of her Parsi rights. Her appeals to enter the Valsad fire temple and the doongerwadi (site for death rituals) were rejectedShe petitioned the Gujarat High Court, which ruled against her. Subsequently, she approached the Supreme Court, asserting that the ban violates women’s rights enshrined under Articles 14 and 21 of the Constitution. 

“The 1908 Davar Beaman document is an observation, not a law. It is from an era when women weren’t even considered individuals, and it predates the Constitution. It is 110 years old and should not be referred to,” said Dalal.

No adoption allowed 

Within the now defunct Parsi Lying-In Hospital in Mumbai’s Fort areaonly one ward remains occupied. It’s not filled with babies or nurses or doctors; rather, it’s the workplace for the small team behind the fortnightly magazine, Parsiana. The work tables are cluttered with a trove of old issues, newspapers, magazines, files, and papers.

As the debate on UCC heats up, Parsiana has published both sides of the argument. Its editor Jehengir Patel, who has heard all sides and fractions, holds a ‘moderate’ stance. “Reform should come from within; it cannot be imposed,” he says. But many fear that it may be too late already.  Patel wants Parsis to shed their orthodox practices but doesn’t think a hasty Uniform Civil Code is the solution. 

As the Parsi population dwindles, adoption is not considered a solution. As per the 1908 Davar-Beaman judgment, the adoption of a ‘foreign child’ cannot integrate them into the Parsi community.

“A Parsi born must always be a Parsi, no matter what other religion he subsequently adopts and professes. He may be a Christian Parsi, and he may be any other Parsi, according to the religion he professes; but a Parsi he always must be,” notes the judgment.  

Photo: Manisha Mondal/ThePrint

Berjis Desai, advocate and author of Oh Those Parsis!highlights how this has put young Parsi couples in a bind. “Many want to adopt a child. But in the absence of any legal authority, they’re unable to do so,” he said. 

Desai explains that some Parsi couples have adopted children under the Guardians and Wards Act 1890, becoming legal guardians and gradually integrating them into the community. “But the tag of being recognised as a parent is desirable,” he adds. Other communities, such as Muslims and Christians, also adopt children under the same Act, but these adopted children do not enjoy the same status as naturally born children. 

In an op-ed published in ParsianaDesai illustrates this with the example of a Parsi couple who adopted their domestic worker’s child. While she lived in a BPP housing complex and embraced the baug cultureeven undergoing a Navjote ceremonynone of these actions guaranteed her rights as a Parsi.

“Unlike adoption, where the adopted child automatically acquires the same status as a natural-born child, the Guardians Act does not confer similar legal status. For instance, if the guardian parent dies without a will, his child under the Guardian Act will not have the same inheritance rights to his estate as his natural born would,” Desai wrote. 

In all likelihood, the adopted child won’t be entitled to live in the BBP flat within the baug she grew up in because she is not considered a Parsi. 

Forget wards, even children of women who intermarry cannot reside in baug flats. The presence of a will doesn’t make a difference,” said advocate Firoza Daruwalla.

Total exemption

Within the Parsi community, there’s growing discontent over what is seen as the Bombay Parsi Punchayet’s emergence as the deciding voice in the Uniform Civil Code debate

Who gave them the power to represent the community during its meeting with the 22nd Law Commission of India, asks Desai. 

“Was expertise the reason for selection, or their religious views? The grapevine has it that several who were invited did not attend, including Udvada High Priest Dastur Khurshed Dastoor, former member of the National Commission for Minorities,” he wrote in a barbed criticism in ParsianaDesai further asserted that no liberal voices were present in the meeting. “The consultations appear to be orchestrated to reach the conclusion desired by the trustees, namely, total exemption. Not a single cogent reason was given for such total exemption other than to preserve religious customs and beliefs.” 

