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An Intimate History of the PARSIS

An Intimate History of the PARSIS

Host: Mugdha Kalra

Speaker: Coomi Kapoor, Author. Political Journalist

Listen to podcast here

Mugdha chatted with Coomi Kapoor about her book, The Tatas, Freddie Mercury and the other Bawas – An Intimate History of the Parsis’, in her podcast- ‘Mugdha Kalra in Conversation’ . Coomi narrated how her own lack of knowledge about her roots prompted her to delve deep into the history of Parsis. In the process she  rediscovered her Parsi self  and grabbed the opportunity to write a book on the community. She based the premise of her book amidst the infamous tussle of 2016 between Ratan Tata and Cyrus Mistry, as it had caught the attention o the nation and had two prominent Parsis t loggerheads. This was also a bid to make the book cater to the entire Indian audience and not just the Parsis. She wanted the book to be fun and engaging rather than just being a work of history. 

The journalist in Coomi got the better of her and she went digging for stories and surrounded every chapter with trivia collected from various people from the Parsi community. 

Did you know?

Parsis came from Persia and many of them  first settled in Gujarat. Coomi’s name is actually a short for her name Kunwar Bai that means princess.  Many Parsi names like Shireen, Meher, Firoz, are all Persian. These names were present much before than when Islam came to Persia. Many Muslim names were actually Zorastrian names.”

“Hindus kept their surnames on the basis of their caste, whereas Parsis spelled out their profession via their surnames, like Sodabottleopenerwala, Ginwala, Daruwala. Some of the surnames were indicative of the places that the Parsis hailed from, like Bharucha came from Bharuch and Surti came from Surat. The Parsi ancestors who traded with China were called Chinoy. Some people also took the surname in the English firms they were working in, like Benetton. The Parsis had the freedom to pick and choose their surnames.”

Mugdha, further, asked the author about her favorite chapter ‘CODA’ from the book which talks about the laws that govern the community. She asked why the Parsis are disappearing? Coomi states that the census shows a decline in the Parsi population at the rate of 10-12% every decade. The community had about 57,000 Parsis and about a decade later they are down to 50,000 in number. The book mentions the status of Parsi women marrying out of their community and losing their Parsihood and their children not being included in the community as well. Coomi  talks about strong, independent Parsi women who are protesting about this injustice being done to them through her book.

Did you know?

“One of the oldest stories of Sugar and Milk in Parsi folklore, comes from the time when they came over from Persia. They landed in Sanjan, a port in Gujarat. The language of Indians and Persians was different, so to welcome the strangers and communicate that the land was already filled with people to the brim, King Jadhav Rana sent them a full glass of milk. The Zoroastrian priests immediately got the message and since they were peace loving religious people, they wanted to send back a message that they would make the land and community richer and more prosperous by their good values, knowledge and hard work. The Parsis added sugar to the glass of milk. The King was so impressed with this gesture that he granted them asylum and welcomed them with gifts and helped them settle in India. Parsis thus settled and assimilated, blended in India like sugar in the milk.”

Did You Know?

The ancient method of saying the last goodbyes in the Parsi community is another interesting story. Parsis believed that every bit of their body should be put to use and so it was fed to vultures. But then the vulture population started to fade away”… what did they do next.? 

Listen to the podcast now  to know more  and hear the entire conversation with Coomi on Bakstage!

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