A Date With Parsis

The new saviours of a 3,500 year-old faith are hip and tech-savvy. Parsi-Zoroastrian youngsters are using Facebook, speed dating, and paintball competitions to meet, make merry and perhaps marry.

By Janaki Viswanathan / Mid-Day

zyng-01 Can we not have that piece of art in the frame, please? We are apolitical," requests 27 year-old Tashan Mistree, referring to hand and lotus party symbols that adorn a psychedelic graffiti wall. Point taken. After all, there is nothing political about this bunch of 11 Mumbai youngsters who can’t get enough of cracking jokes at each other during a photo shoot we have organised at a South Mumbai art gallery.

Some of them wonder whether they should slip on cheery white and yellow Zyng (Zoroastrian Youth For The Next Generation) tees, a fashionable representation of the one year-old youth forum they are members of. Zyng’s goal: bring the Parsi youth together (Zyng hosts at least two social events every month), help them get in touch with their roots, and promote what’s probably the community’s need of the hour — intra-community marriages.

 

When youth meet-cute

Instead of resorting to uncool matrimonial platforms, some as retro as horoscope matching, Zyng gives Parsi-Zoroastrian youth the opportunity to interact over a thrilling game of paintball, hoping that a few of those interactions snowball into marriage.

In June last year, Zyng conducted its first speed dating session at Valhalla, Churchgate’s hi-end Spanish themed restaurant. A roaring success, the evening saw 40 men and 40 women from Mumbai’s Parsi community follow a stopwatch and their hearts, to spend three minutes with each member of the opposite sex. Hooshang Gotla, a volunteer with Zyng, says they’ve been requested to conduct similar sessions. The next one is slated for September.

"We heard of some boys and girls hitting it off really well after that speed dating session, but we don’t kept a tab on how many end up getting married. We just wanted to bring them together," smiles Mistree, an executive with the pharma industry.

The paintball competition was a novel concept that brought together 24 teams of eight youngsters each. It’s turned into an annual event now; the next one is scheduled for January 2011.

On Facebook too

The youth forum is under the aegis of the Bombay Parsi Punchayet (BPP; the community’s largest representative body), and was born from a core group of youngsters who used to help the BPP during its annual election campaigns. "The BPP leaders complained about us vanishing once the elections were over. That’s how Zyng.org was born," says accountant Burges H. Wania. While they started with an enviable 500-member base last year, today, Zyng.org has 2,500 members.

Mistree says the forum was inspired by Facebook and the easy connectivity that the Internet offers. Zyng is web and SMS-driven, although she insists they don’t spam members with mass emails or group mobile messages. The youth forum has a Parsi Facebook page too, where members post updates and inform the others about upcoming events. This page also doubles up as a platform for Parsis across the world, who wish to come together for an event, workshop, discussion, even a food festival.

More than Cupid

The team says they are not around to play Cupid full-time. "Parsi youth have had an isolated existence within our baugs or Parsi housing colonies. Some of us live outside them, leaving us little opportunity to interact with others our age from the community. A forum like this is great for everyone to come together," says Mistree. Madon points to co-member Arnavaz Barucha, who adds, "I have never lived in a Parsi colony, so until I joined Zyng, I wasn’t aware Mumbai had so many Parsis."

For Dinshaw Mehta, chairman, BPP, however, the most important function that Zyng performs, is getting Parsi-Zoroastrian youth hitched. "We’ve been trying to get the youth involved, which is why we wanted a group like Zyng to be set up in the first place. Once they come together, alliances are bound to materialise. We need to boost community numbers," he says.

zyng-02 Internet can save the faith

Zyng isn’t the only youth connect forum. Mumbai entrepreneur Yazdi Tantra runs three websites for Zoroastrians to connect, share views and stay in touch: http://www.theparsidirectory.com/, http://www.themissingparsi.com/, and http://www.zoroastrians.net/.

"Lectures about the religion, and periodicals are pass ©. The Internet is the best and easiest way to bring together Parsi youth scattered across the world," says Tantra, 55, who runs a computer consultancy. Earlier, he says, when a certain region had a large number of Parsis, they would come together to form an ‘anjuman’ or group. "Now, they come together virtually. It’s convenient."

