by Polly Noshir Chenoy

Dear Karl,

Please convey my salutations to Dr. Chenoy for an excellent and very thought provoking article.

There is an important corollary to this article which needs to be emphasised, and that is that the increasing Anglicisation of the Parsis resulted in their giving up their ancient and time honoured tarikats - the spiritual disciplines which had held them together as a cohesive unit for such a long time. Indeed the very basic tarikat - of covering our head at all times flew in the face of Western etiquette that required men to doff their hats once inside the house!

Or the tarikat of having a knee length sudreh was compromised to be able to wear "tuck in" shirts and narrow trousers... The list is endless and may seem trivial at first glance, but think and ruminate it for some time and you realise that 200 years of British aping did what 1300 years of benign Hindu influence could not do - make us forget our roots and our religion and hence lead us into the mess that we are in today.


Ervad Marzban Hathiram.


by Polly Noshir Chenoy

(Dr. Chenoy belongs to the Department of English, Osmania University, Hyderabad.)

My mother's contention is: "British gayan ne' opre vadhare British thai gayan" (We have become more British after the British have left). This, she attributes mostly to the fact that the Parsis; especially the younger generation speak no other language except English and have no knowledge of any Indian language. But what is annoying and also rash, is the fact, that the Parsis feel superior to the other Indians on account of their mastery of the English language and tend to look down on those who cannot speak the language well. Whereas, it would help them immensely if they continued to learn their adopted mother tongue, Gujarati, as well as the language of the region in which they live.

Times today have changed greatly. Everyone lives in very competitive times, and therefore, the Parsis are seriously at a disadvantage not knowing the language of the region, nor their own mother tongue, Gujarati. They try to get by with a smattering of Hindustani with the local people and of course with their knowledge of English with the elite. But this kind of elitism must stop.

The attitude and the thinking of the Parsis needs to undergo a change as this change would benefit them both locally and nationally. It should be instilled in the young that the more languages they learn, the more advantageous it is for them. They should also be made to realise that assimilation is better than alienation and that they can no longer afford to live "marginal" lives.

In our family, we were first taught Gujarati at the Parsis School and we also learnt Urdu, the official language of the erstwhile Hyderabad State. We continued to learn Urdu, for instance, at the Convent where we studied. My indebtedness and gratitude to my parents is indeed great for their foresight and insistence that we also learn Gujarati. Otherwise, a wealth of knowledge concerning the history of our people and of the lives of eminent Parsis would have been lost to us.

But, the Anglicisation of the Parsis has a longer and deeper history and cannot be confined merely to the problem of our children speaking no other language except English.

When they landed in India, the Parsis realized that their hope of survival and of living in peace lay in being strictly loyal to their rulers and taking no part in the tension and conflicts surrounding the courts of Princes or in the regions they inhabited. The adaptability of the Parsis was clearly manifest when they adopted Gujarati as their mother tongue and also agreed to the condition that their women folk would abandon their Persian mode of dress and don saris instead. Hence the Parsis, through good sense, a sense of adaptability and their display of loyalty managed not only to survive, but at the same time, were able to strictly preserve their identity and their religion. This same quality of adaptability among the Parsis is observed by Mmle Menant in her book Les Parsis when she remarks : "Possessed of a wonderful assimilative power, they made light of Hindu customs, as, long before, they had sacrificed their Iranian habite at the pleasure of the Ranan of Sanjan. "But like all other writers she observes that "Mazdayasnans and Zoroastrians they remained. Their profession of faith has not changed"1 I may add here to what Mmle Menant observes: "Amen!"

Ever since the sixteenth century, Surat has been attracting the Parsis at an increasing rate being the most important seaport on the west coast of India, and at the same time, a trade center for both the Moghul and European trading companies. By the seventeenth and 'eighteen' centuries, Surat became the largest Parsi settlement. The Europeans preferred the Parsis to act as their "brokers" because they had a knowledge of the languages and of the land they were living in. Not being hampered by taboos of caste and creed gave them enough flexibility to have commerce with the foreigners. According to D.F. Karaka, the author of the History of the Parsis, "The Portuguese, French, Dutch and English factories all employed Parsees as their chief brokers". [1] And as Eckehard Kulke says: "Close contact with the Europeans gave the Parsees the 'know how' of European trade and business organization and so laid the foundation for their subsequent economic and social rise under English rule".[2] J.R.E. Jeejeebhoy in his "Introduction" to Parsee Lustre on Indian Soil mentions that "as years rolled on the Parsees made themselves indispensable to the English who ever since their arrival in India looked upon them for support and co-operation".[3] This created a bond between the English or European races and the Parsis as communication between them was free and easy.

Once the Portuguese relinquished Bombay to the British in 1661, Surat gradually lost its importance as a major trade centre, and Bombay attracted the Parsis from their various settlements. The British encouraged the Parsi settlers and made over a piece of land on Malabar Hill in 1673 for the establishment of the first Dokhma. But the Parsis did not confine themselves to Bombay alone; they found positions in the other princely States of India because of their familiarity with British administration, language and manners. The Parsis flowered and prospered under British rule. In 1907, Khusrau Edalji Ghamat stated: "The prosperity of the Parsees dated from the advent of the British rule in India". [4] He was justified in making this statement, for the British rule gave India peace, legal security, modern education and at least to the Parsis, economic prosperity. Therefore, the apprehension of the Parsis that as a minority community they would become unimportant once India gained independence, is manifest in a speech given by Sir Jamsetjee Jeejeebhoy at a meeting on the occasion of the coronation celebration in 1902:

"The very circumstances of the country render such result inevitable. In all representative governments the majority must rule, and the natural consequence of such a system in a country like India would be that, however important the minority might be, it would never have any real share in the Government of the country ... The best course, therefore, for the Parsi community as well as all the other communities, who are in a hopeless minority, is that they must stand up for the British raj which distributes favours amongst all with strict impartiality".[5]

