Dhobi Talao resident Meher Bhandara on launching a pioneering technology that makes water out of air
Meher Bhandara with the home unit. Pics/Sayyed Sameer Abedi
Twenty-five years ago, when Meher Bhandara was told by an astrologer that she’s likely to enter a profession that would involve water, she didn’t think much of it. “Since I was part of the travel and tourism industry, I assumed it might be about beach resorts or cruises,” says Bhandara, whose grandfather founded Jeena Tours and Travels, the country’s first Indian-owned travel agency. Little did the 67-year-old know, that she would eventually helm a pioneering project that involves making water from thin air.
Why Humidity Matters
Bhandara is one of the founders of WaterMaker (India) Pvt Ltd, a company that manufactures atmospheric water generators (AWG). The technology uses optimised dehumidification techniques to extract and condense moisture in the air to produce purified drinking water. While the concept may sound esoteric, the usage is fairly simple. They essentially plug and play machines that provide safe drinking water. “All it requires is electricity to condense, collect, filter and dispense water,” she explains. Given its reliance on moisture, the machine functions best in coastal areas that are hot and humid. The greater the humidity, the better the output. “When we first participated at the Water Asia Expo in 2005 with a 500 litre AWG, visitors were amazed to see water being created out of air. They checked all nooks to find hidden pipe connections,” she laughs.
WaterMaker machine installed at a public study at Cooperage
In 2009, Bhandara set up a 1,000-litre machine in Jalimudi village in Andhra Pradesh for its 500 inhabitants. It became the world’s first rural atmospheric water installation. In Mumbai, it has been installed as a CSR project for an insurance company at a public study centre at Cooperage. “A lot of students throng the space because it’s quiet corner to study and they felt it would help to have free, drinking water handy,” she says. Considering students can be a tad too curious and tinker with buttons, the machine remains locked with only the tap accessible. Over the years, many companies have used the machines for their CSR projects in urban and rural India.
Inventor Who Made It Possible
It was in 2004 that Bhandara and her family first came across the technology. “My brother got talking to Dan Zimmerman, a co-passenger at JFK airport in New York, who mentioned that he was an inventor and had developed these machines that could make water from air, but didn’t know what to do next. Naturally, he was intrigued and felt India could truly do with machines such as these,” she says. The family then decided to collaborate with him and manufacture and sell AWGs in India. For a person who gawked at geeks, Bhandara had to learnt the technology from scratch. “I’m an arts and humanities person. So it was a challenge to acquaint myself with how this works,” she says.
Today, she is so well versed with the technology, that she has helped create smaller, soon-to-be launched home models. These can produce 25 litres in 24 hours. While all water filters need to be replaced every six months, the UV lamps can be replaced once a year. “Cleaning the air filter depends on the ambient air quality. You should check it twice a month.” The home units currently cost R45,000. “It is steep. Once we increase volumes, prices will decrease.” Funding for the projects come from companies, NGOs, and philanthropists. “We take water for granted. But there are so many who are deprived of it. The initiative is our way of contributing to society.”
Very few people today have heard of the Parsi community in Sri Lanka, because there are only about 60 in all including men, women and children. Although small in number, the contributions to our nation by this intriguing community throughout the years, have left an indelible mark in the history of Sri Lanka. They have produced eminent citizens, including a Government Minister, a Judge of the Supreme Court, barons of business and industry, high ranking military officials, media and educational personalities and philanthropists, among others.
Prominent Parsi families in Sri Lanka today are the Captain’s, Choksys, Khans, Billimorias, Pestonjees and Jillas. Their ancestors were originally from Persia, who later migrated to Gujarat in India. The Parsis are a very religious community who follow the Zoroastrian faith which is basically a monotheistic one, centred on the belief in the One True God whom they call Ahura Mazda or ‘Wise Lord’ in the Gathas of Prophet Zarathustra and his Great Maga Brotherhood.
The Parsis have made invaluable contributions to the economy and development of Sri Lanka. The Captains are a Parsi family who have long settled in this country. Sohli Captain owned Wellawatte Spinning and Weaving Mills and his son Rusi went into corporate investments. The Captains are well-known for their services to humanity. Sohli Captain developed Sri Lanka’s first Cancer Hospital, and his sister Perin Captain has contributed immensely to the Child’s Protection Society.
