What do you do in a foreign country where your community barely totals 60 families, and you want to cling on desperately to your religious and cultural traditions? What can you do to ensure your barely visible community doesn’t suffer haemorrhage and dies? Indeed, in what way can a Parsi in Paris hope to survive the sweeping global culture and the influence of the West and stave off extinction? Not much, you’d say, just pray and hope for the best.
But these aren’t the only things Kersi Kapadia is doing to preserve the tradition of Parsis in France. Says he: “It’s an uphill battle that we face. We are so few left and so dispersed. But perhaps that is precisely the reason why we are fighting hard to preserve our roots.”
Kersi migrated to France four years ago, preferring the romantic city of Paris to the US where he had superannuated as an engineer. He and his family have dedicated themselves to preserving Parsi heritage and explaining the religion to the new generation brought up in a land culturally rather distant from theirs. But Kersi faces several impediments in this endeavour of his. “I know all the prayers by heart. But when my children or other younger people ask me what that means, I really have no idea since the prayers are in Avestan (ancient Persian), a language that few people around the world speak. But if I can’t understand Avestan, how can I convince the younger generation about our religious heritage,” he laments.
This is an acute problem for the community which isn’t particularly young. Parsis in France are basically of two types—those young professionals who came here in pursuit of their careers, and those who are descendants of families settled here in the first decade of the last century. There’s an obvious limitation in reading scriptures and offering prayers by rote, unintelligible and incomprehensible. It definitely isn’t the most effective way of inculcating in the younger generation a deep and abiding love for their much-exiled heritage.
This is precisely what prompted Kersi recently to travel down to Bombay and visit the Cama Arusthana Institute, the only organisation in the world to train Dastoors, or Parsi priests. “Over there I found some books on teaching Avestan. I have bought some and am learning the language now, so that I can later teach the younger generation as well,” he says in a voice full of hope rather than conviction.
Helping Kersi is his wife Katayun, a senior auditor with the Franco-German pharmaceutical giant, Aventis, who’s also the vice-president of the Association Zoroastrian de France (AZF)—the organisation that brings together the Zoroastrians in France. “When I came here, I immediately got involved in the community affairs,” she says, “I try to bring the group together socially. This helps us to keep in touch and also feel part of the community. We celebrate all Parsi festivals and also participate in family events like births, navjyot (Parsi equivalent of the Hindu sacred-thread ceremony), marriages, etc.”
The challenge the Kapadias are countering in Paris had been countenanced earlier by those who had arrived here at the turn of the century, lured by the country’s lifestyle and business opportunities. Among the most prominent were the Tatas—its modern icon JRD was born in Paris in 1904, and spent his childhood here in the care of his French mother, Sooni. Subsequently, he’d often come down to Paris where in its famous cemetery Pere LaChaise lay buried JRD’s ancestors, including his father and mother. It’s here JRD’s ashes too are entombed. Yet another prominent Parsi to have lived in Paris was Bhikhaji Cama, who’s credited to have designed the Indian flag. Cama fled London for Paris in 1920, dodging the British police which wanted to arrest her for her links with the freedom movement.
But the biggest wave of Parsi migration from India to France came around 1910. Then a motley group of Jain and Parsi jewellers from Bombay arrived in Paris, hoping to tap the market for natural pearls. Among them was Dhanjishah Cooper. Since conservative Hindus didn’t want to flout the caste taboo on travelling overseas, a leading Bombay jeweller commissioned Cooper to explore business opportunities here.
Cooper established his business of pearls in Paris in 1910, joined subsequently by his brother Shavak Sohrabji. Their business flourished; another brother too joined them. “Thus the Cooper family began its foundations in Paris,” says Shavak’s daughter Rati Cooper. Soon, there were about 30 Parsi families in Paris, most of them choosing to settle down in the ninth arrondissement (district) of the metropolis. Every evening, after business hours, the group would gather for a few drinks at the famous Cafe #de la Paix in the locality.
It was Shavak who became the community leader, attaching tremendous importance to keeping the Parsi tradition alive. His twin daughters were diligently taught about their religion and tradition. Recalls Rati, who works as a business development manager with the Belgian fast-food chain, Quick: “Our parents were very conservative and very religious. They taught us how to pray and told us about our religion and culture. Even if at that time, I did not fully understand the importance of the religion or share my parents’ fervour, today I find I am a very staunch Parsi.”
