Parsis, Jews join hands for Masina Hospital restoration

Spread across eight acres, the cost of restoring the facade, internal structure and roof of the premises is estimated at ₹22 crore

The restoration plans of 116-year-old Masina Hospital in Byculla will witness the collaboration of the country’s two eminent communities, the Parsis and the Jews.

Once the residence of wealthy Jewish businessman David Sassoon, the palatial bungalow overlooking lush gardens and a fountain was gifted by the Sassoon family to a Parsi doctor, Hormasji Manekji Masina, who founded the hospital. The community members have now joined hands to reach out to many more people from diverse backgrounds and raise funds for the restoration.

Phase-wise restoration

“We are in the process of forming the Masina Hospital Restoration Committee. Once the core committee is formed, based on their recommendations, we will reach out to as many people as possible to raise funds,” said Dr. Vispi Jokhi, medical director of the hospital.

Conservation architect Vikas Dilawari has submitted a report which estimates that the overall restoration cost of the external facade, internal structure and roof will go up to ₹22 crore. “We can take it up in a phase-wise manner,” said Dr. Jokhi, who has had meetings with Ralphy Jhirad, president of Bene Israel heritage museum and genealogical research centre, to involve Jews as well. “We have shortlisted the names of people who will be concerned with this restoration and can help raise funds. We will also be reaching out to the descendants of David Sassoon spread across countries,” said Mr. Jhirad, adding that even if the community has dwindled in numbers, its legacy needs to be preserved.

Preserving a period

Spread across eight acres, the hospital premises consist of the palace building which houses the administration and out patient departments, the Kharas Memorial Centre, which consists of the wards and operation theaters, Masina annexe building, which has the cardiac, IVF facilities and deluxe beds, a chemotherapy and palliative care wing and a psychiatry wing.

The campus has lush gardens, an ornamental fountain and five marble statues which are over 100 years old. The bungalow, built in Renaissance style, first housed a four-bed hospital managed by Dr. Masina.

The hospital has now expanded to 270 beds. “Restoration of the Masina Hospital is important because we have very little 19th century and mid-19th century architecture left in the city. Most of it is late 19th century,” Mr. Dilawari told The Hindu.

Mr. Dilawari has proposed external repairs to bring back the lost details, as also interior repairs keeping in mind the upgradation of services required in a hospital set- up, and the restoration of the roof.

“The structure originally had a timber roof. But it has now been changed to one large asbestos roof. If the funds do flow in, restoration of the roof will also be considered,” said Mr. Dilawari.


Trump Interviews Parsi Law Professor

Trump Interviews Parsi Law Professor to Take Up DC Circuit Court Seat Vacated by Supreme Court Judge Brett Kavanaugh

neomi rao
President Donald Trump reportedly interviewed Indian American law professor Neomi Rao to serve on the DC Circuit Court, to fill the position vacated by new Supreme Court Judge Brett Kavanaugh, who was confirmed last month. Rao currently heads up the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs within the Office of Management and Budget. (Wikipedia photo)

President Donald Trump has reportedly interviewed Indian American law professor Neomi Rao to serve on the DC Circuit Court, to fill the position vacated by new Supreme Court Judge Brett Kavanaugh, who was confirmed last month.

If confirmed, Rao would be the first Parsi jurist to serve in the Circuit Court, Arzan Wadia, editor and publisher of Parsi Khabar, told India-West.

Trump’s meeting with Rao was first reported by the online news site Axios. The DC Circuit Court is often referred to as the most powerful court in the nation, second only to the U.S. Supreme Court, because of its proximity to federal agencies.

Axios reported that – post interview – sources briefed on the meeting said Trump was not impressed by Rao. However, she may still be appointed to the court, as Trump has stated his intent to nominate a minority woman to fill the role, and a potential “feeder” to the Supreme Court. A source told Axios that Trump is reconsidering his initial impression of Rao.

“Rao’s advantages: She’s well respected at the OMB, knows regulatory law back to front, has the advantage of already being Senate-confirmed and is well-liked by several key Democratic senators,” opined the publication.

The Washington Times reported that former White House counsel Don McGahn recommended Rao to Trump for the open DC circuit court seat.

