If, as a community, you think you are beaten, you are,
If, as a community, you want to survive, but think you can’t,
it is almost certain you won’t.
A community’s survival doesn’t always depend on its wealth or numbers,
But sooner or later the community that survives
Is the community THAT THINKS IT CAN!
Very often, we find well-intentioned and well-meaning Parsi leaders speaking from public platforms and in secular newspapers about "the imminent extinction of the Parsi community." Recently, the Times of India (August 8,2001), carried an article on page 4 titled, "Population predicament: Parsis face the problem of continuity".
In the aforesaid article, a trustee of the Bombay Parsi Punchayet who is otherwise known to be a very positive thinking person has lamented, "we are clearly heading for oblivion." A Parsi lawyer has added, "we are dying because of our idiocy".
People are entitled to their views. However when faced with a problem the last thing a "prudent businessman" or "lawyer" would want to cultivate are negative thoughts.
Agreed, we are not procreating like rabbits, and our youth have not been able to reach the dizzy heights our ancestors achieved in a totally different era. Yet, have we really come to a stage where everything ahead of us looks dark and dismal? Are we not, in essence, cultivating a death wish?
The most common weakness of all human beings and communities (as a body of human beings) is the habit of leaving their mind open to the negative influence of other people.
It is a scientific theory that any impulse of thought which is repeatedly passed on to the subconscious mind of an individual or a community (as a body of individuals), it is finally accepted and acted upon by the sub-conscious mind, which proceeds to translate that impulse into its physical equivalent, by the most practical procedure available.
When individuals or communities are injected with the first dose of negative thoughts, they either tend to ignore or abhor them. If they are injected with more of the dose for a time, they become accustomed to them and endure them. If there is a systematic method adopted for injecting repeated doses of negative thoughts for a long period of time, individuals and communities finally embrace them and become influenced by them.
Like people, communities are creators of their own fortune or misfortune, because of their positive or negative beliefs picked up by the sub-conscious mind and translated into its physical equivalent.
The subconscious mind makes no distinction between constructive and destructive thought impulses. It works with the material we (or others) feed it, through thought impulses. The subconscious mind is known to translate into reality a thought driven by pessimism just as readily as it will translate into reality a thought driven by optimism.
Like the wind which carries one ship east and another ship west, the law of "positive affirmation" and "negative suggestion" will either lift you up or pull you down, according to the way you set your sails of thought as individuals or as a community.
How many of our community leaders today aspire to pool the energies of our community and focus it on making positive changes in the fabric of our society?
There is a condition called echolalia - a condition in which a person goes on saying, over and over again, something he has said or heard someone say. Among autistic children, it is a frequent disorder. But among some of our community leaders, it is a standard technique. The insinuation is put out by one intellectual or elder in the community and before you know it, the fabrication is shouted out all over the community. And comes to be taken for granted. We, as a community, must learn to beware of those who knowingly or unknowingly mislead.
Facts & Figures
To come straight to the facts and figures of our "dwindling numbers", actual statistical data indicates that for the first time in about five decades, the strength of the Parsi Zoroastrian community in India seems to have increased.
According to the census figures for 1991, the Parsi population in India appears to have increased by 4,752 over the last decade.
According to the 1991 census figures, there are 76,382 Parsi Zoroastrians in India. The Parsi population in India had reached an all-time high of 1,14,890 in 1941. In fact, the census figures were indicating a consistent increase in numbers from 1881 to 1941. In our opinion, the community’s dwindling numbers since 1941 is actually the "redistribution of our numbers", with Parsis migrating to the U.K., the U.S.A., Canada, Australia, New Zealand and the Gulf countries. One also needs to take into account our growing Zoroastrian population in Iran. Most Zoroastrian families in the villages of Yezd have an average of four to five children.
Parsis also need to take into account the fact that since the arrival of our forefathers on the friendly shores of India, sometime during the 10th century, we have, as a community, never been very large in numbers. Even the census figures for 1881 indicate that Parsis as a community in India numbered only 85,397 souls. So why all this undue fuss about our numbers being less than a hundred thousand in 2001?
Will the Parsis Survive?
Very often, people ask me, "Will the Parsis as a community survive beyond the next century?" When not in the mood, I generally dismiss the question with the wise words of Dr. Albert Einstein, "I never think of the future. It comes soon enough."
At the bottom of my heart, however, I believe what the noted American preacher Henry W. Beecher said, "Every tomorrow has two handles. We can take hold of it with the handle of anxiety or the handle of faith." Personally, I would choose to hold it with the handle of faith. Not blind faith. But faith based on past experiences and present resources.
