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From taro to toasts

Despite geographical distances and cultural differences, Parsis and Iranians do try as best they can to adhere to their customs and traditions. The taro may have given way to pomegranate or apple juice and the number of mobeds required for the various ceremonies may vary, but the basic rituals, and where possible the attire and cuisine, are retained. The community’s traits have not been lost in the melting pot of diversity.

Traditions give people a sense of belonging, a realization that while they are part of the mainstream, they are also unique. Differing customs, religions, music, art, cuisines, all add to the richness and diversity of a country. People rightly bemoan the loss of multiculturalism. An interchange of ideas and knowledge is the basis for peaceful coexistence. If someone attends a religious ceremony or event of another community, they will be less likely to discriminate against them. Those attending a navjote or marriage observe the attire of the couple and the priest, the ladies in their colorful saris, the headgear, the sudreh and kusti placed on the young initiates, ses, the prayers recited in an unknown language. This results in an awareness about Zoroastrianism.

"I know of at least two Gujarati ladies taking the responsibility for preparing the children. This is a very encouraging trend," stated former president of the Federation of Zoroastrian Associations of North America, Framroze Patel.

A mosque, a church, a synagogue, a fire temple, a Hindu temple situated in the same vicinity bear witness to a harmonious coexistence, aside from educating the denizens on the message of the different religions. An understanding is essential to avert the tearing down of one house of worship and the insistence on another to replace it.

Some prefer to fit in, adopt a low profile, be inconspicuous. They fear that others may not view them as an asset but "outsiders" posing a threat to their way of life and material wealth.

A month ago an interviewer doing a web series on Parsis asked us how we would define a Parsi, what were the traits that distinguished Parsis from others. As we tried to form the answer, we realized that no characteristics were unique. Not all Parsis are Zoroastrians and not all Zoroastrians are Parsis. Our language is not unique. Several Parsis and Zoroastrians in India and Pakistan as well as those living elsewhere do not consign their bodies to the dakhmas. There are no fire temples to worship at outside of India, Pakistan, Iran and recently Houston, Texas. Our cuisine is an amalgamation of several influences.

Our physical features are common with many in the Middle East, parts of Europe and so on. Our genetic make up is diverse. California resident Yezdyar Kaoosji noted in his article ("Race and reason," Parsiana, October 7, 2019), that though he is "a racially pure Parsi," he was mistaken in India for disgraced liquor tycoon, Vijay Mallya, "a Saraswat Mandhwa Brahmin from Bangalore, Karnataka!"

Not all Parsis wear the sudreh and kusti, nor do they recite the Avesta prayers. Other communities also have sacred garments. Our manner of dress is similar to what those around us wear. The sari has been adopted from the Hindus, the salwar kameez from the Muslims and most other garments from the West. Many Zoroastrians believe in charity and leading a moral life, but then so do countless others. So while we have much in common with others, we also seek to sustain our cultural differences.

Abroad, bridal showers and wedding toasts are gaining in popularity. Another trend prevalent abroad, as also in much of India, is marriage outside the faith. As our numbers dwindle so does the availability of compatible spouses. But as Rustom Ghadiali, former president of the Parsi Zoroastrian Association of South East Asia, Singapore observed in response to Parsiana’s queries, at an interfaith wedding, "The non-Zoroastrian spouse has usually been very respectful and dressed in traditional Parsi wear." A similar sentiment was also expressed by Ervad Arda-e-Viraf Minocherhomjee, president of the North American Mobeds Council (see "Flavor and fervor of festivities," pg 24).

Still, emotions run high in Bombay and parts of Gujarat when a Parsi woman marries a non-Parsi. At one time the ceremony and reception would have been kept low-key to avoid a controversy or threats. So also for the navjote of the couple’s offspring. When Roshni Maloo who is married to Savio D’Souza, a Christian, wanted to perform her children’s navjote, vigilantes threatened to hold a demonstration at the venue with black flags and even barge in. Timely intervention by the Bombay police and threat of action against the ringleader, thwarted the proposed protest (see "The nightmare and the navjotes," Parsiana, May 7, 2010). Then Bombay Parsi Punchayet trustee, now chairman Yazdi Desai wrote to Maloo to "cancel the whole function" and termed the ceremony "an irreligious act."

Kaoosji who is married to a Jew refrained from having his children’s navjote performed as he saw no merit in initiating them "into a faith that teaches them to consider their loving mother an outcast!" In India we are tolerant of racism and sexism but in North America discrimination on the basis of sex and race is unlawful. Any Zoroastrian, Parsi or not, would have a right of entry to a Zoroastrian community center or house of worship.

So perhaps the time has come for people in India to emulate their North American counterparts. If those abroad turn to us for daglis and pugrees, perhaps we should emulate humanism from them. The surest way of keeping the community together is to adhere to the virtues of equality and fundamental decency as much as to sev and ravo.

 



 

Villoo Poonawalla