Another long established Parsi family in Sri Lanka were the Billimorias who established the Britannia Bakery in 1900. Homi Billimoria, a renowned architect who designed Mumtaz Mahal, the official residence of the Speaker of Parliament and Tintagel, which became the family home of the Bandaranaike family. The Khan family owned the Oil Mills in Colombo and built the famous Khan Clock Tower, a landmark in Pettah. The Jillas, another well-known Parsi family, established Colombo Dye Works. Homi Jilla became an army Physician, Kairshasp Jilla became a Naval officer, and Freddy Jilla served as a civil aviation officer.
The Pestonjee family arrived in Sri Lanka much later. Kaikobad Gandy was the father of Aban Pestonjee, the founder of the prestigious Abans Group. He was a marine engineer who sailed around the world and finally made Sri Lanka his home, which he called ‘the best place in the world’. In 1930 he was awarded a Distinguished Citizenship by S.W.R.D. Bandaranaike in recognition of his services to the country’s ports as Chief Engineer. His daughter Aban founded Abans Group, a business conglomerate that handles everything from hospitality and electronic goods, janitorial services to garbage disposal and keeping our streets clean.
“Sri Lanka is our home, we love this country, and our small community lives in peace and harmony with the people of this country, always looking for ways and means to contribute towards its development and prosperity,” said Aban Pestonjee.
Vada Dasturji Dr. Kaikhusroo Minocher JamaspAsa, High Priest of Zarthoshti Anjumanna Atash Behram, Mumbai has left for his heavenly abode. He passed away in London on 19th May. He was 87 years of age. In his passing away, the Parsee community has lost a renowned scholar, a religious leader and a friend.
He was born in Mumbai on 11th March 1932. He undertook his under graduate and graduate studies in Avesta and Pahlavi from St. Xavier’s College in Mumbai and thereafter, in 1966, he obtained his Doctorate in Philosophy from the University of Bombay.
He was installed as the High Priest of the Zarthoshti Anjumanna Atash Behram on 3rd October 1956 and continued to hold this position till his passing away. He comes from a long line of illustrious scholar priests, with his great grandfather, Dasturji Dr. Jamaspji M. JamaspAsa, who consecrated and installed the Anjuman Atash Behram. Soon after, he held the position of Honorary Professor of Iranian Studies at St. Xavier’s College for over 3 decades. Concurrently, he also became Principal of the Sir J. J. Zarthoshti Madressa for 10 years and served as the Senior Lecturer of the Mulla Firoz Madressa, in Mumbai, as well.
Dasturji was fluent in German and French due to his orientation in European scholarship in his chosen field of Iranian studies. he also served as a Visiting Professor at the Asia Institute of Pahlavi University in Shiraz.
Dasturji has many scholarly books to his name. His most important publications are on ‘The Pahlavi – Pazend Text of the Aogemadaeca:The Vaetha Nask; and the Pursishniha’. He has written a number of learned articles in renowned international academic journals.
Under his hand, hundreds of boys from priestly families have undergone their Navar and Maratab ceremonies. Under his religious authority, over 200 Nirangdins and other higher liturgical ceremonies have been performed.
During the many years that he was a Vada Dasturji of the Zarthoshti Anjumanna Atash Behram, he steered the community onto the path of tradition and has upheld the beliefs and practices of the Zoroastrian faith. He has constantly advocated the need for the community to adhere to the time tested belief and practices of our religion. Dasturji firmly believed that the only way to ensure the survival of the faith in the times to come was to maintain the socio-religious laws of the community fused to the religion, in order to safeguard the religious institutions such as the Fire Temples, Dakhmas and other religious bodies.
Dasturji is survived by his wife Dr. Bakhtavar, son Jamasp and daughter Shirin.
We extend our heartfelt condolence to his family in this their hour of loss. May his immortal soul gain the divine protection of Sarosh Yazad and may he progress from Tanasakh to Tanpasin at the earliest.
* On Murree Road, in the heart of the city, a lane leads towards a heavy iron gate that opens out on an era of Parsi history
It is a sweltering morning of June 1947. Weeks after vicious communal riots in Rawalpindi, Parsis are proffering teary-eyed goodbye to their home, Rawalpindi – standing amid Parsi cemetery on the narrow patches that part each grave, by laying out rose petals with tears rolling down from their faces and saying holy prayers to those who became eternal residents of the city expecting they would never see them again.