Liberal Parsis argue that while the orthodox faction is vociferous, they represent a minor perspective on reforming  the community’s doctrine. Despite their small numbers, though,  the orthodox hold authoritative positions, including religious leadership, which prevents reform.  

People at agiyari (fire temple) on Navroze, which is Parsis’ new year | Photo: Manisha Mondal/ThePrint

The UCC has brought these practices into the public gaze. 

The 2018 Law Commission of India report on family law reform criticised the jury system as “archaic”, “tedious”, and “complicated”. The report highlighted the infrequency of jury sessions, with juries meeting only twice a year. And since Parsi Matrimonial Courts are set up only in presidency high courts, it causes inconvenience to people residing far from metropolitan areas

“Not only does this cause inordinate delays and inconvenience to people living outside metropolitan cities, but also these systems discourage inter-community marriage.” According to advocate Daruwala, the Parsi matrimonial court attached to the Bombay High Court hasn’t been held since August 2019.

At the Dadar Parsi Gymkhana in Mumbai, the sounds of children playing can often be heard over the beep and blare of traffic noise. It’s where Dalal’s son would go to play with his colony friends. But when he turned five, he was barred from entering the playground because he was the child of an interfaith couple. Children of women who marry outside the community are prohibited from using the gymkhana. He is facing the same discrimination that his father Rishi did when he was growing up. Rishi’s parents were also an interfaith couple. 

“This is second-generation discrimination,” says Daruwala, a childhood friend of Rishi’s, and Dalal’s counsel. “All his life, Rishi was left behind at cultural events and [stopped] from offering prayers at the agiyari. Today, the same thing is happening to his son.” 

Ever since Dalal moved the courts, she’s been receiving hate comments on social media. Detractors, who Dalal says should be ‘detained’, call her son and other children of inter-faith marriages as ‘diluted milk’, ‘mules’, and ‘bhelpuri’. 

This ground report is the second in a series called Parsipolis. Read all the articles here.

Farzan Ustad in Richmond students launch program to help peers with disabilities

Three Richmond high school grads have developed a student program to educate and raise awareness about disability-related issues in the younger generation.

Inspired 2 Uplift (I2U), founded by MacNeill grads Farzan Ustad, Ali Azhar and Aidan Gibbons, focuses on tackling the stigma around disability and creating a more inclusive environment for students.

“We felt there’s always been a lack of communication between students with disabilities and students from the regular school. Just how we interact with each other and all those societal norms and stigmas,” said Gibbons.

“We felt it was always unfair to always put the stereotype on a community that has never really talked to or able to experience or be able to communicate and interact with.”

In April 2022, the trio, then in Grade 11, initiated I2U as Mission Unstoppable, initially focused on raising awareness for people with disabilities. They later pivoted towards offering concrete support to students in their school’s life skills department.

“We wanted to not only advocate and talk about these stigmas but to also show physically what we will do to erase them,” explained Gibbons.

The buddy program, offered in partnership with the life skills department, allows students from the regular school program to mentor and build connections with those in the life skills program who have intellectual or developmental disabilities.

Through the program, students work one-on-one to offer mentorship and support through different indoor and outdoor activities every week.

“The administration loved the idea because it’s something that has never been done before, at least in the Richmond School District,” said the trio, adding that making an impact on MacNeill’s students spurred them to work harder to raise awareness about the experiences of people with disabilities.

“I think the main disconnect has always been that… it’s always hard to connect with people that you don’t see every day. It’s normal human behaviour and we want to bridge that gap,” added Gibbons.

“It really comes down to giving us the ability to familiarize ourselves with the life school students and make them feel accepted not just in the life skills wing, but in the MacNeill community.”

Another co-founder, Ustad, said they are looking to expand the program to help other students globally.

“We want to eventually become a non-profit and an organization that supports students globally,” he said.

“We don’t know when we’ll get there, but we know that it is our goal to impact countless lives and not just in Richmond.”