In the absence of a priest in Paris, Cooper took his daughters all the way down to Bombay to perform their navjyot ceremony. Rati still has vivid memories of the occasion: “This was our first trip to India. We had so far not seen anyone from our extended family and they were all there at the airport to receive us. There must have been more than 50 people, with garlands, waiting for us.” But Cooper’s fervour wasn’t confined to his family alone. He tried to keep his domiciled community united, celebrating both the Zoroastrian and Hindu festivals together.
The advent of artificial pearls three decades ago did undermine the Parsi business but the community had already diversified into other professions. And, practically, almost all tried to keep the Parsi tradition alive. Some, though, were luckier than others, managing to spend time in India and learning about their community. Take famous painter and sculptor Jehangir Bhownagary, whose early schooling was in Paris where he lived with his French mother. But holidays were often in Bombay, and it enabled him to discover his roots.
Recalls the octogenarian painter: “I had to often wait for my father in the car, outside his office. Just opposite there was an agiary (fire temple). I began going in there and that is when I learnt about my religion and what it really felt like to be a Parsi.” And that education he had 50 years ago has come in very handy. “Despite having spent so much time outside India and away from my culture, I feel very much a Parsi. I have followed the traditions and tried to bring up our children according to the Parsi tradition,” says Bhownagary, who has done stints as a deputy director of the UNESCO and was also an advisor to Indira Gandhi.
For the navjyot of his two daughters, Bhownagary had a priest travel all the way from London to conduct the ceremonies. “That’s a big lacuna in our community, that we don’t have a priest in Paris. For every religious occasion, we have to bring a priest over from London or elsewhere,” he laments.
This apart, the other big problem the Parsis in Paris face, as do their brethren in Bombay, is to decide whether or not to admit children of mixed parentage into the community.With the younger generation less rooted in religion, and with more and more of them choosing partners outside the community, the Parsis find it difficult to arrest their declining population, and this adds to the besieged feeling.
Says 17-year-old Farrokh Kapadia, Katayun’s son, who is studying to be a submarine officer in the US navy: “The first Parsis were surely converts from other religions. So, if you could accept conversions at the beginning of the religion, why not now? We have to be more liberal if we want to preserve our community.” But this doesn’t mean Farrokh isn’t conscious of a certain sense of obligation. “I would be very keen to pass my religion to my children and it would also play a role in the selection of my future wife,” he says.
What the community lacks today the most is a place of religious significance in or around Paris. “If we had a place like an agiary, it would have gone a long way in building up the community and helping the young people understand and develop an affinity towards the religion. Once you have such a place, people come and gather there regularly; religion then becomes the centre of gravity there. We saw the same thing happen in the US where once we had such gathering places, people began to turn up in strength and with their children who became interested in the religion,” says Kersi.
Yet another issue before the Parsis in Paris is how to deal with the large population of co-religionists from Iran. There are over 2,000 Zoroastrians from Iran, who are also part of the AZF, but the relationship between them and Indian Parsis remain ambivalent. “While it is very important for us to be together since it significantly enhances our numbers, the problem is that there is little in common between us and the Iranians. Their language is different, their culture, the way they dress, everything is different,” says Katayun.
So, for the moment, the community has set itself modest targets. As Rati elaborates, “If we can just ensure that the community is there and united and that our children are aware of their religion and its importance, then this in itself will be a good place to start from.”
Nearly a century after they settled down in France, and with the fourth generation coming into its own, it is indeed ironical to find the community grappling with the same problems that their ancestors had faced—of how not to forget their roots and keep alive their tradition.
Many of you are aware that the oldest photograph in the ZTFE archives, is of our then president Dr Dadabhai Naoroji (first Indian / Asian MP in Britain), together with Sir Mancherjee Merwanjee Bhownaggree (second Indian / Asian MP), Allan Octavian Hume (Father of the Indian National Congress) and guests from other faith communities including founder members of the Indian National Congress, celebrating Jamsheedi NoRuz in 1906 at the Cafe Royal, Regents Street. This year, just like in the previous 111 years, the ZTFE together with the Zoroastrian community celebrated Jamsheedi NoRuz on 21st March. On behalf of Team ZTFE, I thank you for your continued support and loyalty, thus enabling the ZTFE to continue to celebrate this ancient Zoroastrian New Year festival on the actual day itself.
