Remembering the Parsi community of Amritsar

The Parsi community, known for its entrepreneurial and philanthropic activities, has been a significant part of the history of Amritsar. The city, known for its open heart and the ability to seamlessly merge different cultures together, has its own special connection with the Parsi community.

One of India’s most famous sons, Field Marshal Sam Hormusji Framji Jamshedji Manekshaw, was born in Amritsar. Popularly known as Sam Bahadur (Sam, the brave), he was the first Indian Army officer to be promoted to the rank of Field Marshal.

Another famous Parsi from the city is fondly remembered as the Grand Old Lady of Amritsar. Tehmi Bhandari, a woman who was much ahead of her times, opened the doors to luxuriously hospitality and global flavours with the famous Bhandari guesthouse. So, as the Parsi community celebrates its new year, city, too, fondly remembers its lost legacy.

“The Parsi community had a significant presence in Amritsar till early 80s. They had established business here and were quite active part of the city’s cultural and social map. Tehmi Bhandari’s father had ice factories and her family was close to Sam Manekshaw’s and my late father,” shared Ashok Sethi, a former media professional and a businessman. He remembers how Tehmi was the first woman in the city to set up her own business. “She is probably someone, who was one of the pioneers of the hospitality sector in Amritsar. She became the first woman in these parts to run a business when she converted her palatial home into a guesthouse, which became the favorite stay option for foreign visitors in those times.”

In the early eighties, the onset of terrorism hit the community bad. “Most of the Parsi families gradually moved away from the city, settling in Delhi and Mumbai,” said Sethi. Tehmi was the last of Parsi community to remain in Amritsar. With her demise, her family too moved away.

Dr Pusphinder Singh, a historian, said Tehmi and Manekshaw were the last link of the city with the Parsi community. “The Parsis had brought a lot of cultural influences with them, despite being a very exclusive community. The younger Parsi generation either lost their status in the community by marrying outside their community or by migrating to other countries.”

Reminiscing about the Parsi palate
As the Parsi New Year begins, Hyatt Regency is paying homage to the Parsi community’s legacy in the city by hosting a food festival dedicated to them.
“With Amritsar having a deep connect with the Parsi community and the Parsi food being very rich in texture, much like Amritsari food, it made perfect sense to host a Parsi food festival for our patrons. The Parsi New Year gave us the perfect platform to do so. Parsi delicacies like Dhansak, Patrani Machhi and Salli Jardaloo are some of the dishes that were a part of city’s food legacy,” shared Shiiv Parvesh, head chef of Hyatt Regency, Amritsar.

Published on The Tribune