I2U has since raised $300 for the Disabilities Rights Fund to empower people with disabilities in developing countries. The program has also donated more than $500 worth of school supplies to students at MacNeill secondary and Mitchell elementary schools.

The Colonial Public and the Parsi Stage

This book explores how theatre enabled Parsis to negotiate the growing challenges of colonialism

In ‘The Colonial Public and the Parsi Stage’, Rashna Darius Nicholson is particularly interested in exploring how theatre impacted the life of Parsi women.

In 1969, when the last vestiges of Parsi theatre could still be seen in Calcutta, Somnath Gupt, a professor of Hindi at Rajasthan University in Jaipur, published a book-length account of Parsi theatre. His engagement with the subject was motivated by his interest in the language which had long dominated Parsi theatre: Hindi or Urdu or Hindustani as it was known in the nineteenth century.

Gupt’s book was preceded by two books in Urdu: Urdu Drama aur Stage by Sayyed Masood Hasan Rizvi Adeeb (1957) and Abdul Aleem Nami’s multi-volume Urdu Theatre which was published in the 1960s. Both Adeeb and Nami mediated their engagement with Parsi theatre through its language of performance. Gupt’s primary sources were the theatre memoirs written by two Parsis, Dhanjibhai Patel and Jehangir Khambata (1914). Dhanjibhai Patel’s reminiscences were first serialised in the Gujarati newspaper Kaiser-i-Hind and then collected into two volumes; no copies of the first volume seem to have survived but the second volume (1931) is available in many libraries. However, Kaiser-i-Hind was then still in existence and Gupt could excavate the original articles from its archives.

Numerous other books on Parsi theatre were published in Hindi and Urdu in the following decades; for example, Hindi rangamanch ke vikas mein Bambai ka yog (The role of Bombay in the development of Hindi theatre)by Devesh Sharma (1987) and Parsi Theatre edited by Ranveer Singh (1990). Perhaps the only Gujarati book on this subject is Purano Parsi Natak Takhto (The old Parsi theatre) by S D Shroff (Firozgar) which was published in 1950. Shroff interviewed numerous retired Parsi theatre artistes while writing this book.

Parsi Theatre edited by Ranveer Singh, Jodhpur, 1990.

There have been very few attempts in English to document and analyse Parsi theatre through all the stages of its century-long existence. Rashna Darius Nicholson steps in to fill the breach with The Colonial Public and the Parsi Stage: The Making of the Theatre of Empire (1853–1893). Originally written as a doctoral dissertation, it has been published as a print-on-demand book by Palgrave Macmillan in their “Transnational Theatre Histories” series.

While Nicholson starts off by describing her book as “a history of the Parsi theatre”, it is much more than that. It is also an account of how the members of the Parsi community, as individuals and in groups, negotiated the challenges which an ever-expanding colonial nimbus showered upon it. She proposes the emergence of a Parsi “public sphere” in the 1830s and 1840s as the stage on which Parsi theatre began to be performed from 1853. She is particularly interested in exploring how these developments impacted the life of Parsi women who led largely regimented and secluded lives, not dissimilar to the harshest zenana.

Nicholson adds, “This book, however, does not simply map the shifts that took place through the theatre between physical and discursive bodies, between the construction and deconstruction of women as repositories of communal and national values; it also interrogates how these rhetorical manoeuvres are rendered legible by the material yet hidden body of the archive.”

As this quotation illustrates, the book is written in a high academic register and most readers interested in Parsi theatre would struggle to keep pace with it. But if they do so, they will be richly rewarded. They will get to experience the hurly burly of a rumbustious theatre culture complete with tyrannical directors, traitorous actors, flying machines, extravagant backdrops, and the occasional cross-dressing spectator. They could enter the hallowed portals of the Victoria Theatre where “respectable Parsi men and women” ran the risk of rubbing shoulders with “low class Muslims”. At the Delhi Durbar of 1877, they could choose to patronise either the Victoria Natak Mandali or the Elphinstone Theatrical Company. Upcountry, they could experience the adulation which Parsi actors and directors enjoyed in Indian princely states such as Jaipur and Baroda; and, in one episode more fantastic than Parsi theatre itself, forage for diamonds in silver coconuts in fin de siècle Burma.