Rao, 44, currently heads up the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs within the Office of Management and Budget at the White House. She was confirmed to OIRA by the Senate on July 10, 2017. The New York Times reported that OIRA – a somewhat obscure agency created by former President Jimmy Carter’s administration to approve government data collections and determine whether agencies have sufficiently addressed problems during rule-making – is at the heart of Trump’s politically-charged agenda to overhaul government regulations.

Rao is the founding director of the Center for the Study of the Administrative State at George Mason University’s Antonin Scalia Law School. In an op-ed for The Washington Post last year, as the Senate was considering Rao’s confirmation to OIRA, GMU law professor Jonathan Adler termed Rao “a well-respected administrative law expert” who was a “superlative pick” for the post.

Adler noted that Rao has clerked for Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, has served in the Bush administration, and as a staffer on the Senate Judiciary Committee, effectively serving in all three branches of the federal government.

Rao is the daughter of Zerin Rao and Jehangir Narioshang Rao, both Parsi physicians from India; she was raised in Bloomfield Hills, Michigan, and graduated from Yale. Rao then attended the University of Chicago Law School. She is married to attorney Alan Lefkowitz and has two children.

How a Parsi theatre group in UP’s Dankaur has been weaving social fabric for nine decades

Parsi Theatre group,Dankaur,Drona Natya Mandal

A rehearsal session at Drona Natya Mandal at Dankaur in Greater Noida; Parsi theatre is known for giving importance to width of the stage, number of curtains and chandeliers and wooden cutouts.(Sunil Ghosh/HT Photo)

Purblind to the shimmer of metropolitan cities and away from modern-day art spaces, a Parsi theatre group in Dankaur, a small town in west Uttar Pradesh, has been cultivating a culture of theatre among its people and weaving in social messages through their performances for over 90 years.

Every monsoon, during Janmashtami, Hindus and Muslims sit with each other inside the premises of a temple to cheer for the artistes of Drona Natya Mandal, the local Parsi theatre group, which has enthralled audiences with its social, historical and religious plays over the years.

To reach Dankaur, one has to take a left turn towards a service road, about 15 kilometres after entering the Yamuna Expressway from Zero Point in Greater Noida, which leads to a dilapidated archway — welcoming you to the sleepy town. Dankaur, like many other small towns in India, remains relatively unknown, much like the vibrant culture of its people and the rich tradition of its performance arts. Here, the two communities bond over festivities and music as the town, with a population of about 15,000-16,000 people, cherishes the handful of artistes who have become local celebrities in their own right.

“The people of Dankaur have been anchored to each other since centuries and it has been made possible due to the common culture of music and performing arts. The theatre group continues to escalate that legacy and does the important job of bringing communities together,” says Qadir Khan, a resident and social activist from Dankaur.

The theatre group organises five plays every year during the 12-day Janmashtami celebrations at the Dronacharya temple. The temple complex, consisting of five to six smaller temples and a large temple for Guru Dronacharya, is the principal community centre in Dankaur, where people from all communities come to celebrate festivals. It was in the news recently when police officers had to be deployed after the district wing of the Hindu Yuva Vahini had objected to the long-standing tradition of organising Qawwali inside the temple premises.

A view of Drona Natya Mandali which is 93-year-old Parsi theatre group in Dankaur, in Greater Noida. (Sunil Ghosh/HT Photo)

“We try to keep the content (of the plays) relatable to our audiences because of the mixed population, which is why our historical and social plays set in the Mughal or the British era are people’s favourites. Among our famous plays are ‘Veer Haqiqat Rai’, ‘Sikandar Poros’, ‘Amar Singh Rathod’, ‘BA Pass Mazdoor’ and ‘Danveer Karna’. One of our most memorable characters has been a Qazi in the play ‘Veer Haqiqat Rai’ — people have memorised the character’s sublime dialogues,” Manoj Tyagi, president, Drona Natya Mandal, says.

The theatre group, comprising 25 members, all men from Dankaur, has performed over 150 different plays since its foundation in 1923 by late Mangat Ram, who hailed from Sikandarabad and has worked with Prithvi Raj Kapoor in erstwhile Bombay before returning to his roots, as per credentials seen by HT.

Parsi theatre art form was introduced by Parsi artistes in India in the mid-19th century where larger-than-life sets and cut-outs were used and epics were enacted for long hours. The Mandali boasts of being one of the rare surviving Parsi theatre groups in the era of modern, nihilistic performance art forms.

