I am a Parsi by birth and although my early ancestors must have been born in Persia (now Iran) before they fled their country to escape the invasion of the Arabs, I and most of my immediate ancestors were born in Bombay or Mumbai, India. We are originally Zoroastrians but since we came from the Pars side of Iran, we began to be referred to as Parsis in India. Here we got shelter, protection and a right to continue to practice our religion. In return we became a part of their community adapting to their language, attire and culture but at the same time maintaining our own individuality. Our numbers grew as we thrived and prospered over the years, becoming one of the most literate and financially successful communities in Bombay, but we never forgot the reason for our survival and always gave back a share of our success to the society. Despite our illustrious past and continuing prosperity, our population started dwindling over the years for a variety of reasons. According to some estimates the current Parsi population in the world stands at a mere 100,000! But that doesn’t stop us from living life to the fullest and enjoying each day as it comes, specially the 3000 year old festival of spring equinox – Jamshedi Nav (new) roze (day).
|Our prophet – Zoroaster
I can clearly remember a typical Navroze day. It is March 21 and though it isn’t a public holiday, it is a holiday in my school. I wake up a bit later than usual with the sweet aroma of Mummy’s sev (vermicelli) filling my nostrils.
|Traditional sev served for breakfast
New clothes and shoes have already been purchased over the last few days and the excitement of wearing them today makes me jump out of bed and into the shower! My mother has put a toran (garland of flowers) made with roses and lilies, outside our main entrance, while colorful chowk (rangoli) adorns our doorstep to bring us luck and happiness. My sister and I wear our new dresses and then sit down to have our traditional breakfast of sev with fried dry fruits and raisins sprinkled on the top, some people also add dahi (sweet curd) to it. We are now ready to go to the agiary (fire temple). My daddy and mummy are dressed in white clothes today, white being the symbolic colour of peace for us and traditionally worn in our place of worship. Today the agiary is a sea of white with so many people come to offers their prayers. The agiary looks beautiful decorated with flowers everywhere and a strong fragrance of sandalwood permeates through the walls. Since my father is quite well known in our community, people come forward to meet and greet him making me feel very important and proud! After doing our ‘kusti’ (sacred thread tied around the waist), we light the oil divo (lamp) and offer sandalwood to the sacred fire. By this time my cheeks are tired of smiling and wishing everyone a “Happy Navroze” or “Navroze Mubarak” and I can’t wait to leave the agiary and head for my most favourite part of the day. Our falooda treat! Every year as far as I can remember Daddy used to take us to this small Parsi-owned cafe called Fresh-up near our place, where we were treated to a delicious cold glass or two of falooda (A milk and rose syrup drink).
Lunch is dhandar patio at home. This is a traditional dish made of yellow dal (lentils), white rice with spicy prawns gravy. The rest of the afternoon is quite relaxed. In the evening we go for a Parsi drama or straight for dinner, my father’s favourite haunts being the Golden Dragon restaurant at the Taj Mahal Hotel or China Garden in the later years.
March 21, 1996 holds a different kind of significance. This is the day when I surrender myself, heart and soul to this handsome boy, who through his honesty and quiet determination has finally managed to crawl his way into my heart. And as we dance on the dance floor, eyes locked into each other, I know deep within that I have found my soul mate!
March 21, 2004 – I am expecting my first child, the due date being given as end- March, I can’t stop hoping for a Navroze baby. I also drank castor oil the night before 21st as a final desperate attempt to get him out, but as the mighty Ahura Mazda would have it, my baby was born almost a week later on March 27.
March 21, 2008 – Another chance to expect a Navroze baby! This time I was so sure about it that no castor oil attempts were made. But I guess it was just not to be. Not even on his elder brother’s birthday did he come. He wanted a separate, special day all for himself. My younger son was born on March 29.
Every year on Jamshedi Navroze, I try hard to make the day a bit different from normal by replicating what I can from my own childhood, specially for my children who are so far away from their roots. Though it is not easy to bring about the same festive spirit, being a nuclear family in a foreign country, we’re still luckier than our counterparts in other countries, as we have a strong community of 200 families in Hong Kong. Zoroastrian House which has a prayer house facility with the sacred fire is visited by us quite often not only on religious ceremonies and celebrations but also for social dinners and outings which are organised by a core committee of individuals who also manage the Trust funds. The other big draw being the rich Parsi food which is much looked forward to and enjoyed by one and all! In fact the very first time when we moved to Hong Kong, it was this very group of individuals who had gone out of their way to make us feel welcome and very much ‘at home’.
I think it is this home and community orientation, the core belief in good thoughts, good words and good deeds, the philosophy of returning back wealth to the society and having a positive outlook even in the time of adversity, that has ensured our survival for the last 3000 years and will continue to take care of our future generations.
BBC has wonderfully documented Zoroastrianism – our history, the Persian empire, Parsis, our beliefs, our rites and rituals. Take a look at this website for more details http://www.bbc.co.uk/religion/religions/zoroastrian/
Wish all my family and friends a very Happy Navroze! Happiness, peace and prosperity to all.
I am submitting this article as part of ABC Wednesday – Round 11, Letter N project. To know more or to participate visit http://abcwednesday-mrsnesbitt.blogspot.hk/.