Cyrus Boman Irani Conferred ‘President’s Police Medal For Meritorious Service’

Parsi Pride – Inspector Cyrus Boman Irani Conferred ‘President’s Police Medal For Meritorious Service’.

Doing the Community proud on the wake of India’s 69th Republic Day (26th Jan, 2018), in an announcement made by the Government of India today, Police Inspector Cyrus Boman Irani [Attached to the Special Branch II CID] has been conferred the ‘President’s Police Medal For Meritorious Service’. Speaking to Parsi Times, Inspector Cyrus said, “This is all due to the grace and blessings of Ahura Mazda. I’m happy to bring pride onto our Community!” 

Courtesy :  Parsi Times


The Woman Behind the Golden Globes – is a Parsi lady Meher Tatna

The Woman Behind the Golden Globes Wants You to Take Them Seriously

No, the awards are not fixed—and more secrets from H.F.P.A. president Meher Tatna.

H.F.P.A. president Meher Tatna
Rob Latour/REX/Shutterstock
On a December day after the agencies and studios had closed for the holidays, one office in Los Angeles was still a whirlwind of activity. Inside a quaint English tudor-style building in West Hollywood, through a lobby decorated with Saltillo tiles and giant portraits of Elizabeth Taylor and Linda Evans, Meher Tatna, the president of the Hollywood Foreign Press Association, was busy preparing for Hollywood’s giddiest night: the Golden Globes.
“It’s like 100 weddings in one,” said Tatna, a Mumbai-born reporter for the Singapore daily The New Paper, who was elected to run the organization of 90 international entertainment journalists in June. “The Globes are like a machine. We have a pre-show with Facebook. A post-show with Twitter. And then we have a Chinese platform coming this year. I wake up in the middle of the night thinking, I didn’t answer this e-mail, I better get back to this person.
The Golden Globes are, frankly, relatively meaningless. But they are a damn good time—the most watched awards show besides the Oscars, and an opportunity for visibility in the entertainment industry. As head of the H.F.P.A., the oft-derided nonprofit organization that votes on the awards, Tatna is the evening’s unofficial hostess. In a way, she is also a perfect woman for this job at a moment when Hollywood is examining its own sexist, racist, dishonest habits. She has endured butt pinches as a waitress, offensive casting calls as an actress, and uncertain economics as a print reporter (Tatna declined to disclose her age). She’s interested in reclaiming the H.F.P.A.’s reputation, cemented years ago as a boorish group of semi-working, easily corrupted journalists. As acerbic Golden Globes host Ricky Gervaissaid during the 2010 show, “One thing that can’t be bought is a Golden Globe . . . officially. But if you were to buy one, the man to see would be [H.F.P.A. head] Philip Berk.
During our interview, Tatna rejected many of the adages about the group. The idea that the H.F.P.A. nominates films and TV shows based simply on luring the biggest stars to its show? “No. Otherwise we would have had Julia Roberts this year [for Wonder],” Tatna said. That they are won over by lavish gifts from studios? “We have a rule that no gifts in excess of $95 can be given to us,” Tatna said. “That’s what we remind all the publicists every year. . . . In the past, we’ve returned things.” Last year, for instance, they gave back Tom Ford perfume intended to promote his movie, Nocturnal Animals.

Stakes are high for an entertaining show Sunday night—this year is the H.F.P.A.’s 75th anniversary, and the group’s broadcast rights contract with NBC is set to expire. The H.F.P.A. is also adding new elements, including an overflow room at the Hilton to accommodate the many people who wish to attend and can’t fit in the bustling main ballroom. “I have no idea whether it will be shut down by the fire marshal or nobody will come,” Tatna said. “No idea.”

The first major awards handed out in the #MeToo age, this year’s Golden Globes will likely be different than all that came before, with actresses pledging to wear black gowns and the usually frivolous red carpet taking on a new seriousness. “I am really glad that women are finally feeling safe enough to come forward and talk about their experiences,” Tatna said. “I am totally in solidarity with them. It’s not just in Hollywood that this happens. I was a waitress—the groping and pinching happened . . . back then, nobody felt safe enough to say anything. You thought you’d be fired; you thought you would be ostracized. So yeah, I’m really glad that they found that power, and I hope that this is a time of profound change.”