The Parsis, therefore, identified themselves with the colonial power and this attitude was especially evident during the Mutiny of 1857 when they helped the British in fighting insurgency, in gaining lost territory, and gathering information of enemy movements. And the British knew how to channelise the energies and resources of the Parsis by recruiting them for white collar administrative tasks in the middle of the nineteenth century, such as assistant collectors, translators at courts, sub-assistant surgeons and postmasters. As Kulke states: "everywhere, where new professions were to be made accessible to Indians, Parsis appeared immediately in above average numbers."[6]

The British, also very cleverly raised the Parsi citizens to the rank of nobility which not only gave them prestige within their own community but also obligated them to the Crown. There were three Paris Baronets: Sir Jamsetjee Jeejeebhoy, Sir Dinshaw Maneck Petit, and Sir Cowasji Jehangir. About 63 Parsis were knighted till 1946. How strongly the British bound the Parsis to them is evident in Sir Jamsetjee Jeejeebhoy's words on the occasion of his being knighted in 1843: "They, my children's children, shall be taught that fidelity to the British Crown is their first duty - loyalty their first virtue." [7] It is small wonder then, that the Parsis adopted British or Western manners, habits, style of living and the English language. Temperamentally they were much more aligned to western thought and culture than to Indian ways and manners.

A pertinent observation is made by the London Times of July 1905: "Whether from necessity or inclination, the Parsi of the 20th century is almost a foreigner to the great mass of the Indian population as was his predecessor of the eighth."[8] The British regarded the Parsis as "elite" and today, it sounds comic and even artifical when one recalls what Sir J. R. Carnac, the English Governor of Bombay said on August 11, 1877: "The, gentlemen, Parsis, I would ask you to remember that you have what is called the very bluest blood in Asia.:"[9]

This feeling of alienation and superiority towards other Indians is clearly defined by A.S.N. Wadia in his Reflections on the Problems of India published in 1913:

It would be no exaggeration to say that the Parsi the Englishman is less a foreigner than a Hindu or a Mohammedan in spite of the fact, that he has lived among them for the last twelve hundred years. Speaking from personal experience, I can quite enter into the thoughts and feelings of the English people, and I felt myself quite at home in every part of England, but ... when I toured through Northern and Southern India I found myself in most places a stranger, and felt as if I were moving among alien people with whom I had nothing in common.[10]

A decade earlier Sir John Strachey in his India: Its Administration and progress makes the following observation:

The Parsis form a very small but highly respectable community, devoted for the most part to mercantile pursuits. Their enterprise as traders, and their freedom from prejudice of caste, take them into all parts of India, but the greater majority of them are to be found in Bombay. They have gained for themselves, by their character, their superior education, and their wealth, a somewhat exceptional position, but they have so little in common with anything Indian and their numbers so small, that they can only be mentioned as an interesting group of foreigners, who for many centuries, have retained their ancient creed, and have kept apart from the people of all Indian countries.[11]

The British, of course, fanned such feelings and made the Parsis feel that they were elite and this flattered certain sections of the community. In 1892, General Dashwood describes the "Paris as foreigners in India who would immediately be extirpated if English would leave India".[12] But good sense prevailed among other Parsi groups and the newspaper Rast Goftar took up the challenge and on August 7, 1892, replied: "We have time and again exposed the absurdity of regarding the Parsis as aliens in India."[13] The Rast Goftar went on to say that though the Hindus and Muslims claim citizenship by right of conquest, the Parsis "claim it by right of treaty, sacrifice and service; and so their claim on India is more sacred, more certain and more deserved than any other people".[14]

But apart from prudent warnings from time to time by more sober members of the community, the anglicisation of the Parsis became more apparent as time went on. Eckehard Kulke states : "In 1863 individual Parsis already stood up for a conscious anglicisation of the Parsi women. The main goal of the 'Parsee Society' was initially, a conscious copying of English manners."[15] Framji Bomanji was of the opinion that "we want the English language, English manners, and English behaviour for our wives and daughters, and until these are supplied, it is but just that the present gulf between the Englishmen and the Indian should remain as wide as ever".[16] It is hilarious to read that in September 1880, an article entitled "How to Learn European Manners" appeared in which a lady who called herself "Shereen" spoke on behalf of her Parsi sisters: "I can speak from personal experience in regard to my civilized Parsi sisters that there remains for us much to learn. The rules of English society are very nice, and to break those rules unwittingly or by inadvertence means the same as being illiterate or barbarous." [17] She further adds: "According to European style, tea parties, music, reading, badminton, croquest parties, conversations, etc. should be introduced among our people to begin with." [18] A century later, we find such opinions both superficial and supercitious and smacks of artificiality and blind imitation. Thank goodness we are not subject to such niceties today and that our priorities are higher than croquest parties.

"Shereen" has a male counterpart who wrote : "The close union of the Europeans and Parsees is the finest thing that can happen to our race. It will mean the lifting up of a people who are lying low, though possessing of all the qualities of a European race . The complete Europeanisation of the Parsis is now a mere matter of time."[19] So assiduously did the Parsis embark on the process of Anglicisation or Europeanisation that, writes Kulke: "The homes were furnished with English furniture, with pianos and - according to their standard of living - with crystal chandeliers. Parsi girls or rich families, educated by English governesses, learned to play the violin or piano. Evening parties have been celebrated since then to the sounds of waltzes and operettas. The intensive use of the English language and the thorough study of European literature led to the Parsis writing and publishing poems and tragedies."[20]

Writing in 1916, Mmle Menant feels happy that : The old ways have been heavily breached and European-life has penetrated further and further within the walls. We have lived side by side with the Parsis of the upper classes, we have taken short journeys in their company, and nothing, either in their company, and nothing, either in their dress or their manners, distinguishes them from the English around us.[21]

She is all for a conscious Europeanisation of the Parsis and continues her line of thought saying that it must seem repugnant to a Western educated man to submit to what she calls "a mass of obsolete practices" but that he does so in deference to the wishes of the elders but "at heart, he must long for the power to extricate himself from it (completely). And one day or other he will do so (and that, too, not before long)."[22]

