Dwindling population in Navsari, Mecca of Parsis

Navsari, once a sleepy town with magnificent buildings, sprawling lawns and wide roads but is fast turning into a ghetto

Kersi K Deboo’s eyes light up when he starts talking about the Parsi connection of Navsari, a small city located 37 km south of India’s textile capital, Surat. “Navsari is the Mecca of Parsis. It houses one of the oldest Agiyari, Darb-e-Mehr (Zoroastrian fire temple). Do you know who all belong here?” Asks Deboo, respected by all alike in Navsari for his mild demeanour.

Article by Manan Kumar |  DNA

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He changes his stance, sits straight and then shoots out – Tata Sons founder Jamshetji Tata, first Baronet and great philanthropist Sir Jamsetji Jejeebhoy, first Asian to be British MP and founder of Indian National Congress, Dadabhai Naoroji, and first women photographer of India Homai Vyarawalla. “Even world famous conductor of western classical music Zubin Mehta has family connection with this town,” he says. Besides being an advocate, Deboo serves a sort of one stop ready reckoner of Parsi History in Navsari.

“Naval Tata, the late father of Ratan Tata used to come here regularly till he was active,” he says.

Deboo, however, is worried about the dwindling Parsi population of Navsari and changing landscape of the city.

“Navsari, once a sleepy town with magnificent buildings, sprawling lawns and wide roads but is fast turning into a ghetto. It has over 1.7 lakh population squeezed into 7 sq km area rendering saving its heritage a tough task,” he says.

Navsari houses several heritage buildings like Dadabhai Naoroji’s house, historical Meharjirana library that was built on 200 bighas of land donated by Emperor Akbar, JRD Tata auditorium, Jamsetji museum and Atash Behram that houses Darb-e-Mehr.

Residents of Navsari take pride in their Parsi neighbours. “What Navsari is today is because of Parsi. Their contribution to the town is immense and we respect them for it,” says Ashokbhai Desai, a hotelier.

Keeping their connection with Navsari, Tata’s in 1976 established a cold rolled strips plant here. Tata’s also run two senior secondary schools here.

But despite being less in numbers, the educated and respected Parsis of Navsari have been instrumental in BJP getting strong foothold in the region. Many hold Congress responsible for their present condition. The Congress did not pay attention to them as they were numerically weak and instead chose to play pro-Muslim minority politics, they allege. “I was at the forefront of 1994 anti-Congress agitation in Gujarat,” says Deboo, convenor of the BJP in Navsari and hopes to get a ticket this time.