SHERNAAZ ENGINEER's blog on the Parsi community

Monday, September 28, 2015

Navsari na Padshah ne Naman!

In the increasingly messy melee of the oncoming BPP elections, with anonymous messages circulating on Whatsapp and the Net, and rivalries at fever pitch, not enough note has been taken of a truly auspicious, momentous and historic occasion – the 250th Salgreh of the Navsari Atash Behram on October 3, 2015!

To our mind, this Atash Behram is perhaps the only edifice we have that comes close to a cathedral – so majestic and resplendent is its makaan that houses the Holy Fire, and so mystical and magical are the images of our revered saints that have appeared on its marbled walls!

The Atash Behram has put out an appeal (carried in our Jame this week on Page 17), which fervently pleads for funds. In our humble opinion, it is the duty of every Parsi to send whatever sum they can afford to. Such occasions come but rarely and if we don’t help maintain our own religious places of worship then who will?

After all, what did we come to India for but to uphold and preserve our religion and race? Generations of our ancestors put the faith first and this is what has sustained the community.

The BPP was set up to protect the Doongerwadi lands in perpetuity and ensure that Dokhmenashini is not threatened. Our Agiaries and religious institutions are on covenanted lands meant exclusively for the use of Parsi/Irani Zoroastrians and all this was done by our forefathers to ensure that the faith and community stay secure.

Today, it has become fashionable to shrug off religious responsibility. Many aspiring BPP Trustees are glibly saying religion is a “personal” issue to justify their ‘sitting-on-the-fence’ attitude towards ensuring the sanctity of our time-honoured practices and faith.
Yes, religion is a deeply personal quest– but as co-religionists our responsibility towards both religious observance and adherence is collective.

As the Navsari Atash Behram's Padshah Saheb celebrates 250 years of enthronement and efficacious glory, may the flame of faith be reignited in us – especially those who aspire to lead our flock. 

Tuesday, September 1, 2015

Beware, chameleons are everywhere

 Appearances are deceptive – yet, this is a lesson almost none of us is willing to learn. We continue to get totally taken in by superficially impressive people!
Reports have been raging over the past few days, detailing Page 3 prima donna Indrani Mukerjea’s alleged crime – murdering her own daughter in cold blood.
It’s a case so grisly that it completely defies belief. However, there’s so much to be learnt from this sordid story.
To what depths of evil malevolence can a human being descend? How far will you let your ambition take you? Will greed for wealth and glamour make you disown your own children and lie to your spouse that they are your siblings? Does creating a fake world of showmanship matter more than being true to your soul?
There are countless Indranis everywhere. Outwardly chic and glamorous people, who are so desperate to take speedy shortcuts to name and fame that they’re willing to lead deceptive lives full of lies and falsehood. What they project is not who they are.
They hide their humble background, almost ashamed of their past, in a bid to create a flashy future at any cost. Nothing is sacred – not their parents, nor their spouse or friends. They use and abuse people as stepping stones, only to pelt them out of their path once their usefulness is over.
They think they’re smart – and more often than not succeed in outsmarting other simple folk who just cannot match their cunning, crafty ways. But divine justice has a way of catching up.
Sadly, this often happens too late in day when they have left a trail of havoc and devastation behind them.
This is why it is so crucial to be able to look through false appearances and make wise decisions about who to trust.
On a different but not entirely unrelated note, it’s equally important to be able to correctly judge people who are to assume public office and pole-vault into positions of leadership.
We’re soon going to be in the throes of the Bombay Parsi Punchayet election. Several candidates will exuberantly fling themselves into the fray, expecting us to lap up their well-crafted campaigns – but it’s up to us make the attempt to look through their facade, read between the lines and sharpen our own judgmental abilities. The wellbeing of the community will depend upon this.
Let’s work together to ensure we make the right choice – although it appears as though there may not be too much of a choice!
Send us your suggestions, questions and comments regarding the forthcoming elections. Our Facebook Page (Jam-e-Jamshed) is a beehive of activity and interactivity and much of the feedback is an eye-opener.
In the coming weeks, Jam-e-Jamshed will endeavour to be your voice. We will articulate your vision, concerns and aspirations for a clean, progressive and professionally-run Punchayet.

Do write to us and suggest the way ahead.

Thursday, November 27, 2014

Dinshaw Mehta, Chairman of the Bombay Parsi Punchayet, with Arvind Mayaram, IAS, Secretary - Ministry of Minority Affairs, at a meeting with Parsi representatives in Mumbai on November 20, 2014

The will to live

“Do you have the will to live?” asked Arvind Mayaram repeatedly. 

The very erudite and insightful Secretary of the Ministry of Minority Affairs (MOMA), Government of India, was met members of the Parsi community earlier last week in Mumbai to understand why the population crisis afflicts the community so.

As he kept repeating the above question, at strategically timed intervals, it struck us that he needed to repeat it so often because affirmation wasn’t entirely forthcoming.

The will to live ought to be pretty elementary. But, for the Parsi community facing extinction, is it really so? For if it were, would we be on a suicidal path?

What the Parsis appear to have is the will to fight – with each other and to the finish! We also have the will to disgrace ourselves with ugly spats that the mainstream media preys on with relish.

We have the will to exult in our eccentricities, feast on our bhonu, live lives of reasonable privilege in our Baugs and bask in the glory that being Parsi bestows upon us by virtue of birth.

But do we have the will to excel with integrity and without compromise the way our forefathers overwhelmingly did?
Do we have the will to contribute to the nation and pursue a philanthropic mission that encompasses all deserving causes?
Do we have the will to steer the young on the propitious course of marriage within the fold at an early age, in order to prioritise family life?

Do we have the will to make the right decisions that will not precipitate our multifarious crises?