There have been some suggestions that the H.F.P.A. itself ought to evolve, including from actress Jada Pinkett Smithwho called out its members’ failure to attend a screening or to nominate her film Girls Trip. “We did have a screening of it. We were invited to the premiere as well. There was a junket in New Orleans that we didn’t attend, but we were invited to go,” Tatna said, in response to Pinkett Smith’s remarks. “We always look at the distribution in our territories. If the movie doesn’t open there, then people generally don’t need the press conference. . . . I myself saw it on a screener. I didn’t make the screening. There’s a difference between being a journalist and being a Golden Globe voter. I’m not sure if everybody understands that.”

Tatna did make it to a dramatic, last-minute screening of Ridley Scott’s All the Money in the World after Scott raced to replace Kevin Spacey with Christopher Plummer in time for the group’s early December deadline. “We went over to Sony at 10 in the morning. It wasn’t totally 100 percent finished, it needed some color correction . . . but we’ve seen movies in that shape before. Silence, Martin Scorsese’s film, was not completely finished. So we are used to that.”
Tatna’s path to the Beverly Hilton ballroom has been a long and winding one. Her father imported liquor in India (“He was a lousy businessman,” she said) and she grew up with a particular affinity for Hollywood musicals, like My Fair Lady and The Sound of Music. She wanted to act—but as a compromise with her parents, who were skeptical of a career in the arts, she majored in economics on a scholarship at Brandeis University.
After graduation she moved to New York City and pursued acting, appearing on a soap opera and at one point voicing various Indian women on The Simpsons. “They always told me to crank up the accent,” Tatna said, of her acting days. “That was very annoying, but that was at a time when the only Indians that you saw were 7-Eleven clerks and taxi drivers, and that was what I was up for. And you either decide to do it or you don’t and when you don’t have too many choices, sometimes you do.”
Eventually, she moved to L.A., bought a Plymouth Reliant on a salvage license, and began to pay more of her bills with entertainment journalism than acting. The state of journalism, especially newspapers like the one that employs her and many of her colleagues in the H.F.P.A., is an issue that weighs on her mind. “A lot of us are finding that our outlets are shrinking and the work is not as much as it used to be,” Tatna said. “Now you are competing with the influencers and the kids who make videos rolling around in bed.”
When Tatna took on the H.F.P.A. president job, one of the first things she did was reach out to studio executives. “I would call up and say, give me 10 minutes, let me come say hello and tell you who I am. . . . Just give us more access, set visits, lift embargoes earlier for us. That kind of thing is important for the members.” She’s also eager for people to remember the H.F.P.A. is a nonprofit, which doles out much of the millions it earns from the Golden Globes TV rights to schools, theaters, and film preservation efforts. Though her Golden Globes votes are secret, she’s still a fan at heart—Game of Thrones and The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel are two particular favorites.

On Sunday, Tatna will appear on stage at the Beverly Hilton for 45 seconds to deliver some remarks during the telecast—a rare moment in the spotlight after a decade toiling backstage in the press room, where reporters from some 200 outlets, including Vanity Fair, sit elbow-to-elbow. “I always have to watch the show on tape to write my article,” Tatna said. “I’m really looking forward to sitting in the ballroom this year.”

Not Just Milk & Sugar

Not Just Milk & Sugar is an accessible inquiry into the Zoroastrian faith, its basic teachings, uniqueness, and myths. Through a bedtime story told by a grandfather to his grandson, the relevance of this ancient faith in today’s modern world unfolds as a simple and beautiful ecological message.

A film written & directed by Divya Cowasji, produced by Ministry of Minority Affairs, Government of India for Jiyo Parsi.

Arriving Displaced, Giving Back in Full

Sometime between the seventh and ninth centuries, a group of immigrants landed on the shores of India’s western state of Gujarat, after what probably was a long and arduous voyage from Persia, now modern-day Iran. Not much is known about that journey — about how these people looked, what they wore, how many of them undertook this voyage, how long they sailed or even if India was their chosen destination or a twist of fate. What is known is that like many others in similar situations today, these refugees, who came to be known as the Parsis, were fleeing religious persecution in a land they had called their home for centuries. The story of what happened next is well-documented in Parsi folklore.

