BEING A PARSI PRIEST IN HONG KONG


In a small, air-conditioned room in Hong Kong’s busy Causeway Bay area, behind a framed, larger-than-life portrait of Parsi merchant Jamsetji Jeejeebhoy, there is talk of dhansak.

Homyar Nasirabadwala is speaking of the fortnightly dinners organized on the middle floors of the Zoroastrian Building for the city’s 200-odd-strong Parsi community.

Resident priest Nasirabadwala, 62, explains that there are two chefs from India—one of them Parsi—who live and work in this building. They organize the lavish multi-course dinners dished out. Around 40 or 50 Parsis show up on each occasion.

There are no Parsi restaurants in the city, but here, lagan nu custard, patra ni machchi, and sali boti are all on the menu. “We love to eat and drink,” he says.

Do the chefs make a mean dhansak? “Of course,” he says. “They wouldn’t be here if they didn’t.”

Nasirabadwala is that delightful man of god with a devilish sense of humour. A slim gent in a black topi and a collared T-shirt, he is sitting behind a desk that has a copy of the weekly community newspaper, the Jam-e-Jamshed, and a Zoroastrian calendar.

Homyar Nasirabadwala is that delightful man of god with a devilish sense of humour. Photo: Bhavya Dore

Nasirabadwala is a transplant from Mumbai and one of a handful of full-time Parsi priests working outside India—there is one in London and perhaps one or two in Pakistan. The diaspora in other countries, such as the US and Canada, usually has other professionals who help out with priestly duties on a part-time basis.

On the fourth floor hall of this building, bearing a prominent image of the Faravahar, the religion’s symbol, he looks after a fire temple—more a prayer hall really—and attends to other tasks of the Association. He administers to the spiritual needs of the community, oversees religious functions and works on creating a broad awareness about the community in the city.

Nasirabadwala has been here since 2009, when the previous priest left to return to India, taking on the duties of a full-time priest for the first time. He had earlier been ordained as a 12-year-old, working part-time before leaving his corporate job and moving to Hong Kong.

There was an advertisement in the Parsi papers from the Incorporated Trustees of the Zoroastrian Charity Funds of Hong Kong, Canton and Macao, seeking a priest for the city. He wrote in and got the job.

Since he arrived, he has officiated at two weddings, four navjotes (a ceremony of induction into the community), two purification ceremonies for new mothers and 10 funeral services.

“This is a big responsibility,” he says. “It requires all my attention and I am on the job 24/7.”

The Parsi community in Hong Kong has always been slight in numbers but massive in impact. Businessman and philanthropist Hormusjee Nowrojee Mody helped found the Kowloon Cricket Club and made an important donation to get the Hong Kong University up and running.

In 1888, Dorabjee Naorjee Mithaiwala founded the major ferry service, the Star Ferry, connecting two of the islands. Two Parsis were part of the original group that helped set up the Hong Kong and Shanghai Bank.

By some accounts, exchange between the Chinese and Zoroastrians from Persia go back to the sixth century, when Zoroastrian merchants traded with the Chinese empire. There is even some evidence of fire temples having been set up in parts of China.

But modern-day connections came with the advent of the British Empire, and Parsi merchants began arriving in east Asia from India in the 18th century, moving through Canton, Macau and Shanghai and flourishing in the spices, silk, opium and tea trades.

Though there were some that continued to stay in China, almost nothing of the community remains now on the mainland.

In Hong Kong, on the other hand, the dwindling community has managed to keep the spirit of the faith alive. “It all depends on the community and the people,” says Nasirabadwala. “They wanted someone and had the resources.”

In Hong Kong, the Parsis have had their own cemetery since 1852—rather than the traditional method of disposal via the towers of silence—where 194 people have been buried and the first grave goes back to 1858.

