Article By Apoorva Puranik |Mid-Day
If the government’s $1.6 million programme to arrest the decline of numbers in the Parsi Zoroastrian community, by offering the best in IVF expertise, is to be a true blue success, bachelorhood can no longer be a Parsi mainstay.
Mumbai-based model, television actor and bachelor Viraf Patel understands this.
When his friends and family didn’t tire from coaxing him to “find a nice Parsi girl”, Patel began to seriously ponder on ways to meet and greet. “The best way to get to know someone is by communicating,” says Patel, who then struck on the idea of an app that would help community members connect.
In collaboration with Pune-based software development firm Extentia, Patel hopes to launch Aapro App in the next two months. The team is currently gathering data and feedback from young Zoroastrians, figuring features that they’d like to see and designing a user-friendly interface.
The Parsi Zoroastrian population in India is pegged at 69,000, of which 40,000 reside in Mumbai. By the end of last year, Jiyo Parsi had managed to add 22 new members to the community, Union Minister of Minority Affairs Najma Heptullah announced. The study that backed the campaign was carried out by Parzor Foundation and the Tata Institute of Social Sciences (TISS). Among reasons for dwindling numbers, late and non-marriage emerged top of the chart with fertility decline. One in five Parsi men from India over 50, and one of 10 Indian Parsi females are unmarried, it said.
Former chairman of the Bombay Parsi Punchayet, Dinshaw Mehta, had a straight forward take on the app. “As long as its use remains within the community, it will help us. The present situation is frightening, and any initiative to help numbers grow is welcome.”
For the moment, the app is being considered as a platform that’s by-Parsis-for-Parsis, says Extentia CEO Umeed Kothavala. A verification system is being worked on by the technology team to help keep out a whole universe that the Bawas simply refer to as ‘non-Parsis’.
Umeed Kothavala, app developer and Cyrus Broacha has promoted the app
“We could consider making it by-invite-only. We don’t wish to seem non-inclusive, and could look at allowing access to all communities in future, but for the moment let’s focus on helping single Parsis meet their ilk,” says Patel, adding that he would like it to gradually expand into a social and professional networking platform.
Although purists will hand Patel their vote, there is likely to be a section that could root for inclusiveness.
“Let it be about choice,” advises well known caterer, food historian and history enthusiast Kurush Dalal, who chose to marry a Bengali. “People are going to find people they like and love any which way. We need to move with the times is my point of view. We [Parsis] are colour-conscious and far from inclusive. Those who wish to be ‘Parsi-Parsi’, and endogamous, more glory to them.”
Former BPP trustee Dinshaw Tamboly, who is known for his reformist views, says that given the fact that that the app aims to be for Parsis-only, it is for the user to decide whether s/he wishes to be on it. “If someone wishes to meet people only from within the community, this app may be their best bet. Otherwise, there are so many other social networking sites where they can meet people from all walks of life. It really depends on what the app users wish to do and choose to do.”
Actor and TV host Parizaad Kolah Marshall finds the idea “hilarious and excellent”. Most Indian communaities, she says, have traditionally advocated intra-marriage, so also the Parsis. “For those wishing to meet or date within the community, it’s a great idea. Debates over non-inclusiveness can continue, but initiatives like these will bring us closer,” she thinks. Actor Boman Irani, television host Cyrus Broacha, event management firm Wizcraft’s Viraf Sarkari and industrialists Farhad Patel and Xerxes Dastoor are on an advisory committee that’s overlooking promotions.
The youth are already curious after a video by Broacha was uploaded on Facebook. “It looks interesting from the video. I might finally have my parents off my back over meeting Parsi boys,” says Bandra resident and MBA student Tanaz Cassad.
Broacha, who Patel calls an “advisory board member” for the Aapro App, with trademark wit, says, “It’s not Reliance or Tata! Tell Viraf to chill! I’m happy to just spread the word about a platform that already has youngsters’ curiosity going. The dating pool will get wider. For now, it is Parsi exclusive and people are going to have all sorts of opinion on it. Why not non-Parsis, the reformists will ask; traditional Bawas will question the need for an app in the first place. Let’s just say it’s like any other social network, with a Parsi twist.”
While hooking up coo-some twosomes is the primal plan, the larger goal is to create a platform for community engagement, with an added feature of dating. “Our main concern, therefore, is that the interface should be inviting,” Kothavala says. They hope that it finally ends up as an intra-community search engine, offering handy information on restaurants that serve Parsi bhonu, emergency numbers for hospitals that have wards for Parsis and contacts of philanthropic societies.
We are keen to discuss the app’s USP with Patel, and he certainly has the last word: “Given the unimpressive numbers of our community, this is one app that will never crash.”