[This letter appeared on Sunday, the 24th September,1995 in the Jame-Jamshed Weekly. The Jame, as the newspaper is affectionately called, is a respectable 163 years old, Parsi-Zoroastrian weekly, printed and published in Bombay, India.]
The authors give sound practical religious advice to Parsi-Irani Zoroastrians who immigrate from India or Iran about preserving the Parsi-Zarthosty way of life and religion in Western countries. The importance of wearing sudreh-kusti at all times and of not smoking is emphasised. There is also a mention about precautions as far as children are concerned; the importance of communicating in one's mother tongue (Gujarati or Farsi) and encouragement to proudly proclaim oneself as traditional followers of Zoroastrianism.
The letter clearly shows that one who marries within one's own ethnic group is not a "racist", instead one is just preserving the community identity. The authors do insist that friendships beyond ethnic, religious and national boundaries are not wrong, it is only inter-marraige amongst other groups that causes the Parsi racial identity to be lost.
Common doubts in young people's mind "Why should I marry within my race and religion only", "Are we being too elitist if we do so", "Is this practise of marrying within my community anti-Indian and unpatriotic", etc, etc. have been very well addressed. The authors have done well to choose the dialogues between Mr. Golwala, (the past editor of "The Observer") and Prof. Gadgil (one of India's greatest and most practical scholar and teacher) to answer the above doubts. The replies given by Prof. Gadgil range from "Your forefathers came from a distant land to India to preserve their heritage", "No, do not merge with the large Hindu whole", "The national interest does not demand your disappearence. ... the country would loose by it" clearly indicate that both Parsis and their motherland India would loose if Parsis open their doors to inter-marraige.
The pressures on Parsi Zoroastrians in the Western world, especially in America is mentioned. We are counselled to look into our traditional Zoroastrian literature to withstand such peer pressure and the need to sometimes take a non "politically correct" stand where the religion is concerned. The significance of the Zoroastrian tenet of "tokham pasbani" (preservation of the seed) even in today's "modern" age is mentioned.
Lastly, the authors tell us about the need of humility and an open mind to understand our Scriptures and their esoteric secrets. Speed reading of the Scriptures is definitely out! Their counsel to sometimes start with "blind" faith (irrationality) and then wait patiently for one's consciousness to expand for rational answers is indeed wise for not only understanding the true tenets of Zoroastrianism, but also to do so for all other great religions of the world.
The authors have given their addresses for further contact.
7 Kumpta Street, Fort,
Bombay 400 038. India.
Re : A SINCERE APPEAL TO ZOROASTRIANS IN WESTERN COUNTRIES AND IN INDIA
Sir, we have seen text of the misguided propaganda going around on an Internet Mail group as mentioned by Mr. Havewala; and we do share his concerns expressed therein.
Any of us who venture out overseas must be extra vigilant and staunch in one's religious practice. As a precautionary measure, do not completely cut yourselves from your home country; you may one day wish to return either due to disillusionment or things just not working well overseas. Our request is to cross the seas armed with an adequate stock of sudreh, kustis and essential books like our Khordeh Avesta, Yashts, Vendidad, etc. If possible enroll in a good religious class, like the one held by Zoroastrian Studies, before sailing forth - all the knowledge acquired thereby will be appreciated amongst new neighbours who more than likely may not even be aware of the word "Zoroastrianism".
Maintain a close link with our religious culture - be it in Iran or India. To overseas based parents, we implore whenever possible, bring your children to India to bow before Iranshah and other Sacred Fires. Without such contacts, a sense of belonging to the mother country or forming an emotional bond with our rich rituals and traditions is difficult. Ensure that their naojote is done, that they wear the sudreh-kusti at all times and prayers are done daily. Explain to your children the symbolic interpretation of sudreh-kusti and the invisible protection they render to our aura (khoreh) . Knowledge presented in this manner will make our children proud to wear their sudreh-kusti. Strictly forbid smoking - a blasphemous act which defiles our sacred fire. Watch the company of friends they associate with.
One should be aware that in many communities of Western countries it is not a common practice to give respect to one's elders as we do back home. Children talk in the same tone to elders as they do to their peers. All of this may appear amusing and 'liberating' when observed from a distance, but when one's own children start emulating these traits, then only does one realize the value of the tradition of giving respect to elders, as done back home. This is not a criticism of the Western way of living, but we do feel that there is not an adequate and realistic awareness made of the other side of the "phoren" way of life in the Parsi media back home.
A good command over English is essential these days to be a success in the academic, job related and business environments, master it by all means; but at home and when amidst fellow community members, adults and children alike should speak in our mother tongue only, be it Gujarati or Farsi. There is nothing wrong in proclaiming that one is an orthodox when you are overseas - we often see the orthodox Russian, orthodox Greek and orthodox Jewish communities in foreign lands - these people proudly maintain their traditions without any undue socio-economic deprivation thereby. These groups do not necessarily "do in the West what the Westerners do". We too must try and maintain our own traditions.