“We strictly follow the basic layout of the Parsi theatre art form, where details such as width of the stage, height of the pillars, number of curtains and chandeliers, wooden cutouts as well as timing of each scene are predefined. We need an interval of at least 15 minutes after each scene as changing sets is an arduous task. We are continuing the tradition started by Mangat Ram. Today, theatre is in the veins of Dankaur,” says Tyagi.

However, all members of the group have day jobs.

They work as clerks, accountants, shopkeepers, entrepreneurs, advocates and farmers. However, when it comes to casting for the plays or day-to-day management of the group, their dedication is unwavering.

One such local celebrity is Mukesh Jain, a bespectacled man in his late forties, who works as a clerk in the town’s postal department Monday to Saturday, 10 months a year. For the other two months, he is a senior artiste in the Drona Natya Mandali, where his job is to supervise the group as its treasurer.

“We maintain the running cost of the theatre group out of our own pockets as this is something embedded in our culture. The cost of costumes, make-up, props, sets and backgrounds, sound system, is borne by us. Every year, we deliver performances that become the talk of the town,” says Jain.

Similarly, 50-year-old Shalendra Govil, whose who runs a clothes showroom, screens potential artistes.

“The core team begins practising in public two months prior to final performance. This attracts a huge crowd, including people interested in theatre. We select new artistes from the lot and train them for two hours every day. I decide the roles for them,” says Govil.

Each member of the core team has his own tale to narrate as to how he came to join the theatre. All the stories have a pattern — they were attracted after watching the veterans of Dankaur perform on stage. Soon, they were trained by the older generation.

“I started watching plays in Dankaur at the age of four and was hooked. I decided to join the theatre group. My first role was at the age of 10. I played the character of Shabari, the woman who fed fruits to Lord Rama in the jungle. I have been part of this group since then and my friends recognise me by the characters I have enacted so far. This is how we inculcate the culture of theatre in the kids,” says 27-year-old Sandeep Bhati, who works as an insurance agent.

The theatre group has its own set of in-house rules.

“It is compulsory for each debut artiste to perform the role of a woman character. We believe when a man enacts a woman on stage, he shreds all hesitations and opens up. We want that from our artistes,” says Tyagi.

Women of Dankaur, however, have not made it to the core team of the group yet as the Parsi theatre form has long held the “tradition” of male artistes performing female roles. “We invite women artistes from Delhi whenever the character demands mature treatment. The smaller female roles are still given to our male artists,” adds Tyagi.

The artistes say they have immense respect for the departed members of the group. The theatre group office has several portraits of veteran artistes who worked with Mangat Ram. “We consider Narayan Das Manglik our inspiration — his versatility is unmatched. Other artistes such as Gopal Krishna Gaur and Mohammad Illiyas have also left a mark. Today, people remember the departed souls of Drona Natya Mandali by the roles they played,” says Purshottam Singh, an elderly member of the group.

One of the key elements of the Parsi theatre style is the energy with which artistes deliver their dialogues. “It’s almost unbelievable how one man started the tradition of theatre in Dankaur. Since then, we have taught this art form to children without any formal training. The former members of the theatre group have trained us to deliver dialogues without sound systems and we continue training the children that way. They have left a legacy behind and we manage to fill that void,” says Tyagi.

As the Drona Natya Mandal inches towards 100 years of existence, it has become an intrinsic part of the town where children watch the show spellbound with stars in their eyes, men whistle for their local heroes and women bond over shared festivities.

Month-Long Feast In Colaba Celebrates Parsi Lagan Fare

The pop-up curated by Perzen Patel, known for her catering service The Bawi Bride Kitchen, will feature dishes authentic to the community and common to a Parsi wedding menu

Mumbai Food: Month-long feast in Colaba celebrates Parsi lagan fare

Mamaji’s curry and rice

If marriages are about two people, then Indian weddings are about two people, their families, and possibly, everyone on the mailing list, too. The Parsi community is not be left out either, offering an exquisite feast at lagans.ADVERTISINGinRead invented by Teads

“I am from a catering background and when we were in college, we had to do 50 outdoors each year. Everybody wanted to go for Parsi weddings because that’s where we would get to taste the best food, and especially those big patra ni pomfrets. So, Parsi food has always been something that I really enjoyed,” shares Sumit Gambhir, co-owner of Bombay Vintage at Colaba, ahead of a month-long pop-up, Lagan Nu Bhonu, beginning today at the restaurant. The pop-up curated by Perzen Patel, known for her catering service The Bawi Bride Kitchen, will feature dishes authentic to the community and common to a Parsi wedding menu.

