“Very risque,” says our tour guide, Jasmine Kotval. She’s a Parsee, a follower of Zoroastrianism that claims to be the world’s oldest religion, having originated in Persia (contemporary Iran) 3500 years ago.
Only 110,000 Parsees remain and about half of them live in Mumbai. But they have influence disproportionate to their numbers.
Mumbai now has the world’s third-most expensive real estate and the very best of it is on Malabar Hill, yet the 22ha owned communally by the Parsees in this privileged precinct is sealed off behind a screen of mango trees, given over to one of the most arcane burial practices imaginable.
The vultures circling the plush penthouses overlooking the site give it away. In the heart of this great city, bodies are left out to be picked apart by carrion from what the Parsees call their towers of silence.
Giving up their earthly remains is the final act of a life that Parsees profess to live by the tenets of “good thoughts, good words and good deeds”, Kotval is telling me.
“I think this is a metaphor for Bombay today, how in the midst of so much wealth, there is also this tradition, this respect for things of the past,” she says.
Three days in this city will open your eyes.
It’s hardly enough to scratch the surface – enough, though, to fire the imagination.
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