Nasirabadwala explains that the rituals he performs are virtually unchanged; the same prayers are uttered, and the body washed. The dog of the cemetery caretaker is pressed into action for “sagdid”, or the ritual of relying on a dog to reconfirm that the body is indeed dead. The only difference is that, here, other Parsis volunteer as pall-bearers in the absence of professional ones.

At navjotes, the tradition of sipping nirang, or consecrated bull’s urine, is not in practice here. Instead, pomegranate juice is given to the children.

The prayer hall has a fire burning all hours of day and night; a slight flame stoked by sandalwood in a room surrounded by portraits of the prophet. It is what is described as an “Atash Dadgah”, since it hosts a “grade three” fire, or one that has not been consecrated (most of the ones outside Iran and the Subcontinent are Atash Dadgahs).

Non-Parsis are allowed in this space. “It is a bit more liberal,” he says.

Like everyone else in the community, Nasirabadwala is also concerned about the declining numbers of Parsis worldwide. “We know it is a worrying factor,” he says. “We are encouraging young people to get married early. There might be a change in later years.”

But whatever happens before that, there will be dhansak. Last month, there were celebrations for the 100th birthday of a Parsi resident of Hong Kong. The twice-monthly dinners will continue.

The bar is stocked and the kitchen staff is busy preparing. “We joke that in the Parsi community there is no fasting, only feasting,” he says. “We go all out.”

When asked about the highlights of his time in Hong Kong and what he will remember when he returns to India, he pauses to think for a minute. “The vibrancy and tolerance of the city,” he says.

Oh, and one other thing: the “dim sums”.

Bhavya Dore is a Mumbai-based freelance journalist.

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Uncover Mumbai’s most loved community this weekend through Dadar Parsi colony trail


This weekend, take a break from Ganpati pandal-hopping and set out on a walk through the Dadar Parsi Colony, which is home to heritage structures, leafy bylanes and one of Mumbai’s most loved communities
What makes the Dadar Parsi Colony so special? How did it end up becoming the largest Zoroastrian enclave in the world? Who lives here now? Learn all there is to know about this locality, which is sandwiched between Matunga’s Five Gardens and Wadala’s BeST bus depot, with a free guided walk this weekend.

Organised by Sahapedia, an open online resource on the arts, cultures and heritage of India, the walk will be led by Vimala MV. “The idea is to understand the Parsi community better and look beyond the stereotypes. The walk will be filled with fun trivia and interesting facts about the colony and community,” she says.

On: August 27, 9 am to 10.45 am 
Meeting point: Outside Cafe Madras, King’s Circle, Matunga.
To: register
Log on to: goo.gl/xiUMM1 
Call: 9886687912

Heritage buildings
According to architect Kamu Iyer, most buildings in the Dadar Parsi Colony were designed by architects, unlike the nearby Hindu Colony, where structures were commissioned to contractors. This is why most of the structures in the former were different – ahead of their time and planned for a western style of living. Several of these buildings are used as settings for period dramas. Among the movies recently shot in the locality are Raees, Rustom and Special 26.

Cafe 792
Although shut on Sundays, this little café run by a Parsi is a great snack stop if you happen to be in the area on any other day. Grab a quick bite – they stock sandwiches, wraps, puffs, desserts and more – and sip on a cup of piping hot coffee while you’re at it. They also have a daily meal menu, offering traditional Parsi eats such as Dhansak, Kaju Chicken, Patra Prawns, and more.

Time: 10.30 am to 8 pm (Sundays closed) 
At: 792, Dina Manzil Outhouse, Jam-e-Jamshed Road
Call: 9619585792

The bust of mancherji joshi
The construction of the Dadar Parsi Colony in the 1920s was a response to the outbreak of plague in the island city, and an attempt to get members of the community to move to the suburbs. The man responsible for the planned layout of the area is Mancherji Joshi, who was an architect with the Bombay Improvement Trust. Every aspect, from how tall the buildings could be, to what kind of trees could be planted in the locality, was taken care of by Joshi himself. Although you won’t be visiting his home, where his granddaughter Zarine Engineer continues to live, you can stop to admire his bust, located at the entrance to the colony.