Kolah nu achaar na pattice

Kolah nu achaar na pattice

“You are likely to find dishes like the patra ni machchi, jardaloo chicken, and pulao dal at a Parsi wedding. And while this pop-up is about wedding food, it is also about the more rarer dishes that you would find at a Parsi wedding. Earlier, guests or relatives settled overseas would come and stay with the family and the wedding would become a three-to-four-day affair. So, these dishes are the ones that would be served to guests for lunch or dinner at home, rather than the food that was prepared for the main ceremony,” Patel clarifies. And this comes through in the eclectic menu with dishes such as kolah nu achaarna pattice, a traditional carrot and dry-fruit pickle that she has re-imagined as a cutlet, Mamaiji’s curry and rice, a prawn curry recipe Patel inherited from her grandmother, and dhandaar and lagan no patio, a tangy tomato curry served with rice and a Parsi version of the yellow dal, that will be on offer.

Perzen Patel

Perzen Patel

Not long ago, Gambhir also hosted a pop-up highlighting traditional fare from the kitchens of the city’s diverse Catholic communities in the city, from Goans to the East Indians. “We are inspired by the communities and the people who have helped build Bombay as a city. People tend to think about chaats and street food when they think of food in the city, but there is so much more. We are trying to collaborate with people who are passionate about their culinary heritage and who come from different backgrounds,” he says, reflecting on what urged him to host these regionally inclined pop ups.

ON: Today, 12 pm to 1 am
AT: Indian Mercantile Mansion, Regal Circle, Colaba.
CALL: 22880017

Suman Mahfuz Quazi –



For over two decades, the ZTFE has been lobbying the UK Government to include a Zoroastrian representative as part of the faiths and belief groups at the annual National Service of Remembrance held at the Cenotaph, Whitehall, on Sunday closest to 11th November.

I am glad to report that on Wednesday 17th October, the UK Government website, link below, reported that Zoroastrians will be represented from this year on Sunday 11th November 2018, being the centenary of the WWI Armistice.

This breaking news was reported in the press, including the The Times, Wednesday 17th October 2018, on page 25, as attached. Also the Business Standard in India, as pasted below.

It should be noted that this happy outcome would not have been possible without the relentless campaigning of our patron Lord Karan F Bilimoria CBE on behalf of our community. We must recognise and record our thanks!

Also our gratitude to the Faith Minister Lord Bourne of Aberystwyth at the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government (MHCLG), for pursuing this matter with his counterpart at the Department of Culture, Sports and Media (DCMS).

Best wishes

Malcolm Deboo
President – ZTFE

Click Here for the link to the UK Government Website

Trains to halt at Sanjan Station



In order to facilitate members of Parsi community to attend the celebration of their Historic Annual Sanjan Day, Western Railway will provide stoppage of 2 minutes to Train No. 22953/22954 Mumbai Central – Ahmedabad Gujarat Express and Train No. 12921/12922 Mumbai Central – Surat Flying Ranee Superfast Express at Sanjan railway station on Friday, 16th November, 2018 for one day only.

CPRO, Western Railway forwarded by Mehernosh Fitter +919892301884🌹🙏

Mission Safeer-Thirty Seven Days to Freedom

The documentary “Mission Safeer-Thirty Seven Days to Freedom” is the a true story of cargo ship Motor Vessel Safeer. (M. V. Safeer)
To its misfortune, Safeer docked in Kuwait and was unloading its cargo of rice, when Saddam Hussein, the then president of Iraq, declared war on Kuwait.
Though Safeer was registered in Panama, its owners and 26 crew members, were Indians. One of the owners was Capt Viraf R Kekobad.
Saddam declared, that all Indians were free to leave Kuwait,
as India had good relations with Iraq that time.
It was a mammoth task for the Indian government to get over 176,000 Indian expatriates out of a country, that had just been attacked.
Some left the country by crossing borders, some were airlifted by Air India planes and 722 Indians by ship,the only ship that was allowed to leave Kuwait, the M. V Safeer.
This 45 minute documentary is the story of the refugees,the crew, the owners and the Indian government who made this journey to freedom- possible.
It is also the story of heroism and teamwork.
Do watch this documentary on YouTube:

THE DOCUMENTARY A true story of heroism by the ship’s crew who faced tremendous odds in face of adversity and eventually managed to sail out of war torn region of Kuwait, with 722 Indians expatriates which included 265 women …

Related article

Thirty-seven days to freedom – Frontline

Mumbai Samachar’s Hormusji Cama Appointed Chairman Of ABC

Hormusji N Cama, Director, Mumbai Samachar was unanimously elected as the Chairman of Audit Bureau of Circulations (ABC) for the year 2018-2019. He was earlier the President of Indian Newspaper Society (INS) for two terms as well as Chairman of the Press Trust of India (PTI) & Media Research Users Council (MRUC). Hormusji Cama continues to be an active member on the Board of INS, PTI & MRUC till date. Madhukar Kamath, Chairman Emeritius, DDBMudra Pvt. Ltd. representing the Advertising Agency category on the Council was unanimously elected as the Deputy Chairman of the Bureau for the year 2018-2019. Members on the Bureau’s Council of Management for the year 2018-2019 are: Publishers Representatives

Hormusji N. Cama – The Bombay Samachar Pvt. Limited – Chairman
Devendra V. Darda – Lokmat Media Pvt. Ltd.- Hon. Secretary
Shailesh Gupta – Jagran Prakashan Ltd.
Debabrata Mukherjee – Hindustan Media Ventures Ltd.
Chandan Majumdar – ABP Pvt. Ltd.
Raj Kumar Jain – Bennett, Coleman & Co. Ltd.
Pratap G. Pawar – Sakal Papers Pvt. Ltd
Riyad Mathew – Malayala Manorama Co. Ltd.  Advertising Agencies Representatives

Madhukar Kamath – DDB Mudra Pvt. Ltd.- Deputy Chairman
Shashidhar Sinha – IPG Mediabrands – Hon. Treasurer
Srinivasan K Swamy – R K Swamy BBDO Pvt Ltd.
Sameer Singh – Group M Media India Pvt. Ltd. Advertisers Representatives

Mayank Pareek – Tata Motors Ltd.
Karunesh Bajaj – ITC Ltd. Secretariat

Hormuzd Masani – Secretary General

Ahmedabad Parsi community loses PORUS Jehangirji Karanjawala

Ahmedabad Parsi community lost one amongst their own a human being

It was a very sad day for Ahmedabad Parsi community on very important religious day – 5th Gatha, a day also called as “Pateti”, 16th August, that they lost one of their own dedicated, religious minded, true Seva Bhavi finest human being – PORUS – who died at the very young age of 54 and most importantly when he was associated with so many Trusts and Funds including an Educational institute at Ahmedabad.    

His tragic and sudden death stunned the community that many were not in a position to accept the reality of the news of his demise.   The love and affection that he carried amongst the community at Ahmedabad was so high that ALL the pre-determined fun, joy, eating programmes related to festivals and New Year and Khordadsal days were cancelled.  It was indeed a great shock within the community no one believe such a sudden and tragic death of Porus.   His funeral which had taken place on morning of the very first day of new year of the community, – Navroz -,  though the same day it rained heavily in Ahmedabad and may areas were flooded, most who loved him were there at the funeral.   Likewise people respected amd attended Sarosh nu patru as also Uthamna kriya.    

Differences are the opportunities to learn.   That was the principle he had accepted in his life.   He always valued his ethics and principles and stood by his convictions for which he was accounted as “Zero Tolerance” personality to allow wrong doing.    He had to scarify his own nomination for trusteeship of last APP – Ahmedabad Parsi Panchayat election for the very reason that his ideas, ethics and principles were indeed not acceptable to many and to avoid clash which may take place at later period, he did not contest.  

