Dear Najmaji, I have a plan to save Parsis

The below is an article written by Farrukh Dhondy.

Unlike the Dodo, we are not being killed and eaten. Parsis are probably the only species on Earth who are doomed to extinction through our own prejudices. I only offer my services.

 

“Hush little baby don’t you cry

In time you’ll learn

As the pages turn

A truth is more hurtful than a lie…”

 

From The Bachchoo Lullabies

 

Dear Najma Heptulla,

Congratulations on your appointment to the ministry of minorities. Your first statement on assuming your role was that Muslims, a community to which you belong, are not a minority, whereas Parsis, a community to which I belong, certainly are. You went on to say that the numbers of Parsis is steadily falling and something should be done. These specific statements of yours have caused a small crisis in my mind. Let me explain:

I have been pondering the idea of addressing a letter to Prime Minister Narendraji. I am not a member of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, the Vishwa Hindu Parishad or indeed the Bharatiya Janata Party. In the vague past I have often thought that bearing the title of “Charchanjhalakchalak” (my own invention) or something close, would be distinctly more splendid than being called “Sir Farrukh” or even “Lord Dhondy of Sarbatwalla Chowk”. Achieving these latter titles would entail donating money to the Tories and I don’t have the requisite bank balance. To rise to the rank of “Charchanjhalakchalak”, I would readily convert to Hinduism but I would stop short at wearing silly khaki “knickers” and walking about with a stick.

Not being a knickerman, I wondered how to endear myself to Narendraji. Perhaps I could mention that as an undergraduate in Cambridge, I met Rajiv and Sonia and definitely didn’t suck up to either as other Indian undergraduates did.

But perhaps that wouldn’t be a strong enough reason to show me any favour. I might also mention that I have cousins called Mody and hint at some family connection, but I am told Modiji has expressly forbidden ministers to appoint their relatives to office.

I then remembered that I was once given a lift in Jaswant Singh’s car in London and had Jaswant’s book on Jinnah reviewed in British publications. Friends warned me off this particular piece of pleading, informing me that the book was highly unpopular with the BJP and that Jaswant was no longer a friend of Narendrabhaiji.

At last the connection to beat all connections struck me. I know Arun Jaitley and he may admit to knowing me! When some idiots launched their vain and unsuccessful court case in Delhi to ban a film called Bandit Queen, which I had scripted and commissioned, Jaitleyji was one of the esteemed lawyers who defended our team and film in court. I could certainly mention that.

Najmaji, you might by now be wondering why I thought of writing to Narendraji in the first place. Don’t panic, I am not after the job of minorities’ minister even though I am well qualified in every way. All I would have been asking Narendrabhaiji for was the ambassadorship to Tahiti, promising to look after India’s interests after I had seen to a few of my own.

But after reading your statement I came to my senses, realising that life is not all grass skirts, hula-hula and breadfruit vodka. It is duty to one’s fellow human beings and I determined then to write to you instead and seek a humbler position as the person in charge of Parsis or, to give its proper Parsi name, “Procreationwalla”.

This position should be created immediately within your ministry as time is short. According to the census, there are at most 80,000 Parsis left and their numbers are falling. Unlike the Dodo, we are not being killed and eaten. We are probably the only species on Earth who are doomed to extinction through our own prejudices. I only offer my services because I have a plan to save Parsis and so Zoroastrianism.

Very briefly, consider the root of the problem. Of the 80,000 Parsis left, half are women and of these a third will be of child-bearing capability. Even if all of these do their duty by the race, we will at the most have 13,000 new Parsis a year. Spell it out? Extinction!

Despite the fact that there is clear historical proof that the early Zoroastrian empires converted millions to the religion, our prejudices don’t now allow converts on the principle that religion is not a matter of belief but of blood.

We have, albeit defensively as immigrants, maintained a racial purity which today amounts to racism. After migration to India very many Parsi men had children by Indian women — ask anybody with the surname Sethna.

Only recently some Parsi priests have recognised the offspring of Parsi fathers and non-Zoroastrian mothers as Parsis and anointed them into the faith.

Suppose this practice was endorsed by law Najmaji — and with a small retreat of prejudice all children of Parsi fathers and any mothers would be acknowledged Parsis, I can suggest ways in which the problem could possibly be solved.

May I point to another prejudice. Even Google affords photographic proof that the ancient Zoroastrian kings Cyrus and Darius are buried in extant tombs. Zoroastrians did not always favour the practice of throwing our dead to the vultures. The reaction in the community to burial and cremation is ahistorical and irrational.

So Najmaji, my first suggestion, entailing no cost to your ministry, would be to sell the land on which the Towers of Silence, the theatres of “sky-burial”, stand. The money thus accruing to the community could be put to good purpose in educating Parsi bigots about their true history. Perhaps Smriti Irani, the new education minister who is incidentally married to a Zoroastrian (as was Indira Gandhi), can devise some schemes for mass re-education.

Part of these same funds could be devoted to a mammoth psycho-analytical programme to expunge the prejudices of the community with compulsory therapy offered free to hardliners.

Even after these discrete measures there will be plenty of money left over and I can offer a fail-safe solution to save the race — but only after I am appointed to be:

Your humble servant,

Farrukh Perpetuationwalla

  • Kaizad Cassad

    Well said!