But of course, all this would not have been possible without an English education and to an exposure of European manners. Around the middle of the nineteenth century, a group of young Parsi reformers got together at the Elphinstone College and decided on ways and means to bring about far reaching reforms in the community. As a result, independent Parsi schools were founded and this society considered the education of young women to be especially important. This reform in education showed the Parsis to be decades ahead of other Indian communities. Dr. Reid who was the English chairman of the society, in a scathing speech admonished the Hindu for not sending their daughters to schools and educating them, but instead "sacrificing these helpless innocents. at the shrines of the demons of ignorance and superstition".[23] He called the Parsis "that enterprising and progressive people". In 1863 the Alexandra Native Girls Education Institute was founded by Maneckejee Cursetjee and though Gujarati was still taught in various schools, English was added as a language of instruction after the 1870s. According to Kulke: "Even if Gujarati was still spoken in most of the Parsi families, this language ceased to be the cultural and educational language of the Parsis."[24]

The Parsis were in the lead with their expansion of the knowledge of the English language. According Mmle Delphine Menant, the author of Les Parsees, every third Parsi could read and write English in 1911.

Dadabhoy Naoroji, one of the leading reformers of the community, recalled: "The six or seven years before I eventually came to England in 1855, were full of all sorts of reforms, social, educational, political, religious. Female education, free association of women with men at public, social and other gatherings, infant schools, the Students; Literacy and Scientific Society, societies for the diffusion of useful knowledge in the vernacular, Parsee reform, abolition of child marriage, remarriage of widows among Hindus, and Parsi Religious Reform Society were some of the problems tackled, movements set on foot, and institutions inaugurated by a hand (sci.) of young men fresh from college.Such were the first fruits of the English education given at the Elphinstone College."[25]

Though the Parsis acknowledged the benefits that accrued from the learning of the English language, they "displayed a remarkable attachment towards Persian as a link to their traditional and historical past." [26] In 1889 out of a total of 537 Parsis who were admitted to the matriculation examination, 401 chose Persian. The Parsis, despite their anglicisation were deeply rooted in their faith-the religion of Zarathushtra and would not permit that to be shaken.

In 1839, under the influence of Rev Dr. John Wilson, an outstanding missionary and teacher, two Parsi boys were converted to Christianity. This caused grave concern among the Parsis and their wrath was great. A storm of protest and indignation followed and they tried to win back the converts with threats of violence and immense money offers. The Panchayat field a suit before the High Court (in vain) and threatened the British government that "if Government would not help there would be a terrible uprising in the country, and the result would be disastrous."[27] The pupils in Dr. Wilson's school, most of whom were Parsis, sank overnight from 500 to 60 or 70. "This is the first and only time", says Kulke, "that the otherwise completely loyal Parsis expressed these kind of threats."[28] But the converts did not return to the fold of Parsism. The Parsis had a rude shock and realized that they could not look for protection from the government in situations like these and therefore rallied round to foster a new independent community consciousness.

But it remained an established fact that only English education, the English mode of living and manners were regarded as an advance in civilization. D. F. Karaka in his History of the Parsis published in 1884 mentions: "The Parsee mode of life may be described to be an eclectic ensemble, half-European and half-Hindu. As they advance every year in civilization and enlightenment, they copy more closely English manners and modes of living." [29] He is here clearly establishing that advancement in civilization is to be equated with English manners and modes of living. Elsewhere, Karaka again refers to what he feels are the benefits of English civilization on the Parsis: "As an indication of increasing intellectual taste among the Parsees, it may be noted that of late English music has formed one of the amusements of their evening". [30] Karaka strongly believed in "the effect of English education upon the Parsees generally will be to raise them still higher in the scale of civilization".[31]

Mmle Menant, a great admirer and champion of the Parsis, was strongly convinced that assimilation with the English way of life was most beneficial to the Parsis and happily observes:

Once that the English occupation of India had drawn them away from the Hindu mode of life, which had been theirs for so many centuries, it was no longer wealth, and the importance attached to it, which they coveted. Much rather, it was the inestimable advantages procured by education, brought within the reach of all, that they wished to benefit themselves by. From that moment their ambition was to realize the opportunity of this marvellous assimilation with the English, and it must be admitted that they have succeeded.[32]

The Parsis continued to dominate every sphere of education and in this they were greatly encouraged by the British. Sir Jamsetjee Jeejeebhoy had his daughters educated in strictest secrecy so that this revolutionary idea of female education should not anger the orthodox elements in the community. But in 1842 (the same year as Sir Jamsetjee's daughters were being educated) a Parsi lady, Meheribai Hormusjee Shroff, permitted her daughter to attend an English private school. Dosibai, the daughter of Meheribai, whose married name was Dosibai Cowasjee Jassawalla, in The Story of My Life mentions this incident and says that it "created a great scandal among the Parsees, some of whom went so far as to send threatening letters to the family. Some of the Parsees. had unanimously resolved to excommunicate Bai Meheribai and her house."[33] The British at once championed the cause of Meheribai and the Bombay Courier, an English newspaper, wrote on August 23, 1842: "We shall watch the progress of this girl with deep interest and will rejoice to find the noble example followed by others."[34]

It was still a sensation in the middle of the nineteenth century when women participated as equal partners in social functions. Reformers like Dadabhai Naoroji, Maneckji Cursetji and the Cama family permitted their wives and daughters to attend public functions like dinners and festivities when men were present . In 1859 when an attempt was made to admit women into the drawing-room and dining hall, the attempt was described as "dangerous". Sir Jamsetjee Jeejeebhoy, though he had his daughters educated in strictest secrecy, took the very bold and unorthodox step of bringing his wife and three daughters-in law at a banquet he gave to celebrate the marriage of Queen Victoria and Prince Albert. He also introduced the ladies of his house-hold to the Governor and Lady Carnac and to Lord Kean- the hero of Kabul. This roused the ire of the orthodox section of the community, but the British lauded this step as one of initiative and courage. The Bombay Times of March 11, 1840 reported that this "deserves to be noted as a large stride towards the European state of society". [35] Mmle Menant records in her book that "at Calcutta, Mr. Rastamji Kavasji set the same example by throwing open his splendid salons to Europeans, where the honours were done by the ladies of his families, and the Governor-General was often pleased to be received under such agreeable circumstances:[36]

Dramatics was one other cultural activity that the Parsis took up enthusiastically. The Parsi Elphistone Dramatic Society for the performance of plays in English was formed in 1850. Fortunately, the Gujarati Theatre which was founded about the same time by various Parsi Gujarati theatre activists, is still in existence and continues to flourish even today, albeit mostly in Bombay, and is a unique feature of Parsi life and humour. Members of the older generations among Parsis still recall the hilarious productions - parodies of Shakespeare's play -- in Gujarati. Kulke's contention that "the development of a modern vernacular theatre is unimaginable today without the role of the Parsees" [37] is absolutely correct.

