Parsis: The Zoroastrians of India Pakistan and The World

Enterprise Dubai: When enterprising Parsis meet in Dubai

Professionals, youth, families from Zoroastrian community come together at ‘Enterprise Dubai’.

Article in Khaleej Times

Nowhere else over the weekend in the UAE would there have been such a large gathering of ladies wearing Parsi style garas — traditional saris adorned with hand embroidery — than at the ballroom of the Crowne Plaza Hotel.

A two-day event called ‘Enterprise Dubai’, brain child of organiser Meher Bhesania, took place and featured Parsi business folk, lawyers and entrepreneurs, among others. The event intended to bring together professionals, youth and families from the Zoroastrian community offered a chance to network and for visitors to explore business opportunities in Dubai.

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Day one began with a keynote address delivered by Mirza Al Sayegh, Director, Office of Shaikh Hamdan bin Mohammed binRashid Al Maktoum, Crown Prince of Dubai.

A talk by Lord Karan Bilimoria followed. ‘Baron Bilimoria’, conferred with the title ‘Lord Bilimoria CBE, DL’, Chairman, Cobra Beer Partnership was introduced to the audience as the first ever Zoroastrian Parsi to sit in the house of Lords.

In his talk, Bilimoria touched upon numerous topics, from being privileged to know Margaret Thatcher, to Britain not investing enough of its GDP in R & D unlike South Korea; the “dangerous debate on immigration” taking place in England; and how he started his brew in a friend’s kitchen in Fulham.

Best of the lot

The two most self-effacing talks of day one though were delivered by Irishman Colm McLoughlin, Executive Vice-Chairman of Dubai Duty Free, and Fali Nariman, Indian Constitutional jurist and senior advocate to the Supreme Court of India since 1971, who also spoke on Day 2.

McLoughlin delivered an informative talk, brimming with impressive statistics, on how far Dubai Duty Free, which just turned 31, established as it was on December 20, 1983 — has come from when it was first inaugurated. He spoke of the first meeting he had with the staff back in the day, inside some sort of a tunnel with oil barrels in the room and standing on a wooden pallet and telling the staff what needed to be done the next day.

Some of the best talks of the event were characterised by a personal touch and those that were in some way different from the usual jargon-heavy clichés.

Nadir Godrej, Managing Director of Godrej Industries and Chairman, Godrej Agrovet, delivered one of the more unusual speeches – all in verse, and full of rhyme: Uniliver-believer, investment pouring/Sensex soaring, RBI delusion-conclusion. Mr Godrej got a thundering applause for his eloquence, and a standing ovation. The brief felicitation for him went like this: “Nadir Godrej, you’re a man of God/ and to you sir/ we give this award.”

Perhaps most inspirational talk was given by Fali Nariman. Rich with anecdotes, Nariman’s quoted Umberto Eco in a talk he delivered last year in Delhi. Nariman said: “There are only three kinds of people who need mobile phones: plumbers, doctors and adulterers. If your phone rings, I will know who you are.” Everyone laughed. Nariman recalled that not a single mobile phone went off during Eco’s talk.

‘Ethics of Leadership’ was Nariman’s topic. “JRD (Tata)”, he said, “loved telling stories against himself — a great quality in a leader. All of us have an instinct for goodness,” he said, stating cleverness is not half as desirable a quality in a leader as goodness and ethics. “God give us leaders with strong minds and true hearts,” Nariman said.

 

CSR policies in India was a topic touched upon in various panel discussions. Talking about a remarkable initiative empowering rural Maharashtra, entrepreneur and founder of UTV group, Ronnie Screwvala, now the founder and trustee of Swades foundation, with his wife Zarina Screwvala, also founder and managing trustee are doing their bit to chip away at poverty through a 360 degree approach that aims to empower 10 lakh people in five years. They’re not just looking at schools or healthcare, but are 18 months into the mammoth task of providing water, sanitation, education, and ensuring livelihoods of marginal farmers and villagers. “Livelihood is our key focus,” Ronnie Screwvala told KT in a brief chat. Zarina pitched the cause of clean water as the key to rural progress. More on that at swadesfoundation.org

‘Is women power just a pie in the sky’ was discussed by another illustrious panel, this one chaired by Bachi Karkaria, and featured Zarina Screwvala, Meenal Baghel, Meera Sanyal and Bikram Vohra.

At the time of going to press, the event hadn’t yet concluded. There was yet a day three, on which the organisers of Enterprise Dubai had a lined up Dhow cruises and desert safaris and visits to Dubai mall for all visiting dignitaries and their families.

The Exquisite Parsi Garas

Never underestimate the value of a hand-embroidered sari in the Parsi community. Considered heirlooms, garas are passed down from great-grandmothers to daughters to present generations, even though fewer young Parsi women today choose to wear these exquisite crafts.

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The craftsmanship can come in the form of sari borders in all colours and patterns that can be sewn on to the borders of saris, or kurtis, as was evident at the Enterprise Dubai event held over the weekend at the Crowne Plaza.

Men, too, can carry off the craftsmanship in their wardrobe on the collars of daglas — shorter than sherwanis, longer than Nehru coats.

Zenobia S Davar had the good sense to put up a stall of embroidery at the Crowne Plaza that drew the attention of the majority of Parsi visitors. Zenobia was visiting Dubai from Mumbai, where she has her store. Her husband Shahrukh was helping out, too. He explained how one can tell a fake from an authentic Parsi border: originals don’t crush. And one give away is the neatness of craftsmanship. Often times, he explained, the work is so intricate and neat, you can’t tell the reverse side from the front-up side, and women have been known to attend parties wearing saris reverse side showing. Except: in the highest quality work no one can tell. One sari on display was for Dh30,000. Affordable? No. Exquisite? Yes.