In short, do we really have the will to live? This is a question that merits much soul searching.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Why We Love The Jiyo Parsi Campaign

Self deprecation is a good thing. Self flagellation isn’t! Somehow, we’ve become so adept at whipping ourselves into a public frenzy, often over nothing in particular, that it’s tedious and draining.
Look at the extreme reactions to the Jiyo Parsi advertising campaign – to be released in print soon. Instead of taking a few moments to understand, perhaps even applaud, the enormous effort and well meaning intent behind this significant mission, callow community members are hurriedly tearing it apart.
It’s easy to be overcritical, cynical, defensive or even offensive. We are a community of self opinionated and largely self centered individuals who put personal gratification at a premium.
Larger issues like the survival of the community and the sacrifices needed for it count for very little. This is precisely why we’re in such a sorry state that the Government of India needs to step in and bail us out with Jiyo Parsi.
You would think this would make us happy, grateful and eager to make the most of the Rs. 10 crore grant and the opportunity to reboot and recharge.
Alas, it’s merely another excuse to crib and carp! Well, life is too precious to be wasted wallowing in niggardly nit-picking. So, we’re going to list the reasons why we love the Jiyo Parsi advertising campaign:

1.Its central message that Parsis should marry within the community and beget children before slipping into dotage is priceless. Staying single, inter marrying or delaying parenthood is not good for the community, even though it may serve our individual interests. We need to have the wisdom to understand this – and remedy it as best as we can. 
2.The campaign, comprising over a dozen piquant ads, uses humour and parodies Parsi eccentricities with elan. Even with serious issues at hand, it helps if we can share a laugh. That’s the charm of being Parsi! 3. Many of the ads encourage introspection by reinforcing stereotypes such as boys being overly attached to their mothers and girls having unrealistically high expectations. Instead of taking offence and getting huffy, it would help if we reexamined the premises around which many of us live our lives. 
4.The campaign spells out the template for happiness and fulfillment in wholesome terms: marriage, parenthood, togetherness, work-life balance, fun and family bonding. In our excessively ambitious and career-driven age, maybe this is the wake-up call our community needs to shift the focus from Me to We. 
5.Finally, what we appreciate is that this is a determined effort to see the silver lining. Here’s an all-Bawa ad campaign that celebrates hope. Despite our number crunch, with the latest fertility treatments, a change in mindset and wholehearted help from the government, we could see results if we just get on with it! 
To all those who are being negative about Jiyo Parsi, we humbly suggest: drop your defenses and raise a toast. Cute Parsi babies are waiting to be born!

Saturday, September 28, 2013

Empty lie our Agiaries

                                                                                                                                    Picture for representational purposes only

An interesting article caught our eye in The Times of India a few mornings ago. 

It spoke of GenNext turning to spirituality and seeking solace in religion in order to beat anxiety.

The writer was at pains to point out that in the megapolis of Mumbai, the young were increasingly drifting towards divinity in its myriad forms – yoga, meditation, scriptures, chanting, temple visits, Art of Living and what have you.

This observation, interesting as it appears, seems largely at odds with what we see within our community today. If the stark emptiness of our Agiaries is any indication, spiritualism and religion seem to have low priority (or no priority) across the community. 

The few who do make the effort of factoring faith into their daily (or weekly) roster and actually take the trouble of going to the Agiary/Atash Behram are generally the aged. They often defy infirmity to affirm their devotion with unwavering zeal. The rest falter at the altar.

There could be many reasons for this. 

South Mumbai is no longer the stronghold of the Parsis as a large chunk of the populace has shifted to the suburbs. Since the largest concentration of Agiaries is in this part of town, they tend to wear a desolate air. 

It is not uncommon to be the sole individual in an Agiary in and around the Fort area, at any given time, from early morning to late evening. A priest may be present – but only if it’s boi time. Otherwise, it’s an exclusive audience with Almighty and the Holy Fire, one-on-one, uninterrupted by human presence – save the portraits of illustrious ancestors looking down benevolently and, perhaps, wondering why they endowed the community with these beautiful abodes of faith if they were to remain empty!

The case is a little different in Agiaries that are attached to the Baugs – but only a little. Here, you will find the odd youngster popping in, generally before exam time. Few make daily worship a way of life.

Perhaps, it’s simply a sign of the times. Churches in the West also remain empty. As societies become affluent and self sustaining, faith is no longer their fulcrum. Adversity and misfortune seem to be far more conducive in coaxing communion with the Creator!

And, yet, till only two generations ago, Parsi families almost without exception nurtured staunch practices of the faith, including the divo at home, praying daily, visiting the Agiary regularly and, of course, leading an upright and illustrious life. Somehow, all this seamlessly integrated into a wholesome whole. 

Today, we are floundering on many fronts as a community – qualitatively and quantitatively. And our Agiaries are almost always empty. 

Who has the time for religion or spirituality? We’re too busy with our smartphones!

Saturday, March 30, 2013

Creating an Epic Congress
Mumbai is to host the 10th World Zoroastrian Congress (December 27 to 30), and it promises to be an amazing opportunity to bring the community from all parts of the world together in a city that boasts a rich lineage of Parsi culture and heritage, as well as the largest concentration of community members.
Clearly, the task for the organizing committee, led by the Bombay Parsi Punchayet, is daunting. While details are still being worked out, the venue has finally fallen into place. According to the Congress website, the National Centre for the Performing Arts (NCPA) has been booked.
After examining various options (including the Taj Mahal Hotel and the NSCI), the NCPA was chosen as it is India’s foremost cultural establishment. It also has a very obvious Parsi connect with its Tata affiliation.
So, what else is in store?
While Congress sessions will inevitably offer a host of keynote speakers and a plethora of panel discussions, the trick is to get the right mix and sustain interest over four days. Not easy!
Often, organisors tend to get influenced by subjective considerations, personal obligations or the sheer embarrassment of having to say no to pushy people and permit them a place on the podium, to the utter ordeal of the audience.
It is, admittedly, impossible to make everyone happy. But a Congress of this magnitude must uphold lofty standards and offer inspiration, insight and an opportunity for the community to debate and dissent with intellectual ardour, but without personal vilification. For this, themes and moderators would need to be well chosen.
Of course, the food has to be superlative or the consequences will be dire!
Two wonderful add-ons have been announced.
The National Gallery of Modern Art (NGMA) will host From Canton to Mumbai – The Story of Parsi Textiles and the Alpaiwalla Museum at Khareghat Colony is being restored for its grand reopening around the Congress dates. Both projects are reportedly the brainchild of two lovely ladies – Pheroza Godrej and Firoza Punthakey Mistree, who have earlier collaborated on the exquisite tome, A Zoroastrian Tapestry.
Entertainment, of course, will be the big ticket draw – it would be great to have a Zubin Mehta concert for the community around the time (wishful thinking!) or at least a Shiamak Davar show (surely he can be persuaded?), although the opening ceremony at the Gateway of India could provide enough scope for dramatic impact.
Through all this, the theme of the Congress – Zoroastrianism in the 21st Century:
Nurturing Growth and Affirming Identity – must be kept squarely in sight.
Unless we seriously nurture growth with a master plan for the way ahead and affirm our identity as Parsi/Irani Zoroastrians with fervour and faith, it will be an opportunity lost and just another extravagant (but pointless) waste of time, energy and money.
The onus is on us to make this an epic Congress. Can we rise to the challenge?