Master Fida Husain in the role of Narsi in the drama, Narsi Mehta, 1950s

Like her predecessors, Nicholson mainly relies on the theatre memoirs of Patel and Khambata for primary information on Parsi theatre. But she ventures deeper into the nineteenth century with an exhaustive, and what must have been exhausting, survey of contemporary newspapers to understand how theatre unfolded in the public press. Unfortunately, of the early Gujarati newspapers, only Rast Goftar has survived the depredations of the twentieth century and she makes excellent use of it, as she does of Kaiser-i-Hind and the Bombay Times.

Nicholson, like most Parsi scholars of her generation, was, self-confessedly, bereft of Gujarati – the primary language of the Parsis for centuries until the 1960s – before she embarked on her research. However, unlike most of her peers, she was willing to ascend the learning curve to make use of the extensive Gujarati material which undergirds her work. As Nicholson mines her sources to understand the actions and reactions of the Parsi community in relation to theatre, she uncovers the roots of many of the anxieties that plagued the community post-independence and have been analysed by the anthropologist Tanya Luhrmann in her book The Good Parsi (1996). In the late 1880s, after the formation of the Indian National Congress, these anxieties played out in both the editorial and letters columns of Rast Goftar where the Parsis struggled to discover ‘their proper position in the confusion of races and denominations inhabiting India’.

Nicholson could have engaged more with the pre-1853 choices that Parsis had when it came to entertainment and public performance. They not only went to the Grant Road Theatre in the 1840s to see European performers but also frequented other informal venues where a wide variety of entertainments were offered by Indian performers. A number of Parsi men (and perhaps women) were skilled in singing and playing instruments and regularly entertained their compatriots.

Songbook for Bhagirath-Ganga, Parsi Elphinstone Dramatic Company published by Madan Theatres Limited, Calcutta

There was widespread interest in Urdu poetry as evidenced by the number of Bombay imprints in Urdu (in Gujarati script) published by Parsis. She does not take notice of the event which catalysed the Parsi theatre into existence: the first tour of Vishundas Bhave and his Hindu Dramatic Corps to Bombay during 1852-53 and their ticketed performances, both in the Black Town and the Grant Road Theatre. The role of Bhau Daji, the secretary of the first Parsi theatrical committee, and who was instrumental in getting Bhave to perform at the Grant Road Theatre, has also been given short shrift.

At some unspecified time during the years of rapid growth, Parsi theatre began the transition to no longer being just Parsi. Nicholson traces the beginning of this long phase to the 1870s when Parsi theatre troupes began to extensively tour north India and south-east Asia. As Parsi theatre began to attract new audiences in the hinterland, it tailored its performances to local tastes. In turn, local entertainers began to adapt Parsi theatre to their own performance protocols and also joined Parsi theatre troupes.

The word “Parsi” when associated with “theatre” began to assume new meanings, none of which had any relation to its erstwhile association with the community. In the mid-1890s, after four decades of existence, Parsi theatre entered what some commentators have termed as its “golden era” and became “the theatre of empire” as Nicholson aptly puts it. This era, when Parsi theatre dominated mainstream entertainment across North India from Peshawar to Calcutta via Bareilly, lasted until the early 1930s.

But once movies with sound began to gain ground, the fortunes of Parsi theatre nosedived. It survived in a few pockets for another three decades before it completely disappeared. The mantle of Parsi theatre fell on film while theatre in India took other directions. However, the “golden era” of Parsi theatre has hardly been documented or studied by theatre historians with Parsi-Hindi Rangamanch (1972) written in Hindi by Lakshminarayan Lal perhaps being an exception.