He got entry into community welfare activities at very early age of 24 years and during last 30 years of his life he shouldered the responsibilities with various trusts and Funds and even educational institute as a Trustee, Committee member, Secretary, etc..   During his very active social activities in last 30 years, he held post of an Ex-General Secretary of PYLA – Parsi Youth League of Ahmedabad, as Ex-Committee member and Ex-Trustee of APP – Ahmedabad Parsi Panchayat, as Ex-President of FOZYA – Federation of Zorastrian Youth Association.   At the time of his death, he was on Board of Trustee of many Parsi Charitable Trusts, few to be remembered as Roda and Savaksha Mohudawala Charitable Trust, who are known by organising Annual Felicitation of Ahmedabad based Parsi humdins in different field and Christmas eve Joy and Fun for children every year.   Also a Trust Dhanjishaw and Manijeh Gamir Charitable trust, very well known by organising Republic Day Flag Hoisting event followed by a lavish Brunch.  Same trust who have renovated the Parsi Sanatorium, at Ahmedabad, which was managed by him to bring the very dilapidated structure into a solid structure by running day and out for placing orders for supplies for the construction, receiving the same at the site, utilizing the supplies for which ordered, etc., etc..   The inauguration session with Jashan and Dinner was also arranged of the renovated structure being part of the APP properties, was handed over to APP, which generates Rs.10 lacs as annual revenue.   Such was his wisdom, thinking and very selfless work attitude that has given great opportunities to Parsi Humdins in Ahmedabad.  He will equally be remembered of the event – Parsi and Zorastrian Matrimonial Meet – which will take place on 27th and 28th October, 2018 at Ahmedabad.

A condolence meeting was organized to pay respect to Porus Jehangirji Karanjawala by Parsi humdins at Sanatorium Hall on 25th August, 2018.  It started with Jashan kriya and then there were almost 19 different personalities spoke well and remembered Porus for his work and dedicated services rendered to the community in Ahmedabad.   Known personalities included – Kersi Jhanbux Shethna, ex-President of the APP, Dr. Armaity Firoj Davar ex-trustee of APP, Chairman of Parsi Montessori School, and many more to account.   The condolence meeting was arranged by two trusts jointly where he was very active, viz.. Mohudawala and Gamir trust.   Porus was well remembered of his free, frank and fearless personalities with total dedication to do better for the community, by his co-trustee in both the above named trust, Mr.Aspy Bharucha.   Whole condolence meeting was very well compared by Mr. Ariz Bokdawala who has shared many trusts and PYLA and FOZYA with Porus for very long time.      

Professor John Hinnells : Obituary

Determined expert on Zoroastrianism who founded degree courses on world religion and zipped across the world on crutches

As a child sick with tuberculosis of the bone, John Hinnells spent the best part of seven years isolated in hospital. When he was as young as six years old he was placed on wards full of adults. Only on Saturdays could his parents visit and John would weep as they left. He made sporadic appearances at school, missing months of teaching. “You’ll never work when you grow up” was a frequent taunt. Yet Hinnells, the son of a Derbyshire miner, possessed grit and resilience. Briefly suspended from school for tripping up his tormentors with his crutches, he left with the equivalent of 3 O’ levels. This proved no obstacle to a glittering future in academe.

Published in The Times London


Once a novice monk, he was drawn east to study the roots of Christianity. Later he became an authority on Zoroastrianism, one of the world’s oldest faiths, which originated in Persia (modern-day Iran). Sometimes obliged by his ailment to lecture from a wheelchair, Hinnells founded four degree courses in world religion at Manchester, Newcastle, the Open University and Soas (the School of Oriental and African Studies). Remarkably he also managed, while using crutches, to zip across the world from Zanzibar to Canada to survey the Zoroastrian diaspora. Staying with modern followers of the Persian prophet Zoroaster, he asked searching questions of their religious beliefs while savouring slow-cooked aromatic curries. He relished Bombay, once missing a flight because an elephant was squatting on the road to the airport. And he found Indians especially kind when they saw his physical difficulties. His frame was contorted, with one leg shorter than the other. Stoically he endured his knees being replaced and many operations on his feet. With a stiff, straight leg secured by pins he was unable to sit down, and could only perch on chair edges. By his thirties doctors suggested to Hinnells that he consider amputation. He always refused, and at a party met an orthopaedic surgeon who suggested that Hinnells should try a hip replacement, an operation then in its infancy, at the Wrightington Hospital, Wigan. “I’d like to do something I haven’t been able to before,” announced Hinnells, after successful surgery. Fearlessly he embraced white-water canoeing with his wife and sons. He had never let physical difficulties get in the way of adventure. Once with a friend he scaled Thorpe Cloud at Dovedale in Derbyshire, encased from chest to toe in plaster. Reaching the summit, he decided that navigating down on crutches was too tricky. So he gleefully slid down on his bottom, burning a hole as he did so in his plaster.