Apart from cultural activities; the Parsis imitated the Englishman's enthusiasm for sports. Cricket became a popular sport and Parsi teams were sent to England to play against the British teams. In 1886 a Parsi team was sent to England and the President of the team, in his speech clearly demonstrated that the team was going to England as if it were going on a pilgrimage, so great was their awe of the game and their admiration of English cricketers no less:

I may say that the object of the team in going to England is a very modest one. Cricket, as you know, is the national game of England. It has taken root among the Parsi community, and as artists go to Italy to do homage to the great Masters, as pilgrims go to Jerusalem to worship at a shrine, or as students in the middle Ages went to the chief seats of learning in places where Science and Philosophy had made their home, so now Parsis are going to England to do homage to the English cricketers, to learn something of that noble and manly pastime in the very country which is its chosen home.[38] So great was the Parsis' fame in cricket that President Roosevelt's first question to J.N. Tata when the latter visited the United States was: "Have the Parsees won the great annual cricket match in India this year?" [39] Swimming, cycling, skating, motorsports and flying were other sports enthusiastically taken up by the Parsis. Women participated in the arena of sports as actively as the men and proved that their spirit for adventure was not dimmed or hampered by their sex. Murzban in his translation of Les Parsees observes: "Nowadays it is not an unusal sight to see a Parsi lady riding on horseback on the Matheran Hill, or on bicycle, or driving her motor car in Bombay. For instance Miss Framji Dinshaw Petit, the richest Parsi heiress, who has given her fortune to the founding of the Parsee Girl's Orphanage, is to be seen driving her motor car every evening from her residence on the Malabar Hill to the band-stand on the Esplanade, and many another Parsi lady for that matter."[40]

As advances were made in living, in education, in culture and in sports, the Parsis of both sexes made rapid strides in the innovations and alterations in the traditional mode of dressing. According to M.M. Murzban, the translator of Mmle Menant's book Les Parses, "the changes have been rapid and very varied" in the dress of the Parsi males. He argues that from a point of view of utility, the Europeanisation of men's clothes is advisable, but from an aesthetic point of view it has its disadavantages. In the Christmas number of the Times of India (Bombay) of 1915 there appeared an article entitled "India, one hundred years ago" which demonstrates how quickly the Parsis adopted the Western mode of dress and abandoned their traditional gear:

Clothes do make a difference. The famous saying cannot be disputed, and most of us, in trying to visualise the past in India, probably forget to make allowances for the change in the clothing of Indians. The Europeanised Indian is of course quite modern: he may be wise but he is certainly less picturesque than his ancestors, and, in this respect, none has lapsed farther from grace than the Parsee of today."[41] This proves that the Parsi males were among the first to change over to Western or European modes of dress.

On the subject of the dress of women, Murzban remarks: "To my mind, Parsis of the gentle sex have now reached a stage of innovations, in the matter of their dress, to go beyond which it will be inadvisable - for many reasons. Utility and economy must go hand in hand with aesthetics. Indiscriminate introduction of western fashions of dress means the disappearance of the beautiful oriental costumes of women."[42] Mmle Menant has rightly observed that the Parsi women when "they appear at European receptions where they are easily recognizable by their graceful garb, which they would, assuredly be ill-advised to discard in favour of our paltry fashions".[43]

The following is a description of the dress of a Parsi lady worn on a state occasion in England, which proves Mmle Menant and all other authors who have advocated that the sari is the most graceful dress, correct: Madame a journal of fashion published in London, in its number dated June 6, 1903 says: "Their Majesties' Court at Buckingham Palace . Some of the gowns . Lady Jehangir Cowasji Jehangir . A beautiful Indian saree, of white transparent silk, embroidered most artistically in gold, the saree forming a sort of drapery round the head, resembling the old Gracian style of dress, with the jewels, making a perfect picture of Eastern spendour."[44]

From entertaining, socializing, innovation in dressing, we now turn our attention to women accompanying their men on their travels. In casting aside traditions and taboos which hampered and which were unprogressive, the Parsis were always encouraged by the British to make or take bold, innovative steps. The Parsi women rarely accompanied their husbands on their travels and hence caused great amazement when, Rustamji Kavasji (Banaji), who allowed his wife and daughter to preside over social functions, now took them along with him to Calcutta. Being a note of event, The Englishman, a newspaper of Calcutta wrote on August 14, 1838:

This arrival must be regarded as an event in the history of Native Society. It presents the first instance, we believe, of a violation of the habits of seclusion to which the Parsi ladies, in common with those of Hindustan, have hitherto been subjected, and we trust that it may be regarded as the harbinger of a new system of treatment under which all that is bright and fair in this hemisphere may come to fill places in society as useful and important as those which are occupied by the happy and independent dames of the West. Mr. Rustamji Cawasjee deserves, in our opinion, the applause and gratitude of, all well-wishers of the Cause of Civilisation in India."[45]

Innovation is to be lauded and stagnation to be decried, but one clearly sees here the attitude of the British in trying to bring about reforms in what they thought was an uncivilized society, and the Parsis feeling gratified that they shared this burden or at least, lightened it for those who led with the torch of civilization! What is forgotten is the fact that Indian culture and civilization has survived far longer than the Western civilization and that the endurance of a civilization lay in the profundity and wisdom of its spiritual heritage.

