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Parsi White-Collars Chip In With Blue-Collar Work

3Agiaries have to turn to non-Parsis for handyman jobs, after which the priests put in motion an elaborate ‘cleansing’ ritual; few Parsi youth volunteer for such jobs.

Early this month, two consecrated fires at Grant Road’s Mahella Patel Agiary had to be shifted from one room to another to give access to a group of non-Parsi workers to carry out painting and repair work. Bypassing the ‘Parsis only’ rule, the head priest of the 92-year-old fire temple had no choice but to allow the workers in the sanctum sanctorum.

“Where will I find Parsis to carry out repair work and painting? It is next to impossible,” said head priest Rusi Katrak, who gave out the contract to a well-known firm that sent its skilled workers to do the job.

The Parsi community is reeling under a severe shortage of people skilled in handyman jobs leaving religious heads no choice but to outsource it to non-Parsis. “After the work, we carry out elaborate rituals that go on for three hours to cleanse the place of worship,” explained Katrak, who has already carried out the cleansing ceremonies twice: first, when one of the fires was shifted from one room to another and then, before shifting the fires to the repaired room. A third ritual will be carried out when the fire is placed back in the original sanctum.

Katrak said the customs date back to more than 1400 years when Parsis arrived at the shore of Sanjan in Gujarat. “Among the many promises they made to the king, one was that the community will not indulge in conversions. We therefore don’t allow religion to be exposed to other and thus dilute it in any way,” he said.

According to Viraf Kapadia, trustee of the 290-year-old Bhikha Behram Well, located at the corner of Cross Maidan in Churchgate, it becomes tedious to carry our ceremonies every time a non-Parsi enters for work. “But there is not much we can do. Our community members have been well-educated and well-placed and thus not many are in such low-rung jobs. It is definitely a matter of pride but when it comes to keeping up with the religious customs, we are now finding difficulties,” said Kapadia.

Community volunteers offer hope…

A group of working professionals from the community does volunteer to double up as handyman but there is still a shortfall. “We do whatever we can manage. For example, extensive cleaning, plastering, painting and other basic repair work,” said 58-year-old naval architect Nozer Sutaria, who has been volunteering since the past 15 years at several fire temples across the state. Most of Sutaria’s assignments have been at the Atash Bahram or the highest grade fire temples that are in Mumbai, Navsari, Udvada and Surat.

According to Sutaria, the 20-odd volunteers are all in their 50s. “We hope that young people come forward for volunteering but there is not much response,” he said.

Besides fire temples, volunteers are also needed for cleaning the dahkmas or the towers in Doongerwadi where the dead are laid to rest. “The youngsters shy away from doing these jobs. But we hope that they realise how important it is for the community to keep its religious sanctity,” said 69-year-old retired engineer Cyrus Siganporia who was also part of the volunteers team that installed solar panels in Doongerwadi some time ago. Siganporia has been a volunteer since 1990.

Another volunteer, Hoshi Tampal, 57, who works as an engineer in a catering company, said that doing this work gives him immense relief. “We keep talking about charity and doing good. This was my best option,” said Tampal who has been volunteering since past 20 years.

Published on MumbaiMirror

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