Friday, December 7, 2012

Big Fat Parsi Weddings

A young, middle-class Parsi couple decided to get married and their families met over dhan-daar and tareli machhi to discuss the details.
The bride’s mother, a large and loud lady, declared: “Let’s have a big fat Parsi wedding.”
Her not-so-large husband jibed, “With you in attendance, it will definitely be both big and fat!”
“That’s not what I meant,” she snapped. “I keep reading in the newspapers about all these fancy non-Parsi weddings – they call them big fat Indian weddings. Let’s have a Parsi equivalent.”
The groom’s mother nervously asked: “Doesn’t that sort of thing cost a lot of money? I read that a recent wedding cost over Rs. 50 crore and they had 6,500 guests.”
The bride’s mother beamed, “Aapre bhi kai evha tevha nathee. We can easily muster up 2000 guests. Tamhara bhi 1000 guests toh thussey?”
The groom’s father took out his hanky, wiped his forehead, and confessed: “We’re thinking of restricting our invitations to close family and friends, no more than about 350 people.”
The bride looked dejected. “Let’s discuss the functions. Apart from the engagement, madasoro, adarni etc., I’d like to have a mehendi and sangeet.”
Her father loudly protested, “Eh su badha naatak?”
The large mother snapped: “You have no clue what’s happening in the world. Nowadays our Parsis are having these functions also. Why should our daughter be deprived? At a recent high society parjat wedding they gifted foreign cars and European holidays to guests who attended the sangeet. See how they grandly celebrate their nuptials!”
The groom’s father spoke shakily: “How can we possibly match these rich non-Parsis? I have just managed to buy a Tata Indica. And we holiday every alternate year at one of the reasonable Parsi hotels in Panchgani.”
The bride demanded of the somberly silent groom: “Surely our honeymoon will be at some foreign location? And you must upgrade your car soon. Darling, please also tell your parents I like only diamond jewellery.”
Her mother added: “I read that a big fat wedding is incomplete without an event manager. Aapru Jame recently wrote about a few…”
At this point the bride’s father, somewhat embarrassed by the blabbering his wife and daughter, diplomatically concluded the meeting.
After they left, the groom’s mother fired him: “See how bossy the girl and her mother are. Tu saano gup chup baisee rahyo without saying a word? You will be totally henpecked.”
Her husband piped in: “My mother said the same thing at the time of our marriage – but I lived happily henpecked thereafter! So will our son.”
And so it came to pass that another big fat Parsi wedding was solemnized with pomp, show and an event manager!

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

 At Mumbai's Anjuman Atash Behram, the new Nayab Dastur Dr. Jamasp was installed on Roj Ardibehesth Mah Ardibehesth, September 19, 2012, as trustee of the Atash Behram, Burjorji Antia looks on

Emergence of the new order
It is always exciting to witness the ascendance of the new order.
Few as we are, and fewer still as we appear to be getting, nothing gladdens the community more than the resurgence of the Parsi spirit with the arrival of fresh blood!
Kindly cast aside your cynicism, if you’re one of those jaded sorts who sighs and declares that GenNext is just not interested in religious adherence.
Week after week, we’re amazed at the response younger readers give us, particularly when it comes to articles pertaining to a further understanding of the faith. Believe it or not but young Parsis, for most of the part, are passionate about preserving both Parsipanu and the Zoroastrian religion.
Do read the story on the centre pages of aapru Jame this week, of how twenty-somethings across the world feel about being Parsi Zoroastrians and how infectious and admirable is their zeal!
And, yet, the road is not entirely easy for them, especially for those living in the West, where popular culture and peer pressure are often at odds with traditional religious practice.
That they still manage to hold on to our precious legacy and are proud of it, speaks volumes not just for the way in which they’ve been raised, but also for the power and glory of what has been given to us thousands of years ago by our Prophet.
It is a gift that cannot be taken for granted. And one that brings continuing joy for those who foster the faith!
Earlier this week, at Mumbai’s resplendent Anjuman Atash Behram, a beloved bastion of the devout, the 115th Salgreh festivities on September 19 turned into a double celebration with the induction of Nayab Dastur Dr. Jamasp, scion of the illustrious Jamasp Asa clan.
Succession planning is one of the most challenging and rewarding exercises that few enterprises or institutions can afford to ignore. Sadly, at the Wadiaji Atash Behram, a worthy successor wasn’t initiated upon the retirement of Vada Dasturji Dr. Firoze Kotwal
several years ago, although, reportedly, there’s no hereditary ‘gaadi’ of Dasturi there.
However, there is no reason why another scholar priest could not have been – or still cannot be – installed. If our biggest Atash Behrams don’t nurture the emergence of religious scholars of the stature of some of our current senior Vada Dasturjis, where is the young generation going to get guidance from?
The community and its Trusts must facilitate the emergence of a new cadre of Vada
Dasturji who will bring us credit with their scholarship, their understanding of contemporary issues and, above all, their unflinching resolve to conduct themselves with grace, without ever compromising on the core principles of the religion that have stood the test of time and made us who we are.
This reminds us of Tennyson’s sagacious assertion that “the old order changeth yielding place to new, and God fulfills Himself in many ways…”

Monday, April 25, 2011

Will Iranshah's Grace Be Wasted Upon Us?

Iranshah, refurbished recently...

Iranshah, the way it was...

