Ex-pilot completes late wife’s book on Parsis

ST_20170420_XGRACE_3088420After the death of his wife Suna to illness in 2015, former pilot Rustom J. Kanga was determined to finish her final project – the book she had been writing since 2014 on the Parsi community in Singapore.

Her legacy – The Parsis Of Singapore: History, Culture, Cuisine – was launched yesterday at the Mica Building. About 300 people, including 80 Parsis, attended the event. The book is the first written on the social history of the local Parsi community, said the publisher, Epigram Books.

In his speech yesterday, Mr Kanga said: “Suna, this is your labour of love, and we are all proud and thankful of the voice you have given to the Parsis of Singapore.”

Mrs Kanga had been motivated to write the book as she had often been asked about Parsis in her 41 years here.

After her death, a friend recommended Ms Subina Aurora Khaneja, 54, a full-time writer and artist, to Mr Kanga to help finish it.

Mr Kanga and Ms Khaneja spent 10 to 12 hours a day poring over archives, sourcing for photographs and individually tasting more than 40 Parsi recipes.

Ms Khaneja, who is not Parsi and had not met Mrs Kanga, said it was “a very fulfilling journey”.

“I felt I got to know Suna through the people she met,” she said.

Ms Khaneja added facts on Parsi theatre and textiles to the book, as well as uncovered anecdotes of Parsis here.

The Parsis are descended from Persians who moved to India in the 8th century from present-day Iran after the Persian Sassanid Empire was conquered by Arab Muslims.

They had fled to maintain the freedom to practise their religion, Zoroastrianism, which is based on the teachings of the Persian prophet Zarathustra.

Settling along the coast of western India, the Parsis moved south to Surat and Mumbai to seek better fortunes. They became known as merchants and brokers in the 18th and 19th centuries.

Today, there are about 350 Parsis in Singapore. Some of them came forward eagerly to contribute – lending artefacts and clothes, as well as cooking dishes specially to be photographed for the book.

“We were very excited. I told her to just go for it,” said Mrs Roshan Mistri, 70. The retiree’s husband is a descendant of the philanthropist Navroji Mistri, after whom the Mistri Wing in the Singapore General Hospital is named.

“I feel that Suna’s soul and spirit is with us right now,” she said, her voice trailing off.

The book will be sold at $55.90 (before GST) starting tomorrow on Epigram Books’ online store and all major bookstores. Seven hundred copies have been printed.

Published on Straits Times