On Sanjan Day, Parsis dwell on future


November 18, 2012

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As you travel north on the railroad route from Mumbai towards Surat, the first station beyond the Gujarat border is Umargam. The second is a small, unassuming coastal settlement named Sanjan.

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milk and sent the bowl back to the king.

This action implied that just as sugar mixed with milk added taste to the milk, so also, the Persians would mix with local people and prove an asset to the kingdom.

"The king allowed the Persians to settle, provided they adopted the local language and their women wore the native dress. They would no longer carry arms. The Persians agreed to these terms and settled in the place, naming it after their Persian hometown. In time, they came to be known as ‘Parsis’ (from the Fars/Pars region of Iran). The year was 936 CE," relates Mistree.

The Parsis may have prospered in India, but their recent history has been one of problems and controversies.

Dwindling numbers (Parsis numbered 61,000 in the 2001 census). Demographic trends project that by the year 2020 the Parsis will number only 23,000. The Parsis will then cease to be called a community and will be labeled a ‘tribe’.

Dwindling vultures at ‘dakhmas’, their funeral towers, unmarried adults, a large geriatric population, a taboo on mixed marriages and conversions to Zoroastrianism, a divide between reformists and traditionalists ? these are some issues that have dominated Parsi discourse of late.

"At the end of the day, the majority view must prevail. And the majority view is that Parsis must stay traditional, i.e., no to conversions and interfaith marriages. Yes, there is a divide between reformists and traditionalists. But the reformists are a minority who don’t represent the community’s view," says Mistree.

But will a middle path ever be found? "All is not lost. Patience, time and effort and, most importantly, dialogue will yield dividends," says Shernaaz Engineer, editor of the 180?year?old Jam?e?Jamshed newspaper.

What about young Parsis?

"The younger generation is not so caught up in these issues. They are busy forging their careers and live by the motto ‘Live and Let Live’. But despite the fact that their lifestyle demands are very high, they have not lost their community feelings," Engineer told IANS.

So what about the future?

"I hope we will pull through. But that will require serious thought and action. Unless consistent action is taken, we will be in a tough situation.

We can’t take survival for granted. We will have to act and act fast," says Engineer.

(Rajat Ghai can be contacted at rajat.g@ians.in )