Parsis: The Zoroastrians of India Pakistan and The World

Conversation From Karachi

Talking to 80-year-old Dhanjishae H. Munderji, an occupant of the he Parsi general hospital, over a cup of tea, turned out to be quite an elucidating experience. Speaking on a host of issues, we eventually came to the topic of Karachi in terms of the city as we know it and how it once was.

“You know,” said Munderji, a former professor, “Karachi was once called one of the cleanest cities of the East?”

That remark, seemingly unreal for Karachiites of my generation, came with a tinge of lament for the present situation mixed with a pride of having actually seen the city in its former glory.

In fact, now that one thinks of it, the very location of the infirmary presented a potent example. Sitting right next to the Empress Market in Saddar, the road leading to the infirmary presented an extremely sorry appearance with fly-infested garbage and the overwhelming stench of rotten vegetables, not to mention the mounds of carbon monoxide one had to inhale while stuck in a traffic jam in front of the market. The infirmary’s site itself, however, was, as expected, impeccably clean and green.

What happened to Karachi? There was nothing dazzling or novel about the answer to that query — it was simple yet profound and is something that has become somewhat of an ignored truism today. Firstly, said Munderji, there is a lack of dedication, on the part of both citizens and authorities. He was not only alluding to the current set up but the failure of previous governments to handle and plan the city according to the influx of population over the years. ‘Population size is everything.’

This lack of dedication, he felt, stemmed from a lack of ownership of the city. We always tend to think that anything that happens outside the boundaries of our walls is not our problem, he adds.

The Zoroastrian (Parsi) community is one of the most educated and informed segments of society, which had played a huge role in the establishment of Karachi as a major city well before partition. In fact, the first mayor of Karachi, Jamshed Nusserwanjee Mehta, was a Zoroastrian. He is widely regarded to be the man responsible for Karachi’s transformation into an important and vibrant metropolis during his 13-year tenure. Among other important developments that took place under a man who was greatly appreciated for his services to the downtrodden, it was under the aegis of Mehta that Bandar Road (Bandar is Urdu for ‘port’) was created into a large dual carriage commercial artery running up to Karachi port. We know this road today as the all-important thoroughfare of M.A. Jinnah Road.

Yet, today, a majority of, if not all, Zoroastrians remain apolitical, at least in terms of direct participation, in the face of a dearth of competent leadership figures in Pakistan in general and Karachi in particular.

Munderji agreed to this fact, citing that the size of the community as the reason. He pointed out that until a few years ago, there were 5,000 to 6,000 Zoroastrians in Karachi, a number which has fallen to about 1,500 thanks to emigration.

In the end, however, despite all this city’s flaws, and his community’s youth’s preference for settling abroad, Munderji retains his loyalty to this city and says he would want to be no where else. With an easy and sincere smile, the eighty-year-old former professor, who, all these years since his retirement, still seemed to be in possession of his ability to inspire and educate said: ‘What ever this city may have become — it is still my home.’ Perhaps this is the sense of ownership he was referring to. — Gp

Original article here