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Significant at 60?

As major historic events ago, 1964 was not of great significance. There were newsworthy events though: Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru died of a heart attack that May, the right wing Hindu organization, Vishva Hindu Parishad,  was founded, Amazon founder Jeff Bezos and former Tory British Prime Minister Boris Johnson were born, the US Civil Rights Act of 1964 was signed into law and the World’s Fair opened in New York with the theme, "Peace through understanding.” Ironically that year President Lyndon Johnson escalated the US military involvement in Vietnam. And now 60 years later we have the Russian invasion of Ukraine and the Hamas-Israeli conflict. Little has changed except the technology deployed both on the battlefield and against civilian targets to secure tenuous, military advantages.
In November 2013 when Parsiana entered its 50th year of existence we had stated in our editorial that though the future looked grim for the community we had "not only managed to survive but even thrive.” Now, as we enter our 60th year this November, that optimism is tempered. Will Parsiana celebrate a 70th anniversary? The community will continue but many of the institutions that serve it will not. The demise may not be on account of a lack of finance — though that is always a cause for concern — but because the requisite number of people to sustain institutions and the personnel to manage them may not exist. There will be around 35,000, mostly elderly, Parsis in India in 2033, or maybe even less. Will there be enough readers, advertisers, donors and most of all journalists to sustain a professionally run, independent news publication?
At a half day meet organized by the Athornan Mandal on Sunday, October 8 this year at the Banaji Atash Behram Hall, several speakers voiced concern at the dearth of priests to run and manage the large number of fire temples in Bombay (50+). As a report prepared by the organizers noted, "This vocation is on the downslide since many years, with fewer and fewer numbers entering it… Only one student had enrolled in the Athornan Madressa (at Dadar) during the year, bringing the number of students to a mere 14.” The M. F. Cama Athornan Institute in Andheri closed down some years ago. Does a similar fate await the Dadar seminary?
"Giving up is, however, not an option,” the write-up observed. They were going to "reinforce” their efforts and "rectify the lacunae in the system.” There were also specific suggestions voiced such as "monetizing disused properties and moving fires to more appropriate locations.” Such a suggestion voiced at a traditionalist forum even five years ago would have been unthinkable. But even if attempted, will these alternatives be a case of too little, too late? And even had these steps been taken earlier, would they have stemmed the precipitous fall in the Parsi population? Unlikely. One consequence of affluence is a declining birth rate. 
That realization of an impending end is slowly sinking into the community’s psyche. As the trustees of the Calcutta Zoroastrian Community’s Religious and Charity Funds stated, "We must face facts, but even a small number can have a meaningful and rewarding life if we plan for it now” (see "Facing the facts,” Editorial Viewpoint, Parsiana, September 7-21, 2023). What has brought about this tectonic shift in attitudes in a community so many decades in denial? Was it the once cash-rich Bombay Parsi Punchayet’s inability to even pay monthly salaries due to their misplaced priorities? Or the forsaken fire temples devoid of devotees? Or the shut wards at Parsi-only community hospitals? Or the absence of youth at community gatherings? Or the lower number of applicants for housing, for auctions of flats, for scholarships? Or community assets being underutilized or not used at all due to an absence of takers? Or of assets all over India being encroached upon because there are no Parsis in these places to safeguard the properties?
There used to be a fear that if one admitted our numbers were falling, reformists would ask for converts to be accepted. But there is also the slow realization that besides the children of some Parsi women married to non-Parsis, and even here the number is minuscule, there are very few others interested in becoming Zoroastrians. 
Dr Pestonji Warden first published Parsiana in November 1964 as a "New medium for old wisdom,” with the "conviction that it fills a void” (see Editorial, Parsiana, November 1964). He probably never imagined that the void to be filled would be of Parsis! At that time, the annual inland subscription for 12 issues was Rs 6 (USD 0.07); it is now Rs 1,200 (USD 14.41) for 24 issues. When the present management bought over the ownership of the magazine in June 1973 from Warden for Re 1 (USD 0.012) the subscription rate was hiked to Rs 20, a 330% increase. This caused a well-wisher and aide to Warden, Mahiyar Patel, to comment he "feared for the future of Parsiana.”
The hike was necessitated because Parsiana was no longer a one-man show but a journalistic venture. Professionals needed to be hired, articles to be researched and written, proofs to be read, photographs to be shot, advertisements to be solicited, subscription registers to be maintained, letters to be typed… A small, dedicated and loyal band of four plus the editor/publisher did the work. They included Veera Parbhu, Manjula Padmanabhan, Feroza Paymaster and Arvind Nair. Guiding the group along was Mini Boatwala, the designer of the Life Insurance Corporation of India (though the nomenclature then used was art director). A lot of volunteers and well-wishers aided Parsiana. Together all managed to allay the "fears” articulated by the well-meaning Patel. 
Today Parsiana has a team of 15 full-time and part-time staff. They do the seemingly impossible: bringing out a well-researched publication twice a month with the bare minimum of resources. There is much to write about in the community, people to interview, places to visit, events to cover. But much of our energy is diverted to putting together the material, fact checking, coordinating with parties as well as different departments within the organization. We function from issue to issue.
Our continued existence, despite all odds, is a legacy of the resilience of those who had left Iran over 1,300 years ago in search of greener pastures and also those who stayed behind to keep the home fires burning. Even if the glow of the fires lit here and there dim, the light, fragrance and warmth they once radiated still lingers. 


Villoo Poonawalla