April 24.
A supremely sanctified day has dawned upon us! Today, the ninth day of the ninth month of the Parsi calendar, Roj Adar Mah Adar, is the perfect occasion to humbly venerate the beneficent glory of our Atash Padshah Sahebs. Generations of devout Parsis have invested their faith in the Holy Fires.
Today, we also celebrate the 1290th Salgreh of our Iranshah Saheb. Can one even fathom the sheer span of this sweeping time frame, extending over close to 13 centuries? Rare is the Parsi who in all these 1290 years would not have bowed his or her head before this King of Holy Fires.
While Iranshah has undoubtedly bestowed untold blessings upon us, perhaps it’s pertinent to reflect upon our present-day worthiness for His grace. Are we acting in a manner that does justice to the benedictions being showered upon us by our ancient and efficacious fires?
Well over 1000 years ago, our journey of faith commenced with one objective: to preserve the religion and the race. All those who left Iran for unknown shores, our noble and fore-sighted ancestors, put the preservation of our Parsi legacy above personal comfort and convenience. They willingly staked everything – their homes, their fortunes, their friends and all things familiar – and set sail to keep the faith.
Once here, with much dedication and discipline, they stuck to time-tested principles that guaranteed our survival. Pioneering and forward thinking in their approach, they also reinforced the foundation of the faith. Realising that we would always be a small and stand-alone sect within the Indian mainstream, they endowed us with enough Trusts to take care of all of our worldly needs, so we’d never be wanting for anything: housing, medicine, education and so much more.
They integrated seamlessly into the cosmopolitan framework of society, contributing in many ways that enriched public life, earning the sort of glittering goodwill that still holds us in good stead. Yet, they took care to assiduously safeguard the Parsi identity. They saw no shame in preserving and perpetuating our Parsipanu, as it’s something that is uniquely our own. You can discard your destiny only at your own peril.
So, is it that our generation has suddenly stumbled upon insurmountable challenges? Is it that we have miraculously come upon the wisdom to debunk the spiritual sagacity of generations of seers and scholars? Obsessed as we are with the here and now, are we forgetting to look at the larger picture? Should we focus on long term survival or short term expediency?
An occasion like the 1290th Salgreh of Iranshah raises these questions. What if our forefathers hadn’t been steadfast and single-minded when it came to sticking to the straight path? What if they had veered away, for one reason or another – and there are so many reasons one can find when it comes to wanting to do one’s own thing!
Iranshah has bountifully blessed us over 1290 years. How can we ensure that 1290 years hence, Iranshah will still be able to bless our flock?
Many noble Fravashis, over 1000 years ago, sacrificed a lot to give us this day. Gentle reader, wont Iranshah’s grace be wasted if we don’t promise to do as much?

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Something To Remember Us By

Whenever we hear of a tragic, untimely death, or even a much-awaited release at the end of one of those lingering-a-bit-too-long life spans, the pang we feel is only partly for the soul that has passed into the unknown, leaving bereft family and friends behind.
More significantly, it serves as an uncomfortable reminder of our own date with fate. No one is born to live forever. Yet in the bustle of our blinkered lives we tend to believe the bubble will never burst. Then, suddenly, it does – but it was always meant to, a little bit earlier or later.
We are immortal only to the extent of the values we immortalize. The young Naval Officer, Lt Cdr Firdaus Mogal, who bravely jumped to his death in Mumbai recently, in a bid to save a fellow sailor who had fallen off his submarine, will forever enshrine courage and commitment to duty that will inspire countless others.
Our lives are worth something only if they serve the larger plan of upholding the Divine Order that enables righteousness and the highest truth to triumph. This happens when we live a life of purpose. The late Lt Cdr Mogal not only lived on purpose, fulfilling his dream of serving the nation as a committed Naval officer, but also died upholding his purpose, courageously attending to the call of duty.
Blessed was he and his death is not in vain, because his life’s mission of service before self is now a beacon of light for all those who’re letting time pass them by without pursuing their purpose. Whiling away the days allotted to us and lethargically ignoring the impetus to live our best lives is an affliction that brings no glory.
Sometimes, it’s difficult to determine what our purpose is. At the Ava Roj Humbandagi, held at the Bhikha Behram kua, as a tight circle including a busload of young girls from the Ava Bai Petit School clustered around the sacred well, Ervad Dr. Ramiyar Karanjia spoke eloquently about finding our purpose through prayer.
Divine Order, he explained, guides every aspect of our lives and of all creation. It’s the inherent energy and intelligence that can cause a towering tree to grow out of a tiny seed, the sun to rise and set infallibly every day, the seasons to come and go, the tide to ebb and flow.
Divine Order can direct our journey through this lifetime, if we invoke Ahura Mazda’s grace. Our prayers become a powerful tool in helping us attune our life’s pursuits with our higher purpose.
I believe other benchmarks are the noble lives of those who passed on, whose good works become the guiding lights of our destiny. Every soul leaves behind an incomplete story. We exist to further the unfinished aspirations of our ancestors.
May the Fravashis of our dear departed and the Divine Immortals bless our community and give us the wisdom to carry forward all the values our illustrious Parsi predecessors lived and died for – so this ongoing, inspiring legacy of luminosity remains something to remember us by.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Why the New Tata CEO Matters So Much to Parsis