On 20th March, 2018, a 16-member Parsi delegation from Mumbai and New Delhi met the H’ble Prime Minister Shri Narendra Modi at Parliament House, New Delhi. The delegation, organised and led by Dasturji Khurshed K. Dastoor, Zoroastrian representative at the National Commission for Minorities, constituted the following from Mumbai – Havovi Khurshed Dastoor, Sam Bulsara, Er. Dr. Ramiyar P.Karanjia, Hoshaang Gotla, Zubin Khapoliwala, Tina Patel, Areez Patel and Natasha Dubash. From New Delhi, four Trustees of the Delhi Parsi Anjuman – Adil Nargolwala, Cyrus Engineer, Ashdeen Lilaowala and Niloofer Mistry were part of the delegation, as also were Dr. Shernaz Cama and Homai Engineer.
The delegation reached the Parliament House at 10.45 am and within a short time, the Prime Minister graciously met the delegation. Dasturji Khurshed and Er. Dr. Karanjia initiated the proceedings by showering blessings on Shri Narendra Modi and later Dr. Karanjia explained the meaning of the Avestan benedictions. Each member of the delegation was briefly introduced and they highlighted the work they were doing for the community and the nation.
The Prime Minister, in his brief address, said that he was very fond of the Zoroastrian community and being with the Parsis, even for a short time, was a sure way of dissipating the stress and tensions of the entire day. He also complimented the Parsis for being a peace loving community and asked them to remain that way. He also mentioned that the young members of the Community should marry and multiply.
The delegation took the opportunity to put certain proposals before the Prime Minister. They requested the Prime Minister to confer Bharat Ratna posthumously on Field Marshal Sam Manekshaw and that a prominent road in New Delhi be named after him. Dr. Shernaz Cama requested the PM to grant them a place for a permanent exhibition of 100 years of Parsi Theatre. The PM assured that he will instruct the proper persons to assist in this process. On this cue, the PM appreciated Parsi theatre and fondly remembered Yazdi Karanjia, the thespian senior theatre artist, and expressed his desire to see Parsi theatre (Gujrati rangmanch).
Dasturji Khurshed requested the PM to help the community in getting endowment seats for Parsi students in Professional Colleges all over India. He also briefed the Prime Minister about the success of the first and second Iranshah Udvada Utsav held in December 2015 and 2017. He was also informed about the activities of XYZ (Xtremely YoungZoroastrians) and the social service done by the children of the community involved in Making A Difference.
The delegation presented flowers, gifts and momentos to the PM Modi and he warmly greeted Jamshedi Navroz to the entire delegation and asked that his good wishes be conveyed to the entire Community.
Tamgha-i-Imtiaz (Medal of Excellence), is a state-recognized honour awarded by the State of Pakistan. It is one of the highest decoration given to any civilian in Pakistan based on their achievements. The award will be conferred by the President of Pakistan, Mr. Mamnoon Hussain in the investiture ceremony on PAKISTAN DAY on March 23, 2018 in Islamabad.
This award is a clear testimony to Aban’s outstanding contribution and dedication to the cause of environmental protection, sustainable development and nature conservation.
Born in Bombay India, Aban grew up in the small quaint Parsi outpost of Quetta in Baluchistan province of Pakistan. Her initial years growing up in Quetta formed the basis of everything she has been doing inlife since. Today as one of top Pakistani environmentalist on the world stage, Aban
brings this deep sense of rootedness, an understanding of her roots, religion and philosophy into her professional role as the Regional Director, Asia of the International Union for Conservation of Nature. Aban oversees the functioning of over 100 environmental initiatives in 24 countries. In her role at IUCN she has the privileged position where she can “influence a country’s work with being a politician”.
Since 2013 Aban has also been the co-chair of the Zoroastrian Return To Roots program where she bring her vast knowledge, expertise and connections in creating meaningful and life-transforming experiences for young Zoroastrians from all over the world through travel to India.
