Dara Rivetna: My Sojourn At Navsari

My dear wife Dinsoo passed away at the WZO Trust Funds Senior Citizens Centre at Navsari on 24th December 2015 around 7 am.

EXPERIENCES OF MY SOJOURN AT NAVSARI 

By Dara M. Rivetna, Chicago.

I reside in Chicago, but for the last many years we have been spending the winter months in Mumbai as my wife Dinsoo had been keeping indifferent health and unable to bear the severe cold of Chicago.

During our sojourns in India, I used to volunteer for work with the WZO Trust Funds, visit houses of beneficiaries at Mumbai and other places to investigate firsthand the appeals they received for a variety of causes. Dinsoo & I also visited the villages of Gujarat with Bachi & Dinshaw Tamboly, and raised funds for converting a few huts into cottages, besides personally donating ourselves for the replacement of a few huts into cottages.

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This year, Dinsoo’s health took a turn for the worse, and being unable to look after her on my own, I requested Bachi Tamboly, who is in charge of the WZO Trust Funds Senior Citizens Centres to allow Dinsoo to stay there for a few months before our return to Chicago in the summer of 2016.  

Thanks to the kindness and help of Bachi and Dinshaw Tamboly we were allowed to stay at the WZO Trust Funds Senior Centre.  Dinsoo and I arrived at the centre in Navsari on October 27, 2015 by a private taxi from Dadar, Mumbai where we stay at our Nephew’s house in Dadar. It was our intention to spend the rest of our time at Navsari during this trip to India till our return to Chicago in summer.

Let me first tell you all a few things about the centre. It is a place for elderly retired persons, 60 years and more who are mobile and able to look after their personal needs. It is like home in some ways and for many a resident it is more than home. It is here that they come to spend the evening of their life. Most residents are single except a couple of husbands and wives.

No matter the disability everyone is treated with respect and dignity. Residents help each other with small chores. One can stay to himself or socialize – to each his own. Some residents stay in common room where there are 4 residents to a room. There are rooms where there are two to a room and some rooms are singles.

Residents are allowed to go out at their will, the only thing is that they  have to inform the manager that they will be out, which of course is for their safety and well- being. The day starts at 7:00am for tea. Breakfast is at 9:00am and most residents take their shower get ready by breakfast and then it is leisure time till lunch, which is at 12:30pm. After lunch it is siesta time till 4:00pm when it is afternoon tea and breakfast (what we call snack) Lot of seniors go for a walk in the neighborhoods, some sit on the veranda and gossip. At 8:00pm is call to dinner. All meals are served in the dining room.

Allow me to give you an idea of what we eat. Sample breakfast—it is either Parsi Poro; akuri; Masala eggs; scrambled eggs; Upma with lots of vegetables and nuts; Thepela, etc. There is always a choice of rotli or bread slices with butter and jam.

Sample lunch – DhanDhar ne patio; curry rice with fried slice of fish, kacumber+Lemon; Masala na Dhar chawl with cucumber; Khichdi ne dahi ni kadhi+papad; Parsi style Rus chawal – often there is a piece of fried fish such as a Pomfret or Boi.

Sample Dinner – rai na papata+murghi in masala; Turkey chicken; guvar-sing; girola; some vegetable or the other, chana ni dhar with shish-kebab. Homemade pickles are always available.

A portion of the food is preplaced on the plate and there are ladies walking around asking if anyone wants more. There is never a shortage of food, you can get as much as you want. A menu is posted one day before and there are some old folks who do not like veggies or meat so they can write their name and there is alternate stuff for them. ALL THE FOOD IS PARSI STYLE, NUTRICIOUS, DELICIOUS AND PLENTY. There are 4 ladies in the kitchen to look after the preparation of meals. One day Dinsoo mentioned to one of the cooks that she would like to eat Bhelpuri, and a few days later we had Bhelpuri with three different chutneys for her.

The operation at the centre is a well-oiled machine. Every morning there are ladies (local workers) who come and sweep and mop the rooms and wash clothes. They help with bathing and make hot water for shower for those who do not have geyser in their rooms. We were happy there and enjoying our stay.  