Ratan N. Tata, Chairman, Indian Hotels Ltd. at the Company's 109th AGM on Aug 5 in Mumbai
Understandably, everybody is all agog. The countdown to Ratan Tata’s retirement has officially begun with the appointment of a committee to select his successor. Like all good things, his winning inning at the helm of the Tata Group must inevitably come to an end. While admiring his grace in letting go by meticulously adhering to his own guideline of stepping off at 75, there’s the inevitable twinge that comes with the end of an era.
Under his leadership, the Tata Group has prospered. He has, with understated sagacity and admirable work ethic, exalted not just Brand Tata but Brand India in business circles around the world.
But, above all, and perhaps without his realizing it, he has reinforced Brand Parsi better than anyone in recent times. Ratan Tata, for all his low profile modesty, is the best known Parsi on the planet.
For a community that is so small in numbers, such an illustrious Brand Ambassador is an irreplaceable asset. One is not being parochial by basking in the Parsiness of his personality! That sense of fair play, that adherence to ethics, that gumption in venturing into realms just a little out of reach (Jaguar, Corus), that determination to excel, that humility… all of this and more is just, well, deeply embedded in the DNA.
These are values that have been instilled in us by our forefathers and we gratefully acknowledge the debt and depth of this lineage by living up to it as best as we can. Many Parsis do this in their own simple sphere of activity; Ratan Tata has epitomized and exemplified it on a global panoramic platform to justifiable acclaim.
He is as aapro as they come – perhaps, a wee bit more than most other celebrated Sons of the Sudreh.
The heads of the House of Tatas have been admired and adored by the community down the ages. For JRD Tata, this realization dawned in the dusk of his years. He then confessed that he never quite understood why the Parsis had consistently showered so much love upon him when he had never done anything tangible for the community.
However, for most Parsis, our ethos and identity is in many ways synonymous with the House of Tatas. All the way from Jamsetji, who remains a hero even amongst GenNext, to the reigning Ratan, Parsis feel incredibly proprietary about the House of Tatas. Most of us have personal histories that are intertwined with the Tata empire – may the sun never set upon it.
And this goes way beyond the multi-billion valuation of the Group. It’s not about wealth but about a shared vision and values, generation after generation. While the new heir will (and must) be picked on merit, many in the community (and beyond) are rooting for both a Parsi and a Tata.
For well over a century, ‘Tata’ and ‘Parsi’ have been two sides of the same coin – it’s the currency millions across the world have faith in. We are willing to bank on it yet again!

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Saturday, June 19, 2010

Banish those Botas!
What, for most Parsis, is the worst word in the English language? It begins with the letter ‘V’… ‘Vegetarian’!
No affront or insult could possibly be worse than the blood-curdling indignation, alarm and aversion that ‘V for Vegetarian’ induces. Parents almost always never teach it to their children, preferring A for Aleti-Paleti, B for Boomla, C for Chhamna… instead.
When it comes to tucking in, bawajis just cannot do without their botas – reformists and traditionalists alike. Food is the great leveler for every Parsi reveller!
Suggesting vegetarianism is akin to asking Warren Anderson to return to India and take some accountability for the Bhopal gas tragedy – it’s pointless and a perfect waste of time. So why are we bothering to bring it up?
Well, it’s Bahman mahino – that time of year when we’re supposed to spare poor little animals the tragic plight of being butchered, basted, broiled, baked and barbecued for our meals – at the very least on some days of the month.
Should you decide to continue reading ahead, a few unresolved questions: Are animals meant to be eaten? We have heard of the food chain and how vegetables are intended to be eaten by animals and, conversely, animals are supposed to be eaten by human beings. This is theoretical the ‘cycle of life’, but is it really so?
Do animals hurt as much as we do? In their final moments, as the fish is hooked and writhing for that last breath before being forever stilled for saas-ni-machhi, or the goat is hacked and bled to death for Sunday’s dhansak-kawab, or the chicken is slaughtered and de-feathered for those deep fried faarchas, in their final moments, do animals feel the pang of separation from the little families they have nurtured… or been nurtured by? Do they wish they could spend a few more moments on God’s great earth, unfettered under a blue sky (or a starlit one), instead of having their lives snuffed out for voracious human palates?
Parsis have been indomitably feasting on animals for the longest time. We even seem to delight in all their bits and parts with grisly zeal – puchri, doki, pag, bheja, kalejee, paya, khariya, jeebh… go on, feed your greed!
Our lagans and navjotes are occasions for mass animal slaughter. Of course, we don’t feel guilty since we don’t actually kill the animals ourselves – we just pay the butchers to do so and enjoy our meal. Which is how it should be, isnt it? Our social conditioning ensures we don’t get unduly bothered.
Vegetarians are often asked, aren’t you killing plants when you eat them? Perhaps. Or perhaps not – most fruits and vegetables are the offerings of plants and trees. You seldom eat the whole plant or tree itself.
Animals on the other hand are, well, animate. They run, they yelp, they see, they react, they bleed. Ironically, as a community, we love animals and care for them with the sort of deep devotion you don’t often find.
Bahman mahino, then, ordains a little more respect and a little more restraint when it comes to making a meal out of innocent animals. They have a right to life too.

Monday, June 14, 2010

Dr. Cyrus Poonawalla Bereaved

Late Villoo Poonawalla with Dr. Cyrus Poonawalla at the Mahalakshmi Race Course in Mumbai earlier this year
Villoo Poonawalla, wife of Dr. Cyrus Poonawalla and mother of Adar, passed away on June 8, leaving an irreplaceable void in the Poonawalla family. She is also mourned by daughter-in-law Natasha and grandson Cyrus, as well as other family members and friends.
Villoo Poonawalla was a low profile and graceful lady, preferring to live out of the spotlight. However, she was the backbone of her family and lived up to the proverb: Behind every successful man, there is a woman.
Gracious and graceful, she was often spotted at the Race Course, sharing her husband’s passion for racing. At the Poonawalla Breeders’ Multimillion, held this year at the Mahalakshmi Race Course on February 28, she was, as every year, the hostess with the mostess!
However, her life was not merely all glitz and glamour. Deeply religious, she was a proud and practicing Parsi till the very end. In a recent (albeit rare) interview, Dr. Poonawalla had confessed, “My wife, Villoo, comes from a priestly Athornan family (nee Panthaky) and is a devout Parsi – very religious. She prays for several hours every day.”
Perhaps, Dr. Poonawalla’s stupendous success was wrought, in some measure, by the power of her prayers.
At the all-Parsi youth meet held in Pune last month, it is said that it was at her insistence that her son, Adar, came forward with a generous sponsorship to enable the event organisors meet the expenses.
One wishes eternal behesht for her soul. May her love for our community and our religion be a legacy that forever guides the Poonawalla family, so that the virtues of philanthropy, compassion and community service continue to perpetuate her memory. R.I.P.
* This article appeared in the Jam-e-Jamshed dated Sunday, June 13, 2010. To subscribe to the Jame email:

Friday, June 11, 2010


This blog has not been updated in a long time. Apologies to all those who have taken, and are taking, the trouble to visit it and have found it static!

Truth is, life has been anything but static.

Ever since I assumed Editorship of Jam-e-Jamshed on 14.1.2010, there has barely been time to blink. The paper, at 178-years, is Asia's second oldest and the responsibility is both an honour as well as onerous. The Jame is part and parcel of many, many Parsi homes in India and abroad (if you don't get it, do consider subscribing). We are committed to keeping this much-loved community institution robust and raring-to-go!