Farhang Mehr, Professor Emeritus at the Frederick S. Pardee School of Global Studies at Boston University, has died. He was 94. Since retirement, he had moved permanently to California, where he died on March 4, 2018.
Dr. Farhang Mehr was a professor of international relations at what is now the Pardee School from 1981 to 1997, teaching courses on the international politics of oil and Iranian history. With law degrees from Tehran University and the London School of Economics and a Ph.D. from the University of Southamption, Mehr made a stellar career in business as well as public affairs in his native Iran. Prior to the revolution in Iran he held high office in the National Iranian Oil Company, in the Ministry of Finance, and led the national insurance company.
Before coming to Boston University, Farhang Mehr had taught at Tehran and National Universities and at the Military Academy in Iran. He was also President of the University of Shiraz in Iran for eight years. He served Iran under Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi as Vice-Prime Minister and Acting Finance Minister, and represented Iran on OPEC’s Board of Governors for 5 years.
He was also active in the Zoroastrian community, writing books and giving lectures to acquaint the world with Iran’s oldest religion. He served as the President of the Zoroastrian Anjuman of Tehran for 12 years.
Houchang Chehabi, Professor of International Relations and History at the Pardee School, recalls that “although the revolutionary authorities initially reappointed him in 1979 [as President of the University of Shiraz], he became a victim of later purges and had to go into exile in 1981″ and his “appointment as a professor at Boston University allowed him to reconstitute his life.”
Prof. Mehr leaves behind his wife, Parichehr Naderi, and three children: Mehrdad, Mehran and Mitra. A biography of his life, Triumph Over Discrimination, by Lylah Alphonse, was published in 2000.
Mumbai: The Parsi Gate, a heritage structure located just opposite Taraporewala Aquarium at Marine Drive, will soon be restored by the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC). The place is used by Parsi people to offer prayers to water.
The Parsi Gate structure has two pillars of Malad stone with concrete pedestals having a height of 4.97 metres. There are stone steps, which have access to seashore, enabling people to enter the sea for offering prayers.
According to civic officials, the structure is in damaged condition with top portion of the pillars dislocated from its original position. The pedestal of concrete is also damaged at many places. Both the pillars are damaged and require repairs and extensive cleaning. The pavement is uneven and has to be replaced with basalt stone for its identification. The stone steps are also eroded due to sea waves.
“Since Parsi Gate is a heritage precinct, we had to take no-objection certificate from the Mumbai Heritage Conservation Committee for its restoration. We have sought details about the historical significance of the structure from the Parsi community. A plaque of information will be installed at the place,” said a senior civic official.
Maneck Dastur, a prominent Parsi citizen, said, “The structure was constructed long time ago even before Marine Drive was built. The Parsi donors, who built it, kept a small space there to offer prayers. We were lobbying to restore the structure, but the BMC said it would do it on its own.”
Noshir Dadrawalla, another prominent Parsi, said, “The place has got historical significance as Parsi congregate here once in a year to offer prayers to water that is seen as a keeper of wisdom and knowledge from the Zoroastrian point of view. The prayers are offered during the ‘Festival of Ava,’ which is celebrated to revere divinity of water. The pillars there represent part of the ancient Persian architecture.”
The estimated cost of restoration of Parsi Gate is Rs 12.46 lakh. The scope of work include fixing the top portion of pillars in its original position by providing steel pin for binding, repairs to the fracture stone, cleaning of stone, applying protective coat to prevent deterioration of stone surface due to high humidity and laying basalt stone flooring to match with pillar and steps.
Please read this real life story which became a International news The real heroes of AIR LIFT my cousin brother Captain Viraf Kekobad and Captain Modak mentioned in Mid day. They owned the cargo ship that saved 722 passengers safely on a ship meant for 30 passengers and not to forget the brave crew members God bless them all. Please read the real evacuation story here https://www.mid-day.com/articles/the-cargo-ship-that-saved-722-indians-from-kuwait-in-1990/16931156
We were bestowed with Humanitarian Award after 25 years by the prestigious Sailor Today Publication.
The Cargo Ship That Saved 722 Indians From Kuwait In 1990
The historic evacuation of 1.7 lakh Indians from war-torn Kuwait in 1990 is once again in the limelight, thanks to the recent release ‘Airlift’, but not many may know about another rescue operation in which 722 refugees sailed to safety on the Indian cargo ship, MV Safeer.
