Finally after weeks of yes and no, the 10th World Congress took off today, 27th December 2013 at the NSCI Complex in Worli, Mumbai India.
Over 1200 (not official) delegates gathered from 8:00 AM onwards, streaming in droves to pick up registrations badges and getting seated in the impressive indoor auditorium the size of a small football field.
The stage had a backdrop made up of imagery from Persepolis, columns and all ! The delegates were seated in classroom style seating.
The opening ceremony started with the benediction by the Vada Dasturjis and the lighting of the lamp. The Chairman of the 10WZC Dr. Cyrus Poonawalla welcomed the delegates followed by Nadir Godrej the Vice Chair of the 10WZC. Messages from various political leaders and other dignitaries were read out by Homai Mody, the Program Chair. Some of the political leaders from Iran read out their messages in Dari with an english translation on the side screens. The technology evident at the Congress left a lot to be desired.
Lord Karan Billimoria addressed the audience and in his erudite manner spoke about what the Zoroastrians had achieved in the UK and his efforts to bring about recognition of the faith in the House of Lords in the the United Kingdom. He was introduced by Dorab Mistry who was recently awarded the OBE by the Queen of England. Karan spoke about the influences of Mandela on his work and life ethic and reminded all about Mahatma Gandhi’s quote of the Parsis being inconsequential in numbers but incomparable in contribution to society. In speaking about the Cyrus Cylinder, Karan stated that he considered the historic Magna Carta juvenile when compared to the Cyrus Cylinder. I would love to have known what the British response was to that !!
He ended his talk by a very telling line that the BPP Trustees should heed …”Management is doing things right. Leadership is doing the right thing”.
After a much needed tea break, the Congress resumed with a Panel Discussion on the Zoroastrian Identity.
There are a lot of people who complain that at many Congresses the same topics are hashed over and over again, and nothing comes out. This panel was a poster child for this gripe.
At the last North American Congress in New York in 2012, this issue had been discussed at great detail and some amazing discussions had ensued. What happened today was mostly a waste of time both for the audience and the speakers.
The moderator Dorab Mistry introduced the panel which included Katayun Kapadia, President FEZANA; Malcolm Deboo, President ZTFE; Esphander Ekhtiary, Iranian MP; Sarosh Bharucha of ZSO, Canada and Meher Bhesania of Dubai and Dinshaw Mistry, the Chairman of the BPP.
Besides Katayun Kapadia, none of the speakers were prepared to discuss the issue, or frankly had a grasp of what the moderator wanted them to talk about. Dinshaw Mehta in a very undiplomatic move pinned the moderator and the ZTFE by saying that they had now changed their identity and stopped supporting BPP. When asked what he thought the Zoroastrian Identity meant to the Mumbai Zarathushti, he said its about the BPP provided housing. Seriously ?
Malcolm Deboo used the posted of The Everlasting Flame Exhibition as the epitome of what the Zarathushti Identity is in the UK. Even as he spoke about how the posters were plastered over all the tube stations in London, the question that begged to be answered is what had it to do with the Zarathushti Identity.
The last speaker on the panel Sarosh Bharucha, of ZSO went on a complete tourism spiel for Tourism Ontario. He welcomed and asked people to migrate to Ontario and promised every sort of help. Even though the moderator prompted him to come off his infomercial on Tourism Canada, he continued about how ZSO welcomes new comers and how it wanted to make Toronto the BPP of the West. Again at no point was the topic of the panel discussed, in a total lack of respect for the audience.
Sadly an opportunity was lost for what could have been a very important topic and something that could have set the tone for this entire Congress.
A much welcome lunch break ensued with the organization groaning and creaking under first day barrage of 1200 “bhookha bawajis”. A lovely spread that included Dhan dar patio, lagan ni sev, dahi and other delicacies satiated everyone’s appetite.
The post lunch sessions on the Bombay Parsi General Hospital tested everyone’s stamina to stay alert after a heavy meal as some very valid facts were discussed in a very dry academic manner. This was followed by another presentation on the Federation of Parsi Zoroastrian Anjumans of India.
After these two events, the stage was set for book launches in the present and future. Ashdin Lilaowalla’s wonderful book titled “Threads of Continuity” about the art of Kasti Weaving in India was launched by Lord Karan Billimoria.
This was followed by a series of anecdotes from a forthcoming book by Brigadier (Retd) Behram and Zenobia Panthaki on the life of India’s greatest soldier Field Marshall Sam Manekshaw. They shared stories from the times when Behram served as the ADC to the Field Marshall.
The last book to be released was Keki Daruwala’s book “Fire Alter”.
After a short break, there was massive energy in the crowd all of a sudden as news about President Mukherjee entering the auditorium spread like wild fire. Delegates rushed back to their seats and the President of India accompanied by the Governor of the State of Maharashtra came up on the stage.
The President was welcomed by Dr. Poonawalla and he then addressed the crowd in a very personal and heart warming address. He noted the accomplishments of the Parsis of past and present to India and urged the Parsis to do something about the dwindling numbers.
He concluded by welcoming the Parsis from abroad and reminded them that for Parsis worldwide, India will always be home. The crowd rose as one to give him a standing ovation.
Getting the President to inaugurate the Congress was a master stroke and the organizers need to be lauded for pulling this off.
Coomy Wadia’s Pranjali Choir entertained the President and the audience with a few songs and the inauguration concluded with the Indian National Anthem, Jana Gana Mana sung.
After the President’s departure, the evening networking slot was open where delegates freely mingled catching up with friends here locally or from shores beyond.
The evening entertainment was a wonderful dance drama by the world renowned Mallika Sarabhai and her dance troupe. They traced the history of Zoroastrians from before the birth of the Prophet all the way to the landing at Sanjan and beyond.
The evening ended with a wonderful dinner spread to satiate everyone’s appetite.
The first day of the Congress did not create the intensity of purpose that one had hoped for, especially in a world event of this nature. The sessions lacked continuity. The program was a mish mash of individual events with no underlying thought process or theme evident. The Bombay Parsi Punchayet Trustees and the turmoil of the last few weeks were hinted at time and again by different speakers however there seemed to be a general aloofness from all the organizers. The pride and the passion of the organizers was never evident at any time. The organizers tried their best to make things work to the best of their abilities. Dr. Poonawalla was seen stomping around the dinner serving area admonishing the maintenance crew about the malfunctioning air conditioning system in the area.
Day 02 looks to be promising. More in the days to come.
The above is just a few highlights and observations and is not intended to serve as a chronological log of events.