SHERNAAZ ENGINEER's blog on the Parsi community

Saturday, October 31, 2015

The Iconic Parsi

October 29 was ‘Cyrus the Great Day’ – a day some people celebrate as the anniversary of the entrance of Cyrus into Babylon.
It is said that Cyrus the Great’s empire extended over almost 30 nations and was marked with exemplary governance and religious tolerance. Cyrus liberated the Jews and they, in turn, bestowed upon him the titled of ‘Anointed of the Lord’.
Cyrus was a man of great vision, compassion, courage and is best remembered for giving the world its first ever Charter of Human Rights – also known as the Cyrus Cylinder.
At a time when barbarism, violence and slavery were in vogue, he gave people the freedom to flourish without fear. Tolerance, equality and magnanimity – concepts unheard of in those days, were put into practice by Cyrus the Great, paving the way for what we call good governance today.
To think that we proudly count him as one of our ancestors – but just who in the community is upholding his illustrious legacy today!
On November 5 is the death centenary of Sir Pherozeshah Mehta, yet another iconic Parsi. His statue stands tall and proud outside the beautiful BMC building, opposite Victoria Terminus.
His long tenure of 46 years in the BMC, being Mayor (then called President) four times, and also being appointed Vice Chancellor of the Bombay University, are but a few of the many highlights of his life in public service. And what a life it was!
That finally brings to mind yet another iconic Paris who was in Mumbai last week: Zubin Mehta. His humility, warmth and devotion to his craft have won him many accolades all over the globe. Yet he remains a genial and gregarious Parsi to the core, settling down to hearty lagan-nu-bhonu with his team at the Colaba Agiary every time he performs in Mumbai!
He wears his talent and fame lightly, but continues to take his work very seriously.
What is it that makes us a community capable of producing such icons – although fewer and further between these days – and yet, paradoxically, we see so many young Parsis wasting away?
Have we become too comfortable for our own good? Do we believe that the dogged pursuit of excellence is no longer worthy? Have we started fancying ourselves to the point where arrogance has gotten the better of us?
Before we dive into our Sunday dhansak and doze off, perhaps we need to introspect and see if we can steer our course back on track.
We don’t lack role models – Cyrus the Great, Sir Pherozeshah Mehta and Zubin Mehta are but three names on a long list of illustrious icons bestowed upon our small tribe. But if we don’t generate new names, we’ll be doomed to mediocrity. Then the legacy of Cyrus the Great and scores of other iconic Parsis will be forever lost.

This column appeared in Jam-e-Jamshed dated Nov 1. 2015

Getting inspiration on board

The good thing about having a democratically conducted election for the Bombay Parsi Punchayet (BPP) is that it gives a wide variety of candidates the opportunity to contest.
While this might bring on some sniggers at the sheer audacity of relatively unknown persons in trying to push themselves into the fray, it is heartening to see that so many people, both humble and high-flying, have a shared mission of doing something for the community.
If any real progress is to be made in the coming seven years, our leadership will have to learn to be inclusive instead of being exclusive.
While several candidates may not have been successful at the polls, they still had noteworthy ideas that could be incorporated into the mission statement for the new term that has just commenced.
Elsewhere in this edition of the Jam-e-Jamshed, corporate honcho Jamshed S. Daboo has given a blueprint, detailing how the new BPP board can execute an actionable agenda for the community.
We are all looking forward to positive change at many levels and one of the ways of achieving this could be by integrating the best ideas from the manifestos that various candidates put out in pubic domain.
Some of these candidates could be co-opted on to committees to contribute by extending their ideas further.
For instance, a couple of candidates with impressive corporate backgrounds spoke of management systems that could be instituted in the areas of housing allotment and awarding contracts, so as to ensure good governance.
Another candidate spoke of a Code of Conduct, a Code of Ethics for trustees and the importance of a Declaration of Conflict of Interest, whereby sitting trustees do not get into business deals with the trust or take any benefit from the BPP, in any manner whatsoever, at a personal or professional level.
Yet another candidate spoke passionately of compassion and the need to speedily redress the grievances of the downtrodden, a priority that seems to have been pushed on the BPP’s backburner because of in-fighting.
Reducing the trustees’ term to five years was another worthy proposal, which should be acted upon.
Yet another candidate spoke of encouraging research in our religious scriptures and recommencing religious lectures by scholars of repute to restore pride in our roots.
Care for senior citizens was spoken of by a few contenders. This is an area of grave concern given our large ageing population. In fact, this election was once again driven by senior citzens, with one estimate saying barely 10 percent of the votes were polled by the youth. It brings home the need for the BPP to address the elderly demographic segment with the seriousness it deserves.
Solar power generation, water harvesting and garbage recycling to make our vast Baugs and Colonies ecologically complaint was one particular candidate’s mission – and it makes sense.
Entrepreneurship and educational opportunities for the youth was another point elaborated upon, which can certainly give our youngsters the fillip they need.
Doongerwadi and Dokhmenashini were also right up there as concerns for some candidates, with unequivocal commitments to preserve their sanctity and efficacy.
While many of these ideas might be part of the newly elected trustees’ agendas, it would not hurt to incorporate several other sound suggestions that germinated during election season.
While it was not possible for all 23 candidates to come onto the BPP board, their ideas could certainly be brought on board for the betterment of the community.