Coping With Change
What are the facets of the community likely to undergo a change or likely to be threatened by change? Moreover, what are the facets where change is threatening our very survival?
I would broadly identify four facets, which, in my opinion, are the building blocks of our community:
I. Social and cultural
Let us examine each of these facets and its impact on the ‘survival’ of the community.
I. Social and cultural:
Parsis have a remarkable ability to adapt themselves to the social and cultural environment of any geographical area they reside in. Ever since we left the shores of Iran in the wake of Arab persecution and arrived on the friendly shores of India, we have, as a community, been through several stages of social and cultural evolution. After our arrival in India, we gradually lost our hold over the sweet Persian language and adopted Gujarati. With the winds of Westernization in this century, even Gujarati is being gradually abandoned for English.
When we arrived in India from Iran, we also changed our food habits and dress. The "traditional" saree is a dress our women adopted in India. Even the famous "dhansak" is a cuisine we developed in India.
So let’s face it, despite undergoing social and cultural changes over the centuries, the Parsis, as a distinct and unique community, have survived. It is possible that in the next century, we will go through many other social and cultural changes, but they may not necessarily affect our survival.
Thankfully, the Zoroastrian religion has a very positive outlook on the subject of wealth and economic betterment. In fact, the religion looks upon poverty and want as manifestations of Evil. Every Zoroastrian is encouraged to create wealth, provided it is generated through righteous means and used for righteous purposes. Charity should begin at home, but not just stay there.
Our ancestors have bequeathed large properties (both movable and immovable) to the community in trust. It is essential that we learn to respect and not abuse these generous bequests. Often, what passes for "consolidation of community wealth" is "liquidation of precious assests". Just as "an army marches on its belly", "a community marches on its coffers". One can hardly imagine a strong and dynamic community sans economic prosperity. Fortunately, the resources available with the community are plenty. What we perhaps lack are able administrators for these resources. Much of our economic prosperity in the next century will depend on how we manage and augment our present resources.
What about individual excellence, one may well ask? Our ancestors largely created their phenomenal wealth through trade. What about sports? From a virtual all-Parsi cricket team, today, we do not have a single Parsi test cricket player. We seem to have lost out in so many fields.
My response would be, let us accept the change. If there has been a shift in career interests, let us accept the fact and strengthen it. Today, more and more of our youth are interested in modern creative fields of fashion designing, hotel management, catering, choreography, computer software, etc. As I see it, our youth today are possibly as creative as our ancestors were in their time and age. So what if we have less number of our youth entering traditional fields of career. It does not matter what one does in life - the important thing is to constantly endeavour to give one’s best to achieve excellence. In the words of Oliver Goldsmith, "If I am a cobbler, the best cobbler I would be. If I am a tinker, no tinker can mend a kettle like me."
Doubtlessly, the community will go through various economic changes in the twenty-first century. However, if the changes are handled with vision and understanding, they can be handled from a position of strength rather than weakness.
Parsis are known for their values of honesty, integrity, loyalty and tolerance. They are even better known for their innate sense of humour and positive attitude to life. These are qualities we have in our blood. Agreed, there are a few dishonourable exceptions. However, by and large, our value system down the centuries has remained intact and likely to remain that way even in the next century and beyond.
It is important for our youth to understand what it means to be a Parsi Zoroastrian. It is no use saying, "I am proud to be a Zoroastrian" unless one really knows what one is proud about. Being a Zoroastrian is more than just confessing a religion. It means, and has always meant, belonging to a particular people - a historic group that has been the bearer of its faith and civilization. It is important for every Parsi youth to recognize that being a Zoroastrian is a "duty", for we are carriers of a culture and an unique "ethic of living".
As we have already seen, Parsis, after their arrival in India, went through a number of social and cultural changes. The language, clothes and diet changed, but there were certain ground rules that they strictly followed without compromise, which helped them retain their unique religious and ethnic identity.
What sets us apart from others is not just our belief in "Humata, Hukhta, Hvrashta" (good thoughts, good words, good deeds) but our way of life. For example, we wear the Sudreh-Kusti not just as an outward symbol but as a "tarikat" (religious discipline) for spiritual development. Add to that, our special reverence for Fire as a living embodiment of Ahura Mazda’s Truth and a consecrated channel that links us to Divinity. We also do not convert or accept persons of other faiths into our community. Not out of a sense of racial or religious superiority, but purely through a sense of self-preservation. Larger communities may be able to absorb the impact of conversions and inter-marriages. Not so a micro-minority like the Parsis. We also follow an unique, eco-friendly system for the disposal of the dead and pray in the language of revelation (Avestan). These prayers are full of meaning and devotion and have the added power to heal both physically and spiritually. These, then, are the customs, traditions and precepts, which give us our unique religious and ethnic identity.