Rustom faramna agiary
This 88-year-old fire temple is named in honour of hotelier and philanthropist Rustom Faramna, who built it when he realised there was no place of worship for members of the community residing in the colony. When he passed away, the management of the agiary fell to his brother-in-law, and it is now managed by a board of trustees, which includes Faramna’s descendents. At this agiary, you will find an exhaustive record of every single person who has lived in the Parsi Colony since its establishment. The agiary was given a facelift on its 75th anniversary.

‘It was the start of middle class housing’

Simin Patel, Founder, Bombaywalla
The Dadar Parsi Colony is fascinating for many reasons. It marked the beginning of affordable housing in the city for the middle class, and today, it houses the largest concentration of Parsis. The way other communities can interact with the space differentiates it from other Parsi baugs, which are gated.

‘Its exclusivity is what makes it unique’

Kamu Iyer, Architect
The locality has managed to retain its structures and look thanks to the conservative nature of the Parsi community, which shielded the colony from redevelopment. A British-era covenant ensures that even today, most of the houses here can only be owned by or rented out to Parsis.

By ShraddhaUchil

With 113 Years Of Legacy, Here’s The Story Of Mumbai’s Popular Kyani


Farokh Shokri sits at a table distant from the cash counter but directly opposite so as not to miss any transactions. With a snowy mane and a friendly demeanor, Farokh seems to have just finished his breakfast when we meet him, and is looking pensively at his multivitamins and medicines. And at 55, managing Kayani & Co., a restaurant with a legacy can be difficult because he looks slightly stressed while accounting for his bills and supplies.

FAROKH SHOKHRI HANDLES KYANI

He makes it a point to tell us that his name is ‘Farokh’ and not ‘Farooq’ as people always mishear or mispronounce it as. “It’s a more common mistake than you can think. People always end up saying ‘Farooq’, which is usually a Muslim name,” he corrects us.

Old is still bold

Kayani & Co. is known to be one of the oldest restaurants in Mumbai. It has been standing strong, its interiors jovial with engraved darkwood panels for almost 113 years, in a building that evidently looks its age, but sturdy nonetheless. The restaurant is so quaint from the inside, it’s hard to guess what’s oozing the charm – sepia toned pictures of a hundred years old Mumbai, the small bakery section at one corner of the restaurant, the preserved black bentwood chairs or the checkered mats over the square and some round tables all across the café.

Kyani’s, as it is fondly known, was established in 1904 by a gentleman named Khodram Marezban and was taken over in late 1959 by Aflatoon Shokri, Farokh’s father. Since then it’s the Shokri family that has been retaining the restaurant’s glory. Its namesake in Pune, however, is run by a completely different family, Farokh informs us.

Apart from the obvious legacy that the restaurant has inherited, the authenticity of Parsi-style dishes and old Bombay has also been retained here. The cacophony of constant traffic outside makes you aware that you’re in 2017, but it’s very easy to imagine that at one point in time, Kyani restaurant bakery was one of the most important hang-out places for the people of Mumbai. The place still makes a bold statement with the kind of interiors it has preserved.

The glam factor

“I came to know from my father that Shashi Kapoor and M F Hussain were regulars here. They would sit with their bun maska and chai, and kept it to themselves,” Farokh told us. We asked him if he himself had had any encounters with celebrities, “I have had none, but I do remember the stories of these two men that my father told me,” he said.