Nicholson also does not venture beyond the nineteenth century and has chosen to terminate her current study in 1893, a year in which, she notes, “moving pictures” were first invented. This event, however, did not have any impact on the trajectory of Parsi theatre. Eighteen ninety-three was also the year when Bombay was convulsed by riots. This was the first time that the Parsis were neither agents provocateurs nor active participants in nineteenth century Bombay riots.

This non-participation presaged a breakdown of the economic, political, and social power structures which the Parsi community had built for itself in colonial India and forecast their eventual marginalisation from the Indian mainstream, similar to the one they had experienced in Parsi theatre itself. One could conclude, like the author does, that, “…[t]hrough a syncopation of irruptions, insertions, blurrings, and exorcisms, the colonial Parsi drama as archive bore witness to a specific regularity of events, words, and ideals yet as an embodied, evanescent form not dissimilar to collective memory, it was also constituted by its own self-effacement, making history by forgetting it.”

Handbill for performance by Parsi Coronation Theatrical Company at Madan Theatre, Calcutta, 1932

It would be churlish to take issue with the trifling errors that have crept into the text, but one hopes they will be weeded out. For example, the Zoroastrians are described as having “fled for the coast of Gujarat” from Iran “between 8 and 10 CE” where “between the eighth and tenth centuries” was intended. The Cama family is described as acquiring Mumbai Samachar in 1832 from Furdoojee Murzban though their association with the newspaper began a century later; and Munshi Talib is characterised as a Muslim playwright while his name Vinayak Prasad suggests otherwise. However, readers will be curious to know why the copyright of the images reproduced in the book from one of the theatre memoirs has been attributed to the repository where the author referred to it.

The arena of Parsi theatre continues to remain a vast field for research. The careers of individual artistes and troupes have yet to be studied in detail. Play scripts and songbooks related to Parsi theatre were published in their hundreds – in Hindustani and other languages – but printed in Devanagari, Gujarati and Perso-Arabic scripts. These need to be documented and analysed. The archives of princely states who were generous patrons of Parsi theatre need to be examined. Photographs and souvenirs which are still in private possession need to be conserved. All the elements of theatre – song, lighting, art, costume, makeup – need to be investigated. The public and governmental response to Parsi theatre across India needs to be understood. Scholarly studies about Parsi theatre published in its own languages – Hindi, Urdu, and Gujarati – also need to be considered. It is hoped that a phalanx of committed and talented scholars will, like Rashna Nicholson, step forward to accept this challenge.

This article first appeared in Parsiana.

The Colonial Public and the Parsi Stage: The Making of the Theatre of Empire (1853–1893) by Rashna Darius Nicholson, Palgrave Macmillan


Parsi Dairy Farm blends tradition with a contemporary touch in their offerings

A new generation is writing the next chapter of success at Parsi Dairy Farm. Sunday mid-day bags an exclusive look into their freshly-renovated Princess Street HQ and meets the family for stories about its legacy

From (front to back) Jeroo Nariman (seated), Meheru K Patel, Parvana S Mistry, Shernaz K Irani, Zeenia K Patel, Sarfaraz K Irani, and Bakhtyar K Irani at the brand’s Nariman Point office. Pics/Nimesh Dave

As Jeroo Nariman enters the corporate office of Parsi Dairy Farm (PDF) at Nariman Point in a wheelchair, she stops briefly in the lobby to look at the black-and-white portrait of her parents Nariman and Meherbai Ardeshir. Her father started the now iconic business on the busy Princess Street in erstwhile Bombay in 1916 with one can of milk. He took it upon himself to make the brand the gold standard in dairy. On the opposite wall is a photograph of a younger Jeroo with her brothers.