But to continue our discourse: Les Parsees cites many examples and instances of men and women taking the plunge and travelling about with their families and in some instances, alone and independently. On May 3, 1858, Dr. Burjorji Dorabji Cooper with his wife and daughter sailed by the Leopold on a voyage to England. The Parsee Prakash chronicles this as the first Parsee family going to England.

In 1868, Bai Bhikaiji, sister of K. R. Cama, and wife of Dorabji Pestonji Cama (a life-long resident of London), traveled the whole of Great Britain. In 1870, she travelled in America, Japan, and China, and wrote an account of her travels in Rast Goftar over a nom de plume. We return once more to Dosibai C. Jassawalla, the daughter of Mehribai Hormusjee Shroff, who had gained notoriety as being the first Parsi girl to attend an English Private school. This intrepid lady, was, in 1907 on a tour around the world at the age of 78. The Parsee of February 23, 1908 has this to report:

Mrs. Dosibai C. Jassawalla, who is at present in London on her way back to India, finishing her tour round the world in her seventyeighth year, was one of the most picturesque among the much bejeweled Parsees in the House of Lords at the opening of Parliament . says an English contemporary. This venerable lady was the first Parsi girl to receive an English education, and the first among any Indian ladies to be in our English society in India.[46]

The Parsis were also noted for their lavish hospitality and felt flattered and "honoured' when the English or Europeans attended their functions and festivities. Forbes in his Oriental Memoirs' mentions the Parsis as being of a sociable turn and that they entertained their English friends at Surat and Bombay with great splendour and hospitality blending these with European taste and comfort. M. M. Murzban makes a mention of one Ardesir Dady, who, at the commencement of the nineteenth century that is, in 1800 A.D. "made himself conspicuous by the splendid receptions he offered to Europeans". The tables were covered with recherché viands, rare and generious wines, music and dancing - all conspiring to provide his guests with the choicest entertainment. In 1804, he gave a dinner at his place of residence, near Parel, to the Right Hon'ble Viscount Valentia. The elegance and splendour of the dinner has been described in the Bombay Courier. [47]Lavish entertainment to and for Europeans was also given by Sir Jamestjee Jeejeebhoy who was as hospitable as he was manificent. The Camas, the Dinshaw Petits make up the list of gracious Parsi hosts who entertained magnificently.

Hence, Anglicisation among the Parsis was in proportion to their economic prosperity and between 1880 and 1920 consumption habits were more westernized than either Indian or traditional. Delphine Menant notes that "In the houses of the higher classes, the furniture is elegant, the service conducted on the European style."[48] However, certain Parsi critics warned against the dangers of such excess and commented on the Parsi woman being a mere "parody upon her English sister". [49] N. S. Ginwalla in his essay on "A Peep Into Parsi Life" in 1880, lashes out at the pretentiousness of Parsi women trying to model themselves on English ladies:

These dressed up dolls of Parsi ladies pretend to be highly civilized and refined and better socially, morally and intellectually than everybody else, simply because they are able to speak, read and write just a little English, and have a glimmering idea of English society, life, dress and manners. Most of these girls when married and settled in life turn out extravagant, selfish and showy, and sometimes proves more a curse (sic) than a blessing to themselves and others.[50]

Warnings were issued from time to time and speaking of the society woman it was elsewhere that "the Parsi women has a strong inclination towards westernizing tendencies. and so, unless she draws herself up in good time, and makes a stand somewhere, she runds the risk of being drawn into the 'whirlpool' of. the so-called smart society. She is not a society woman. but social functions have an irresistible attraction for her, and she allows herself, at times, to be drifted into an aimless existence, the prey of ennui, who has nothing to do. No goal in life, no ambition, no ideal. Thus, without exactly being a votary of fashion, or the smart woman or society leader, she fails to fulfil her high destines adequately."[51] At the other end of the pole, we have Mmle Menant giving us a picture of Parsi ladies who live in rural areas or in humbler sections of society and commends their dignity and grace of bearing:

Beside the great, elegant and literate lady who visits Government House and receives English society, and even visits Europe, let us not forget her humble sisters of the inferior classes. It is in village-life, above all, that the Parsi woman shows her superiority most markedly. Nothing is more affecting than the witnessing of her serene and dignified fulfillment of the duties entailed by her position in life, and her conscientious observation of the three great principles of her Faith, - 'Good Thoughts', 'Good Words', 'Good Deeds'. One, then, understands that if English education has been able to do something for intellectual culture, it had had nothing to change in the direction of morals.[52]

This brings me back to the beginning wherein I had stated that we pride ourselves merely on our performance of the mastery of the English language, some Western customs and habits which we have picked up, a certain life-style, without realizing and accepting the viability and importance of the language of the region we are living in, its culture and traditions, the habits of its people. Such a superficial habit benefits no one; on the contrary it makes us a laughing stock.

Thinking along such lines - that we are Parsis first and only secondly Indians, and by aligning ourselves with European culture, - brought about a crisis of identity. It is our great good fortune that a small segment of Parsis considered themselves to be Indians first and Parsis second, and by integrating into the Indian society and the emerging Indian nation as fully as possible gave the Parsis in post-Independent India, a decisive support. Yet, at the time, this minority among the Parsis, was regarded as traitors to the British and to their own community as well. So thorough has our Anglicisation been!

Though Dadabhai Naoroji had a very high estimation of British rule in India and though he felt that British rule should continue till it fulfilled, what he called, its "holy mission", he was not uncritical of the British exploitation of Indian economy and enterprise and spoke frankly on the drain of India's wealth and the huge profits accruing to the British as a result of this drain and exploitation. He wrote a book entitled Poverty and Un-British Rule in India wherein he developed the 'drain theory' and also spoke effectively in the British Parliament at various commission hearings. He also gave his attention to the 'Indianisation' of administrative services and agitated for the raising of age for entrance to the Indian Civil Service and its reform and Indianisation. Naoroji and Wacha vehemently agitated against the use of money of the Indian tax-payer to support British military expeditions outside of India.

