Portraits, Dreams And Quirks Of Nine Young Parsis In Mumbai

There’s nothing quite like observing a creature in its natural habitat. Fortunately for us, India is one of the few places a particularly rare specimen are still fairly common. So, for the avid naturalist, here are a few tips for spotting and luring in that ever so endangered species–the Parsi.

They are most active around dusk when the remains of their dhansak lunch has finally been digested. Leaving their siestas behind needs just the right amount of coaxing so you should have plenty of chai and batasas ready to soothe them. Be warned that even this offering may not stem the flow of grumbling, but don’t be alarmed for a Parsi that is truly bemoaning the state of the world is asleep, ill or eating. As the sun sinks below the horizon, you’d do well to have a bottle of whisky on hand though the sanctity of this ritual may vary drastically depending on which type of Parsi you’ve lured into your midst. Still, even if you scare your Parsi away, a simple call might help you find them. Clear your throat and cry as loud as you can  ‘Jamvo Chalo Ji!’ This could, however, cause a stampede as every Parsi in the vicinity may descend upon you expecting to be fed so only use it in the most dire circumstances. Of course, you could skip all the effort, plant yourself in a place that serves good food and better booze and just wait for them to come to you. They are an overwhelmingly friendly and fun-loving bunch so approach at will, though there’s one trigger you’re better off knowing if you want to stay unharmed–don’t insult the Queen.

It’s easy to poke fun at a minority community that’s most lovable for their ability to laugh at themselves. While the rest of the world is busy getting offended, Parsis have always been ready with a creative quip at hand, ready to move on to the bigger and better laugh. It’s perhaps this light-hearted, yet straightforward spirit that’s led them to have such a big impact on our country, despite their dwindling numbers. Although their population currently stands at 69,000, which is a mere 0.006 per cent of the country’s total population, their legacy speaks volumes. From industry to the arts and philanthropy to economics, the legacy of the Parsis may very well outlive the community at this rate but there’s no denying that the community is facing what seems to be an unstoppable decline.

There are many reasons behind the dropping numbers. Parsis, unlike other communities, don’t put such a great emphasis on marriage. Many Parsis remain bachelors and spinsters till they die. If they do marry, a lot of them decide to marry late—in their 30s and even 40s, when conceiving children becomes difficult. Additionally, their duality is well known. Outwardly, they are incredibly westernised and modern. Internally, they wrestle with many demons, the most vicious of which is a mania for blood purity—inter-caste marriages are heavily frowned upon. Moreover, it lays bare the community’s skewed gender rules, as a woman who marries outside is no longer considered a Parsi, and neither are her children. The same does not apply if the man is Parsi—his kids may still be initiated into the Zoroastrian faith.

Through agencies such as Jiyo Parsi, which is a government run scheme to promote the community, people are being made aware that without some help this eccentric race may be facing extinction. If that does come to pass it would be a sad day for India, not merely because of their contributions to the economy, but because their crazy ways and delicious food have become so ingrained in the country’s identity. Hopefully the future will see growth in the Parsi community because we aren’t ready to say goodbye to their big laughs, their big bellies and their even bigger hearts.

For those of you not lucky to have a Parsi in your life we volunteer 9 of our own on the celebratory occasion of Parsi New Year so you can learn a bit more about this elusive community. We also assure you that this is not an attempt to cement stereotypes but a shout out to all the dikris and dikras who are carrying on living their lives, carrying the legacy of their community forward by doing what they do, the very best that they can. And they’re doing it with a sense of humour.  

I. Amyra Dastur | 23 | Actress

“I hope that I’m constantly busy with work as I am now at this point in my life. I love my job and all the adventures it entails and I just hope I get to travel more and shoot all over the world,” shares 23-year-old Amyra Dastur, looking forward to the future. An actress by profession, it’s her ‘madness,’ as she says, that’s perhaps the most Parsi thing about her. “I’m spontaneous and carefree, which most people mistake as crazy and when they start calling me mad I just say that I’m Parsi, and that I can’t help it!” she laughs.

Like most of us, Parsi or not, Dhansak would be Amyra’s Parsi comfort food, but she specifies that only the one her domestic help Mary makes, does the trick. “Everything about it makes me drool.”