Will, in the coming weeks, continue to post more columns...

Till then, thanks for taking the trouble to drop by!

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Why Dokhmenishini is Ordained in Zoroastrianism

ERVAD DR. RAMIYAR PARVEZ KARANJIA, is the Principal of the Dadar Athornan Institute and the Sir J. J. Z. and Mullan Feroze Madressas (Institute for Indo-Iranian Studies). He has obtained his Masters and Doctorate in Avesta-Pahlavi from Bombay University. He conducts courses, classes, gives talks, organises seminars and presents papers on the Zoroastrian religion, spirituality and Iranian history all over the world, for children, youth and adults. He has authored various books and papers and has worked as a research scholar with several prestigious Universities and Institutes in Germany and Moscow.
Here, he explains why Parsi/Irani Zoroastrians need to follow the ordained practice of Dokhmenashini, and abstain from alternate methods of disposal after death.

Q. What is the significance of Dokhmenishini?
A. Dokhmenishini, the Zoroastrian mode of the disposal of the dead, is designed to ensure theological correctness, ecological safeguards and spiritual fortification. It also harnesses the powers of disinfection of the sun and the wind. Exposure of the body is very essential from a spiritual point of view, as it’s through the rays of the sun that the spirit is drawn upwards.

Q. Perhaps our ancestors weren’t aware of cremation, hence the present reservation against it?
Our ancestors were well aware of the method of disposal of the dead by burning. They were even aware that it is the worst form of defiling fire and, that is why, among the 16 fires comprising an Atash Behram, the fire called ‘murde-suz’ (or fire from a burning corpse) is used after purifying and consecrating it the most number of times.

Q. Is even electric cremation considered incorrect?
Cremation, or burning the body, either through the traditional mode or electric mode, is considered incorrect in the Zoroastrian tradition for several reasons. Fire is given great reverence in the Zoroastrian religion, and so is air. Cremation (even electric cremation) is responsible for polluting fire as well as air. The Avesta talks about at least six different fires. Latent energy in all matter is considered as fire – hence, electricity is also a form of fire.

People argue that electric cremation isn’t ‘fire’. Then by what process is the body reduced to ashes within a few minutes? Moreover, after the body reaches a temperature of 600 degrees centigrade, it actually bursts out in flames. Oxford Dictionary (p.193) defines meaning of Cremation: Burning as method of disposing of corpses. Incinerate (p.408): Consume by fire.

Q. Are there specific religious injunctions against cremation?
The following are the references from Zoroastrian scriptures against burning of Nasu – that is human dead matter – in any form. Nasu not only creates physical pollution and putridity, it is also responsible for creating spiritual imbalance – referred to in our religion as Druji-i-Nasu – for the following reasons:

1. A corpse is the greatest source of Nasa (putrefaction) in the world. Burning a corpse desecrates fire, which we worship as the living representative of Ahura Mazda. Putting any putrefying matter on fire is a sin.

2. One of the chapters of the Husparam Nask deals with the sin of throwing bodily refuse in the fire.

3. Burning Nasu is considered to be a ‘margarjan’ sin, i.e., a sin worthy of being punished by death. Burning of the hair on the body is also considered a ‘margarjan’ sin, as hair and nail are also nasa.

4. A man burning matter is considered worthy of contempt, as the religion considers such an act partly responsible for natural calamities like climate fluctuations. It is further stated that imbalances in ecology like extremely severe winters are due to burning Nasu.

5. Wood contaminated by Nasu is also forbidden to be taken to fire. Fire is to be kept at least three paces away from Nasu.

6. It is meritorious for a person to prevent a corpse from burning. (Vd.VIII.81)

7. It is a sin to either take dead matter/Nasu near fire or water or vice-versa (Patet Pashemani V).

8. The soul of the person who takes Nasu to the fire is never liberated from hell.

9. Fires at three different places – where the person dies, where the body was kept after Sachkar, and at Sagdi – protects the soul for the first three days from the demon Vizaresh.

10. The tenth chapter of the Sudkar Nask deals with the complaint of fire to Ahura Mazda. When fire is used to burn even a blister or corn, or hair and filth falls on fire, or a child burns itself by fire due to the carelessness of the parents, or when fire is blown upon, it becomes unhappy.

Q. Some Parsis feel cremation is more dignified. Would you agree?
Each method of disposal is as ‘dignified’ as you deem it to be. It’s a fact that while being burnt the skull bursts, and faeces comes out of the mouth and rectum. Scientifically, too, burning a corpse is a health hazard as it gives rise to air pollution through the release of carbon and nitrogenous gases and other bone ash and protein residues emitted by the burning body. Those who live near an electric crematorium face this problem.

Q. If cremation is unacceptable in Mumbai, why is it acceptable in other cities/countries?
Cremation is unacceptable, according to our Zoroastrian religion, anywhere in the world. Wherever there are no Dakhmas, one has to avail other modes of disposal to dispose the corpse. However, where Dakhmas are available it’s a part of our religious requirement to consign the body therein. It’s pertinent to note here that when our ancestors came to India, and later in India when they settled at different places, the first thing they would do is construct a Dakhma and consecrate it, because they considered it paramount to the well-being of their soul and spiritual evolution after death.

Q. Why deny Parsis their prayers for four days (in case they opt cremation), and then start prayers thereafter?
Parsis started having second thoughts and doubts about their Dokhmenishini system, especially after coming in touch with Western culture, which looked down upon it as “barbaric” – in Iran due to the close proximity of the Shah with the Europeans and in India with that of the British.

In India, the elders of the religion realised this trend long ago and, therefore, to set discipline among their flock decreed that wherever there were Dakhmas Zoroastrians needed to confine their dead bodies to them. If they do not do so, then to show them that they are wrong and that their after-death prayers will not be effective enough, it was decided that priests be informed not to perform the four-day death rituals for such people who select a mode of disposal, which is not acceptable to the religion – even though the correct mode is available to them.