NOW LET’S TALK ABOUT NAVSARI AS I KNOW IT. Some of the information has been gleaned from the 1st Dasturji Meherji Rana Library.

Earlier Parsis had been living all along the west coast of India mainly in the area of Gujarat. There are two distinct towns that have a long history of being Parsi strongholds. One is Surat and the other is Navsari. This place was called nagmandal

(Snake pit, house of snake) but it seems that some Parsis thought that it looked more like Sari in Iran and they named it Nav  Sari.

Navsari was considered to be the stronghold of Parsidom. Even now there are many Parsi institutions here but sadly very few Parsis to take advantage of the facilities. Some of the most famous Parsis were from Navsari and in the past those who were not from Navsari came here to pay homage to the heart of Parsidom.  Three of the most recent outstanding Parsis are Jamshetji N. Tata, Dadbhoy Navroji and of course the greatest philanthropist of all times Sir Jamshetji Jeejebhoy.

These three were not just for Parsis but for the country- India’s first PM Nehru has known to have said that Jamshetji Tata was a one man planning commission for India. Navsari is also considered to be the Dharm ni Takdi (Top of the hill or Seat or pillar of our religion). His holiness Meherji Rana. represented Parsis at the court of Emperor Akbar. 

Navsari has the oldest Daremehr in India called Vadi Daremeher, which is well over 875 years old. There have been more Navars, Martabs performed at Vadi Daremehr than at any other place. Vadi Daremeher is considered to be akin to Harvard or Stanford of Parsi priests. (I believe you can only do a Sampurno mobed from here. Navsari was also the home of Iranshah for three hundred years. Navsari’s Atash Bahram is considered to be the 2nd holiest place for Parsis after Udvada. It is also set in a nicer setting than many other agairies and Atash Baharams. It is located in an area called Tarota).

Navsari was estimated to have had a Parsi population of 30,000+ but like all other Parsi population it is declining and is now estimated to be approx. 2,500. Presently a lot of Parsis live in an area called Ava Baugh. There is an old Ava Baugh and a new Ava Baugh. Ava Baugh was built by late Mr. Shapurji Jokhi. Shapurji Jokhi was a modern day philanthropist whose life  story runs almost similar to Sir Jamshetji Jeejibhoy. He was born in Navsari in a poor family and made his money thru hard work and business in Hong Kong, China.  As the population has declined so have the Parsi houses. They are either sold out to non-community members or some of them lying in total decay. The old city streets are called Mohalla (street). A lot of Mohallas have Parsi names. Vacha, Antiawad (Most Antias Lived on that street) Dasturwad, Kanga street, Dudha Mohalla, Damaka Mohalla, Pinjar Mohalla, etc.

There may be many hospitals in Navsari but there are two that are known to all and sundry in Navsari. One is D. N. Mehta Sarvajanik Hospital which is locally known as Parsi hospital and the other is Daboo Hosp.  The D. N. Mehta Hospital used to be earlier known as Parsi Suvavad khanu (maternity hospital). It is now a full fledged hospital. I have yet to remember a town where we  have visited and Dinsoo has not been interned in one of the hosp. She did not make an exception for Navsari.

