Rayomand Coins

Free and fully fed

We were a worried lot. The Ram Balak/Lalla idol was being consecrated at the Ram Mandir in Ayodhya and several community institutions were holding religious services to commemorate the occasion. We realized this observance would be anathema to the traditionalist Parsis. We were particularly fearful that our three orthodox columnists, Alamai Writer, Aflatoon Brawnwalla and Letap Hoshiyar would write their usually fiery column condemning this heresy, terming those organizing the events anti-Parsi and likening the practice to community members seeking solace in other religious faiths, cults and godmen/women. But any such writing by the trio would be viewed by the conscience-keepers of the country as scurrilous, anti-national, treacherous and seditious.
Already the government of India had issued an "Advisory” notification dated January 20, 2024 to media outlets warning the Press against "publication of inaccurate, baseless, graceless, misleading or distorted material.” With specific regard to "caste, religion and fairness” the note added, "It is the duty of the newspaper to ensure that the tone, spirit and language of a write-up is not objectionable, provocative, against the unity and integrity of the country, spirit of the constitution, seditious and inflammatory in nature or designed to promote communal disharmony.” We believed the cautionary note must have been prepared keeping the trio’s writing ("inaccurate, baseless, graceless, misleading, distorted,” etc) in mind. We knew the government does not look kindly on any form of criticism regarding their activities and the courts often view such dissidence unfavorably.
If the column was critical of the Mandir milestone, the management and editorial personnel of Parsiana would be put behind bars under the draconian Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act. Plus there was a distinct possibility our office would be bulldozed. We were especially concerned for our assorted, 1970s antique furniture, our state-of-the-art, 1990 vintage, assembled, computer system, our priceless wall art comprising pictorial calendars sourced from well-wishers, our stacks of unsold Parsiana copies, our stock of batasas and khari biscuits distributed parsimoniously to our staff whenever salaries were delayed.
We were faced with a critical dilemma. Carry the trio’s column on Ayodhya and spend the next 10 years in jail or withhold the column and lose the handful of paying subscribers we have. Those who pay for Parsiana do so only to read their column, not the daastaan (gibberish) we publish to fill the pages between advertisements. Readers thrived on the trio’s audacious attacks on the so-called "sickular,” pseudo-intellectual, liberals and "presstitutes.” So long as their vicious attacks helped augment our revenue, we were happy to print their smut. But now there was a question of liberty. Our worry was the trio would criticize the building of the temple on the land where once stood a mosque. The historic antecedents were not a major worry, most Parsis being Islamophobic. Our greater fear was of their raising the specter of thousands who were killed in the ensuing bloodshed following the demolition of the mosque. Of course being dharm chust (staunch) Zarthoshtis the only thing that mattered to them was religion so there was an off chance they may welcome the erection of the Mandir.
We even contemplated holding a khushali nu jashan to commemorate the inauguration of the temple so that we could use that as a defence and demonstrate that we did not sympathize with our columnists’ views. Sometimes simple, thoughtful and inexpensive gestures can help lessen prison sentences. We were also consoled by the fact that in the Bilkis Bano case her rapists and those who killed her family members were pardoned by the government on account of their good behavior behind bars. We vowed to be exemplary inmates.
The columnist trio were unpredictable. Only recently they criticized the management of a restaurant on the Bombay-Poona expressway offering diners both Parsi and Christian cuisine. "Either you have dhansak or vindaloo, lagan nu custard or bebinca. Choose. You can’t have both.” They cautioned against giving any editorial coverage to such an establishment. Impressionable minds, they argued, may reason if we can mix cuisines then why not mixed marriages? We turned down the invitation for a meal and the promise of an advertisement should the write-up be complimentary. 
Just as we were contemplating publishing their column and applying for political asylum overseas, the three malevolent wordsmiths marched into the office to submit their handwritten column (they were not great believers in technology claiming the vibrations from mobile phones and computers interfered with their inner, spiritual circuitry; nor did they want to spend on postage and courier charges). The higher powers-that-be must have sympathetically realized our pitiable state for Ala had donned a saffron colored sari when she marched into the office! We heaved a sigh of relief. The trio also sported ash on their foreheads having just come from a maachi they had had performed at a nearby atash behram to commemorate the shifting of the idols to the Ayodhya Mandir. We quickly hid our visa applications. 
"Jai Shree Ram,” we uttered hesitatingly as they started to offer prasad from a cloth bazaar bag to the undernourished staff (we were behind in salaries by only a few months). Instead of fruits and malido the three had instructed the priest to pray over prasad which unlike the conventional afringan offerings could be eaten by non Parsis. Under one of the Yashts Letap had dug up in his research on the net titled "Parsi prayers for non Parsis,” he had stumbled across a stanza which stated that prayers could be recited in honor of any rising sun/daughter regardless of ethnicity. 
"The secret to survival is being on the right side of the powers-that-be,” stated Aflatoon who had once watched on his mobile a brief (seven-minute, the maximum length of his attention span), educational documentary on world history. This was the secret behind "Parsi Power,” he enunciated. Their latest column titled, "Why non Parsis matter,” was composed keeping this fundamental, power-play principle in mind. 
We decided to follow his sage advice and blur the distinction between principles and practices. Henceforth we would consider pledging our editorial allegiance only to remaining free and being well fed. 


Villoo Poonawalla