Parsis: The Zoroastrians of India Pakistan and The World

Who are they talking to?

Dr. Kersey Antia was in the Zoroastrian news recently, for better or for worse. In fact, the officers at the Colaba Police Station will also tell you who he is. Dr. Antia came to Mumbai to proliferate and zealously canvass for conversion into the Zoroastrian faith. He purportedly has his degrees and his knowledge. He also claims to have profound wisdom; wisdom that has enabled him to interpret the prayers and books of our religion in a manner that no erudite scholar of our past has had.

He gave a talk at the Jamshed Bhahbha Auditorium which I did not attend. The Parsiana this month has him on their cover and writes a very balanced and candid article on the man. All said and done, he came, he spoke but I don’t know how much he conquered. I’m not here to write about Dr. Antia. I don’t want to waste space on him… enough has already been wasted. What I’m concerned about is one of the counter-actions to Dr. Antia’s radical and progressive message.

As a retaliatory gesture, a public meeting was organised to oppose and educate the masses (as small as our masses are!) about the ‘absolute rubbish’ that Dr. Antia was talking about. It was well organised, with about 8 Dasturji Sahebs on the panel. I recognised only Dasturji Ramyar Karanjia sitting up there (nobody’s fault but mine. I’m ignorant about the luminaries we possess). A commendable effort. But that’s where it stopped. No offence to anybody here. I do think it was a laudable effort and in fact it was heartening to see that the community, which I believe has the “let it be… what can we do?” attitude actually rallied around to stand up against what they thought was very wrong. I am practical about our religion. Moreover, I cant blame any Mr. Joseph Peterson for being fascinated enough with Zoroastrianism to want to convert. Can you? We have a kick ass and beautiful religion. Nevertheless, I’m not willing to open my heart, home and life to some person who is not born of atleast 1 Zoroastrian parent, has not grown and is not inherently Zoroastrian.

So with a sentiment in my heart and head, I went for the public meeting. I came back vaguely disappointed. I’ll tell you why. The only agenda, and rightly so, of the public meeting was for the learned priests of our religion to enlighten us about why conversion into the religion is sacrilegious and in the teeth of the basics of Zoroastrianism. The panel of priests were there with guns blazing. The crowds that attended were ready to listen and absorb, scarves on heads and bhanvani topis in place to complete athe devout stance. Nonetheless the people that came to hear these learned men could not however have been the target audience. I spent 45 minutes in the meeting and in that time I saw about 300 people (give or take some… bad at estimations) out of which about 60% were above 50. I was surrounded by senior citizens. I barely saw a handful of youth there. My guess is about 50 people between the ages of 18 and 30 were there to listen. Moreover, the kind of people who were listening were very religious and passionate Zoroastrians with a very obvious conservative leaning. The kind of people who might frown upon the likes of me if I hung out with non-Zoroastrians. A very solid lot, children of the unyielding sturdy conservative stand the community has nurtured for the last couple centuries. All good here. More strength to all who attended. Not the people you want to convince that conversion is not for the religion. These people already know. They live that philosophy every day of their lives and abhor the progressive and the pro- conversionists. It’s like having Narendra Modi convince the BJP that the Congress is no good.

It was a waste of a good message going out to the audience sitting at Framjee Cawasjee that evening. The target audience is not the senior citizens of our community but the youth. The 10 year olds, who understand nothing but want to try everything, the 15 year olds who are old enough to understand but not necessarily take a stand; the 20 year olds who’re going to colleges here and abroad and making new friends; the 25 year olds who are the face and the future of our community; the 30 year olds who will soon be imbibing religious values in their children. The target audience should be the youth and under 50s who travel abroad extensively, or live abroad and come home with their progressive ideas to share and pass on to those who might listen and also those who might not. No 65 year old granma is going to have a say when her son and daughter-in-law teach their 8 year old that our religion is all-embracing. She doesn’t need the talk, her son needs it. The English speaking, brand flashing, US and Australia aspiring, trying to be cool and radical just for its sake generation of youth need to hear why it makes no sense to convert.

Let the learned of the community speak to me, my peers, grab our attention. Let them tell us why Dr. Antia is wrong. Our shoulders are going to carry the ideologies of our religion forward. We’re hiking into the future where our elders will never reach… so have them empower us to set our compass onto the path that leads to Ahura Mazda. Because if we’re not listening, who are they talking to?