KARACHI: As you enter the Parsi Colony from MA Jinnah Road you experience a strange feeling. You are truly taken away by the architecture of beautiful bungalows and houses. But then you are taken aback to find that their owners have long gone and now no one lives in these houses. Once a vibrant community, the number of Parsis now living in Karachi is fast shrinking.
Article by Emanuel Sarfraz | The Nation
Parsis are Followers of Zoroastrianism, which is one of the oldest religions in the world. Legend has it that they fled Persia over a millennium ago for safety of their lives. The history is repeating itself and they are now migrating to the western countries for economic and security reasons.
Rustom a retired banker is resident of 12 Katrak Parsi Colony. He is among the Parsis still living in the colony. The house next to him and the two houses in front of his home are vacant. One chowkidar takes care of the houses in front, which belongs to in-laws of famous artist Jimmy Engineer whose studio is also there. “Everyone is leaving but I will not go. I have two brothers who live with their families in Canada. I am not married and have no desire to go abroad. I have heard that the house next door has been sold but the new owners have not shifted yet. According to society rules Parsi property can only be sold to Parsis but now that rule is not followed.
A lot of robberies take place here. They have permanently deputed police who stop people in the name of security to make money. Robberies continue to take place. Parsis themselves have to blame as they let outsiders come inside the colony.
“The colony has a beautiful park where all Parsis used to come in the evening. We also have a library there. Nobody comes to the park now. The chatting session we used to have with friends have long ended. They have put locks on the park doors. Parsis era of independence and prosperity is over,” Rostum said.
The park is no doubt very beautiful but as Rostum said it was a deserted place as were many of the houses in colony. The colony also houses many flats. Some of these flats are being used by Rangers for their housing. Afzal Khan a resident of Saddar said no one can challenge the Rangers, therefore, it was useless to voice concern over their occupying the flats.
Karachi was a different city in early 60s when Hindus, Parsis, Christians and Muslims all lived in peace respecting each other’s cultures. Hamid Mayet is President of TOS Pakistan in Jamshed Memorial Hall. He says he remember the city in 60s when there were pieces of art everywhere in the form of statues. “The statues one day all disappeared. We don’t know where they were taken. Parsis are a shrinking community because they don’t cross marry nor is there conversion in their religion. You have to be a born Parsi and if you marry some person having another religion you are no longer a Parsi. At the time of partition there were more than 40,000 Parsis living in Karachi. Now their number hardly touches 1400. There has been migration of young Parsis mainly for security reasons,” Mayet was of the view.
The community is becoming numerically small and the one reason is the rise of Islamic fundamentalism. Parsis mostly have been affluent. The reason for their migration is not economic one. Jimmy Engineer explained the situation. “Karachi used to be a cosmopolitan city. Different communities lived here and there was freedom of expression and you could wear what you like. Women went around in saris and gown as per their own culture. Wearing of sleeveless dresses was common. There were some incidents in which Parsi women were attacked with blades for not covering themselves properly by religious zealots.
“Mindset of some people here made Parsis change their minds and they started leaving. Young Parsis don’t want to live here. They want their freedom and good environment. My daughter Saroasha did not want to live here. She did her MBA and decided to go abroad. She now lives in Houston, USA. My parents, brothers and sisters all live in USA. Here the issues like load-shedding of electricity and water availability have been continuing for decades. It is not just the Parsis other who are fed up with these things and can afford to migrate are doing so,” Jimmy said.
Besides being famous for his art works Jimmy is also a great humanitarian and promotes Pakistani nationalism. On a query as to why did not settle abroad with his family, he said he will never do so. “People belonging to minorities are never brave. They want to avoid confrontation and that is why they leave. My wife died in 2014. The rest of the family is abroad. I go abroad quite often but only to promote positive image of Pakistan.
“Most people have forgotten that I am a Parsi. They think I am Muslim. The white portion of Pakistani flag depicts the minorities share in nation. We should rise as one nation. The respect that I get in Pakistan I will not get anywhere else. Pakistan has given a lot to me and I will never leave it,” maintained Jimmy.