Jadhav Rana, the chieftain of the region where the refugees landed, was alarmed at the looks and attire of these strange men and women, and forbade them entry. Instead, he gave them a bowl of milk, filled almost to the brim, as a message that his kingdom was full. It is said that the Parsi head priest added a spoonful of sugar to the milk (or by some accounts a gold ring) to indicate that the Parsis not only would blend into their new society but also enrich it.

Whatever the truth of the story, the Parsis, like many others before and after, flourished in India’s warm embrace. Over time, they became one of India’s most prosperous ethnic communities and have contributed greatly to the development and progress of their adopted home.


Jamshed Bhesadia has been panthak, or head priest, of the 161-year-old Kappawala Agiary, or fire temple, for the past 18 years, and is tasked with maintaining the holy fire worshipped by the Parsis.
Jamshed Bhesadia has been panthak, or head priest, of the 161-year-old Kappawala Agiary, or fire temple, for the past 18 years, and is tasked with maintaining the holy fire worshipped by the Parsis. In the spirit of the original commitment made to Jadhav Rana, the Parsis in India do not accept any conversions into the faith, and by extension, only Zoroastrians are allowed to enter the fire temples.(Hoshner Reporter)

Followers of an ancient religion known as Zoroastrianism, the Parsis fled Persia, once the fountainhead of the Zoroastrian faith, when it was overrun by invading Arabs. Their story is particularly relevant at a time when the world is looking increasingly inward, and refugees and immigrants are looked upon unfavorably in many countries, including in traditionally inclusive but now increasingly nationalist and nativist countries like India and the United States, both of which have benefited from the contribution of immigrant communities.

A Parsi residential building in Mumbai bears the winged symbol of the Farohar, an important Zoroastrian religious icon.
A Parsi residential building in Mumbai bears the winged symbol of the Farohar, an important Zoroastrian religious icon. Despite the near complete rout of Zoroastrianism from Iran by Arab invaders, and centuries later by the Islamic Revolution, the Farohar survives among Zoroastrian communities in India and elsewhere. (Hoshner Reporter)

Traditionally, richer countries have considered it their moral obligation to absorb displaced persons, especially on humanitarian grounds. Parts of Europe and the United States initially welcomed Syrian refugees, for example, but public fears of lost jobs, depressed wages, demographic and cultural changes, and terrorism shifted the mood against the immigrants. India largely has been receptive to immigrants and refugees, and more than 200,000 live in India today, including Tibetans, Sri Lankans, Afghans and Bangladeshis. However, India has refused to sign the 1951 United Nations Refugee Convention and the 1967 U.N. Protocol on Refugees, seeking flexibility, as is currently being exercised in the recent attempts to deport some 40,000 Rohingya refugees living in camps.

In this context, it is instructive to look at the story of the Parsis.

A Parsi woman performs a ceremony at home associated with Lakshmi, the Hindu goddess of wealth.
A Parsi woman performs a ceremony at home associated with Lakshmi, the Hindu goddess of wealth. The ceremony is typically performed by Hindus, especially in trading communities leading up to the festival of Diwali, but many Parsis in India have adopted the tradition and made it their own. After centuries of living in India, Parsis have embraced a number of Indian customs traditionally not found in Iran. (Hoshner Reporter)

There are fewer than 70,000 Parsis in India today, but they have made contributions to India that far belie their numbers. Starting off as an agrarian community, the Parsis settled in the fertile lands around the town of Sanjan, before spreading to other parts of Gujarat and eventually to the wild and marshy coastal city of Bombay in the mid-1600s. It was in Bombay that the Parsis gained their industrious reputation, as they took advantage of the British desire to establish Bombay as a prominent port and center of commerce by becoming shipbuilders, craftsmen, merchants and traders in opium, silk and spices with China and others. In the process, they created a new class of wealthy, educated and socially conscious Indians.