She is 86 now and just as radiant as in the photograph taken 20 years ago. Her nieces, Shernaz K Irani (64) and Meheru K Patel (60) join her to tell us about their favourite products from their legendary laden shelves. “Mine is the crisp and juicy jalebi,” says Shernaz referring to the giant pipe jalebi—a mouthful of sweet bliss sitting within the pinwheel casing. As a child, Shernaz would make trips to the dairy’s busy karkhana; staffers in cobalt blue shirts and shorts would fry the jalebis and present them to her dusted with pistachio and almond flakes. “The aroma is still fresh in my head,” she smiles, “One bite and the memories come flooding back.”

Matriarch Jeroo Nariman with her favourite mawa khaja sits near an archival portrait with her brothers Dinshaw, Mehrwan, Naval and Rusi taken at Parsi Dairy Farm at Princess Street 20 years ago

Matriarch Jeroo Nariman with her favourite mawa khaja sits near an archival portrait with her brothers Dinshaw, Mehrwan, Naval and Rusi taken at Parsi Dairy Farm at Princess Street 20 years ago

For Jeroo, it is the mawa khaja. “Flaky on the outside, deliciously creamy on the inside—this combination of the sweet-salty buttery layers of flaky pastry is undeniably the best,” says Nariman. Meheru talks fondly of PDF’s cottage cheese. “It’s so rich and creamy, I use it to make dips when I host parties.”

A lawyer by education, Shernaz’s son, Bakhtyar K Irani (41) is Managing Director with the company. How a can of milk sold on the streets over a hundred years ago by his great-grandfather, transformed into an empire, with stables for the cows and buffaloes bought at Mazgaon, which later shifted to Andheri and Jogeshwari as the business flourished, is a story you’ve got to hear from him.

“About 50 years ago,” he says, “we shifted to Talassary on the Mumbai-Ahmedabad highway, where we have a parcel of 300 acres of land for a huge supply of livestock. This allows us to work with four varieties of milk—full-fat buffalo, low-fat buffalo, no-fat buffalo and cow milk.”

Bakhtyar was nicknamed the Toffee Boy of St. Mary’s school because on his birthday, he distributed PDF’s decadent milk drops toffees among classmates. In the latest round of rebranding, this candy will be rechristened the Great Indian Toffee, and the plastic wrapper will be thrown away. It will be available through a dispenser. Think a jukebox for toffees, pull the lever and collect your stash in a carousel-shaped cardboard box, and pay by the gram.

The store’s new look has vibrant colours, a toffee vending machine and a special kulfi cart. Pic/Ashish Raje
The store’s new look has vibrant colours, a toffee vending machine and a special kulfi cart. Pic/Ashish Raje

Meheru’s daughter, Parvana S Mistry, is a Le Cordon Bleu alumni and the company’s Operations Director. She tells us that original recipes have been retained and systems have been standardised around them to make the processes modern and systematic. “We are proud of the recipes handed down through three generations,” adds Mistry whose favourite memory is observing the making of the iconic suterfeni. “I am still fascinated by the process—from dough to fine strands that melt in your mouth.”

The refurbished Princess Street outlet opens doors tomorrow. Two other outlets—at Borivli and Ghatkopar—are set to open a month later. Parvana’s husband, Shahen Mistry of Shahen Mistry Architects, was brought on board to helm the store design and interiors.

“The concept was to infuse a sense of modernity while keeping its traditional values intact,” he explains. “The house blue colour is retained, while a big red door takes centre stage,” he explains. “We have retained the signature stripes and colour palette. The Great Indian Toffee Counter makes a bold statement within the classy and subdued shop interiors. Sandwiched between classical wooden panels which house the display fridges, this toffee counter is an interactive attraction for both, old and young. We added coloured light and sound displays to bring fun and energy to the shop.”

As for the new product line, there will be a focus on cheese some time later, but for now, new additions include Milk Masala and Chai Masala Powders. But more importantly, the idea is to scale the reach pan India. Shernaz’s younger son, Sarfaraz K Irani (38) is Sales Director, and studied interior design. “We want to take our tradition and these products to every corner of the country. We will leverage our online platforms to reach there and bring in a stronger digital presence,” he says.

