The last of the Punjabi Parsis


June 30, 2008


Individuals | News

By Ajay Bharadwaj

With the passing away of Field Marshal Sam Manekshaw on Friday, none of the Parsis who had made Amritsar their home are alive today

CHANDIGARH: Amritsar has been in deep mourning after the only tender link it had with the Parsi community was severed with the passing away of Field Marshal Sam HFJ Manekshaw.

It was more than a century ago that a handful of Parsis found a home in the heart of the Sikh religious capital. Since then, the relation between Amritsar and Parsis, though tenuous, had persisted even as the Parsis weathered all storms that the border city faced, be it during the Partition or the trouble-torn days of militancy.

But the demise of Sam Bahadur has left the holy city forlorn, for it has no Parsi link left to feel proud of. Last year, Tehmi Bogga Bhandari — the only recognised Parsi living in Amritsar — had passed away She was 102. The family of another Parsi, Keccki Kawasji, moved out of the holy city four years ago due to medical reasons, while Mini Bogga, who still lives in Amritsar, has lost her place in the Parsi community by marrying a Canadian.

Field Marshal Sam Hormusji Framji Jamshedji Manekshaw was born on April 3, 1914, in Amritsar, to Parsi parents who had immigrated to Punjab from the small town of Valsad on the Gujarat coast. Sam’s father, Dr FHS Manekshaw ,a medical practitioner, who settled down in Amritsar in 1900, ran a clinic in the city.

The city had hosted a memorable reception in 1973 when the Field Marshal visited the historic Ram Bagh after scripting history in the 1971 war. During that visit, he had also visited “Sur Babu & Co”, the chemist shop once owned by his father in Katra Ahluwalia. The shop still displays pictures of the family members of the Field Marshal and the chair in which his father sat still remains unoccupied with a picture of Sam on it.

Octogenarian Om Parkash , who had worked for 25 years with the company, recalled that Dr Manekshaw was “a man of his word”. The shop was gifted to a family friend and is a pilgrim spot for many army jawans who come visiting the city.

The other illustrious Amritsari Parsi, Tehmi Bhandar, had been Manekshaw’s childhood friend. Her parents, along with the family of Sam Manekshaw, were actually heading for Lahore during the British raj, but after a tedious journey from Bombay decided to make Amritsar their home. Born in a rich conservative Parsi family in Amritsar in 1906, she was the first woman to introduce “hospitality business” to the city when she converted her palatial home into a “guest house”, which was visited by many foreign dignitaries, diplomats and Hollywood icons.

Tehmi braved the hard times in her business during the wars of 1962, 1965 and 1971, the Emergency and during the decade-long period of terrorism in Punjab. Incidentally, the famous ‘Bhandari Bridge’ in the city was named after her illustrious first husband Padam Chand Bhandari, the man behind the mutli-laned bridge connecting the walled city with Civil Lines.

Tehmi’s indomitable spirit was evident quite early when she became the first woman to complete her Master’s in English, and own and drive a car — a Lincoln 12-cylinder with a soft top.

Tehmi met the challenge of attending to the refugees during Partition in 1947. She stitched clothes for the refugees who arrived in Amritsar and were given shelter at the Gobindgarh Fort and other camps.