There are many well known Parsis from Navsari both from Yore and new. Everyone knows about Meherji Rana who was invited to Emperor Akbar’s court. Another great person and sometimes considered as the savior of our faith was a man called Changasha. Changasha was a Desai, (Desai is like a mini king in a kingdom). He was very religious and very orthodox Parsi and was troubled by the fact that many Parsis in the villages and small towns had taken on Hindu customs, names, names like Jaloo, Dhunmai, Mani, etc. and followed Hindu practices. Almost all the rituals performed before the Parsi wedding are all Hindu. He held Mehfils – conferences and gave them sudreh and kusti. One person by the name Nariman Hoshang from Baruch had come to the Mehfils and Changasha deputed him to go to Kerman in Iran and other religious places in Iran and have discourses with the learned Dasturs and bring back information and religious practices. These practice of interchange continued for over 300years and are now popularly known has Revayats. Another achievement of his was to bring the holy Iranshah to Navsari from Vasanda where it stayed in Navsari for 300 years. He also settled Parsis in an area of Navsari which is now called Malesar. Chagsha name is recited in our prayers with other great Dasturs and scholars.  He had a son called Manecksha. Manecksha was called Raja probably the first Parsi Raja in India. Manecksha built the first Stone Dokhama in Navsari. There were many learned scholars from Navsari, to name a few, Dastur Darab Pallon, Dastur Jamspa Asa, Dasturan-Dastur Darabji Mahiarji Meherji Rana, Dastur Farmroze Kutar and his brother Dastur Kaikhushru Mahair Kutar of Dastur Darab Pahlon family. Dastur Kaikhushru Kutar was a scholar and use to recite and sing the Shah-Nameh at Dadar Rustom Farmana Agairy after his lectures on religion and stories from the Shah-Nameh. (My brother Jamshed and I never missed his lectures and singing of the Shah-nameh. He also held religious classes at Wadia Vacha High School in Dadar). Navsari has produced many other Dasturs and scholars. This is probably why it is called Dharm ni Tekri. A little known fact is that a Parsi by the name of Rustom Maneck Sett of Surat went to Aurangzeb’s (Aurangzeb was the son of Shah Jahan) court to plead for rights for the British to trade on the west coast. Why is this important? Because, if they were refused then the History of India or Mumbai for sure would be different.

Two well-known Parsis of today’s Navsari: one is Hormazd Avari who is a horse breeder and has a stable of 16 to 20 horses, this stable is kitty corner from Pinjar Mohalla. (Pinjara – a person who takes an old mattress which has flattened out and hardened working with an instrument like a bow fluffs up the cotton and it becomes like new) When I was young we use to get our mattresses done once a year or more. It is a lost art. The other well known Paris is Dara Daboo who has his hand in everything you want to do in Parsidom in Navsari. Both Hormazd and Dara do Navjotes of poor Parsi children and sponsor wedding functions each year on 21st March.

There is one more person who is a silent worker and does a lot of social and community work, both in Navsari and Mumbai; he goes to the remote villages of South Gujarat to help the helpless and needy. He is none other than Dinshaw Tamboly. You name it and Dinshaw has been there. I say that Bachi & Dinshaw do God’s work. I had the good fortune of meeting him some time in the 1990s when we lived in England. He had come for a meeting of WZO.

I will begin my monologue with modern day Navsari as I see it. The following are my comments and mine alone.

A few days ago early in the morning before 7:00am I was sitting on the aganiu (A small stretch of landing before entering the main door of the house) when I see and hear a Parsi shouting the name of a person that Mr. so and so had passed away this morning and relationships and then saying the Paidust will be this afternoon and the Uthamna will be tomorrow at the MinocherHomji Daremeher. Coincidently this happened again the next day so I got curious and asked the manager if this is normal. I thought that he was making an announcement since the person deceased in the morning. Today announcement was for someone who passed away yesterday. He told me that he had lived here all his life and this has been a normal practice ever since he remembers. He goes from Mohalla to Mohalla where Parsis have homes. This reminded me of the town crier when we lived in Sunningdale, England. Question in my mind did we (Parsis) copy them or they (British) copied us. Or is this totally coincidental?

Every mid-morning a whistle blows (Like the ones that train guards of my days used) and a garbage truck similar to the one we have in the US but of a smaller size arrives. A man walking on the side as the truck rolls by blows the whistle and folks living on upper level in the houses lower a basket containing a small package of garbage and the man picks it up. There is a large Plastic bag hanging from the back of the truck and that is for recycling materials.

One very good practice here is (like what I had seen in Southern Europe and South America) that there are no street sweepers, every house cleans up to half the street in front of their house first sweeping and then throwing water. I believe water solely for the purpose of keeping the dust down. Remember there is no water from the heavens before or after the monsoon.

There are no side-walks (foot paths) so naturally everyone walking shares the road with the traffic. Most of the traffic is 2 wheelers (mostly scooters) and Auto-rickshaw. In all my roaming around Malesar there are two small stretches of sidewalks and guess what, like everywhere in India there are cars parked on the sidewalk. I believe this is mainly due to lack of infra-structure the traffic has picked up but the govt. is way behind. I think our New PM Na Mo will change it. Hope so!

