Return To Roots: Garas ‘n’ bhonu, Mumbai ish-tyle

Tucking into a scrumptious chicken pattice at an impeccably clean hall at the Ratan Tata Institute (RTI) at Hughes Road, Nelofar Patel (20) Economics student from Lahore can hardly contain her excitement. “We are just 25 Parsis in all in Lahore, so you can imagine how excited I am to meet Parsis of my age group!” she says, before going off to chat with a group of 15 young Zoroastrians, from the US, Canada, Australia, Iran and Mumbai.

Article by Apoorva Puranik | Mid-Day

The Return to Roots fellows on a ride through Zoroastrian history. Pics/Swarali Purohit
The Return to Roots fellows on a ride through Zoroastrian history. Pics/Swarali Purohit

In Mumbai for three days, the young Parsis as part of a ‘Return to Roots’ programme have taken a look at The Parsi General Hospital, Esplanade House, Bhika Behram Well in SoBo, fire temples, Irani cafés and the highlight, a tete-a-tete with Tata honcho Ratan Tata.

Fellows lunching at Britannia & Co. at Ballard Estate
Fellows lunching at Britannia & Co. at Ballard Estate

They have had bhonu at Britannia & Co, Ballard Estate, and then done the touristy stuff, boarding an open-air bus, visiting tourist sites.

Natasha Karanjia (left) and Parisa Parsi (right) from USA check out Parsi saris, Kayras Irani (left) from Canada and Zubin Gheesta
Natasha Karanjia (left) and Parisa Parsi (right) from USA check out Parsi saris, Kayras Irani (left) from Canada and Zubin Gheesta

A busy schedule included visits to the Atash Behram, the highest degree fire temples in Kalbadevi, the priest’s training school in Dadar and exploring some cafés and bakeries. City hopping took so much time, that the youngsters had barely any time for shopping.

When we visited them at the RTI, the girls especially were delighted. Right opposite the RTI, was the annex’s building with traditional Parsi gara saris and kurtas with gara work.

The lighter stuff aside, the ‘Return to Roots’ programme, initiated by Parzor, is a UNSECO project for the preservation and promotion of Parsi-Zoroastrian culture. It aimed to make young Zoroastrians reconnect with their culture, and connect with the larger community. From Mumbai, they go onwards to Gujarat to Nargol, Sanjan, Udvada, Navsari and Surat, rich repositories of Zoroastrian history. From there, New Delhi calls, as special invitees of the Ministry of Minority Affairs of India, for the opening of the ‘Everlasting Flame’ Exhibition, which will showcase the history and culture of Zoroastrianism.

“There is an increasing disconnect between Zoroastrians and their ancestral communities,” said Arzan Sam Wadia, programme organiser. “Those who have at least one Zoroastrian parent and who have had their navjote are eligible to participate in the fellowship,” Wadia added.

Parisa Parsi, an Irani Zoroastrian from California and Natasha Karanjia from Karachi, were bonding over shopping, like gals everywhere. “I have never seen my culture this closely before. I had no idea about its intricacies or controversies, given how small the community is in Pakistan. At first, it was the chance to see Mumbai that made me sign up for the Fellowship. I am glad I did, as I know how beautiful Zoroastrianism is,” said Karanjia.

Kayras Irani, from Canada, who was part of the group last year as a fellow, returned for this years’ trip as a volunteer. The experience for him has been enriching, he says. “After this programme, Fellows are becoming more involved with their local Zoroastrian associations, giving back to the community, and encouraging others to participate.” Irani added, “I am too biased towards this programme, and in love with this country. I have made some great friends here,” he said, before pulling another volunteer, Zubin Gheesta into an embrace for a photograph.

Mumbai born and bred Gheesta, seemed hugely popular. He said, “People are dissociated from the religion, and we hope more people are encouraged to learn about their ancestors. We plan to introduce similar trips to Iran, given that there is where are roots truly are,” he said, just as he ushered the group into a bus, on their way to the next stop on their schedule.

Bidding them farewell, we noticed that young people are the same everywhere, history and heritage is one thing, but flirtatious vibes within the group were as important. Given the dwindling numbers, we think if romance goes along with, ‘Return to Roots’, well, that can only be a good thing for the community.