Q. But yet, when Parsis die in places where there are no Dakhmas, the four-day prayers are performed for all alternate disposals?
If a body is disposed in other ways, where Dokhmenishini is not available, they are not willingly choosing the mode. It is out of compulsion of circumstance, which the religious elders understood. Hence, no such restrictions were kept for places where Dakhmas are not available.

Q. Surely people have freedom of choice and can choose their mode of disposal?
Freedom of choice is a much-maligned term. Freedom, too, has its limits. When we are part of a larger body or society, we have to adhere to its discipline and laws. In civil society, we cannot roam without our clothes on. In the same way, we cannot go to a school without a uniform, at least in India. Similarly, a house has its own rules and so does a country. A religion, likewise, has certain requirements of its adherents – one of which is the mode of disposal of the dead.

Q. Is it right to penalise priests who offer to perform last rights for cremations?
Consigning bodies to cremation is considered wrong, as explained earlier. Priests who knowingly assist community members in pursuing the wrong path are, hence, wrong too. They’re accomplices to a wrong-doing, and are going against the wishes of the religious elders who have very valid reasons for guiding the community along the right path – a path that will ensure our progress and preservation. The larger good must always prevail over personal will and fancy.

Q. Is the present system of Dokhmenishini functioning optimally in Mumbai?
The physical (I will not talk of the Astral and spiritual aspects here) system of Dokhmenishini works on 3 main principles, according to the Vendidad:
a. It should be on an elevated place
b. It should be exposed to the rays of the sun (both the heat and light giving ones, as well as infra)
c. It should be exposed to carrion (preferable vultures; kites, eagles and crows also work, albeit slowly and less effectively)
Of the 3 above, a. and b. are there and c. has slowed down – b. is not optimal during monsoons. In spite of the above short comings, Dokhmenashini works. It has not failed. A bit slowed down, yes, but highly functional anyway. Even in its less-than-perfectly-optimal state, it’s still the best system for us.

Q. Is it fair that inter-married family members/friends cannot be part of traditional Zoroastrian last rites?
On account of certain spiritual requirements no Zoroastrian prayers and rituals can be performed in the presence of non-Zoroastrians, or even Zoroastrians who are in a certain ritually impure state. The same rule applies for entry to Fire-Temples as also for rituals and ceremonies pertaining to the deceased. It’s not on account of discrimination or high-handedness that non-Zoroastrian family members and friends are requested not to be part of these rituals. These rules are for the betterment of the soul of the deceased, as well as for the well-being of the living. One should not have hard-feelings on account of these rules.

Q. Finally, how important is Dokhmenishini for the Zoroastrian soul and what happens to those souls who don’t opt for it?
In spiritual matters, one has to go by the wisdom of the scriptures (given by the Prophet and other spiritually advanced souls) as well as the traditions laid down by our worthy and noble ancestors. Both the above sources regard Dokhmenishini as essential for the speedy release of the soul and its Astral components from the material world and the subsequent judgment and progress of the soul. For the unfortunate souls who do not get the benefit of Dokhmenishini, this process is evidently much slower and more painful.

Bibliography of Sources for this interview:
1. Bharucha, S.D., Rististan, Bombay, 1917.
2. Boyce Mary, ZOROASTRIANS Their religious beliefs and practices, London, 1979.
3. Darmesteter James, The Sacred Books of the East, The Zend Avesta Part I, Oxford, 1895.
4. Dhabhar Bamanji N., The Persian Rivayats of Hormazyar Frmarz, Bombay, 1932
5. Jamasp Asa Dastur Kaikhushru J., Arda Viraf Nameh, Bombay 1902.
6. Kanga Kavasji E., Vendidad, Bombay 1874.
7. West E.W., The Sacred Books of the East, Pahlavi Texts Part XXIV, Oxford, 1885.
8. West E.W., The Sacred Books of the East, Pahlavi Texts Part XXXVII, Oxford, 1892

* This interview appeared in the October ’09 issue of The BPP Review of the Bombay Parsi Punchayet

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Dr. Keki Gharda: Man with a Mission

By Shernaaz Engineer

In recent months, the papers have been buzzing with the news that Gharda Chemicals, the second-largest agro-chemical company in India (Rs. 950-crore turnover), is likely to be sold. Dr. Keki Gharda, Chairman and MD, a veteran chemical scientist, and his wife, Abaan, have planned a public trust to use sale proceeds for philanthropy and to promote industrial research. Here, Dr. Keki Gharda affords a profoundly personal glimpse into his life, times, mission and vision… in his own words.