·         This column appeared in Jam-e-Jamshed (October 25, 2015) 

Don’t Shoot The Messenger

Today’s issue carries the advertisements of 22 out of the 23 candidates contesting for Trusteeship of the BPP.
While this is undoubtedly a humbling indication of the high esteem the Jam-e-Jamshed is held in, with its fair and balanced stance and unmatched reach across India and abroad, it also puts tremendous strain on our staff and infrastructure as we endevour to give each candidate our best.
Alas, there’s no pleasing everybody!
Although it is a wonderful opportunity for our readers to find, within the spiffy folds of one single newspaper, all but one of the candidates addressing a range of issues candidly, it does mean that some of our regular features have been deferred until after the elections.
It is only fitting that right now the candidates are given preference. After all, it’s not every day that we have an election. Did you say, thank God!
Our policy has been fair and square – no favours have been done to anyone. No agenda in the guise of interviews, profiles, views of eminent Parsis propagating certain select candidates, slanted articles or motivated editorials have been sneaked in. All advertisements have been clearly marked as such.

It ought to be obvious that Jame does not endorse the views of any of its advertisers and leaves it to the good judgement readers to make up their own minds. Not all the messages carried herein may necessarily be music to everybody’s ears. In that case ignore the message, but don’t shoot the messenger!

Vote With Care

Campaigning for the BPP elections is aggressively under way and by all accounts attendance is thin and lackluster at various candidates’ meetings.
Contrast this to the days (many would wistfully call them the good old days!) when food packets were dished out and upwards of 500 Parsis would enthusiastically attend.
Fuelled by the prospect of delectable bhonu at the end of it all, attendees would ask probing questions and put the candidates on the mat – getting fiery exchanges underway.
Contrast this with the current cooling off amongst the electorate. Perhaps, it’s the no-food policy or maybe it’s because the community is disenchanted with Parsi politics, but generally around 50-80 people turn up for elections meetings and few hard-hitting questions get asked.
It seems most Parsis are content to let contentious issues slide by, without putting prospective Trustees through the diligent scrutiny that is required before handing the BPP over to them.
Several worthy candidates are at a disadvantage because they don’t have the assertive PR skills some candidates have at their command and, thus, cannot drum up enough shoo-sha in their favour.
It’s crucial that the electorate makes an informed and careful choice. Many candidates are not revealing their full agenda and not enough attention is being paid to their track record and hidden intentions.
Voters are being fooled, in some instances, into believing glib projections of candidates, which are far removed from reality.
The onus lies with each one to attend election meetings and objectively assess candidates by asking relevant questions. Only if fully satisfied, should voters give their stamp of approval to a candidate.
We must mention here the thoughtful online advertising campaign (see it on the ‘Jam-e-Jamshed’ Facebook Page) that Sam Balsara has created for ‘Parsis For Harmony’ --  a small Think Tank of well intentioned community members.
The series of advertisements offers an important checklist to follow while voting:
1.      Is the integrity of the candidate absolutely impeccable?
2.      Is the competence and track record of the candidate outstanding?
3.      Will the candidate selflessly devote more than adequate time?
4.      Will the Trustees of the Punchayet work together like a well-oiled machine?
Ask these questions and then, only then, vote with care.

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.