John Russell Hinnells was born in August 1941 in Derby, the only child of William, who after mining worked on the railways, and Lillian (née Jackson), a dinner lady and school cook. At the age of 13, Hinnells won a place at Spondon Park Grammar School in Derby. He taught art after taking a course at Derby and District College of Art. Sensing a call to priesthood, he began training in Cumbria then entered Mirfield Monastery near Leeds. His plans for a life with the Anglican Community of the Resurrection changed the day he met Marianne Bushell, a visitor whose cousin was at the monastery. Smitten, within 24 hours of first meeting they vowed to marry. Marianne (always known as Anne) and Hinnells married in 1965 after he had obtained a degree in theology from King’s College London. She taught literacy to children, and was a calm counterpoint to her husband’s taste for debate. Around the dining table of a home adorned with brass lamps and vibrant Bombay rugs, Hinnells sparked discussion with his sons, Mark and Duncan, on the increasing importance of world faiths because of global migration. How, he asked in a light Derbyshire burr, might religion influence social policy? Hinnells had obtained a lectureship at Newcastle when he was 26 and from 1970 worked at the University of Manchester, where he was made the professor of comparative religion. In 1993 he received the chair of comparative religion at Soas in London and became the founding head of its department for the study of religion. Geographers and sociologists alike were intrigued by Hinnells’s 30-year investigation into the world’s Zoroastrians that was published in 2005. More than 1,800 answered a questionnaire he devised that pinpointed religion as a key marker in the identity of migrants from southeast Asia.

As an adviser on religions to Penguin, Hinnells also edited succinct guide to faiths, including the Penguin Dictionary of World  Religion (1984). Other scholars offered the project felt swamped by its scope. However, by 8am daily Hinnells was in his study rattling out letters on a manual typewriter requesting contributions from the world’s most prestigious religious scholars. He asked Muslims, Sikhs, Hindus, Zoroastrians and Jews to write of their beliefs, at a time when accounts of world faiths were largely penned by western Christians.

At home he relished entertaining ministers of all faiths, including the Parsee High Priest, who was one of his friends and was often spotted in Hinnells’s garden lobbing a cricket ball to his sons. After Marianne’s early death from cancer in 1996 a devastated Hinnells left Soas and took up a visiting fellowship at Clare Hall, Cambridge. Later he invited Alison Houghton, the widowed former librarian of Robinson College, to share his bungalow. She had Alzheimer’s disease and they made a solid team — he was the memory, she was the manpower. Hinnells would remind her to switch off the gas before they left for trips to the Buxton opera festival. She carried the bag he could not pick up. Later Hinnells moved near his older son, Mark, who works for the engineering firm Ricardo. Although he was frequently unwell, his death was unexpected. After falling ill while sharing a meal with Mark, he was diagnosed with septicaemia in hospital. Surgery was planned, but Hinnells asked if he might sample his favourite beverage. “No,” said the doctor. “It’s nil by mouth if we operate.” The next morning he said that Hinnells was not well enough for surgery. Agreeing and aware that this meant death was imminent, Hinnells merely replied: “Can I have that Diet Coke then?” The many letters sent to his sons since his death speak of how often he helped others, whether that was with securing a university place, a book deal or a lectureship. “Dad saw what people were capable off,” recalled his son Duncan, who is a solicitor. Perhaps his own struggles inspired him.

Hinnells’s mother once bumped into her son’s former headmaster. He mentioned hearing that Hinnells had become a university lecturer. Assured that this was untrue, the headteacher replied, “I thought not,” only for Lillian to gently smile. “John,” she replied, “is now a professor.”

John Hinnells, professor of world religion, was born on August 27, 1941, and died on May 3, 2018, aged 76.