Sarfaraz’s favourite and proudest moments came when they’d travel on the Deccan Queen during vacations and vendors would come to sell the family their own PDF kulfi. “We’d proudly buy it even though we had access to it every day back home,” he says, adding, “At the revamped store, our windows will have life-size installations of kulfi, and everyday products such as ghee.”

Pag Laddoo
Pag Laddoo

We remember the collective display of grief and dismay, not too long ago, when news of the business folding up spread. Understanding that a company cannot run on nostalgia alone, the family worked to turn the game around. The camaraderie they share and respect for the brand’s legacy is clearly behind this reinvention

During the interview, it is amply clear that Jeroo is the beloved witty grandaunt; the two sisters had so much to catch up on, even though they just met two days ago. The cousins respect each other. “We feel confident about the four taking over,” says Shernaz, “Each of them is strong in their respective roles; together they are a force.” Meheru adds in unison, “We are sure they will take our legacy to greater heights.”

Sarfaraz Irani
Sarfaraz Irani

What is it, we wonder, that protects the integrity and appeal of a century-old brand? “We grew up with the same family values and culture, watching this business and playing around it,” says Bakhtyar, “It is what drives us because it is extremely close to our hearts. Another aspect is that we’ve seen how even as the business scaled over the years, our family held on to traditional recipes and practices, preserving the authentic taste and following stringent standards that gave us the competitive edge. As we embrace modernity, our commitment to tradition and purity continues to bring people back to us. People believe that if it is a Parsi Dairy Farm product, quality is sacrosanct.”

Nasrin Modak Siddiqi


The Parsi Run Hospitals & Medical Dilemma

Mazda Multimedia is happy to present.

Season II – Second Episode

W.H.Y. – WE HEAR YOU Series

The Parsi Run Hospitals
Medical Dilemma

On the episode
1. Mr. Homa Petit – President – The B.D.Petit PGH
2. Mr. Dinshaw Tamboly – Chairman – The WZO Trust Funds
3. Dr. Gustad Daver – Trustee – Masina Hospital
4. Mr. Homi Katgara – Managing Trustee – Masina Hospital
5. Dr. Sharookh P. Vatchha Ortho Surgeon – Masina Hospital

Our Very Own Host – Mrs. Zarine Commissariat

Please proceed to our YouTube Channel and watch this episode.

Please do share, like & subscribe to Mazda Multimedia YouTube channel for updates.

Thanking you
Sarosh K.Daruwalla

Omim Debara dies due to Cardiac Arrest

Eminent social activist Omim Maneckshaw Debara passed away on Thursday morning due to cardiac arrest. (DC Image)

HYDERABAD: Eminent social activist Omim Maneckshaw Debara passed away on Thursday morning due to cardiac arrest. Debara retired as chief engineer of VST and passionately worked for various causes, including those concerning the environment, communal harmony, interfaith, heritage, and preservation of water bodies.

He was the president of COVA, secretary of Forum for Better Hyderabad, and was actively associated with INTACH, Rotary, Hum Sub Hindustani Trust, and the Interfaith Forum, among others.

He was a key functionary of the Zoroastrian Parsi Anjuman of Secunderabad and Hyderabad for years. His activism ranged from working in slums and communities to policy transformations through government and PILs in courts for the redressal of social problems.

Explore the 113-year-old Parsi Fire Temple in Royapuram

Not many have the privilege of stepping into the Parsi fire temple. This Madras Day, we meet members of Chennai’s Parsi community at the recently renovated Jal Phiroj Clubwala Dar-e-meher, and the graceful red brick Parsi Anjuman Baug Dharamshala

A prayer meeting inside the Parsi fire temple.

A prayer meeting inside the Parsi fire temple. | Photo Credit: Johan Sathyadas

In the chaos of Royapuram’s congested traffic and crowds, a peahen struts.

