Silvern Journey: The Story of the Afarganyu of the Sukkur Agiary

Date

June 13, 2020

Recently we had carried an article about the erstwhile Sukkur Agiary in Pakistan. Our dear friend Nerina Rustomji sent us an article she had authored more than two decades ago. This was published on April 10, 1998 in the program book on the occasion of the opening of the Zarathushti Heritage & Cultural Center, in Houston; the home of the Zoroastrian Association of Houston.

Allow me to introduce myself

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I am the Afarganyu in the prayer room of the Zarathushti Heritage and Culture Center in Houston, Texas. If you haven’t seen me before, you should drop by. Once you glance at me and my impressive height, you will probably want to know where I came from and how I got to Houston.

My journey was not an easy one. Before I reached Houston, I was living a lonely life in an abandoned agiary in Sukkur, Pakistan. Little did I know that a couple form Houston asked their Pakistani friends if there were any spare afarganyus for the Center. The Dasturji of Quetta suggested that I volunteer, since all the Zoroastrians left Sukkur in 1950’s and I just sitting in an unused agiary. After obtaining permission from my legal guardian – the Parsi Anjuman of Quetta – someone sent two men from Karachi to drive to Sukkur, pick me up, and deliver me safely to Karachi. And so these men drove the dusty road, opened the dilapidated agiary and packed me up.

But I was not telling you the embarrassing part. I was not as beautiful as I am today. In fact, I was jet black and those in Karachi and Houston worried that I was made of copper. But they had faith in me and didn’t abandon me. Instead someone polished me – and then my beautiful shine emerged. (A silver afarganyu needs a bath too!)

And so I was ready for my new home in Houston. The problem was that we needed the permission of the Pakistani government who considered me valuable; in fact, an antique. So the officials initially refused to allow my passage. And after some persuasion, everyone agreed that I could stay in Houston only if work in a religious institution. I was overjoyed to be able to live in a thriving community again. The next day, someone freighted me to Houston.

So there you have it. I first served the Sukkur community from the mid nineteenth century to the 1940’s Owned by Pakistan, I was brought to Houston by the kindness of my friends in Houston and Pakistan. But how did I get to Sukkur? I was donated by a railway engineer named Seth Phirojshaw Rustomji Mehta. This kind man inscribed the following words in Gujarati on to my torso.

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Seth Phirojshaw Rustomji Mehta’s gift to Sukkur Pakistan Dar-e-Meher on Roj 20 month 5 year 1286 y.g. date 28 January 1917.

Whoever thought that seventy-nine years later I would be at the gala opening of Houston’s Zarathushti Heritage and Cultural Center? Thank you for inviting me into such a thriving and dynamic community in the New World. May our friendship bring peace and joy to the Zarathushtis of Houston.

My journey was possible due to the efforts of:

Abadan Abadan, Minoo Bharucha, Khurshid Kaikobad Marker, Dasturji Sohrabji Makujina and Purves Rana of Quetta; Sarfaraz and Feroze Golwalla, Rana Thakur, and Adarbad Wadia of Karachi. Baki and Mike Minwalla of Dubai; and Aban and Purvez Rustomji of Houston; and of course Seth Phirojshaw Rustomji Mehta and the former residents of Sukkur, Pakistan

I look forward to serving the Houston community and the Zarathushtis of North America. Be sure to visit me during the Seventh World Zoroastrian Congress December 28-2000, January 1, 2001.

 

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And later in 2017…Nerina followed up with an article in the Manashni, the newsletter of the Zoroastrian Association of Houston.

Did we miss an anniversary?

January 28, 2017, was the 100th anniversary of the afarganyu in our prayer room. The inscription in the prayer room says it was gifted by Seth Phirojshaw Rustomji Mehta to the Sukkur’s Dar-e-Meher. Over the years the Sukkur Zoroastrian community dwindled and the afarganyu sat in an abandoned agyari. So how did it get to Houston? The journey was not a simple one. Permission was first sought from the guardian Quetta Parsi Anjuman. Then came the arduous task of getting permission from the Pakistan government, who initially refused as it was considered to be valuable; in fact, an antique.

After some persuasion, it was allowed to leave only if it was placed in a place of worship. So it traveled from the dusty roads of Sukkur to the Karachi harbor where it was packed and shipped to Houston. A few will remember the aferganyu was jet black when it arrived and we were worried it was made of copper and not silver. And while Phase I of ZHCC was being constructed, the afarganyu sat in a home garage for a long time. Community members took turns in cleaning it and finally a silver shine emerged.

So there you have it – a 100 years later we treasure this gift donated by a railway engineer named Seth Phirojshaw Rustomji Mehta and thank all those who were responsible for bringing it Houston.