Ship over troubled waters: MV Safeer, with 22 crew members, ferried refugees from Shuwaikh Port in Kuwait to Dubai after the Iraqi invasion
It was eventually the evacuation of the rest of the Indian population by Air India that won a mention in the Guinness Book of World Records, but MV Safeer’s rescue operation was equally unprecedented, as never before — or after — were so many passengers carried on a cargo ship that had been fitted up for just 30 people. The ship’s crew of 22 are among the many unsung heroes of the international crisis that struck that year, when Iraq invaded and occupied Kuwait.
Indian refugees express their gratitude after the ship docked in Dubai. Pic courtesy/Khaleej Times
Fareeque Dilawar Kapdi was just 17 at the time, and had barely spent a year exploring the high seas on MV Safeer when it docked at Kuwait’s Shuwaikh Port in the evening of July 31, 1990. Fareeque and his senior, Ashok Patel, were supervising as the ship’s cargo of rice (from Kandla, Gujarat) was offloaded. Work went on smoothly, and no one paid mind to the booming sounds from the city. It was after the sailors went to sleep in their cabins around 6 am that they were disturbed by loud banging on their doors. The war had found them.
Fareeque Kapdi. Pic/Bipin Kokate
“Loud thuds on the doors of our cabin woke me up. When we opened the doors, soldiers stormed in and put their guns to our foreheads. Heavily armed men took us to the beach and others took control of the ship,’’ recalled Fareeque.
Information was scarce and they were held on the beach for three hours before they learnt that Iraqi forces had pulled off a coup in Kuwait. They waited in fear, uncertain for their life, until the soldiers realised they were Indians. “Their stance softened; some Iraqi officers went up the ship knowing it would have food. The soldiers took us to the ship as well, but did not allow us free movement,” said the Mumbai resident, who has since scaled up the career ladder to become captain of a very large crude carrier.
Captain V R Kekobad, owner of the MV Safeer was in Mumbai when the cargo ship docked in Kuwait, his partner Captain Ibrahim Modak (below), was manning the company’s office in Dubai. Pic/Bipin Kokate
In September, they attempted the Himalayan task of the first-ever evacuation of Indians from Iraq-occupied Kuwait. Their feat — they carried 722 passengers, including 265 women and children on a cargo ship in a 48-hour haul to Dubai — remains unparalleled to this day.
There was the threat of bombs from the sky, and mines in the waters beneath, but when they learnt that the Indian government was looking for a vessel to carry refugees to safety, the ship’s owners proposed that MV Safeer could do the job. It was after Safeer’s successful journey between September 4 and 7, 1990, that the Indian authorities embarked on its air evacuation exercise.
Back in Mumbai
At the time, one of the ship’s owners and director of Oyster Marine Management, Captain V R Kekobad was in Mumbai. “We did not know anything about Kuwait’s invasion until our agent there, Frank Rozario, called me to say that he had seen Iraqi troops marching on the streets. That was in the morning of August 2, 1990. He told me he didn’t know what was happening,” said Kekobad (64), who has been living in Australia for the past 16 years.
Passengers were emotionally charged as they waited to disembark at Dubai. Pic courtesy/Khaleej Times
Kekobad, who is currently in Mumbai to see his ailing father, said it was on the news that he learnt of the Iraqi invasion. Meanwhile, the other owner, Mumbai resident Captain Ibrahim Modak, who was manning the company’s Dubai office, was also watching the news horror-struck.
“The first thing that came to our (Kekobad and Modak) mind was to arrange for the safe evacuation of our crew. By that time, their families had become immensely worried and asked us what we were doing to get their boys home safely,” said Kekobad.
Communication lines with the ship’s master captain, Z A K Juwale, had gone kaput, and the only way to reach his people was through government agencies in India, Dubai and Kuwait.
“All of us in the company, including Capt Modak’s son Haneef (who now runs his late father’s shipping business from Mumbai), decided that we must not leave our crew to the mercy of foreign forces. Mind you, we could have sat comfortably at home and left the crew members to fend for themselves, as our ship was insured for very handsome amount,” added Kekobad.