For the next 300 years, the Parsi community transformed and reformed, seizing opportunities not only to change themselves but also to benefit the broader society. They were among the earliest Indians to learn English, travel abroad for education, practice professions like medicine and law, secure government jobs, educate women and banish child marriage. Despite their affinity to their English benefactors, the Parsis never forgot the land that welcomed them as penniless immigrants all those centuries ago, and gave back generously to society, building schools, hospitals, hotels, enterprises and institutions that stand even today.


The history of the Parsis in India is inextricably linked to Mumbai and one of the enduring symbols of the city is the iconic Taj Mahal hotel, built by the Parsi businessman and philanthropist Jamsetji Tata.
The history of the Parsis in India is inextricably linked to Mumbai and one of the enduring symbols of the city is the iconic Taj Mahal hotel, built by the Parsi businessman and philanthropist Jamsetji Tata. It is said that Tata decided to build the grand hotel when he was denied entry into Mumbai’s Watson’s Hotel because he was not European. True or not, the anecdote is now part of every Mumbai resident’s storytelling repertoire and the stuff of legend.

(Hoshner Reporter)

In the historic districts of Mumbai, home to the world’s largest concentration of Parsis, it is impossible to ignore their influence. Parsis set up the National Center for the Performing Arts; the Central Bank of India, the first modern Indian bank to be run totally by Indians; and the iconic Taj Mahal hotel. Additionally, the community contributed to the industrialization and development of India, establishing the country’s first cotton mill, its steel and aviation industries, and the first institute of science in Bangalore. Some of the best-known companies in India were started by Parsis, from the Tata conglomerate to the Godrej and Wadia business houses, which employ millions and make everything from defense equipment to cheese.


Parvez Irani, 76, strikes a pose in the Yazdani Bakery in Mumbai. Started by his father in 1950, the bakery is now run by him and two brothers.
Parvez Irani, 76, strikes a pose in the Yazdani Bakery. Started by his father in 1950, and now run by him and two brothers, the bakery is one of the few surviving Irani cafes in Mumbai. The Indian Irani Zoroastrian community hails from Yazd, Iran, which remained a Zoroastrian cultural center long after the Arab conquest of Persia. Unlike the Parsis, the Iranis migrated to India only about a century ago, but like their brethren who came 1,200 years earlier, the Iranis wasted no time in making Mumbai their home, opening cafes and eateries. Though they slowly are disappearing, Irani cafes remain an important part of Mumbai’s culinary scene. (Hoshner Reporter)

Despite having benefited from their proximity to the British, Parsis also played a significant role in the Indian independence movement. Dadabhai Naoroji, known as the grand old man of India, represented Indian interests in the British Parliament, Pherozeshah Mehta was a founding member and president of the Indian National Congress, and female Parsi freedom fighter Bhikaji Cama co-designed and unfurled the earliest version of independent India’s flag in Germany 40 years before India gained independence from Britain.


The Bombay House in Mumbai is the headquarters of Tata Sons, the holding company that runs the Tata conglomerate.
The Bombay House in Mumbai is the headquarters of Tata Sons, the holding company that runs the Tata conglomerate. Tata Sons is unique in that 66 percent of its equity is held by various philanthropic trusts endowed by members of the Tata family. (Hoshner Reporter)

As they have in the past, Parsis today hold prominent positions in Indian society as captains of industry, artists, musicians, doctors, journalists and judges. Parsis not only have adopted a land, but also its languages and customs. They have integrated and added value, while still striving to maintain their unique identity, religion and traditions.

Over a thousand years ago, the Parsis found a land willing to welcome them and give them space to live and prosper. In turn, they enriched their new home like the proverbial sugar in milk.

Statues of prominent Parsis abound in Mumbai.
Statues of prominent Parsis abound in Mumbai. They mark the community’s contribution to the city’s development, and serve as a reminder of the lasting benefits immigrants can have on the communities in which they settle. (Hoshner Reporter)

According to UNHCR, the United Nations refugee agency, there are 65 million people who have been forced from their homes as of 2017. Of that number, 10 million people are stateless, and are denied the basic rights of nationality, education and employment. It can only be hoped that leaders and communities across the world today will look to the Parsi example when deciding on the merits of opening their countries and homes to strangers from strange lands.