I saw what attachment to money did…
I was born on September 25, 1929, of Kadmi Zoroastrian parents. My parents (father Hormusji Dinshawji Gharda and mother Ratanbai Gharda nee Madon) were both from Athornan families. I never became a navar, as I thought it a waste of important years of my life. I’m somewhat of an agnostic, but an honest man. Of course, one does not preclude the other!
My father was an MA in English – in fact, he was one of the early few to do their MA from the Bombay University back in 1901. My mother studied until the fourth standard. There was a prejudice in those days that menstruating girls had to be taken out of school. But she nursed a passion for learning and I found as a child that she was very well read. However, she was self-trained and the English classics were her favourites. Her father was a medical doctor and a very interesting man. He, too, was very well read and I remember borrowing books from him. He had a wonderful memory, even in his 90s. He would engage me in arguments over Shakespeare’s plays, which I borrowed from him to read. If you mentioned a quote, he knew the Act and Scene it was from! He was also a humanist and a philanthropist. Not only would he not charge poor patients, but he’d give them money to buy better food. As I grew up, this stayed at the back of my mind.
From my father’s side, my paternal grandfather was a practicing senior priest in one of the Atash Behrams – I cannot recall which one. We stayed in a joint family. Both my grandfathers lived long lives (paternal beyond 85 and maternal beyond 95) so I have longevity in my genes! My father was one of four sons and several daughters, and he never practised as a priest but as an interpreter at the Bombay High Court. I was barely five when my paternal grandpa died and our joint family broke up. Two of my uncles were a bit crooked and persuaded my grandfather to give them his property. This soured my father a great deal and he continued fretting about it. We had an acrimonious household and I felt this was a stupid way of living. I was a conventional religious person until that point. I still wear my ‘sudreh’ and ‘kusti’, even though I’m agnostic. I saw that despite being religious, my father was attached to money and made himself unnecessarily unhappy.
We lived in a rented place in Bandra on Hill Road, and I would tell him that it was alright as we were comfortable in most ways. I schooled at St. Stanislaus, where they did not teach any vernacular language so I have poor familiarity with Gujarati. I used to go to the Petit Library to borrow books, and my mother and I would read them. My mother often told me to study and not read so many books. I told her: I come first in class, I am doing my job; now you do yours and leave me alone! I was extraordinarily talented – there’s no point beating about the bush. I went to the Elphinstone College, which drew bright students from all over, but I did well there too. My mother had, by then, started telling me often: It’s your duty to make as much money as you can honestly throughout your life, but you should die poor. She told me her father did the same thing – giving away a lot in charity.
I had two sisters and was slightly pampered as the youngest male child. Besides, we Paris are conceited because our skin colour is a little light! However, my parents only admitted me to primary school – thereafter I made it on my own merit. By the age of 15 I was functioning as the head of our household. My elder sisters were quarrelsome and had their own mind. I used to control them because my father could not!
Gharda Chemicals was thrust on me…
I believe you are what you are because of your genes (85 percent) and the remaining is shaped by your environment, which also you cannot always choose. I think we’re creatures of chance floating around the cosmos and have no reason to be conceited. I am gifted with good brains and believe I have unusual talents to be used for the benefit of others. Most people search for happiness through the accumulation of material wealth. I also accumulate wealth – but for others. That gives me happiness and continues to motivate me. I’m a Parsi Zoroastrian, and in the Parsi culture there is a large emphasis on work ethic. That is why Parsis have been largely successful.
When I look back on how I started Gharda Chemicals, I must concede it was virtually thrust upon me. I had finished my PhD in the US with three scholarships from three leading chemical companies – incidentally I am now competing with them and making them uncomfortable! I did well, studying and later teaching (Chemical Engineering for a while at the University of Oklahoma). I came back to India after six years to see my parents and found that my father was hospitalised. During my visit, he died. My mother was left all alone, and she didn’t know much about money. She told me to stay back. I had a permanent job in the US and they said they could hold it for a year. I told them it was unlikely I would return. I worked as a Consultant for some time. I felt I was being underpaid. So I saved some money, and my sisters and mother all put together some and I started Gharda Chemicals with Rs. 2 lakh in 1964. We began operating in 1966. Gharda’s first product was a dye called German Blue. This used to be made by a big multinational and I started out copying them. But in two to three years I improved it and made it a superior product at a lower price. From the start of my career I was making multinationals ‘run’! My business was run on both idealism and pragmatism. My idealism was that if I could make something cheaper, it was wrong to sell it at a much higher price. My pragmatism was that this drove away competition!
When you start a business, for the first five years there is generally no profit and you don’t pay the staff any bonus. But we started doing so almost immediately and over the years have had very little labour problems. We’ve had one or two strikes and I’d tell the workers I don’t care for money, but you will lose your livelihood. They would come back to work, saying their wives sent them back!
We have grown with internal resources. We stared with Rs. 2 lakh and today have over Rs. 500 crore (capital plus reserves). And this is after paying all our taxed honestly. Our current valuation is between Rs. 1,000-1,200 crore. We sell our goods all over the world, with the exception of Japan. We started with just nine people. I used to work 16-hours-a-day, coming home after midnight. The neighbours asked my wife, Abaan, if I had a mistress. She would say yes – Chemical Technology! I remember telling my wife one day – I have two loves, my work and you; but work will always come first.
Today, we have 1800 people across four factories. Our factories are world-class and we have met all the ISO standards for chemical manufacture and continue to have a strong emphasis on R&D.

No pressure to live fancily…
My wife, Abaan is a graduate from St. Xavier’s College and she did her PhD from the University of Mumbai. We live a simple life, and since both of us are PhD’s I used to joke that she had the most educated driver and I had the most educated cook anybody could have! For years we kept no servants – a year ago we started employing a part-timer. Abaan still cooks. I used to wash my own clothes, not out of spirit of masochism but because I am not fortune’s hostage. My wife, I must say, has never asked me for anything – not even jewellery. We run the house on about Rs.10,000 per month, and we have never been under any pressure to live a fancy lifestyle. If she sometimes falls short of cash, she adds a little out of her own savings!
I am now in the process of creating the Abaan and Keki Gharda Foundation, on the lines of the Belinda and Bill Gates Foundation (with a contribution of Rs. 600-700 crore). The new Foundation will comprise: 1.The Gharda Foundation, which is a social work organisation running two small hospitals in Dombivili and Lote (on the Mumbai-Goa road); 2. A research foundation, which will undertake research (my passion) and also generate funds through research for the Foundation.
Over the years, we have instituted various welfare projects. We have a mobile clinic that goes into the villages near our factories to offer health care advice. We have mobile libraries attached to each factory and they go from village to village. We have two hospitals, which I mentioned earlier, run to high standards. We have also started an Engineering College in the Konkan region, near Chiplun, called the Gharda Institute of Technology (GIT), and it offers Chemical/Electrical/Mechanical Engineering and Computer Science. I have already spent Rs. 40 crore on it and will spend another 10. We have 60 students, all selected through the Common Entrance Test. If any Parsi students show an inclination for engineering and get through the Common Entrance Test, then I could help them with admissions through my management quota. But for me to reserve seats for Parsis may not be possible. Within the next five years I see the institute getting the top accreditations in the country. We are also exploring the option of students getting an MBA in the fifth year of their engineering degree, in association with the Wellingkar Institute.
As Parsis, we have a legacy of hard work and social service. There have been so many institutes built with Parsi money in our country. (In my case, Parsi money and parsimony could be an apt pun!). As Parsis we are barely 50,000 in India’s one billion population. Yet in all the professions, in whatever field, there is always at least one Parsi right at the top! In my own field, several accolades have come my way, but the one I cherish is the American Institute of Chemists Award – this is generally an award given to chemists (not chemical engineers) and three out of ten winners of this award go on to win the Nobel Prize. I was the first Asian to get it. Now, I am in the process of selling my company and focusing on my two passions: social work and research. I have some innovative ideas for research and, who knows, I may end up with the Nobel Prize!
This artilce appeared in Jame Jamshed, dated Sept 27, '09