ANY DISH ORDERED AT KYANI’S IS A CULINARY TREAT – A SIMPLE HALF FRIED EGG AND FRANKFURTERS AND AN OMLET PAV IS WHAT WE FEASTED ON

 

The charming interior of the place – the high roof and the mezzanine floor is something that simply cannot be ignored. But the other thing that can never be ignored at Kyani’s is the aroma of some really delicious food that is cooked here. It’s a culinary treat in its best form. Be it a cup of chai infused with a generous amount of elaichi, a freshly made Chicken Pattice, a breakfast of Half Fry with Frankfurters, or eating Chicken Tandoori or Kheema Pav, the sheer simplicity of these dishes is what makes them worth chasing after from any part of the city you live in.

Memories and tragedies

The relatively recent outbreak of restaurant franchises in Mumbai have no doubt, gained instant popularity among the youth, but the number of young people – especially couples coming here is surprising. And we’re sure it’s not just the pocket-friendly prices and melt-in-your-mouth bun-maska that lure the youth here, it’s the charisma of the place that brings them here. The round shaped tables, for example, are more than a hundred years old.

CHECKERED MATS ADORN THE TABLES AT KYANI

“We have had to change some of the tables and replace them with square ones because some of them broke down during my father’s time. We have managed to retain some of these though, the ones with Italian marbles-laden over wood,” he smiles and shows us the table where he’s sitting.

And much to our fancy, there are many more of these tables on the mezzanine floor above, which is made accessible only when the floor below gets too crowded.

Kyani’s is almost diagonally opposite to Metro theatre, again a part of the cluster of heritage locations in Mumbai. Being at a prime location has its set of complications as well. Complications lead to stories. One of the stories is the fateful night of 26/11 terrorist attack when the jeep full of terrorists passed from right in front of the bakery. Farokh recalls that it was a close call for them. “The bakery closes at about 9 pm. I remember I was at a wedding that day and saw the chaos that has ensued on TV when I reached home,” he said.

Long live legacy

Farokh says that the reason Irani bakeries and their legacies are slowly fading away is that of the lack of interest of the new generation. “A lot of children from our community have settled abroad, or want to do something else. I took over from my father, but whether or not my children will do the same will depend entirely on them. My daughter’s 19, and son is 13, so they are still too young to make this decision but whatever that may be, I will have to respect that,” he said.

PICTURES OF MUMBAI WHEN IT WAS BOMBAY HANG ON THE WALLS OF THIS QUAINT RESTAURANT

And perhaps that is the one thing most Parsi bakeries are facing – extinction by the gap of generation. Suckers for history and lovers of the good ol’ Bombay will be disappointed if these Irani restaurants cease to continue. And one can only wish that in the era of remakes and revamps, places like Kyani’s are not stripped off its personality and re-wrapped into something God-forbiddingly ‘new’.

Click Here for the full story, with many more pics – http://www.indiatimes.com/news/india/with-113-years-of-legacy-here-s-the-story-of-mumbai-s-popular-kyani-co-bakery-326777.html

VICE-PRINCIPAL IN ALLAHABAD SHOT BY UNIDENTIFIED ASSAILANTS


Two unidentified bike-borne armed assailants shot at a vice principal of a private school near Sanjiwani hospital under Kydganj police station here on Monday morning.

The condition of injured vice principal, identified as Mehernosh Framjee, a resident of Nawab Yusuf road, was stated to be stable.

IG Allahabad range Ramit Sharma told TOI that two police teams have been formed to crack down the incident.

Police said that the incident took place when the victim was on way to the Naini- based school when two assailants, one of them dressed as kanwariya fired at least five bullets at the victim before escaping from the scene.

Mehernosh’s mother Shirin Framjee , retired school teacher , living in Allahabad , is reaching out for help as her son has been shot 6 times on Monday morning .

Being a police case , they are in a govt hospital at present.

Details to aid are as follows.

Shirin Framjee

Central Bank of India, Civil Lines Branch, Allahabad

Savings a/c no: 3214521690

Any financial help will be appreciated.