Hoshner Reporter

A time to honor

After over 10 years of ostracization, heartache, struggle and legal setbacks, Goolrookh Gupta and her sisters Shiraz Patodia and Kamal Thapar have won the right to attend their parents’ funerals in Valsad, as and when the elderly couple expire (see pg 26 “In search of justice”). The trio fretted over the issues as their aged parents, Dina and Adi Contractor reside in the south Gujarat town of Valsad. The Valsad Parsi Anjuman (VPA) had passed a resolution banning entry to the local fire temple and Doongerwadi to Parsi women married to non-Parsis. The three sisters, one, who resides in Bombay and two in Delhi, are married to Hindus.

The family fought not only against the VPA but the numerous punchayets and anjumans that supported the VPA. Adi was a trustee of the VPA but when the controversy took a toll on his health, he stepped down from the all-male board.


Finally a five member bench of the Supreme Court of India on December 14, 2017 persuaded the VPA to at least withdraw the ban on the sisters attending their parents last rites at the time of their passing. The right to enter the fire temple and whether the Special Marriage Act (SMA) requires the woman to take on her husband’s religion will be decided when the Court resumes hearing on the case on January 17, 2018.

For the three sisters their first and most crucial battle has been won. Their partial victory compensates to a limited extent the inaction of Parsi women who for over 110 years suffered injustice due to the 1908 Bombay High Court ruling by Justices Dinshaw Davar and Frank Beaman in the Parsi Punchayet Case. The Justices specified a Parsi is the child of a Parsi father even if, as Beaman observed, the child was “begotten of prostitutes or kept mistresses.” Beaman was even more scathing in his comments on the witnesses who testified for the traditionalist respondents. He noted, “It is true that the so called learned men who have come before us to support the Defendants’ case have wasted hours of our time in puerile attempts to gloss away the plain letter of the law. But that must be attributed partly to invincible bigotry which proverbially dulls the sharpest wits, and partly to a natural stupidity and want of training in clear thought.”


The case pertained to J. R. D. Ta­ta’ mother Soonoo, a French lady (Suzanne Brière) whose navjote was performed by Dastur Kaikhooshroo Jamaspji. She was considered a Zoroastrian by the Court but not a Parsi as she was not born of a Parsi father. The Justices ruled the community trusts were created for those who met both the ethnic and religious criteria; hence Soonoo was barred from entering a fire temple or having her body consigned to the Towers of Silence.

Both parties to the suit, Sir Jamsetji Jeejeebhoy and Sir Dinsha Manockji Petit (a friend of the Tatas) were moneyed and influential yet the Petit/Tatas did not file an appeal in the Privy Council in London. Associate professor of law at the University of Wisconsin in Madison Mitra Sharafi, who did her doctoral thesis on the Parsi Punchayet Case as well as the Saklat vs Bella case in Rangoon, believes the Tatas could have won in appeal.


The English judges would not have the same mindset as those in India. Even in the Saklat vs Bella(1925) case the three member Privy Council bench ruled that the trustees had the right to admit to a fire temple a non-Parsi, if they so wished. Bella was allegedly the daughter of a Goan father and Parsi mother.

The question arises after these two historic court cases why no Parsi women till this year moved the Courts to challenge the definition of a Parsi as laid down by Petit vs Jeejeebhoy or to combat the relentless discrimination they face. There are many influential and moneyed women / families that could have easily financed any case and withstood any backlash from the traditionalists.

But it was only when the new head priest in Calcutta barred entry to the local adarian to the grandchildren of Prochy Mehta, that she and her daughter, Sanaya Mehta Vyas, who is married to a non-Parsi, filed an Originating Summons in the Calcutta High Court.


The Mehtas are a well-placed family, as are the Contractors. Gupta’s sister Patodia, being a leading attorney in the prestigious Delhi law firm of Dua Associates, made it possible for the sisters to take on the VPA. All the lawyers representing Gupta in the Supreme Court including Percy Kavina of Ahmedabad who appeared for Gupta in the Gujarat High Court, did so pro bono. In contrast, the VPA is expected to spend over a crore of rupees fighting the case in the apex court.