Therefore, the Parsi attitude of aiding with the British or keeping aloof from the national movement was a matter of serious concern to Dadabhai Naoroji and he emphasized: "Whether I am an Hindu, a Mohammadan, a Parsi, a Christian, or of any other creed, I am above all an Indian." Our country is India; our nationality is Indian." [53] Again the Grand Old Man of India warns in a letter and expresses his distress "about the views some Parsees are taking that we should dissociate ourselves from the Hindus and Mohammedans. Nothing could be more suicidal. We are India's and India is our mother country, and we can only sink or swim with and as, Indians. If we break with the Indians, our fate will be that of a crow in peacock's feathers. The English will in no time pluck out those feathers."[54] In 1890 as President of the Indian National Congress, Sir Pherozeshah Mehta, in his presidential address defended his community and stated: In speaking of myself as a native of this country, I am not unaware that, incredible as it may seem, Parsis have been both called, and invited and allured to call themselves foreigners. If twelve centuries, however, entitled Angels and Saxons, and Normans and Danes, to call themselves natives of England, if a lesser period entitles the Indian Mohammedans to call themselves natives of India, surely we are born children of the soil, in which our lot has been cast for over a period of thirteen centuries, and where, ever since the advent of the British power, we have lived and worked, with our Hindu and Mohammadan neighbours, for common aims, common aspirations, and common interests.[55]

The speech is, once again, a warning to the members of his community not to indulge in the suicidal policy of staying aloof and convincing the vast majority of Hindus and Muslims that Parsis are as much natives of the soil of India as they are.

One of the greatest crusaders and reformers of social abuse among Hindus was Behram J. Malabari. He had the advantage of not belonging to any political party, so much so, that the British, who were apprehensive about interfering in the socio-relgious sphere of the Hindu society, eventually supported him and his reformist activities. Both the British press, and the society in England and in India helped Malabari and lauded his sincere efforts and genuine concern over the abuses in the Hindu Society especially those directed against women.

The orthodox elements were, however, bitterly opposed to Malabari's reform movements and charged him with not possessing the Hindu's insight into Hindu socio-religious practices because he was 'only a Parsee'. To this charge, Malabari replied firmly and courageously and his reply rings with the deep convinction of a man working on humanitarian grounds filled with compassion for the helpless and the down trodden:

If my Hindu friends take this line of argument . that I am only a Parsi', I will be forced to reply that I am as good a Hindu as any of them, that India is as much my country as theirs, and that if they do not give me a 'locus standi', in the case, I will take my stand on the higher ground of humanity. I have not taken up the work as a holiday pastime, and I am not going to be bullied out of it by the holiest of Brahmins. I respect their right of action and will continue to do so, but at the same time they must not question my right of eliciting discussion nor attempt in a sinister manner to stifle such discussions.[56]

Malabari was greatly influenced by his mother during his early youth and hence his reformatory zeal especially for the emancipation of women. Malabari's mother, Bhikibai, according to Mmle Menant's account: Possessed the energy of the women of her race, and in her brave heart, bore an ardent love for the suffering humanity, and evinced an unspeakable pity for their pains and sufferings. Often accompanied by her little Behram, clinging to the skirts of her sari, would she sally forth to tend the helpless women who received no medical aid. One evening she found on her doorstep, an infant in a basket. Bhikibai gave it shelter, an act no Hindu woman would have thought of doing. The next day, it turned out that the founding was a child of a street-sweeper, (a Mahar by caste) (the lowest in the scale of castes in India). Her Hindu (women) neighbours spared no pains to make her bitterly feel the consequences of the temerity of her zeal.[57]

Small wonder then that Malabari worked for the upliftment of the most miserable members of the human race. He refused a title from the British and continued to spread his work through the 'Seva Sadan' a charitable organization founded along with Dayaram Gidumal and spread all over western India, for giving medical aid, education and benefits to the Indian women especially those belonging to the lower castes and classes. Malabari's work has been so outstanding that it is unfortunate that he tends to be overlooked and even forgotten when compared to luminaries like Dadabhai Naoroji, Sir Phirozeshah Mehta and others. Kulke is right when he asserts that Malabari's motivation was less the missionary impulse of a superior social order, but rather a sense of responsibility for the weaker section of a society-which he-also as a Parsee - felt himself to be a part."[58] However much the British were to grant a special status and privileges to the Parsis and however much they may have favoured them, there was a limit to which the Englishmen would allow the Parsi to go. In 1867, a Parsi petition for the admission into the 'Voluntary Corps' was rejected as this corps was reserved exclusively for the English and it could not be expected that the Englishmen could serve in the same unit as a 'native'. Hence the English, though they considered the Parsis to be superior to the other Indians, would never allow them to be on a par with them. Upto 1874 only Europeans were allowed to join the Volunteer Corps. But, protested D. F. Karaka, there were certainly no natives more eager than the Parsis to share in the defence of British interests.

However, since the publication of Karaka's work, the Parsis were allowed to enroll as volunteers, to the exclusion of the other Indian communities. At Quetta, Karachi and Poona, the Parsis were admitted freely into the corps of the European volunteers and in June 1894, Dinsha Dosabhai Khambatta was enrolled as lieutenant in the 'Quetta Corps'. This must have been a signal victory for the Parsis who had been agitating to be admitted into the Volunteer corps.

When it was remarked that the Parsis had a repugnance for military service, Karaka sprang to the defence of his community and stated that the Persians, in olden times, had distinguished themselves amongst all by their valour and courage. Today they abstained from taking part in military exercises and in defending the country because of the insufficiency of pay in the army. Native soldiers, whether Hindu or Muslim were paid at the rate of seven rupees a month, while a Parsi, even employed as a servant, could earn twice as much. Therefore, how could the Parsis maintain their higher standards of living while they were paid such low salaries? Besides, Karaka was pained at the Parsis being compared to the natives when the Parsis felt themselves to be morally and intellectually their superiors. Why were they not provided with commissions in the army like the Germans and other Europeans? He concluded his eloquent appeal by questioning: "For if a German or a European of another nationality can secure a commission in the British Army, why should not a Parsi, who is born subject of the Queen Empress?" [59] Only then, he says, will the Parsis feel completely identified with the British nation.

