Rayomand Coins

A solitary Navroz

Our first concern on learning of the spread of the coronavirus in China was for the Zoroastrians in Hong Kong. They had been through months of pro-democracy protests and before they could catch their breaths COVID-19 was upon the city. But we found the virus story had far greater worldwide implications for the Zoroastrian community. As we inquired from our sources we found that Iran, one of the worst hit countries, reported around four to five Zoroastrian fatalities amid 40 cases of community members being infected with the bug. Elsewhere, mercifully, no cases were reported but Navroz functions appeared to be cancelled in nearly all locations.


In Hong Kong, just off mainland China, we were relieved to know the Zoroastrians were physically well (see "Healthy in Hong Kong," pg 18). But the virus was taking a psychological toll. The elderly who looked forward to the community gatherings at the Zoroastrian Building as an opportunity to leave their homes and to fraternize were denied their outing. The president of the Zoroastrian Trust Funds of Hongkong, Canton and Macao Neville Shroff wrote to all members, "the Navroz dinner has been postponed until further notice; the Navroz jashan will be held at 10:30 a.m."

From Iran, Mobed Mehraban Firouzgary informed Parsiana, "To the best of my knowledge we’ve lost three over 50 (years of age) behdin ladies, including a very devoted nurse. As for precautions, Zarathushti anjumans all over Iran declared closure of all community centers including group prayer services and places till mid-April. Dead bodies are buried without a crowd and uthamnu prayers soon after. All the rest are at home."

Fariborz Rahnamoon wrote that "in Yazd we have around 50 Zarathushtis in hospital. Pray for them." He further stated that "in ancient times we had the Noshveh ceremony to fight such viruses" which required travelers to be quarantined for nine nights. They kept themselves mentally occupied; they recited Avesta prayers." The Federation of Zoroastrian Associations of North America president Homi Gandhi noted information from Iran "is incomplete because there is no collective data for Zoroastrians from all over the country." He reported "four deaths in Yazd (three men and one woman) and one in Tehran; eight are in the intensive care unit in Yazd and 11 are in the infectious ward in Yazd." He stated that the Yazd councilor Sepanta Niknam has requested drugs, laboratory kits, ventilator and protective masks.

In London, the Navroz "dinner is cancelled but the Zoroastrian Centre will be open for worship and jashan," stated Malcolm Deboo, president of the Zoroastrian Trust Funds of Europe. The Navroz children’s party and senior citizens’ party were also cancelled.

From Karachi, the chairman of the Karachi Parsi Anjuman Trust Fund, Byram Avari wrote that the Navroz eve dinner was to be held at his Beach Luxury Hotel. However, "presently all Sind Punjab functions, meetings and weddings are banned."

Firoz Pestonji reported that the Business Association of Western Australian Zoroastrians may cancel their Navroz dinner at a restaurant. The Zoroastrian Association of Western Australia has called off the celebrations. From Sydney, Farida Irani stated they have "cancelled" the dinner "because of the restrictions...we have to be cautious as we have a big senior group." The Zoroastrian Association of New Zealand president Tehmus Mistry mentioned that their morning jashan and dinner stand cancelled.

In India, for the first time in the history of the Mancherji Joshi Parsi Colony the mega Jamshedi Navroz dinner on the Dadar Parsee Gymkhana grounds scheduled for March 21 was cancelled. This was the 40th year of the gathering. The cancellation follows the spread of the virus as well as "directives received from the government of India" dissuading public gatherings to prevent the spread of the bug.

The Cusrow Baug United Sports and Welfare League has cancelled their Navroz "You and Me in CB:2." While empathizing with those "who were looking forward towards a fun evening" as well as those who "tirelessly practiced their talent," the League believes "safeguarding the interests of the residents came first."

The Delhi Parsi Anjuman will only hold "a morning jashan followed possibly by snacks," noted president Ava Khullar.

The Zoroastrian Club in Secunderabad "will be completely closed with immediate effect till March 21." The Navroz evening "stands cancelled," according to Hyderabad Secunderabad anjuman trustee Jehangir Bisney’s WhatsApp posts. The Calcutta Parsee Club Navroz function "stands postponed till further notice."

Asha Vahishta The Zoroastrian Centre in Poona stated they will not be holding their Navroz gathering "as an act of abundant caution...as suggested by the collector and Poona district administration." Likewise, The Zoroastrian Youth Association in Poona has "postponed the Navroz program."

Even the Meher Baba center in Bombay has cancelled "Sunday satsangs where we expect large crowds...the Centre will however continue to remain open every day as usual." The National Centre for the Performing Arts has cancelled all shows and is refunding the ticket amount. Yazdi Karanjia of Surat mentioned that the awards ceremony in Delhi to confer the Padma Shri honor has been postponed.

The cancellation has earned varied response: In California the Traditional Mazdayasni Zoroastrian Anjuman "has decided to cancel the Navroz function scheduled for the 14...due to the World Health Organisation declaring the coronavirus a global pandemic," wrote Vira Suntoke in an email dated March 11. This drew an angry outburst the same day from a Hoshang who castigated this "ridiculous and anti Zarathosti action...As per our religion it is certainly not beneficial...to cancel the jashan because of C-virus that exist(s) in some other city or country." The virus "should not shake our beliefs in prayers and ceremonies." He recommended instead the jashan be held but the dinner be cancelled.

Bombay Parsi Punchayet trustee Noshir Dadrawala commented on WhatsApp that he personally felt "a community gathering at... a Parsi colony" to perform a jashan invoking blessings and "a community meal is not a threat...Let not paranoia and panic ruin your Navroz festivities."

Drawing the line between precaution and panic, and faith and fear is not always easy. The elderly, infirm and financially strained are more prone to succumb to the coronavirus than the young, the fit and the affluent.

Parsis largely followed the guidelines laid down by reputed agencies. The community in India is privileged to have access to toilets, and water and soap to wash their hands regularly, something denied to so many of our fellow country people. Our sanitary surroundings are more hygienic than most. But old age and loneliness cut across all income levels. The virus is not only taking a toll on health and mortailiy but also the quality of life.


Villoo Poonawalla