In both cases, the instigation for the legal battles came not from the deprived parties but those in power. Their obdurate stand forced the Contractors and the Mehtas to litigate. The times are changing. Women are beginning to assert their rights: The #MeToo movement for women to voice the sexual harassment they have suffered from powerful men, the Hindu and Muslim women who are standing up for their rights, the Dalits and other disadvantaged sections of society that are claiming their rightful dues.

Behind every movement for equality there are a handful of peoplewho initiate the effort. They take on the establishment, regardless of the consequences. They are the heroes of our time. Whether they succeed in their mission or fail, they deserve society’s respect and accolades. The Contractor sisters and the Mehtas are role models not only for the Parsis but for all persecuted women and children everywhere. We have to honor and salute them.

Editorial Viewpoint
Parsiana – 21-Dec-2017


Bangalore’s NAVAL DALAL Turns 103!

Life, at any age, is a celebration — more so when you turn 103, like Bangalore’s Naval H. Dalal did on November 27.

Fittingly, the Bangalore Parsee Zoroastrian Anjuman (BPZA), on behalf of its Trustees and members, felicitated at his residence.

Naval is the oldest Parsi living in Bangalore. Naval Hormusji Dalal was born on November 27, 1914, into a horse racing family!

When Naval was around 10-years-old, his elder brother, Rusi, who was just a few years older, took him for admission to the Clarence Boys School in Bangalore, where the English headmistress christened him ‘Noel’ – the name stuck ever since!

In 1948, Naval married Nergis (nee Tarapore), who is 95 years old today. By Ahura Mazda’s grace, they will celebrate their 70th wedding anniversary next year!

Courtesy: Jam-e-Jamshed

Udvada Station To Get New Lease Of Life In 2018

Two months after Aspi Sepoy, 46, caretaker of the Parsi community museum in the holy beach town of Udvada, lost his legs after slipping into the gap between the train and platform at Udvada station, the Railways have started work on increasing the height of the platform. Repeated follow-ups by mid-day led to the Railways not only fast tracking work at the 1895-built small halt station, but also deciding to give it a complete makeover, which should be wrapped up by January 2018.

Work being carried out to repave and increase the height of the platform

Located around 182 km from Mumbai, Udvada is one of the most important spiritual and religious centres for Zoroastrians in the world. At the Iranshah temple, the holy fire — consecrated in 1742 when the Zoroastrians came to India to escape religious persecution in Persia — is still burning.

As part of the makeover for the station that falls on the Mumbai-Surat railway line, platforms are being raised, paved and passenger amenities upgraded. Further, the old foot overbridge (FOB) has also been dismantled and is being rebuilt and strengthened. It is expected to be ready by the end of this month.

Udvada station sees a lot of pilgrims from the Zoroastrian community

When mid-day visited the station two days ago, work on raising platform one had been completed and paver blocks and tiles were being laid. On platform two and three, the edges were raised on either side, but the surface is being filled up and plastered.

According to a source, work is moving at hectic pace with a number of labourers being hired for the job. Besides raising the platform, the Railways will be laying tiles and paver blocks with tactile markings. A small walkway with paver blocks has also been built over the tracks at the Churchgate-end of the station so that senior citizens can access the platforms easily. “Udvada will get a new station in the new year,” said Ravinder Bhakar, chief public relations officer Western Railway.

Work being carried out to repave and increase the height of the platform

However, with the raising of the platform height, one peculiar problem that has emerged now is that the seats and benches at the station have become shallow and unusable.

Khurshed J Lawyer, actor and a regular commuter, welcomed the changes at the station but said there were a few other issues that needed to be addressed. “The platform length needs to be increased at the station. When longer trains halt at the station, at least four to five coaches are usually outside the platform and many passengers, especially senior citizens, find it difficult to board and alight.”

Aspi Sepoy
Aspi Sepoy

Railway authorities said that they would consider the request later when they begin with phase two of the station upgrade.
Meanwhile, if all goes well, Aspi Sepoy will, in the course of the next few days, get two imported artificial legs to replace his lost limbs, each costing Rs 5 lakh.

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.