“We’re absolutely mad! But I’ll tell you a secret, all the best people are.”

“If I were the last Parsi on Earth I’d make sure that all the Parsi properties in the world were given to me, and then I’d actually open it to the public. People have always asked me what our Agyaries look like and I would love for them to see our culture first-hand,” says Amyra adding that considering the small number of Parsi’s left in the world, “honestly, that’s quite likely to happen!” She wants to help increase the population rather than decrease it. “I would like them to stop frowning or looking down upon inter-caste marriages and to even allow other individuals from different religions to be able to convert to Zoroastrianism.”

Traditional members of the community are mired in a way of thinking that only causes problems. Despite having an old, rich cultural heritage and practices, the Tower of Silence is one thing that she doesn’t agree with. “Man, vultures eating my corpse just doesn’t sound too appealing to me,” she admits. Still, people have some set ideas about being Parsi that need be corrected.

On a Parsi stereotype that needs to be corrected:  “That all Parsis know other Parsis. Every time I meet someone and they realise that I’m a Parsi, they name some of their other Parsi friends and ask me if I know them! It’s so damn annoying. We do NOT always know other Parsis!”


II. Jehangir Dastur | 22 | Chef

At 22, Jehangir doesn’t skimp when it comes to dreaming. In five years he hopes to see himself heading a professional kitchen or better yet, owning one of his own,  although he is sure that his personal life won’t be evolving any time soon, don’t worry Jangu-bhoy, ghanoo time che. For him, being a Parsi comes down to the simple core belief ‘Humata Hukta Hvrashta’ or ‘Good words, good thoughts, good deeds’. But if you had to do a good deed for Jehangir the best move would be to bring him a big ol’ plate of chicken farcha – basically the Parsi answer to fried chicken – all the crunch and double the spice.








“Being Parsi means Good Words, Good Thoughts and Good Deeds”

Like any true Parsi he can break out an ‘Arrey Baap Re’ at the drop of a hat, but his one suspiciously un-bawa trait is his disdain for dhansak (watch your back Jehangir, you made some enemies today). He does however share the community’s famed fascination for cars. Parsis have long been known for their obsession with extensive and sometimes ancient car collections, and Jehangir is no exception. When asked what he would do if he were the last Parsi in the world, “I would go and find the best cars in the city and joyride to my heart’s content” is his unhesitant response.

A flaw he wishes the Parsi community would rectify: ”I do pray that certain old habits change among the community. In our community, if a Parsi woman marries outside the community, her children will not even be given the option of being parsi. I do not agree with this mindset and in my opinion, it is one of the main reasons for our falling numbers.”

III. Keki Modi | 30 | Operations and Brand Management – Ferrari India

Keki refuses to overthink his life, he prefers to live in the moment rather than micro-managing the future. As of now, he plans to watch the MotoGP Live in October but still hasn’t figured out what he’s having for dinner tonight. If there was one trait he would attribute to his heritage it would be his dependability and his rigorous, if somewhat intense, attention to detail.


“I honestly don’t live my life knowing what I’ll be doing 5 years from today. I’m not your stereotypical Parsi bawaji.”

To him being Parsi means never tiring of Sunday dhansak, being true to yourself and always minding the word of apri Rani on her throne in England. Although he doesn’t speak fluent Gujarati, aside from a wide range of profanities (which is really all you need), he does share the egg legacy, or should we say eggacy, that has been passed down through generations. His go-to comfort food is papeta per eedu which, as the name suggests, is a dish of potatoes topped off with the omnipresent egg.

Unsurprisingly he also shares a deep love of cars, and if he found himself the last Parsi standing he would strive to collect all the bawa-owned bikes and cars he could find as he knows their innate OCD and love of hoarding will ensure all their vehicles will be left behind in pristine condition.

He prefers not to involve himself in community politics but hopes that the outlook on religion will broaden in the future and perhaps arrest the decline in numbers. One thing that does get his goat however is the medical community and their bizarre standard, as he so succinctly puts it “Not being able to donate organs! What is up with that?!”

On what he’d do if he were the last Parsi left on Earth: ”Find anyone who can cook my favourite Parsi dishes. Get my hands on as many Parsi owned cars and bikes as I can.”





Read more on Homegrown