Parsis: The Zoroastrians of India Pakistan and The World

Report: 9th World Zoroastrian Congress

The following is a report filed by Marzban Giara on the occassion of 9th World Zoroastrian Congress held in Dubai in December 2009.

The 9th World Zoroastrian Congress was held at Dubai from 28th to 31st December 2009. Its theme was “Unity through the sands of time”. As many as 700 Parsi/Irani Zoroastrian delegates from six continents met at Dubai in a spirit of Hamazori. A Khushali nu Jashan was performed under the leadership of Dasturji Khurshed Dastoor on Sunday 27th December 2009.

On Monday 28th morning Dasturji Khurshed Dastoor lighted the lamp, unfurled the Congress flag and led the humbandagi. Mrs. Meher Bhesania, Chair, 9th WZC in her welcome address said: “The choice of this city is a salute to Parsi Zoroastrians, who, like the city of Dubai, have shown progressiveness and the spirit of innovation, whilst retaining their culture and values. There are many firsts this Congress has achieved. It was sold out twelve weeks in advance. A state-of-the-art Congress website, on-line registration, a Congress logo, a Congress flag, Congress song, a coffee table book, Youth Leadership Enhancement Program(YLEP) and Vision 2010 program. This Congress mirrors your hopes and aspirations. Let us salute the spirit of Zoroastrianism. We are intellectually brilliant people and have a sweeping vision. We are courageous enough to dream big. Wake up to a new dawn and leave footprints on the sands of time. She thanked the various sponsors for their generosity as also the Bombay Parsi Punchayet and FEZANA for sponsoring several youths.” It was followed by a screening of a film ‘Footprints on the Sands of Time’ on the Congress theme which portrays Parsi history and their migration to distant shores. Two illustrated issues of Congress Xpress were brought out to chronicle the solemn and light moments of the Congress at Dubai.

This is the Golden Jubilee Year of the World Zoroastrian Congress and the 10th anniversary of the World Zarathushti Chamber of Commerce which has 22 chapters worldwide. Earlier Congresses were held in 1960 Tehran, in 1964, 1974, 1978, 1990 at Bombay, in 1996 at Tehran, in 2000 at Houston and in 2005 at London. The Congress program covered five zones – culture/heritage, conference and meetings, exhibition, party and entertainment exuding an ambience of an indoor festival. Topics for daily discussions ranged from business opportunities to science, technology, medicine, arts, culture, women, etc. His Highness Sheikh Hasher Maktoum Juma Al Maktoum, Director of Information, Government of Dubai was the guest of honour on the opening day. His Highness Sheikh Ahmed bin Saeed Al Maktoum, President, Dubai Department of Civil Aviation, Chairman and CEO of Emirates opened the trade show.

Lord Karan Billimoria in his keynote address said: “If one were to measure achievement and success per capita, no community in the world comes anywhere near the Parsis. We are one community unified by our principles, unified through the sands of time. Aspire, achieve against all odds with integrity. Integrate with the community you live but never forget your roots. Success is self fulfilling. Achievement leads to inspiration. Inspiration leads to aspiration. Aspiration leads to achievement.”

Youth Leadership Enhancement Program(YLEP) is a new legacy program introduced by the world Zoroastrian Congress. It provides youth a platform to bond and hone leadership skills. Six teams from Australia, Dubai, India, Iran, North America and U.K. took part. Each team prepared a project and presented it at the Congress.

World Zarathushti Chamber of Commerce (WZCC) focusses on rekindling the spirit of enterprise among our youths through a variety of programs. Funding and mentoring inputs will be provided to those who have a business idea. Honorary Membership for 2009 was awarded to Mr. Nusli Wadia. Outstanding Zarathushti Professional for 2009 was awarded to Miss Homai Daruwalla. Outstanding Zarathushti Entrepreneur for 2009 was awarded to Mr. Umid Kothawalla of Extentia, Pune. Outstanding Young Professional/Entrepreneur for 2009 was awarded to Mr. Firdosh Bhesania. Recently WZCC India introduced a business plan contest in which 40 Parsis took part. The next annual general meeting of WZCC will be held in Iran in 2010.

Sam Balsara, Chairman, Madison Advertising presented The Zoroastrian Blueprint. He outlined an action plan, nodal agency and time horizon for each of the six focus areas – 1. Global Working Group, 2. Health. 3. Entrepreneurship. 4. Women. 5. Youth 6. Communication.

Mr. Nadir Godrej, rekindled the Spirit of Enterprise in verse. The poem was beautifully penned and well researched. It traced the brilliant trajectory of the Parsi spirit of enterprise to inspire the youth. Dr. Farokh Udwadia, eminent physician advised Parsis: “Eat less, if you want to live long.” Presentations were made by representatives of BPP, ZTFE, FEZANA, Iran, Australia and New Zealand. Marzban Giara, author of “Parsi Statues” presented his slide show on “Famous Statues”. He reminded the audience of the sacrifices and struggles of our ancestors. “The heights by great men reached and kept were not attained by sudden flight, but they while their companions slept, were toiling upwards in the night.”

Mr. Talmiz Ahmed , India’s Ambassador to the U.A.E. spoke in glowing terms about the phenomenal contribution of Parsis to India. “Parsis are flourishing across the globe. The dawn of India’s industry commenced with the Parsis.” He spoke of a vision of a resurgent Asia seeking its place in the 21st century and the new silk route of the 21st century.