The wisdom and farsighted policy of Dadabhai Naoroji finds expression in his comparison of the Parsis dressed up as crows in peacock's feathers. Therefore, the Parsis would have been in a No-Man's Land, with the refusal of the English to consider them as their own kind or as equals however willing to assimilate they were - and the Parsis' estrangement and refusal to identify themselves with other Indian races had it not been for the good sense, prudence and wisdom of our leaders in making common cause with the issue of India's independence, for their sense of social reform in a secular manner, and of course, to the Parsi spirit of generosity towards all. The Congress-Parsi had a very trying time convincing the leading members of the community to revise and rethink their attitudes and slavish subservience to the British. Thus Sir Dinshaw Edulji Wacha, though obligated to the Crown for his title, nevertheless, had the courage and the wisdom to see that throwing their lot with the Congress would mean eventual security for the Parsis.

In a letter to Sir Dadabhai Naoroji he expressed his disappointment over the negative attitude of the Parsis and the press: "Let him (Rast Goftar) cry in the Wilderness. And let the Parsees, I mean the unthinking portion, who follow its lead, become so many donkeys. They will rub their eyes perhaps, when it is too late. I am thoroughly ashamed of my community, notably its so called leaders."[60]

Men like K. N. Kabraji, Vicajee and the other titled leaders of the community, the aristocracy of wealth, through the press, urged the Parsi community to stay away from the banner of revolt. Any criticism of the British Raj held the germ of treason. It they did not remain neutral they would incur irreparable disadvantages. Papers like The Parsee and the Rast Goftar warned its readers not to get involved: "When the elephants fight, the forest suffers, and you (Parsis) have no business to be there. You have nothing to do in that battle.[61] Sir Dinshaw Wacha's indignation was great when he realized that the annual Congress meeting of 1889 threatened to become a failure due to the opposition of the conservative Parsis, and wrote to Dadabhai Naoroji: We must take a new departure and cut ourselves drift from the illiterate and unsympathetic aristocracy of wealth. Our sheet-anchor should now be the aristocracy of intellect."[62] The conservative Parsis, in turn, pointed out that their traditional political abstinence was what permitted their community to survive for twelve hundred years.

The Parsis greatest fear lay in the fact that being numerically weak, they, as a community, would hardly have a chance to survive in independent India, which to them, would always mean a Hindu India. Thus the battle between the Congress Parsis and the conservative Parsis continued with unabated vigour. Fortunately for us, we had men of vision and sound common sense like Prof. P. A. Wadia, who despite Sir Cowasjee Jehangir's plea to the viceroy on the eve of independence in 1945, in a telegram for a separate representation for Parsis, was quickly neutralized when Professor Wadia sent in turn a telegram rejecting any special privileges for the Parsis.

The elitist concept of the Parsis and their remoteness from the demorcratic principle of equality is demonstrated in the following lines by S. J. Bulsara which appeared in the Iran League Quarterly in 1939: Human society is constituted of individuals of varying talent and capacity, and some among these have shown commanding powers which have brought millions under their sway. An individual brain has often outshone and outruled millions of others. One individual's unique talent may help and serve his nation in a way no other individual can. Where is then the meaning in claiming that all men are equal and have therefore equal rights?. Any sensible man can see the absurdity and futility of the claim for the equality of all men, Voting in human affairs should be so regulated that those of superior understanding should have a superior vote, and those of higher merit have higher returns for their work...[63]

Round about 1930, the "Young Men's Parsi Association" became a vehicle for the younger generation of Congress Parsis. In their Journal they warned: Our community's destiny is bound with India. India is as much our own as of others. It would be a misfortune if the community does not organize itself, to find its proper place in the national movement of the Day and devote itself efficiently in guiding, directing and advancing the political activities and forces of India with its traditional statesmanship, enterprise, intelligence and balance of mind, and zeal.. For years the Parsee has taken a back seat in everything, because of a rather contemptible attitude of our elders. It is time for us now to take over the reign in our own hands, quite capable hands.It is up to us, the younger generation now to undertake the task of educating our elders in the right way.[64] We may say that these young men proved right in the long run. Those who partially feared and those who actively worked for the day of Indian independence, dawned. In all fairness the Indian National Congress laid no obstacles in the path of Parsis who were willing to reorient themselves. The Parsis could also claim that members of their community like Dadabhai Naoroji, Phirozeshah Mehta and Dinshaw Wacha were true nationalists - though they had been forgotten for decades. Good sense, prudence, and foresight prevailed when a "Parsee Nationalist Conference" was held on August 7, 1947, a few days before independence in the presence of B. G. Kher, Chief Minister of the Bombay Province. The main speakers at the conference were the libeals, Sir Cowasjee Jehangir, A. D. Shroff, and Sir Homi Mody, A. D. Shroff made a call:

Our place in the India of tomorrow should be secured on the ground of merit and talent. Numerically we are too insignificant to merit any attention. Instead of claiming all sorts of concessions as a minority, we should completely identify ourselves with Indians, and make ourselves indispensable to the country.[65]

Three days later, the Parsis manifested their reorientation by a public meeting to celebrate the attainment of India's independence. It began with a procession to the statues of Dadabhai Naoroji, Phirozeshah Mehta and Dinshaw Wacha led by the mayor of Bombay who happened to be a Parsi himself - Ardeshir P. Sabavala. They demonstrated their positive attitude toward the New India by holding a public meeting at Albless Baug. Sir Shapurji Billimoria, President of the Parsi Panchayat, stressed: "The Congress has given the Parsee community assurances that it will not interfere with its religious observances, customs and manners. The community has no reason to disbelieve the Congress. As for ourselves we will continue to give our best to the country and the government.: [66] The shrewd Kulke rightly contends: "Thus at the right moment, the Parsees displayed their traditional political adaptability under all circumstances - loyality to the respective ruler, in this case to the new political system."[67]

