Every year, in March, the Parsis, who are probably Delhi’s smallest community, celebrate Navroze, their New Year, at the 62-year-old Parsi Dharamshala on Bahadurshah Zafar Marg, next to Delhi Gate. There is music and dancing as a jolly bunch of Parsis wish each other saal mubarak and feast on delicious salli murghi and patrani macchi.
Unlike Mumbai, Delhi does not have a strong Parsi connection and Feroze Gandhi, Rahul Gandhi’s paternal grandfather, seems to have been one of the few Parsis to have become prominent in the capital early on. Unsurprising considering the first record of the presence of 30 Parsis in the city was made in 1913. In 1925, when numbers grew to 40, the Delhi Parsi Anjuman was formed. Today, there are 734 Parsis in the National Capital Region.
Naturally, you have to search hard to catch glimpses of their presence here. Indeed, the Delhi Parsi Anjuman’s kitchen where you can savour authentic dhansak is one of the city’s best kept secrets. “Ring up in the morning to place your order for lunch,” says Dhun Bagli, manager of the Anjuman’s guesthouse and the force behind its kitchen. “We have a regular daily menu and we love it when non-Parsis visit,” she says. The kitchen serves kulfis that are almost as good as the ones at the legendary Parsi Dairy Farm in Mumbai. Just as the Parsis have a distinct culinary tradition, they have a design tradition that combines the aesthetic streams of Persia and India. This is evident in the embroidered garas (saris), jhablas (jackets) and ijars (pantaloons) available at the Parzor Foundation in Hauz Khas Enclave. The outlet stocks everything from sadras or sacred shirts and traditional Parsi lamps to wall hangings and scarves embellished with authentic Parsi hand embroidery.
Few know that the Dar-e-Meher, Delhi’s only agyari or fire temple is located near Delhi Gate, and that Navroze Bagh, the community cemetery, is hidden behind Khan Market. Parsis expose their dead to the elements as they do at Mumbai’s Tower of Silence, but the size of the community here has made it more convenient to opt for burial. Professor Rukhshana Shroff, who teaches at LSR College and runs the Farohar or religious instruction classes at the dharamshala says younger Parsis are proud of their sadra and kashti (sacred thread). However, the Delhi Parsi’s approach to religious observances is liberal. Special educator Nazneen Aibara who was born here connects spiritually to her religion. “I do my prayers not as a routine but because I wish to,” she says.
While the Delhi Parsi Youth Committee organises events so more single Parsis find partners from within the community, many are opting to marry non-Parsis. “The community is willing to accommodate ‘outsiders’ to check their dwindling population. Delhi’s Parsis are becoming secular,” says writer Keki Daruwalla.
Their cosmopolitanism has ensured that Parsis have blended in. “I am a Parsi but I don’t live like one,” says adman Freddy Birdy. “I get thrilled when I meet a Parsi fellow in Delhi. It fascinates me,” he says.
Now that Delhi knows of the existence of this group, they’ll be as fascinated too.