Parsis congregate where tryst with India began, discuss future

Kiran Makhija’s eyes light up as a group of youngsters approach her stall to inquire about a matrimonial website which offers dedicated service to the ever-shrinking Parsi community.

“We run this website (chaalokaajkariye.Com) as a community service because of the declining population of the Parsis,” said Makhija, a non-Parsi who runs the site which was founded by Cyrus Engineer, a New Delhi-based manufacturer of industrial boilers, in September 2011.

Unlike the other matrimonial sites which charge a hefty fee, this website offers its services for free.

Makhija has put up a stall at the first Iranshah Udvada Utsav (IUU), a three-day international congregation of Parsis at the coastal hamlet of Udvada in Valsad district of south Gujarat. It was at Sanjan, 30 km from here, that the Parsis, fleeing Muslim persecution in their homeland of Persia, first landed in the country in the early 8th century.

Zoroastrianism has a history of over 3,000 years, but today there are less than 70,000 Parsis in the world (majority of them in India) and the number is fast declining.

Udvada is home to Atash Behram, the oldest and still functioning Parsi fire temple or agiary in India, set up in 1742.

Not a single discussion at the three-day congregation which ended today was complete without reference to the dwindling numbers of the Parsis.

The event was attended by the Tata Group patriarch Ratan Tata, Poonawallas of Serum Institute which sponsored the entire event, Wadias of Bombay Dyeing and Godrejs, among others.

All the dignitaries, may it be the Union Finance Minister Arun Jaitley or Ratan Tata, referred to their depleting numbers. Some sessions were dedicated to call for action.

India, in its quest for faster economic growth, needs more Parsi businessmen, Jaitley said in his address.

“Damn the tiger and save the Parsi,” comedian-actor Boman Irani reportedly said at one of the sessions.
On a more serious note, Darius Khambatta, a former

advocate general of Maharashtra, stressed the need to be more inclusive. “The Zoroastrian fire temples should open their doors to children of Parsi mothers married to non-Parsis,” he was quoted as saying, adding that Zoroastrianism is a universal religion which supports acceptance.

Makhija says her website is only playing a catalyst in this effort. But to attract the younger generation might be a formidable task.

“We do not need such services. I enquired just as a formality. Our community is very open-minded and there is a lot of freedom,” said a 20-something girl from Mumbai, a lawyer by profession, declining to be named.

Her male companions, also of the same age, pulled her leg, saying the girl was answering the clarion call for Parsis to increase their numbers. But the girl shrugged off the banter. “We will take care of the problem,” she said.

Makhija’s website boasts of 114 success stories since 2011 and three “lost to the community” or the people who married non-Parsis even after registering on the website.

Data on how many of these couples gave birth to children is hard to come by. “Only two of the success stories have volunteered to share their wedding photographs,” Makhija said.

Being present at the IUU has been rewarding, she said. “A good number of people signed up and more have promised to do so,” she said, adding that many parents and grandparents made enquiries.

But she conceded that unlike other Indian communities, where the elders play important role in driving the youngsters towards matrimony, it is different with the Parsis.

The three-day international meet, a first of its kind, saw various activities meant to forge stronger ties within the community such as treasure hunts across the town, late evening cultural programmes, heritage walks, etc. Also on display was a fleet of vintage cars owned by Parsi collectors.

The community will be meeting in Australia’s Perth next year and the IUU will come back to Udvada the year after with Gujarat Finance Minister Saurabh Patel offering to facilitate the gathering in the town every alternate year.

Published on Business Standard