As we speak, Tantra receives a phone call from Dubai. It’s from a young Parsi lady who needs assistants to work on her nursery in Mumbai. His network will help her connect with Parsi youth recruits in no time.

Marriages and social meetings aside, youngsters are rediscovering a lost trait their forefathers were famous for: a knack for business. Gotla, 24, who trained to become a commercial pilot, now runs his own T-shirt manufacturing enterprise. He was encouraged by the World Zarathushti Chamber of Commerce (WZCC), which he also works for. Freyaz Shroff, who heads the youth wing of WZCC, says training and development, networking and exposure is their aim.

Speed networking, the business angle to speed dating, is what caught everyone’s fancy. Held just like any other speed dating event, the session saw youngsters share business ideas too. WZCC has a Facebook page and an active website that also occasionally helps Parsi youth land jobs across India and abroad.

Thanks to ZpeakerBox.com, which was launched in 2004, the community has a soapbox of sorts. With a presence in India, Canada, UK, USA, Iran, Germany and Pakistan, the website posts essays and articles written by members, and has an online store for clothes and knick-knacks. Roping in GenNext in an attempt to appear hipper and technology-conscious is towards a good end.

A bike ride can do it

City architect Jimmy Mistry runs the Parsi Resources Group. Its Dadar head office is where countless events that bring the youth together, have germinated. "I’ve provided audio-visual aids, and the center is up for use free of cost. The WZCC, the marriage bureau attached to BPP, and job forums… anyone is welcome to use it," he says. Mistry next plans to launch an exhibition centre within the premises, where he hopes to take youngsters on a walk through history. "It’s important for the youth to understand who we are, where we come from, and why it’s important to conserve our faith."

Mistry’s bike rallies that aim to bring together a large group of Parsis, are a hit. "What we need is to get together, have a carnival of sorts." Marriage, of course, can follow. "When youngsters meet, there is the chance to date, maybe marry and have kids. What we need is a sense of togetherness," he agrees.

What’s Zyng got in store?

Come October and the youth forum will organise an all-India dance competition for the community. Various styles of dance will be welcomed. The competition is to be held at St Andrews Auditorium in Bandra on October 9. For details and/or to be a part of Zyng (only for Parsis aged 15 to 40), log on to http://www.zyng.org/

Figure trigger

2,500 to 18,000, the number of Zoroastrians who came from Iran to India in the eighth century and landed in Sanjan, Gujarat. There were three boatfulls of them. They were fleeing persecution by Arabs.

1640, the year in which Parsis moved to Mumbai. Apparently, Dorabji Nanabhai was the first to shift base.

69,601, current estimate of Parsis in India, according to the 2001 consensus.

1,000:1,050, the male-female ratio as of 2001 in India

99 births, registered from January 2007 to August 2007. That’s in contrast to 2001, when 223 births were registered. There has been a drastic fall in the number of births.

12%, percentage of adolescents and children among the Parsi community in India.

30% of Parsis are over the age of 50. 

The handbook

Parsi  customs

Why Parsis dispose their dead in the Tower of SilenceIt’s believed that after death, the body is vulnerable to evil spirits who can take it over. The clothes the person was wearing are destroyed and a new sudreh-kusti (religious tunic) are tied. A dog is brought in to gaze at the face of the deceased because its divine sight apparently wards off evil spirits. The sun and vultures in the Tower of Silence well act as natural destroyers. Zoroastrians consider fire sacred, hence burning the dead would pollute fire.

When the government jumped in

Earlier this year, the government announced The Fertility Support Scheme for Parsis and Zoroastrians in Budget 2010-2011, to increase community numbers. Dinshaw Mehta says the budget of Rs 1 crore, which the scheme was allocated, still hasn’t been sanctioned, and that fertility centres are being planned in and around Mumbai, Pune and Navsari. 

  • Religious but Rational

    If the entire Parsee population is 69601 as per the last Census of 2001 and with the age profile, the number would be lesser by now. Why the senior citizens have no separate forum to attend to their problems when 30 per cent of the population is stated to be over the age of 50 and would have increased during the last decade
    .Good if ZYNG avoids political type controversies but were the current Trustees and some past Trustees too not ‘social workers’ and used that network to get elected.?