Courtesy :  Parsi Khabar

RZM Torans


The adage of the entrepreneurial spirit being ageless finds perfect substantiation in the story behind ‘RZM Torans’ – a glass-and-bead garland initiative, named after the initials of the three dynamic, age-defying sisters, Roda Mistry (80 years), Zarine Mistry (76 years) and Maharukh Mistry (72 years). They have indeed proven that age is no more than a number! Their diligent spirits and collective expertise have carved a niche in the Parsi cultural art of Toran-making and they deserve applause for keeping alive this enchanting tradition, in the face of numerous odds – including physical handicaps and resources – stacked up against them. PT Push is delighted to share the PT Push platform with the vibrant RZM ladies, as they chat up with Asst. Editor Delaveen Tarapore, showering beads of inspiration and crystallized wisdom about their fine glass artefacts…

PT: Tell us about the beginning.

Maharukh: We were the last three born of five siblings, who migrated to Mumbai from Madhya Pradesh in 1956 with our father, Jehangir Mistry. He was a weaving master and chose to move to Bombay in search of a more rewarding career. We’ve been living at Byculla since. Though our older siblings had already completed their education by then, I attended Sitaram Poddar School and graduated from Ruia College. Soon after, I started working at a private firm to support myself and my two other sisters who did not get to complete their studies.

 

PT: How was ‘RZM Torans’ born?

Maharukh: I quit private service in 2005 and decided to engage myself with something that would keep me occupied and active, and generate a sustainable income for my sisters and myself. I realised that weaving beautiful door frame torans was a skill we sisters possessed and practiced since childhood! Back then, though I knew the art of making a basic toran, I didn’t know how to do ‘scallops’ (arkoo) – this was taught to me by my cousin, Sheroo Cooper who lived nearby. Soon my elder siblings, Roda and Zarine who were home-makers, decided to join hands in this entrepreneurial venture. In our very first year in 2006, we put up a stall at a Parsi exhibition which turned out to be a huge success! Almost all our torans were sold out! Ever since, we’ve been fortunate to have accumulated a loyal customer base in Mumbai and across India and also Dubai, USA, Australia, etc.  We provide our customers customised torans and also repair antique pieces, in addition to other products.

PT: Tell us more about your products?

Maharukh: We make torans with different materials – like ordinary glass beads, crystal glass beads, antique beads and acrylic beads. We avoid plastic beads, unless requested by our clients. In addition to torans, we offer designer frames, wall-hangings, coasters and bracelets – which many use for gifting. As per our customer’s preferences, we provide toranswith particular designs or words, too.

PT: What’s the future plan of action?

Maharukh: We want to learn and experiment new designs with our torans, which will help keep this form of art alive in all our Parsi homes. Today, not many people make or know how to make ‘kaach na torans’, which is why I want to keep updating myself in this traditional Zoroastrian art.

 

PT: What would you like to tell our readers?

Maharukh: I genuinely believe that when one door closes, another one opens! We thank all our patrons for their support and always look forward to your encouragement!

For more details on how to buy yourself or gift others these timeless pieces of Zoroastrian culture and other brilliant products by the RZM Sisters, contact Maharukh Mistry on 9867417925

Courtesy Parsi Times – http://parsi-times.com/2017/07/rzm-torans/

A Zoroastrian “Freedom Monument” on the west coast of America


The crowdfunded public art installation was gifted to the city of Los Angeles on July 4. Photo by Vafa Khatami. Courtesy of Farhang Foundation

As crowds across Los Angeles celebrated Independence Day Tuesday, LA officials closed off a stretch of Santa Monica Boulevard between Avenue of the Stars and the Beverly Hills border in order to debut a new public art installation called the Freedom Sculpture.

Designed by artist Cecil Balmond, the sculpture was inspired by the Cyrus Cylinder, an archaeological artifact from ancient Persia. According to the foundation, it’s meant to celebrate the “ideals of freedom, respect for diversity, and inclusiveness.”

Located on a median in the middle of Santa Monica Boulevard, it’s also meant to be enjoyed by drivers. Balmond tells the LA Times that some of the best views of the sculpture will come when approaching it “at 30 to 40 miles an hour.”

