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We are changing

There was no queen to grace the sweltering month of May this year. The traditional May Queen Ball hosted every year at Rustom Baug did not take place. When Parsiana inquired with current and past organizers of the annual event that has continued for around 60 years, with some breaks in between, we were informed the response was lacking. "It’s difficult to get participants,” explained Xerxes Dastur, president of the Sir Ness Wadia Memorial Pavilion that organizes the function. "We barely got enough participants last year to have a good competition.” 
Presumably there are not enough nubile, young, Parsi lasses who aspire to strut their curvaceous figures on the ramp and match their wits with the interlocutor. Or was it, as one past organizer alleged, that "the effort was lacking?” Perhaps the "Me too” movement may have made women reassess their priorities. The allure of flaunting their physical attributes and mental acumen at a May Queen Ball may have appeared anachronistic.
Even the Zoroastrian Youth for the Next Generation (ZYNG) girlie calendars displaying photographs of provocative, youthful, Parsi women ceased publication a number of years ago. Were young Parsi women no longer eager to reveal their curves, or was the concept of scantily clad young women considered sexist? Or did the office bearers aspire to shed their playboy image and assume a more weighty avatar? 
While beauty pageants may have lost their allure, the Zoroastrian Premier League (ZPL) football competition this year witnessed spirited participation. Spectators of all ages thronged the venues to cheer their teams. The ZPL sent a write-up on the event to Parsiana and when we sought clarifications from the youthful organizers, their replies were candid. Of course, the ZPL primarily involves male players although the organizers, team owners and managers may include females. Attempts made over the years to form women’s teams drew a blank (see "The studs and stars,” pg 28).  The number of female footballers was insufficient for the requisite number of teams.
Perhaps the community’s general bias against and subjugation of women has dampened the females’ enthusiasm [In H. D. Darukhanawala’s 488-page book, Parsis and Sports published in 1935, around 125 pages comprise advertisements and write-ups, 340 feature men and 22 women (around 6.5%). These include women who are officials in sports related bodies and one lady who drowned while swimming at Juhu beach!]. But despite the unequal treatment meted out to women, the community has still produced outstanding sportswomen such as veteran cricketer Diana Edulji, and others who have more briefly experienced success in athletics, table tennis, swimming, rugby, weightlifting...
Perceptions of individuals and institutions are evolving. Some transformations are apparent, others gradual and subtle. One finds in the two-year-old Dial-a-Parsi WhatsApp chat group, that terms itself  "A one stop shop for all entrepreneurs” (see "WhatsApp-a-Parsi,” Events and Personalities, Parsiana, July 21-August 6,  2022), a barrage of posts (100 to 200 plus a day) most of them presumably by women for women. The products and services offered range from cooked food, ingredients, confectionery, fruits, dresses, tops, purses/clutches, linen, household items, kitchen gadgets, umbrellas, watches, furniture, etc. Food is the predominant item on offer. 
The World Zarathushti Chamber of Commerce could tap these small-time individual entrepreneurs and offer mentoring, tips and courses to help make them more efficient and profitable. They could also approach enterprising participants at the highly successful Cama Baug sale organized by the World Alliance of Parsi Irani Zarthoshtis (WAPIZ). 
Established to further the traditionalist causes and oppose the formation of a world body of Zoroastrians who may not be Parsis, WAPIZ today largely functions as a social welfare organization. It assists the elderly, socially and financially needy Parsis who either have no family or have been abandoned by them. The altered approach has assured its relevance at a time when the orthodox-liberal divide is of less consequence to the community than the crucial question of survival. 
Another organization that has succeeded in drawing high levels of participation and donations is Udvada’s Clean and Green Charitable Trust. Though Udvada’s Parsis number barely 100 of its 5,400 local population (see "A collaborative clean-up,” Parsiana, June 21-July 6, 2022), they have helped transform this sleepy, often slovenly hamlet into an orderly and hygienic place. On visits to Udvada in the past, one often wondered why no apparent effort was made to maintain in good state this holy Parsi mecca. Garbage would be strewn on the road adjacent to the beach and cattle would graze on the discarded plastic bags and their contents. A handful of dedicated individuals, women and men, have made the difference. The late anthropologist Margaret Mead’s oft repeated dictum holds true: "Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed it’s the only thing that ever has.”
In North America, the 200 or so strong Zoroastrian Association of Kentucky, Ohio and Indiana (ZAKOI) has managed to raise Rs 3.3 crores (USD 400,000) to acquire a former church in Cincinnati, Ohio. The purchase served the purpose of the Zoroastrians as well as the church parish that saw its sacred structure being put to pious use. Parsis in India would do well to emulate both the Christians and the ZAKOI members. In Bombay we are faced with 50 fire temples and a Parsi population estimated to be under 30,000. Any talk of closing fire temples is met with stiff resistance. The Traditional Zarathushtris Mailing List (TZML) stated in a lengthy social media post: "Moving agiary fires, selling the buildings, etc are sinister schemes proposed by misguided people with short-term thinking…Even if, hypothetically, no devotee comes to the agiary, the agiary atash does curb the druj (evil) in its surroundings.”
Perhaps the trustees/parish of the Cincinnati church also kept the end purpose in mind when they decided to sell its premises to ZAKOI. While monetizing agiary assets, the trustees can ensure, as the church did, that the new owners utilize the premises for some social/religious cause and not profit alone. The asking price would have to be lower but the beneficial efforts would be a boon to the neighborhood as the TZML leaders desire. And the community will also stand to gain. 



 

Villoo Poonawalla