The passing of Dasturji Peshotan Mirza has been a loss on many fronts. We have lost a high priest who helped sustain the spiritual needs of the community, took an active part in our religious institutions, and carried on the priestly traditions of the Sanjana panthak and Mirza family, one of the nau kutumb (nine families) of Udvada. I have lost a close relative, someone who had performed my marriage ceremony and the weddings and navjotes of several family members. The large crowds of attendees that spilled out of the halls at Dasturji Peshotan’s paidast and uthamna ceremonies stand as testament to the many lives which he had touched.
While religious texts and books have their uses, sometimes we can learn more about Zoroastrianism from the way certain people lead their lives. Dasturji Peshotan was one such individual. He taught me, and many others, the value of humility. He carried out his work in quiet, engaged in no controversies, and led a life of simplicity—all while remembering to maintain a good sense of humor. In spite of a problem with his vision, he was remarkably versatile: he would take the train to Udvada by himself. I recall being on a Bombay-bound train about three years ago where, much to my surprise, I saw him walking down the aisle in his priestly attire after the halt at Udvada.
Dasturji Peshotan was a link to a rapidly disappearing way of life in Udvada—the culture and traditions of the priestly families that have historically looked after Pak Iranshah. I would enjoy listening to his stories about growing up in Udvada and the history of our extended family, for which he was a mine of information. With the passing of his generation also passes memories of Udvada as a vibrant Parsi center, one that was much more than a brief stopover for pilgrims from Bombay. I know that he was deeply concerned about many issues facing the village, such as coastal erosion and threats posed by developers.
The sheer scale of problems facing our tiny community can sometimes seem daunting. It is tempting to survey these problems—the interminable liberal-conservative divide, a rapidly shrinking priesthood, the irreparable damage done by elders fighting over relatively insignificant matters, the consequent disillusion and indifference expressed by many of the youth, and the severe demographic challenges that dwarf all these other issues—and simply throw up one’s hands in despair. And yet, in the midst of the bickering and pessimism, there are people such as Dasturji Peshotan who quietly carry on with their work and dedicate their lives to the community’s welfare. For me, at least, such individuals provide a ray of hope.
Until relatively recently, a common practice that took place after the uthamna ceremony was for Parsis to pledge charitable donations in memory of the deceased individual. The legendary philanthropy of the Parsis was, to a considerable extent, sustained by this funerary custom. While this has unfortunately fallen out of practice, I wonder if we can do something similar in memory of Dasturji Peshotan: make a humble pledge to do something good for the community, to quietly and selflessly undertake work that promotes the best aspects of our culture, traditions, and religion.
Dinyar Patel, Ph.D.
Assistant Professor, Modern South Asia
Department of History
University of South Carolina