Like the bird, we soak up the peace on the quiet campus of the 115-year-old Parsi Anjuman Baug Dharamshala. As we peer up at statuesque red brick building. Tehnaz Bahadurji, one of the historians of the Parsi community, discusses how they have been working on learning more about its unique architecture, amid plans to renovate it.

“Architect friends have told us it could be the work of Robert Chisholm, or Henry Irwin, who came after him,” she says, adding, “Or it could be by Thatikonda Namberumal Chetty, who worked with Irwin, and went on to construct buildings on his own after that,” she says.

British architect Chisholm is credited with pioneering the Indo-Saracenic style of architecture in Madras, with Presidency college and the University of Madras. Irwin followed, with the Madras High Court and Connemara library. Chetty, known as Irwin’s chief associate, constructed many city landmarks through the 19th and early 20th centuries including the Government Museum, YMCA and Connemara Library . (His other claim to fame was the fact that he was the first Indian in Madras to own a car.)

Built to house travellers, the Anjuman Baug has two rooms inside with attached bathrooms and a dining room. The second floor that was added about 60 years ago, in built in a similar style. It predates the Parsi Fire temple Jal Phiroj Clubwala Dar-e-meher, by 2 and half years. Set less than 200 metres away, the temple was built in 1910 in memory of Jal, the young son of philanthropist Phiroj Clubwala.

Explaining how the Parsis moved to India more than 1200 years ago to escape religious persecution, Zarine Mistry, also a community historian says that a delegation met the Governor of Fort St George 1809, and Hirjibhai Kharas, who was one among them became the first Parsi in Madras.

The Anjuman Baug Dharamshala

The Anjuman Baug Dharamshala | Photo Credit: Johan Sathyadas

“The Parsis brought a small plot of land right here, in 1795,” says Zarine, as we look around the expansive campus, which includes a burial ground. By 1799, they expanded the area and by 1822, it was about 32 grounds, leased from the East India Company. “When the Crown took over in 1858, all lands on a 99-year-old lease were given to the lessees, and by 1895 we got proper documentation,” says Zarine.

Madras Day | Century old Southern Railway Headquarters is an office with Chennai’s best views

Today, the Parsis number about 45,000 people in India, of which less that 250 live in Chennai. The tight-knit Chennai community is held together by three central bodies: The Madras Parsi Zarthosti Anjuman (MPZA), the fire temple trust and the cultural association. They have been gathering at the Parsi club, started in the 1930s in the same neighbourhood, once a month for the last 30 years.

We move to the recently renovated Fire temple, which recently turned 113. As we study the graceful building from a garden bright with flowers, Darius Bahadurji, the imposing, yet jovial, President of the Anjuman and fire temple, explains how challenging the renovation was since it included cleaning the chimney, without disturbing the fire that burns constantly, being fed 5 times through the day with sandlewood by the priest.

The community priest, Bamanshah Vazifdar 

The community priest, Bamanshah Vazifdar  | Photo Credit: Johan Sathyadas

Tehnaz adds, ‘For the first 100 years, though there was a community living here, we had no place of worship, until this was built.” Built in a style that is typical of fire temples, it has a verandah and a statuesque hall for congregation, lit with sunshine, mirrors and chandeliers. Above the doors are arched stained glass windows, which add an intricate burst of colour when the sun filters though.

“We work together harmoniously, to keep the community together,” says Darius, emphasising that the committee’s role is to not just preserve the Parsi legacy in Chennai, but also to look after their own, while continuing to contribute to the city. With one renovation done, they are gearing up for the next big challenge: renovating the Anjuman Baug.

The project is likely to prove to be expensive and time-consuming. However, Tehnaz states, “We plan to do it with the support of the our community here. Even though it is miniscule, we have great hope.”

At the Parsi Fire temple in Royapuram | Photo Credit: Johan Sathyadas

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