Singapore celebrates contributions of Parsis

The spirit of entrepreneurship, philanthropy and cultural contributions of the Parsis in the early days of Singapore has been celebrated with the launch of a book on the community that moved from Persia to India and then to Southeast Asia in 1800s.

“The Parsis of Singapore: History, Culture, Cuisine” tells the story of a small but influential community with a big heart.

The book, one of a series being done on minority communities’ role in Singapore, was launched by Minister for Culture, Community and Youth, Grace Fu, last night.

The Parsis arrived on Singapore and Sumatra (Indonesia) shores in the early 1800s.

They set up businesses such as aerated water and ice- factories in early 1900s in Singapore and had spice plantations in Bencoolen in Sumatra, said Rustom J Kanga, a retired pilot who had flown planes for Indian Airlines, Air India and Singapore Airlines.

The Parsi philanthropists, included Navroji R Mistri, who made his fortune by selling soda water in Singapore and was known as the “godfather of the poor” for having, among other charity contributions, paid SGD 1 million for building a Children Wing in the Singapore General Hospital in 1953.

The book also celebrated the work of journalist-author Suna Kanga, wife of Rustam, and a former associate editor of Mumbai’s Onlooker.

She started writing the book in 2014 but passed away in 2015, leaving it half completed.

The 265-page book, under a grant from Singapore’s National Heritage Board, was then on completed by writer Subina Aurora Khaneja. The book was presented to the 350- strong Parsi community in Singapore.

Among Parsi’s cultural contribution is Wayang, a stage performance popular in part of the region, said Khaneja.

The Parsi community is dwindling, estimated to be over 100,000 in the world, with about 50,000-60,000 in India, Kanga estimated.

Published on Business Standard