Day 03 of the 10th World Zoroastrian started bright and early at the NSCI Complex in Worli, Mumbai. The attendance at the first session at 9:30 AM was about 30% when the session started but had grown to over 60% within the hour.
In my Day 02 coverage I missed out on one of the very interesting and unusual sessions. “The Zoroastrian Link to Nature and Conservation” was a very interesting panel with some very eminent participants chaired by the wonderful Aban Marker-Kabraji. Aban brought her years of experience working at a UN Agency in the field of environment. She emphasized the point that by the wanton destruction of natural resources we are allowing the triumph of Evil over Good in Zoroastrian terms. Dr. Percy Avari on the panel shared an anecdote about how in his field of work, he once had to take care of a wounded vulture and that he was the only one the vulture didnt attack when it was being fed. His professor remarked to Percy that he is born into the right religion for the bird to let him take care of it. Homi Khusrokhan spoke about how in a corporate scenario they used local help to educate the community into conserving natural habitat and in one case walked away from a site, because of the impact it would have on the environment. Ervad Rohinton Peer spoke about the presence of conservation and the elevated importance of Nature in our religious texts. Dr. Erach Bharucha spoke about Nature in Zoroastrianism.
Day 03’s first session was a continuation of the last session on Demographics from Day 02. Today’s session chaired by Roshan Rivetna and explored attempts to reverse the trend of population decline. Some of the speakers on the panel spoke from the medical or pyschological/counselling perspective. There was near unanimous agreement amongst the panelists that the issue was not one of medical infertility, but rather socio-economic and other issues that were the primary underlying reason for the low birth rate. Dinshaw Mehta, the BPP Chair expressed frustration that even with multiple efforts by the BPP in consultation with the experts in the field, they were still unable to reverse the situation. Shernaz Cama, who heads the UN Parzor Project in New Delhi introduced the Jiyo Parsi scheme set up by the Government of India to provide funding towards fertility treatments of Parsis all over India.
Dr. Rustom Soonawala, the eminent gynecologist addressed the audience and suggested ways and means to improve women’s health. He also shared anecdotes from his professional work on how his Zoroastrian values and ideals have helped him in his work.
Bergis Desai addressed the Congress after the Tea Break. He spoke about the issues facing the various Zoroastrian philanthropic trusts in India today. He waded into the Bombay Parsi Punchayet listing out the areas in which they are failing in disbursing community funds. He also raised the grave issue of the Government jumping into to run the affairs of trusts that were not in compliance with the guidelines and laws. The points he raised were all very valid. What begs the question is why did he not take his friend Dinshaw Mehta, the Chairman of BPP and actually try to help them resolve this issue. There is no doubt that there is a lot that is not working at the BPP. But then there is also a lot of good that the BPP does. For someone of the stature of Mr. Desai to come and be so critical of the BPP (and the host of the Congress) without then offering concrete steps and his expertise to resolve this, left a sour taste in the mouth.
Bergis Desai praised the work done by the likes of Dinshaw Tamboly and the WZO and lamented that there is no one to step into the shoes of Dinshawji when he hangs up his boots. Thankfully in the Q & A session that followed, Dinshawji put it on record that there is a very well thought out succession plan already in place at the WZO so when he retires, there will be capable administrators/trustees to continue his life’s work. And may the day of his retirement….never come….was the general consensus of the audience :) judging from the applause Dinshawji received on the clarification.
The next panel discussion chaired by Adille Sumariwalla addressed Parsis in Sports and the lack thereof today. Cawas Billimoria, Nari Contractor and Mickey Mehta shared their thoughts on what it meant to be at the top of their “game” in their respective sports. Mickey urged people that in life and in sport don’t worry about what you win. What is important is how you played.
Nari Contractor expressed disappointment at the fact that Parsi representation in cricket was zero at all levels. From the glory days of 1962 when the likes of Farrokh Engineer, Rusi Surti, and Polly Umrigar along with himself were in the Indian XI to today where there is no Parsi cricketer at any level….from school to International level.
Cawas Billimoria urged parents to find out what sport their kids had a passion for and then support them fully in that. He urged parents not to force or push kids into a certain sport, if they dont have the passion. He also emphasized that talent was only 15% of the deal and the rest was hard work, sweat and “blood”. He asked parents to stop finding excuses for not performing in sports. Just go out there and give it all you have and then some more was his mantra.
After another scrumptious lunch spread, the audience was introduced to what can probably be the single most important initiative to come out of this Congress. The Zoroastrian Return to Roots Program as coceptualized to bring young Zoroastrians from all over the world to visit their “motherland”. Aban Marker-Kabraji and Shernaz Cama as co-chairs mentored a core group of Zoroastrian youth….Dinsha Mistree, Rosheen Kabraji, Shireen Havewala and Kaiyan Mistree who conceptualized the program and brought it to fruition. Over 40 applicants applied and after a rigorous selection process, 16 of them arrived from USA, Canada, UK and Pakistan into Mumbai on December 23rd to become the first ever Return to Roots Fellows.
They have been visiting various areas of Mumbai, visiting Parsi corporate houses, and eateries and other heritage sites, and are participating in the Congress. Post-Congress they will spend four days in the hinterland of Gujarat visiting Nargol, Sanjan, Udvada, Navsari and Surat.
The program raised funds through sponsorship and a nominal contribution from each Fellow. The hope and aspirations are that future programs will bring new fellows to Iran and other parts of India for diverse experiences and to connect them back to their Zoroastrian and Parsi roots. Check out their website at www.zororoots.org
The last session of the day was about the Shah Nameh the Persian epic by Ferdowsi. Vesta Curtis explained parts of the literary work through slides and illustrations.
With that it was time for the bawajis to hit the races !! The Zoroastrian Millions Trophy was held at the Royal Western India Turf Club a.k.a Race Course. All decked up, suited and booted; the delegates of the Congress were seen at the Race course, placing bets; following the races or just taking in the atmosphere and the hospitality arranged by Cyrus Poonawalla, who is intrinsically involved with the RWITC at many levels.
After the races, the delegates made their way back to the NSCI for the evening entertainment.
Laughter in the House was a variety entertainment program put together to remember Adi Marzban the legendary theater personality who epitomized Parsi Theater in the 20th century. For over an hour, many of his old actors and newer ones put out a series of skits, songs and performances all written by Adi many many years ago. The crowd old and young had a blast and yearned for more when it finally came to an end.
There was a beautiful homespun quality to this entertainment program when compared with the “overly” professional one from the two previous nights. Tonight it felt that some of the delegates from the audience had jumped up on stage, performed and at the end of it would walk back into the crowd and take their seats :)
If the BPP is looking to promote culture…..here is your answer. Take what we saw today and nurture it. Incentivize it and let it flourish. This is as important a part of our heritage and culture as anything else. Music, dance, theater are the pillars of any society and we Parsis have been blessed with this in abundance. Let it not die out is my personal plea to Dinshaw and Khojeste and Jimmy and the other trustees.
With that it was time for a great dinner spread and the end of the day here at the 10th WZC.
As I have mentioned before, these are just observations from the sessions I attended. There are parallel sessions at times, and the only reason they dont find mention is because I could not be at two places at the same time. No disrespect is intended to those session speakers.
There are issues about the Congress that I would like to speak about, but will hold off till my final round up. Nevertheless the organization and logistics of the Congress has been abysmal. Not a single day has things happening on time. There is no leadership or management evident at any level. No one thought of overflow time for sessions that would run over time. Who is running this Congress ? More on that in the future.