Much broken but still strengthened, many left and a few plumped for to stay in the city where they lived and expanded their businesses – Rawalpindi – a city of their dreams.
Today, that place of Parsi heritage is not easily visible in commercial congested areas.
Right in the heart of Rawalpindi, on Murree Road, a hubbub of the city life and noise of traffic, a lane leads to somewhat different place to its surroundings, where a heavy iron gate opens up to an era of Parsi arrival in Rawalpindi – the Parsi burial ground or Parsi cemetery.
Here, some neighbourhood children play cricket inside the premises and adjoining houses let drainage water on concrete floor of the cemetery making a burbling sound that disturbs tranquility. For new visitors to the cemetery, a marble plaque with bilingual, English and Gujarati inscription, welcomes new visitors, giving answers of basics and sometimes mysteries when people say, “Oh really? We don’t know Parsis bury their dead.”
Apart from random travel photographers and some local cricket players, Rawalpindi Parsi Anjuman President and former Member of National Assembly Isphanyar Minocher Bhandara is a regular visitor.
He comes to the cemetery weekly and sometimes twice a week, bringing rose petals, offering prayers on the graves of his beloveds, taking care and fighting illegal encroachments of this religious heritage site.
Here, some neighbourhood children play cricket inside the premises and drainage water spills out on the concrete floor of the cemetery, disturbing the tranquility. For new visitors to the cemetery, a marble plaque with a bilingual inscription welcomes new visitors, giving answers to basic questions and surprising visitors: ‘Oh really? We don’t know Parsis bury their dead’
He’s not only concerned about this site because it’s associated to his own religion but equally concerned about shrinking spaces for Hindus, Kailash, Christians and Buddhists in Pakistan.
He’s a vocal Parsi who stands up for the rights of religious minorities. He goes to Hindu temples, gurdwaras and churches as well. No matter what festival it is, he celebrates Holi, Christmas and Gurpurab with the same enthusiasm.
The Parsi heritage of the city was burgeoned soon after they made Rawalpindi their home that could have been alive however today fuzzy in the mists of time. Talking about the Parsis of Rawalpindi, the most renowned name of them all is that of MP Bhandara, a prolific writer, a columnist and art lover. His real name is Minocher Peshotan Bhandara also known as Minoo.
After a decade past his death, he’s alive in his writings. In the words of Khushwant Singh on the sudden death of Minoo Bhandara, “he was a grievous blow to those who strove to build bridges between Pakistan and India”.
Today, there are around 130 graves in the cemetery, the oldest one dates back to 1860.
The first wave of Parsis came from Gujarat. The inscriptions on tombstones is filled with surnames like Jussawalla and Minwalla. The Walla surname is quite common among Parsis.
Cyrus Broacha, whose family moved from Rawalpindi after Partition, is a well-known anchor and theatre personality based in Mumbai.
Most surnames in the subcontinent reflect caste, lineage and religious beliefs. The Parsis had a delightfully modern streak – having landed without caste, history and context. They created identities through professions and urban streets.
“Our family moved to Bombay from Rawalpindi in 1947. We came as refugees but the family soon settled and by 1953, my father had re-started playing golf at the Willingdon Club. I was eight years old and would walk 18 holes with him every Saturday and Sunday. The three Parsi gentlemen who made up his regular four-ball were uncles Poonawala, Coorlawala and Colabawala. Very soon they had re-christened my father Pindiwala. I used to spend hours searching the telephone directory to find Parsi surnames and stories around their families. There was prohibition in Bombay in those days. So to get liquor, you had to find Dalal, who would introduce you to Daruwala, who in turn would get bottles delivered to your home by Batliwala who would be accompanied by Soda-Water-Bottle-Opener-walla. Other surnames whose ancestors were in the beverages trade were Fountainwala, Ginwala, Rumwala, Sodawala and Jaamwala. Our neighbour and family physician was Dr Adi Doctor – he was only half a doctor. I remember going to Dr Doctor’s sister’s wedding. She married one Mr Screwala. What he did for a living, I don’t know to this day,” Cyrus Broacha says.