But all Parsis were not capable of the same kind of reorientation is evident in a book by M. D. Darookhanavala, The Indian Politeia published in 1949. It is a bitter attack on Hindu India, the Congress movement and Mahatma Gandhi. There were many others, who though not as vociferous as Darookhanavala, and who did not make their voices public, felt the same as he did. Thus "the process of Westernization, which began among the Parsees much earlier than among other sections of the Indian society, was not affected by the withdrawal of the British; a counter-pole in the form of an Indianisation cannot be forseen". [68] The community continues to provide India with one of the largest industrial concerns, banks (now nationalized), important politicians, journalists, military officers, nuclear physicists, and men of outstanding legal talent as well as in the administrative services and this gives the community of being at the top in any field which the Parsis choose to elect. Kulke rightly concludes: "The elite consciousness has thus been preserved upto the present in order to make them forget the actual danger to the community's future."[69]

We should strive to emulate the illustrious example of those who have gone before us and lead the community, not into troubled waters by our feelings of superiority and elitism which in turn lead to alienation, but instead to "pastures new" envisioning a new and glorious future for the Parsis and for our young, and prove that world religions, especially religions like the religion of Zarathustra and his followers who have for thousands of years followed the precept of Manashni, Govashni, Kunashni - good thoughts, good words, good deeds, do not lie, but in the words of George Herbert, the Anglican poet - "like season'd timber, always live". Let us also not forget that Khari salaam to Hinduoney che, karanke tey loge hamone asro apyo (real salaam goes to the Hindus for they give us refuge when we needed it most).

My father always reminded us of that when we tended to be overly critical of the people of India. And let us in all gratitude remember the Prince, the Raja of Sanjan, and his kindly reception to the hand of weary, wandering, homeless people when they landed on his shores, and he welcomed them: Welcome, - said the Prince - welcome to those who walk faithfully in the way of Hormuzd. May their race prosper and increase. May their prayers obtain the remission of their sins, and may the sun smile on them. May Lakshmi, by her liberality and her gifts contribute to their wealth and to the fulfilling of their desires; and forever, may their rare merits of race and intellect continue to distinguish them in our midst.[70]

Let us continue to prove the promise made to that gracious Prince 1300 years ago that we, Parsis, will continue to distinguish ourselves in the midst of the people of India and that their home is ours as well.

1 Delphine Menant, Les Parsis, vol. II, Translated M.M. Murzban (Madras; Modern Printing Works, 1917), p. 9

[1] D.F. Karaka : The History of the Parsis vol. II, (London : Macmillan & Co., 1884), p. 9.

[2] Eckehard Kulke, The Parsees in India: A Minority as Agent of Social Change (New Delhi: Vikas Publishing House Pvt. Ltd., 1978), p. 33.

[3] H.D. Darukhanawalam, Parsi Lustre on Indian Soil vol. I, (Bombay: Caxton Printing Works, 1939), Introduction, p. 34.

[4] The Parsees in India, p. 134.

[5] Ibid, p. 134.

[6] Ibid p. 50.

[7] Ibid p, 139.

[8] Les Parsis, pp. 199-200 note.

[9] The Parsees in India, p. 139 note.

[10] Ibid, p. 139 note.

[11] Less Parsis, vol. I, pp. 199-200 note.

[12] The Parsees in India, p. 139 note.

[13] Ibid, p. 139 note.

[14] Ibid, p. 140 note.

[15] Ibid, p. 105.

[16] Ibid, p. 105.

[17] Ibid, p. 105 note.

[18] Ibid, p. 105

[19] Ibid p. 138

[20] Ibid, p. 106

[21] Less Parsis, vol. II, p. 324

[22] Ibid, p. 324

[23] The Parsees in India, p. 84

[24] Ibid p. 85

[25] Ibid p. 92

[26] Ibid p. 85

[27] Ibid p, 94

[28] Ibid p, 94

[29] History of the Parsis, vol. I, p. 123.

[30] Ibid p, 132

[31] Ibid p, 132

[32] Les Parsis, vol. II, p, 312-13.

[33] The Parsees in India, p. 104 note.

[34] Ibid, p. 104.

[35] Les Parsis, vol. II, p. 341 note.

[36] Ibid, p. 341.

[37] The Parsees in India, p. 107

[38] H.D. Darukhanawala, Parsis and Sports (1935), pp. 161-162

[39] The Parsees in India, p. 107 note.

[40] Les Parsis, vol. II, pp. 328-29.

[41] Ibid, p, 303

[42] Ibid, Introduction, p. ii

[43] Ibid, p. 340

[44] Ibid, p. 296

[45] Ibid, pp. 329-34 note

[46] Ibid, p. 345

[47] Ibid, p. 345

[48] Ibid, p. 330

[49] The Parsees in India, p. 108.

[50] Ibid., p. 108.

[51] Les Parsis, vol. II, p. 337 note.

[52] Ibid., pp. 347-48

[53] the Parsees in India, p. 167.

[54] Ibid., p. 168.

[55] Ibid., p. 168.

[56] Ibid., p. 114.

[57] Les Parsis, vol. II, p. 348.

[58] The Parsees in India, p. 115

[59] History of the Parsis, vol. I, pp. 104-105.

[60] The Parsees in India, p. 188.

[61] Ibid., pp. 187-88.

[62] Ibid., p. 188.

[63] Ibid., p. 199.

[64] Ibid., p. 199 note.

[65] Ibid., p. 263.

[66] Ibid., p. 264.

[67] Ibid., p. 264.

[68] Ibid., p. 265.

[69] Ibid., p. 268.

[70] Les Parsis, vol. I, pp. 88-89.

[68] Ibid., p. 265.

[69] Ibid., p. 268.

[70] Les Parsis, vol. I, pp. 88-89.

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