Mumbai Parsis hail upcoming New Year with food, fun and frolic


August 15, 2015

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Who needs to travel around the world to experience different cultures when you live in a country where multiple cultures nestle together? India is truly blessed to taste the flavours a myriad of cultural celebrations, each one with it’s unique touch. One such is the Parsi New Year or Navroz celebrated on the first day of the Zoroastrian calendar, which falls on 18 August this year.

What makes the Indian Parsi New Year special is that the rest of the world celebrates it during spring equinox, which usually falls on 21 March but according to Shahenshahi and Kadmi calendars (variants of the Zoroastrian calendar), which are strictly followed by Indian Parsis, the New Year celebration gets pushed to July and August, and changes every year as it doesn’t count leap years.

Mumbai is home to the largest number of Parsis in the country, many of whom are a familiar name within the media industry as well. Exec Lifestyle spoke to several Parsis within the industry to find out how they plan to celebrate the day.

Madison World executive director Lara Balsara, who has kept up with the tradition every year says, “A typical Parsi New year in our house is a complete family day that starts off with a hearty breakfast followed by wearing new clothes and visiting the Agiary or the fire temple. We give each other a warm hug and kisses as a greeting of ‘Happy New Year’ to fellow Parsis.”

Like every festival, food is an important part of the celebrations. “We soon return home with a delicious lunch, which is mostly pulao and select dishes that you will only find in a Parsi household,” Balsara adds.

Popular VJ and television personality, Cyrus Broacha couldn’t agree more. “New Year to me is all about catching up with family and gorging on good food. Since most of us are busy travelling, the family prefers to get food ordered from well known Parsi caterer like Godiwalla’s set Parsi menu. It’s also a familiar site to see a long queue of people standing outside the catering shops on the day,” he shares.

Former HBO India managing director Monica Tata, who is married into a Parsi family, seconds Broacha’s claim that food is one of the key factors in celebrating the Parsi New Year. “My first time celebrating the festival was a unique experience. Catching up with the whole family and trying different Parsi recipes was refreshing and novel,” she says. That was more than two decades ago and now Tata celebrates the day as naturally as the rest of her family.

Elaborating on the Parsi cuisine, Tata enthusiastically shares, “I especially like ‘Patra Ni Machhi’, which is fish stuffed and steamed in banana leaf served with a typical chutney. I also like ‘Chicken Farcha.’ It is like chicken pieces fried in a batter, kind of like KFC except that it is so much better.” One of her other personal favourite recipes is ‘Salli Boti,’ a typical Parsi meat, apricot and chips speciality, which is a common household name during the New Year.

Not everyone is lucky to leisurely celebrate the day. Take Viacom18 EVP and GM for english entertainment Ferzad Palia for example. Palia will be working on the day and doesn’t see himself doing anything special. “Nothing out of the ordinary. It is a working day for me, but I plan to visit my family and spend some time together.” When asked about Parsi cuisine that he hopes to feast on New Year, he says, “I would love to eat it if it’s made at home, but I won’t go out of my way to order any.”

The evening sees Parsi families stepping out, dressed in their finery for the occasion to greet friends and relatives. A unique part of the celebration includes attending numerous Parsi plays that are scheduled across the city on the day.

“Amongst the Parsi community, theatre is very big and there are some Parsi groups that conduct plays specifically for the New Year. It is like a ritual for us to go out in the evening to watch these plays. We have been following this in our family for forever now,” shares Balsara, adding that NCPA and Rangsharda are popular venues for catching such plays

Parsis are known for their incredible sense of humour. Thus, instead of enacting mythological or religious excerpts on stage, they prefer an out an out comedy session on New Year’s day. “Life is full of worries and tension so the thought for a Parsi New Year is: ‘Let’s have a good laugh together’,” shares celebrated Parsi theater personality Sam R Kerawalla, who is presenting the Parsi gujarati comedy ‘Tirangi Tehmul’ this year at NCPA in Mumbai. “The trend was first started by the famous Parsi playwright Adi Pherozeshah Marzban, who wrote all the plays that you see us enacting these days,” he explains.

In accordance with the trend, Centre Stage Productions too is showcasing their comic play at Rangsharda on Parsi New Year. “Last year was our Silver Jubilee in performing plays on New Year’s day. Judging by the almost 90 per cent turn out each year, one can see how much us Parsis like theatre and humour. I hope we keep our love for the art alive in the years to come as well,” signs off theatre artist and drama producer Roshan Tirandaz.