In 1898, the grandsons of Jehangirji Framji Jussawalla and Jamasji Hormasji Bogha named Dorabji Cowasji Jussawalla and Nasarwanji Jehangirji Bogha respectively, erected a wall around the burial ground. Jamasji Hormusji Boga aged 72, died on March 21, 1884.
He was at first a priest in Surat and used to convey invitations. Thereafter in 1843, he went to Karachi and spread his business at many places in the name of Jamasji & Sons and settled in Rawalpindi. He left behind a good estate at the time of his death. Dorabji Cowasji Jussawalla donated Rs 500 in 1881 to Bazam for Jashans in memory of his grandfather, late Seth Jehangirji Faramji Jussawalla. Cowasji Jehangirji Jussawalla aged 82 died on December 5, 1900. He joined his family’s well known firm M/s Jehangir Nusserwanji Jussawalla. The branches of this firm were opened in various parts of India. He moved to various branches of the family firm’s shops at Nilgiris, Karachi, Peshawar, Firozpur, and Hyderabad. In 1839, when the British army went to Kabul, at the recommendation of Sir Alexander Burns, his firm opened a shop in Kabul. As the British rule extended in Afghanistan and Peshawar, he took the risk and opened his firm’s shops in Sukkur, Jacobabad, Jalalabad and Kabul. Later, he separated from his family firm and joined as a guarantee broker of Volkart Brothers and Nupni Co. He spent a long time in quietude. He was the father of Seth Cooverji, Nusserwanji, Hormusji, Dorabji, Dadabhai and Jamshedji Cawasji Jussawalla.
There’s a large hall with Roman arched veranda outside the cemetery which accommodates around 200 people, that was built to offer prayers for the deceased.
The hall was built by Commodore Fakirji Dhanji Bhouy in the memory of his mother.
This cemetery also serves as a philanthropic work as the well of cemetery is source of drinking water when it becomes scarce in summer, locals throng to get water.
The writer is a freelance journalist, writer and an independent researcher. He is currently documenting Parsi Zoroastrian heritage of Pakistan. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and Tweets at @OldRwp
“I keep telling my children, ‘You are my real wealth.’ My husband always makes fun of me at this by saying, ‘Great then you must have the BSES bills and all of that covered’,” says Shernaz Mehernosh Turel, giggling at the idea like a little kid, a Parsi mother who is more of a friend and less of a parent to her children.
It is on a solid camaraderie that the foundation of their relationship is made, a parenting gem that Shernaz has inherited from her late mother. Like she shares, “My mother gave me the kind of space where I could tell her anything. She knew me so well that she could read it from my body language if something was amiss. During those times, she’d often look at me with an all-knowing grin and say, “You are caught one way or the other. So why don’t you tell the truth right away and save yourself from all the stress?”
She adds, “I have brought up my children exactly that way. We don’t hide anything from each other. I share a very friendly rapport with them. If anything happens, good or bad, they can come and confront me. Similarly, if I have some problem, I do the exact same, reach out to my children, share my problems with them and they solve it for me.”
Shernaz hails from a traditional joint family and thus has seen and learned everything being done with perfection in the traditional Parsi way and has made it a point to pass it on to her children as well. “I come from a very culturally rooted family,” she says as she fondly talks of how the smallest of the occasions or festivals are a matter of celebration, which is never taken lightly in the Turel household. “Everything is done as per the proper Parsi rituals. My children respect and cherish all of these small things as much as I do,” she shares.
We are delighted to share the good news, that one of very our own became a centenarian today – Saturday 13thApril 2019 and received a congratulatory message from Her Majesty The Queen.
Soonnie Godrej Talati was born in Mumbai on the 13th April 1919, Shahenshai Mah Ava Roj Aspandarmad 1288YZ, to Dadiba and Bacha Mehta. Like many of us Soonnie aunty also follows the Shahenshai Zoroastrian calendar, hence Soonnie aunty already became a centenarian on Tuesday 19th March 2019!
Soonnie aunty went to Parsee Tutorial High School and later completed Pitman’s secretarial course. Her mum’s family (Gorwalla) lived in Karachi which was then part of India. She has happy memories of her childhood holidays there with her Karachi cousins.