Speaking about two wheelers, when we first came some longtime residents saw me wheeling Dinsoo out. When they saw me they said watch out for Kids on the scooters, so I said Kids! Yes there are 12 to 14 year olds who ride them like maniacs I was skeptical said okay a few days later I was standing at my room window and guess what this young girl across the street getting on a scooter in the morning with a back pack on her shoulder driving away. I doubt even if she is 12 years old but then I am not sure how old because most Gujaratis are rather short.

There are two lakes in the city limits one is called Dudhyo (Milky) taloa and this particular lake supplies water to Navsari. The other lake is called Sherbetia taloa, this talo gets all the dirty water from most of Navsari.  A well-known place in Navsari is Lunsiqui. This is a big open garden where people come and sit in the evening to relax. I am told that at one time it use to be a nice place (posh) with single family bungalows all around. Now it is surrounded by tall buildings both commercial and residential. We are located in an area called Junathana (old jail house) which is a part of Malesar or adjacent to Malesar. I am told that it is called Malesar as Sir J J use to meet people in this area. People use to come to meet Sir J J hemce the name Male-sar. (Sir is Sir JJ)

One evening while Dinsoo and I were out on our walk in Malesar on Vadi Mohalla I saw through the window a big pile of diamonds on a table with men and women using some kind of a device to grind them. So out of curiousity I asked if I can come in to see what they are doing. They were holding a tool like a door handle and kind of grinding it on a disc sander. (It looked like a sander but it is something different – I cannot explain) This is what Hira gasu is and these are people who are called Hiragasu (Diamond grinders). I asked who are these for I was told some a very little portion for Jewelers in India and most for foreign. (Do not forget Surat is the 2nd largest diamond center on our planet after Anthwerpen).

There is a place called Tata Baugh. This is where Mr. J. N. Tata had mango trees planted from each state of the country. He loved mangoes. There is a type of mango that is called barmasa – 12 months. This tree gives mangoes 12 months of the year. There are a couple of rest houses inside the baugh and these are for Tata company officers who come here for rest and recreation.

There are a lot of strange business combinations like optician+perfume store. Lot of businesses have names such Ram’s sweets and dairy. The one that I find interesting is “GODS” mobile store. Incidentally he is a Parsi and I get my Internet and Mobile phone from him. They are very nice people. If anyone has a mobile phone problem please call God for help! “The biGer bUrGerrr” this store has pictures of burgers like the “BIG MAC”, “Whopper”, and a “hamburger”. There is a store called KOLA G. As most of us know there is a famous Parsi business selling pickles, ice cream, strong vinegar, pickles, etc is called KOLAHJI. This store sells COLA made in a soda machine (carbonated water making machine with flavor of your choice. He is located at the junction of Junathana and Panch Hateri. (Panch Hateri means 5 markets). This is a major intersection in Navsari after you leave the Highway N-8 that goes  from Mumbai to Delhi. Incidentally it takes approx. 3and1/2 hours to come to Navsari from Dadar, Mumbai by road- a total distance of 251KM (approx. 157 miles)

Since 16th December 2015, the days have been a little chilly. The temp. is 16C or 60.8F for my non-European friends. Both the elderly residents and the people on the street have monkey caps, Sweaters, some of the ladies wear long johns or Pyjamas under their gowen. For my younger friends not used to Gujerati a Gown is a gowen – usually a night gown.

Before I end this monologue I would like to thank Bachi and Dinshaw Tamboly for their help in making all the necessary arrangements for Dinsoo’s funerary services both with the local agairy, holding Dinsoo’s body at the local hospital mortuary till the paidust as we were waiting for my daughter Jehan to arrive to do the sachkar for her mom. I would be most ungrateful if I did not thank the WZO SCC staff. The administrator, managers and the entire staff went into action to help my family and me.

In ending I must mention that Dinsoo was so happy residing at the WZO Trust Funds Senior Citizens Centre that she asked me “Dara can Dinshaw let us live here for the rest of our lives?”. At least for my dear Dinsoo, her wish of spending her final days in peace and happiness was fulfilled.

  • Farrokh Jijna

    A very dignified response, indeed, Sir. May you bear Dinsoo’s departure with equanimity and remember her ‘final days with peace and happiness.’