Kekobad and Haneef tried to persuade officials in the shipping, defence and external affairs departments in India, while Capt Modak held fort in Dubai, negotiating with authorities there.
Being a cargo ship, MV Safeer wasn’t legally allowed to ferry passengers. It was not equipped to facilitate a safe journey for more than 30 passengers — which was about the strength of the crew. The ship’s owners (which, like most vessels, was registered in Panama) would have faced penal action in case of a mishap onboard. However, even after Safeer was given a green signal, the crew faced many more tests.
The immigration office in the port area had been ransacked but the crew had befriended Iraqi forces and managed to get their passports back. Once all clearances were in place, Safeer’s crew started working to create makeshift facilities that the refugees could use during the short haul from Kuwait to Dubai.
It was of paramount importance to arrange for life jackets. Kekobad convinced the Indian government to deliver some 400 life jackets in Kuwait. “It wouldn’t have been possible without help from Indian and Iraqi authorities. We could pull off this exercise only because Iraq had great relations with our country,” said Kekobad, adding that 14 rafts and additional life jackets were made available locally in Kuwait.
But how were they going to accommodate the swelling number of passengers on a ship that had been fitted up for just 25-30? For one, there were toilets only for 25, no cooking facility and no air-conditioning.
Oil drums were cut and welded to make toilets, and gunny bags were used to create cubicles, said Nazir Mulla, the ship’s second-in-command. “We released sewage directly into the seas. We had ample stock of fresh water from Kuwait. We accommodated passengers after creating space by offloading the rice cargo. Sick passengers were made comfortable in the limited AC area,” he added.
Passengers were asked to carry food for 2-3 days, as Safeer didn’t have much to offer. “Despite that, we cooked khichdi for those who didn’t have food with them,” said Fareeque, who recalled how the passengers drove to the port and then handed over the keys to their cars to the crew. “They asked us to keep their cars as a reward. I was very young, but I could understand the pain of leaving their hard-earned belongings behind,” said the emotional Captain.
When the ship finally docked at Dubai, the passengers were emotionally overcharged while disembarking, recalls second-in- command Mulla. “They thanked us profusely. It was team work that saw us through this tough task,” added Mulla.
Airlift has got both brickbats and bouquets, but Captain Kekobad wishes his mentor late Captain Ibrahim Modak was alive today to see how the Air India evacuation is now getting recognition, years after they did their own bit to bring the Indians to safe harbour. Kekobad insisted that his crew did not charge a dinar from the Indians for the journey.
Kekobad’s prized possession is a letter of recognition he got from the then external affairs joint-secretary, K P Fabian. The letter reads: ‘This is to confirm that Government of India did not pay your company any amount towards evacuation of Indian nationals who were carried aboard MV Safeer. We are indeed grateful to you for having carried safely over 700 Indians from Kuwait under Iraqi occupation to Dubai.’
Feb 06, 2016, 08:25 IST | Dharmendra Jore
Kekoo Nicholson, President Of The Cricket Club Of India (CCI), Passed Away Last Morning At Parel’s Global Hospital Of A Liver Ailment
Kekoo Nicholson, president of the Cricket Club of India (CCI), passed away last morning at Parel’s Global Hospital of a liver ailment. He was 63. He had been ailing for sometime, and in his absence, the club was being run by vice president Premal Udhani. He said, “The CCI is officially in mourning… the club has cancelled all functions till Thursday as a mark of respect for Kekoo Nicholson.”
Udhani said, “On Thursday evening, we will hold a meet in the club, ‘Remembering Kekoo’, where members will speak about their association with him and the memories they shared with him. We do not want to call it a condolence meet. This is because Kekoo was full of laughter, full of life.”
Udhani said this was the first time in the history of the club that a president had passed away while in office. Nicholson had been CCI president for three and a half years and his term would have ended in September 2018. “The club will function the way it has for the past few days. Post the ‘Remembering Kekoo’ meet, we will decide on a day to hold a meeting, when the 15-person club committee will officially elect a president to complete Kekoo’s term till September,” added Udhani. Nicholson was the first cousin of ex-chairmen of the RWITC Dr Cyrus Poonawalla and Zavaray Poonawalla. He was also the owner of Selvel.