After her marriage in1947 to Godrej Talati, Soonnie aunty moved to Nairobi in Kenya to begin a new life in a foreign country where she brought up her 4 children; Pheroze, Sarosh / Shahrukh (twins) & daughter Meher. From Nairobi the family moved to Kisumu on Lake Victoria and then to the coast of Mombasa.
In 1968 Soonnie aunty moved to England and settled in Perivale, Middlesex, and as with the move from India to Kenya she took to her new life in the UK in her stride. She enjoyed activities in the local community participating in swimming, sewing, knitting, keep fit, French & music classes and late in life even started a computer course in the local library which she visited frequently. Due to failing eyesight and mobility she reluctantly had to get used to a more relaxed life in her mid nineties!
Soonnie aunty is happiest when all her family get together in Perivale. She enjoys the company of her 5 grandchildren Rashna, Zenobia, Cyrus, Farokh & Yazdi and is very proud of her 4 great grandchildren Ria, Roxana, Shaya & Darius.
Darius was born in February 2019 – almost 100 Years after his great grandmother Soonnie.
ZTFE congratulates Soonnie aunty on this amazing milestone. We wish you a very Happy 100th Birthday. May every minute of your 100th Birthday be filled with everlasting joy and pleasure, surrounded by your loving family together with your children, grandchildren and great grandchildren.
We in the ZTFE will be celebrating Soonnie aunty’s 100th birthday at the Zoroastrian Centre, during the Z Club on Thursday 18th April 2019.
The Parsis are one of the smallest religious communities in the world. To understand the population structure and demographic history of this group in detail, we analyzed Indian and Pakistani Parsi populations using high-resolution genetic variation data on autosomal and uniparental loci (Y-chromosomal and mitochondrial DNA). Additionally, we also assayed mitochondrial DNA polymorphisms among ancient Parsi DNA samples excavated from Sanjan, in present day Gujarat, the place of their original settlement in India.
Among present-day populations, the Parsis are genetically closest to Iranian and the Caucasus populations rather than their South Asian neighbors. They also share the highest number of haplotypes with present-day Iranians and we estimate that the admixture of the Parsis with Indian populations occurred ~1,200 years ago. Enriched homozygosity in the Parsi reflects their recent isolation and inbreeding. We also observed 48% South-Asian-specific mitochondrial lineages among the ancient samples, which might have resulted from the assimilation of local females during the initial settlement. Finally, we show that Parsis are genetically closer to Neolithic Iranians than to modern Iranians, who have witnessed a more recent wave of admixture from the Near East.
Our results are consistent with the historically-recorded migration of the Parsi populations to South Asia in the 7th century and in agreement with their assimilation into the Indian sub-continent’s population and cultural milieu “like sugar in milk”. Moreover, in a wider context our results support a major demographic transition in West Asia due to the Islamic conquest.
Noel Tata, Ratan Tata’s half brother has recently joined the Tata trust’s Board. The induction of Noel Tata into the Board has once again given new air to the speculations of him, succeeding the present Chairman of Tata Trusts,Ratan Tata. He is currently the Chairman of Trent and also MD of Tata Internationals.
Many members of the Parsi community want some family member to head the Tata Trusts after Ratan Tata, who is now 81 years old.
With Noel Tata’s entry in the trusts Board, all three Tata brothers are now on the Board. Jimmy Tata has been trustee for almost last thirty years. In recent times, many trustees have expressed for an increase in the representation of the Parsi community on the Trust’s Board. Noel’s entry in the Trusts board is at a time when the Indian Conglomerate is grappling with allegations of Income Tax violations by another trustee R Venkataramanan.
R Venkataramanan resignation from the post of managing trustee of Tata Trust comes after allegations of violation in Income Tax. Also, last year in march CBI initiated an inquiry against him and some other top executive in a bribery case.
As per the case, Venketaramanan, bribed government official to tweak the 5/20 rule in their favour so that AirAsia India (owned by Tata Group) can start its international operations. The aforementioned rule mandates the Airline to have at least 20 planes and 5 years of domestic experience to start international operations.
Jehangir H Jehangir, a fellow Parsi and philanthropist who spearheads Jahangir Hospital located in Pune, was also inducted on the Board.