Mr. Neville Shroff, Chairman and CEO, Shroff and Co., Hong Kong spoke of “The Success Formula in difficult times”. Believe in yourself that you can succeed. Mindset must be set to succeed. Take intelligent risks. Empower employees. Think out of the box. Today’s challenges are tomorrow’s opportunities. Seek opportunities in challenges. Live a balanced lifestyle. ENTHUSIASM, PASSION and a DESIRE TO SUCCEED are three essentials.

Bharatbhai Shah, a senior social worker in Indian community in Dubai who was formerly in Aden exhorted the delegates “to marry within the community and preserve your community and your culture.”

Zoroastrian Youth for the Next Generation (ZYNG) was launched in Mumbai on 11th December 2009. It has been formed by a group of youngsters committed to reenergising the youth. It provides a platform for networking for young Parsis between the ages of 15 to 40 and promotes healthy interaction. It aims to get youths involved in community affairs, create an events calendar to coordinate functions, provide a matrimony and career portal, provide a source of religious information, education initiatives, programs and scholarships It is a one stop site for Parsi youngsters www.zyng.org e-mail:info @zyng.org.

Mr. Khojeste P. Mistree, BPP trustee spoke on the need to retain our ethnic identity. “A redistribution of our community’s population has taken place over the past 50 years. If we know who we are ethnically then we can be better human beings. Our ethnic identity is our key to survival. Do your best to retain this Parsi/Irani identity. Our identity is our brand image in the whole world. Any attempt to disconnect the Parsi identity from our religion is a dangerous step. The Parsi/Irani gene according to our learned doctors and scientists is distinct and decisively different. There is need for Parsis in the diaspora to maintain religious traditions. Encourage interaction among our youths globally. Statistically only one out of a hundred children of intermarried couples marries a Parsi Zoroastrian. Strengthening our community identity will reinforce and strengthen our religious base in India and Iran. Be proud of our Parsi/Irani Zarathushti heritage. We must learn to put our hands in our pockets and give. The community’s economic base is strong. Give to our institutions and help our own people.”

Entertainment: Parizad Kolah Marshall captivated the audience with her vivacious compering and charming smile. Post lunch astrologer Bejan Daruwalla regaled the audience with predictions for 2010. Hormuzd Khambatta and his troupe regaled the audience with their song and dance sequences and a display of the finest in Parsi fashion, a Broadway routine and a Bollywood Dhamaka. Boman Irani poked fun and narrated humorous stories of Parsis and Iranis and had the audience roaring with laughter. Shayan Italia, an up and coming international multi award winner and song writer rendered songs. At the desert safari there was a feast of traditional Arabian music and dance.

Food: There was a rich spread and a variety of dishes and desserts. A traditional Parsi cuisine ravo, patra ni machhi, jardaloo boti, chicken farcha, akuri, lagan nu custard, pulao, dhanshak dal, soufflé, jeelabi, gulab jamun, rasgulla, mithai barfi.

Awards: The Outstanding Philanthropy Award was presented to Zartoshty Brothers Mehraban and late Faridoon. Dr. Farokh Udwadia for Medicine, Sooni Taraporewalla for Performing Arts and Literature, Minoo Homi Patel for Engineering and Technology, Dinshaw Tamboly for community service, Rohinton Rivetna as Outstanding Zarathushti.

His Excellency Venu Rajamony, Consul General for India in Dubai said: “Parsis can be reflected upon with great admiration. It is undeniable that the Parsi community has added immense value to India. Both India and UAE are examples of unity in diversity. Members of the Parsi Zoroastrian community have demonstrated leadership in every walk of life. Pledge to dedicate yourself to spreading compassion, addressing problems and finding solutions. The world needs you.”

Observations: The common thread that binds the Parsi Zoroastrians in India with those of the diaspora is the religion of prophet Zarathushtra. Yet no religious issues were discussed at this Congress ostensibly on the pretext of avoiding controversies. More importance was given to entertainment in the Congress program which went on till late night leaving even the majority of the delegates who were senior citizens having to wait for their dinner till late midnight. The time factor was the greatest casualty as is usually the case with such meetings. The youths partied till late night as a result of which they missed some of the morning sessions. Some speakers exceeded their time and so other speakers had to curtail their presentation. The day began with breakfast being served from 7.30 a.m. and ended around midnight.

The dress code was suits or Parsi daglis for men and garas, saris, suits for ladies. In the name of fashion, several Parsis, especially girls and ladies do not wear a proper sadra (which is made of nine parts) and display their anatomy. The celebrity actress who compered the show and the dance troupe did not appear to be wearing sadras. Without posing to be a moral policeman, one wonders what role models are we portraying before our youths? – that it is fashionable to discard the sacred symbols of our religion given to us at the time of our navjote! And yet falsely proclaim: “I am proud to be a Zoroastrian!” How much better it would be if generous sponsorship was channelised for religious education and promotion of knowledge of our history and culture instead of fashion.

It is time our leaders stop being populist. Remember our ancestors strived and made sacrifices. The only way our community can prosper is not by demanding rights and worshipping the goddess of fashion but by doing our duty and leading a righteous life according to our religion.

A dedicated team of 30 Parsis around the globe worked for the success of the Congress. The Congress ended with a short prayer by Dasturji Khurshed Dastoor. He suggested a slogan for the next Congress – Peace, Harmony, Brotherhood for our community. The Congress torch was passed on by Meher Bhesania to Dinshaw Mehta, BPP chairman. The 9th congress Symphony – Spreading peace and love worldwide was played. The 10th World Zoroastrian Congress will be held in Mumbai in 2013.
_- Marzban Giara