Farrukh Dhondy | Parsis are now an endangered lot; let’s look for ways to stop extinction

“In our alley black dogs were named ‘Moti’

Which means ‘pearl’ and is an ironic way,

Just as on seeing unzipped flies we say

“So, what’s with your air-conditioned dhoti?”

“And of course white stray dogs were called ‘Kaloo’

The dogs answered to these names as the joke

Eluded them. My neighbour would invoke

Kipling, calling his cocks ‘Ka’ and ‘Bhaloo’!

And thus, we use these pet names for our mirth.

God did the same when he created earth.”

From Yardon Ki Yaadein, by Bachchoo

Forgive me, gentle readers, for this naive attempt to address a vital question affecting our dwindling Parsi populace in an open letter to the Bombay Parsi Panchayat (BPP) -- though of course it should be renamed the MumbaiPP (MPP) -- (as should Bollywood, which should now be Mollywood? … Get on with it! --Ed)

Dear MPP Trustees:

I believe you are about to launch an appeal in India’s Supreme Court asking it to overturn a judgment of the Bombay high court, which overturned your ban on two Parsi priests from attending or entering the Parsi “Towers of Silence” and the Zoroastrian fire temples, which you claim you “own”. Their transgression in your judgment: They prayed for the dead who were cremated; performed Navjote ceremonies -- initiation into the Zoroastrian faith – of the children of Parsi mothers and non-Parsi fathers and performed Zoroastrian rituals for a Parsi marrying a non-Parsi.

The case to lift this ban was brought and won by caring members of the Parsi community imposed by your trustees on “dasturs” Framroze Mirza and Khushroo Madon in June 2006.

The Bombay high court righteously ruled that you couldn’t arrogate powers to yourselves assuming the custodianship of the Zoroastrian religion. “Religion and faith reside in the hearts of the multitude for whom devotion to the faith is a matter of conscience,” is what the court said.

True enough.

So, let’s get some theology and history to prove it. I would first of all advise you to visit a site in Iran called “Naqsh-e Rustam”. You will find there tombs of the Hakamanyush (“Achaemenid” in the Anglicised version) emperors Darius and Xerxes who proclaimed themselves the first Royal Zoroastrians. You will also find friezes of the subsequent imperial dynasty of the Sassanian Zoroastrians.

These kings are in buried tombs!! Only the poor Zoroastrians, not owning or affording land, subjected their dead to be eaten by vultures -- the sky burial that you espouse. So “yes” to tombs, and therefore to other forms of disposal of the Zoroastrian dead -- sky burial is NOT a tenet of the religion.

And then this idea that we Parsis are a race and not the followers of a religion.

Peculiar! Because in your bigoted mind it has taken the form of prosecuting or banning Parsi priests who have initiated into Zoroastrianism, through Navjote ceremonies, the children of Parsi women and non-Parsi men.

While I completely understand that when Zoroastrians fled Iran after the Arab-Muslim invasion and came as refugees to India, there was a self-imposed injunction to preserve the community -- presumably to perpetrate the religion and protect it from mergers, dissipation and disappearance. Fair enough.

But what this preservative policy resulted in was a sort of racism and most devastatingly a rapid, now exponential, decrease in the numbers of “pure Parsis”, and therefore of the followers of the Zoroastrian faith.

It ought to be obvious that there were no Zoroastrians before Zoroaster preached his monotheistic doctrine. So, the first Zoroastrians were “converts”?

And so were the populations of Iran and later Assyria, Azerbaijan, etc, who were converted through consent during, and by virtue of, the conquests of the Zoroastrian emperors. Conversion, conversion, conversion.

So why not now?

You MPP trustees must realise that the number of Zoroastrians is in severe decline because of this traditional insistence that Parsis are a race and not a religion. As the Bombay high court has ruled, a religion doesn’t have policemen -- it’s a matter of an individual’s faith. Of course, any individual on earth, of whatever race and ancestry, can believe in the Zoroastrian tenets of “humata-hukta-huvereshta”, and even learn some Zoroastrian prayers. You will, on the present evidence, not consider them Zoroastrians, far less admit them to the “Parsi community”.

My suggestion, if you insist on racial purity being a criterion for membership of the faith, is that you switch from persecuting Parsi priests to form a militant strategy to reconvert the population of Iran from Islam to Zoroastrianism.

There you’ll have it: millions of racially pure Zoroastrians if you succeed.

The very modest alternative to combat the “endangered species” decline in numbers is first, to recognise the children of Parsi mothers, regardless of the religion or ethnicity of the fathers, as Parsis.

The more drastic solution is, as I’ve argued in this very column before, to sell the real estate on which the Towers of Silence stand in Mumbai and use the crores thus raised to recruit “baby mothers” from anywhere in the world and furnish them with flats, a car and an income to interact with Parsi fathers of their choice and make a baby every two years. Sorted!

And please ban Nietzsche’s THUS SPAKE ZARATHUSTRA from our libraries and temples. It is not an exposition of the prophet’s doctrine but the atheist existentialist Nietzsche’s use of the persona of the inventor of God to retract and denounce his existence….

Your humble savant,

Farrukh Dhondy

( Source : Deccan Chronicle )
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