No Indian community has stood out for peace and meaningful contribution to the Indian society in general as the Parsees have. This community is thinning down rapidly in numbers; not even sixty thousand remain today in the entire nation. Most of them are settled in Mumbai, Maharashtra, and in Gujarat. They are one of the most cultured and disciplined lot that live in this country. Everything the Parsees do has ‘civic sense’ written all over it. Today, southern Mumbai boasts of some of the finest buildings in the country and it has to be noted that many of them were built by the Parsees.
A Little History about Them
The Parsees came to India many centuries ago, when most of them were driven out from Iran by the Shia Muslims. The refugees settled in Surat. They started moving towards Mumbai and settled there by the end of the seventeenth century. Ever since, they have left their mark on the city’s administration, in collaboration with the British. While they have been enterprising, they went about making big money through businesses in the mid 1800s and also spent a fair lot on the welfare of the public.
The Parsees in India have understood well that that they cannot progress alone and think about just their own race. This is due to their love for mankind and philanthropy. They always believed in the common good of all those who live in the city and the country. They have spent on building institutions and making them stand out in a unique way, unlike all other communities, in a culture that has found it hard even to maintain the legacy left by this community.
They have built libraries all over the nation. Mumbai is proud of its Jehangir Art Gallery at Kala Ghoda, Colaba, the JJ School of Art, and the Taraporevala Aquarium at Worli. They gave the nation the National Centre for Performing Arts – this is the only venue in India where Western and classical music concerts are held. This is a gift from the Tatas and the personal contributions made by Mehli Mehta, founder of Bombay Philharmonic society. He is the father of the world-famous conductor, Zubin Mehta, who is now the Chief Director of the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra at Tel Aviv and Maggio Musicale Fiorentino in Florence. It is the Parsees who have kept the Western music traditions alive in India.
The first theatre in Mumbai was opened by the Parsees in 1846. It was the Grant Road Theatre which came into life as a result of donations from Jamshedjee Jeejebhoy and Framjee Cowasjee. The Parsees have also been pioneers of giving impetus to the Gujarati Theatre in Mumbai. To this day, it remains a popular form of live entertainment in this exciting city. Any week of the year, you can catch up with murder mysteries, bedroom comedies, and love stories, along with other assorted themes on the Gujarati stage.
The National Gallery of Art owes a lot to them. One of their foremost pioneers, Jamshedji Nusserwanji Tata, built the Indian Institute of Science in 1911. Dr Homi Bhabha built the Tata Institute of Social Sciences in 1936 with the help of Sir Dorabji Tata Trust. The Wadias built many hospitals, women’s colleges and five Parsee housing colonies for low-income families. Sir Jamshedjee Jeejebhoy founded the JJ Hospital and the Grant Medical College in Mumbai.
Not many people know that since the last hundred years, two out of five members who joined the Indian Civil Services was because of the Tata scholarships.
It is unfortunate that the Parsees have always been portrayed as comic figures that are not so bright and intelligent by the Bollywood film industry. But little does the industry know that they are highly intelligent and very hardworking.
The Parsees are slowly turning into a dying community, as their marriage and childbirth rates are dropping rapidly with each passing year. For their sake, it is important that they preserve their race and allow it to flourish. You should consider yourself privileged if you have a ‘Bawa’ (a Parsee) as your friend, as he or she will always remain loyal to you and will always be supportive of you.
Parsees are indeed a `heritage’ that can be treasured by every Indian, forever! - Tahseen