The wavy lines of the sculpture imitate the Akkadian cuneiform script found on the historic cylinder and are illuminated at night by interior LED lights. “When you move past,” Balmond says, “it’s alive.”

The large glimmering sculpture arrived at the intersection of Santa Monica and Century Park East in June and had been concealed by a large yellow barrier until yesterday. It was commissioned by the Farhang Foundation, a nonprofit group promoting Iranian art and culture.

https://la.curbed.com/2017/7/5/15923494/la-freedom-sculpture-century-city-cylinder

“Why I risked my life to convert to Zoroastrianism”


As the oppressive influence of Isis spreads, women in Iraqi Kurdistan are risking their lives to convert to an ancient religion that preaches gender equality. Corinne Redfern spends a week with the Zoroastrians


Some days, when Duya Ahmed Gadir wakes up, she lies in bed a little longer than usual. Against the buzz of an air conditioning pump outside her window, the 27-year-old whispers a quiet mantra – a promise to think good thoughts, say good words and complete good deeds. She doesn’t do it every day – most of the time she oversleeps; tumbling out of her room, gulping down a cup of sweetened tea and flying out the door to the library to while away her day studying English as a hobby. But when she does remember, it calms her. As a Zoroastrian, this three-pillared promise is her only prayer.

“I was raised Muslim, but I converted to Zoroastrianism last year,” Duya explains, sitting cross-legged on a mattress in jeans and scuffed platform sandals at her home in Kalar, a small city in the autonomous Iraqi region of Kurdistan, three hours north of Baghdad.

“I could see how Isis were acting in the name of ‘Islam’. For three years, they’ve been violently imposing extremist, conservative laws. They’re marrying girls as young as 10, forcing women to cover their hands and faces and killing or raping everyone who gets in their way. Three million people are homeless because of them. I didn’t want anything to do with their version of Islam any more.”

“As a woman, you’re treated like an animal”: Duya Ahmed Gadir, photographed for Stylist by Francesco Brembati.

As Duya herself accepts, her country’s chequered history and current social and economic turmoil has led to an interpretation of Islam that the majority of Muslims wouldn’t recognise as being true to what they practice – a result of overzealous leaders using religion in the wrong way. On a global level, this misrepresentation is part of the reason the hashtag #notinmyname has become so prevalent worldwide.

Nevertheless, Duya is one of more than 100 Kurdish women who have risked their lives to officially convert to Zoroastrianism over the past 18 months, after reading about the inherently feminist, liberal religion on Facebook.

She tracked down Kurdistan’s only official ‘Atashgah’ (the Zoroastrian centre of worship) in the city of Sulaymaniyah, 85 miles to the north. Once there, it seemed like a semi-utopia, to be suddenly surrounded by women of all ages and backgrounds, wearing long, traditional dresses teamed with bright, spiked heels.

“Anyone is welcome here,” explains the religion’s female spiritual leader, Peerq Ashna Abdulqadr Raza, 47. “It’s a place where women can do and say what they want. There aren’t many places like that in this country.”

Peerq Ashna Abdulqadr Raza, Zoroastrianism’s female spiritual leader.

In search of equality

While local theologists are noting a sudden surge in Zoroastrianism’s popularity among both men and women (it’s open to all, but does have a strong female presence in this region due to its focus on gender equality), it’s a trend they’re attributing to both the Isis-inspired backlash and a growing awareness of gender politics.

But the religion itself isn’t new – originating in Persia over 3,500 years ago, the monotheistic belief system [they worship a single God] predates Christianity, Islam and Judaism, and is founded on the poetry and songs of a prophet called Zoroaster.

Click Here for the full story ->

http://www.stylist.co.uk/life/corinne-redfern-women-iraqi-kurdistan-converting-islam-zoroastrianism-duya-gadir