THE SURVIVAL OF THE COMMUNITY AS AN UNIQUE RELIGIOUS AND ETHNIC GROUP IN THE NEXT CENTURY WILL DEPEND ENTIRELY ON HOW MUCH WE ADHERE TO THESE FUNDAMENTAL CUSTOMS, TRADITIONS AND PRECEPTS.
Cultivate Sense of Community
The twentieth century has seen a weakening of our religious and ethnic bonds. The in-roads of assimilation are even more in the western world where Parsis are increasingly migrating. Unless we consider Zoroastrianism as a vital factor in our day-to-day lives and consider the maintenance of our identity as a goal that must be pursued at all costs, our survival is endangered. We must strengthen our sense of "community" by setting aside "individualism".
It is religion, which gives a community a well-defined code of living and regulates the community’s social life. It is again religion, which provides for a clear sense of identity and belongingness. It is this sense of belonging, which binds the members of a community together and ensures its survival.
There is absolutely no reason why we cannot survive the twenty-first century and well beyond, till Frashokereti. We have survived after Alexander destroyed the mighty Achaemenian Empire. We have survived after the Arabs destroyed the Sassanian Empire. Considering how we have virtually risen from the ashes in the past, we are today relatively in a position of strength. We have high literacy. Our per capita income is above the national average. We enjoy the respect and goodwill of other communities and are blessed with adequate resources.
A Question of Leadership
What we essentially lack is effective leadership, unity and individual commitment to the cause of the religion and the community. But as a Zoroastrian, I am optimistic and confident and I feel it in my blood that with proper motivation, right education and lots of patience and persistence, we shall overcome even this weakness. Yes, we definitely will!
More than 2,500 years ago, the empire of Darius the Great stretched from the river Danube (Europe) in the West, right upto Sind and the present-day frontier province and part of the Punjab and from Central Asia right upto the North Eastern parts of Africa.
When Alexander the accursed invaded Persia in 330 B.C., a mighty Zoroastrian empire fell. Yet like a phoenix, the Sasanian Empire rose from the ashes of the Achaemenian Empire in about 226 A.D. Such was the grit and determination of the Sasanians that the Empire of Khusro Parviz became almost as large as that of Darius the Great, the King having captured Damascus, Palestine, Egypt and Constantinople, the capital of the eastern Roman empire.
When the Arabs invaded Iran in the 7th century, a mighty Zoroastrian empire fell, once again. We have survived Alexander’s invasion and that of the Arabs. What is there to prevent us from surviving today? Today, there is no Alexander and no Arabs. The enemy is within. We have lost faith in ourselves!
Where is Our Faith?
Faith is a state of mind, which may be induced, or created, by affirmation or repeated suggestions - positive or negative. The trouble is we have filled our minds and spirits with only negative thoughts.
If there is one resolution, we should make this Shahanshahi New Year 1371 Y.Z., unitedly as a community, is to keep the demon of pessimism at bay.
A French historian once asked Benjamin Franklin, "How long will the American Republic endure?"
Benjamin replied, "Sir, it will endure as long as the principles and the ideals on which it is founded, shall remain dominant in the hearts of the people."
What applies to a nation, applies to a community, as well. When our forefathers landed on the shores of India, they brought nothing with them except a value system based on the traditions of their religion and a commitment to survive as an ethnic community, distinct from every other. We prospered and grew and, in our prosperity and growth, the nation also prospered and grew. The individuality remained intact. We gave freely of our wealth to the other communities, but never compromised on issues concerning our religion or traditions.
All of us as individuals can make a difference to our community - make no mistake about that. Scientist Loren Eiseley, in his book, ‘Unexpected Universe’, gives an interesting anecdote:
While walking on the beach in the morning, he found a little boy picking up starfish and throwing them into the water. Eiseley went upto the boy and asked, "What are you doing?"
The boy said, "I’m picking up starfish and throwing them in the water."
Eiseley said, "I probably shouldn’t have phrased it that way. I meant to say, why are you doing that?’
The boy explained, "The tide will go out soon, and the sun will come up very strong and they’ll die."
Eiseley looked at the boy and smiled, "There are miles and miles and miles of beach and starfish. You can’t possibly make a difference."
The boy looked at Eiseley, thought for a moment, then bent down and picked up another starfish. He threw it in the water and answered. "You know, it sure made a difference to that one, didn’t it?
This should be our philosophy. We may not be able to make a big difference in this world or for our community. But we certainly must work towards making a difference, however small or insignificant, for therein lies our duty as responsible and devout Zoroastrians.
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