To our yet-to-be-married co-religionists around the world, we implore you to seek your life partners within our clan only. One is not being "racist" if one marries within one's ethnic group to preserve the community identity. Surely respect all other religions and races; make friends across ethnic, religious and national boundaries - but please marry amongst ourselves only so that such a small and unique community like ours survives forever. Sometimes your prospective partner may not be highly educated or on the same rung of the social ladder as you, but still he/she is a fellow Zarthosti. Lovingly encourage him/her to scale the same heights that you have scaled and together from the mountain top, may both of you proudly proclaim that you are "Mazdayasni Zarthostis". Then come down and further righteousness together!
To our youngsters who are intent on marrying outside, think of the pain you will bring to your parents and other near and dear ones. In addition to causing a disruption of one's spiritual progress as has been frequently explained in the columns of Deen Parast and the Jame, one should realize that the injunction of marrying our co-religionists only has been wisely laid out by our fore-fathers. The adherence to this has preserved the rich religious-ethno-social fabric of our community for hundreds of years.
At times one may wonder, "Why do I have to marry my co-religionist only, why not any another person outside my community? Is this custom of ours anti-Indian and unpatriotic? Will our non-Parsi friends be considering us too elitist when we insist on marrying within our community only?; etc, etc." These doubts may specially appear to some of us as we move to higher positions in our profession and usually find ourselves amidst more and more non-Parsis. The answer to this is : "No. India and our Indians love us for being who we are - Parsis - with all our splendid talents and idiosyncrasies. They value, appreciate and respect our decision to maintain our distinct identity. Whichever country we settle in, usually benefits from our presence and from our Parsi-panu (our way of life). In fact the stauncher the Parsi remains, the more an asset he is. Perhaps this following incident which A. D. Golwala recalls in his article "To Be Or Not To Be" will help dispel any such doubt of one's identity and the wisdom of keeping all those wonderful Parsi genes intact!
Mr. Golwala mentions a discussion he had with Prof. Gadgil, one of India's greatest and most practical scholar and teacher, who was described by foreign authors as a "savant of extraordinary profoundity and brilliance, who illuminated whatever he touched" . (see endnote 1 below). The topic of the discussion, held during independence days, was national unity. It is mentioned that they spoke of the evil effect of caste and how it tended to divide the country. Golwala later asks Prof. Gadgil, "I suppose then , you would say that we Parsis too ought in the national interest to give up our separate identity and get merged in the great Hindu whole? After all we are only about a hundred thousand". The response to this by the professor is very illuminating and should be carefully read and reflected upon : "No, I wouldn't say that. You are not a caste, a fraction of a whole. You are an independent religion, a whole in itself. To preserve that religion, which gives you your particular identity, your ancestors left their native land and came to us. Here over twelve hundred years you have preserved it, in full amity and concord with us and are a living part of our nation. No, I would be loathe to see you disappear."
Prof. Gadgil later continues, "The national interest does not demand your disappearance. On the contrary, the country would loose by it. Your total circumstances, religion, ethics, upbringing, etc. have nurtured people who have been useful to the country. Such people after independence may well prove even more useful, and the likelihood of that type appearing in other circumstances, I would not rate too high". In his final counsel he says, " No, don't merge, maintain your identity as a part of our nation and continue to be even more useful to it as a whole than you have been in the past."
The significance of this illustration holds true for our Parsi brethren in Western countries too, especially America, where peer pressure to be part of the big melting pot (of all races) is intense. One should be vigilant when watching talk shows of Oprah Winfrey, Sally Jessy Raphael and Ricki Lake when they deal with the topic of inter-racial marraige. The audience in these shows is generally un-sympathetic to any one who preaches against inter-marraige, evident from the boos received. It is felt that they perceive anyone who opposes inter-racial marraige as being racist and not "politically correct". In the liberal circles of America and other countries, inter-marriage is thought to be "cool". Unless one is firm, this form of pressure can actually start making a person believing in the Zoroastrian tenet of "tokham pasbani" (preservation of the seed) feel very guilty. To remedy this, we recommend that one should get in touch with the traditional teachings of our religion where the concept of "tokham pasbani" and its significance even in today's so-called "modern" age is well explained.
To some of our misguided Parsi journalists, we request you to study our scriptures with patience, humility and an open mind. If need be, consult a Dasturji whom you respect to find their true meaning. There are so many sincere mystics within our community who will be more than ready to share the esoteric "secrets" of our religion, only if one seeks them with sincerity. The knowledge expressed therein may not immediately satisfy one's rational yearnings, but it will more than likely produce warmth in your heart; and later on as one's consciousness is enlarged, a rational understanding also comes. In the search for answers to spiritual mysteries, one may, at times, have to start with a certain amount of 'blind' faith (irrationality), later on comes understanding (rationality)! Please do not "speed read" our scriptures or quote them out of context in an attempt to legitimise definite no-nos like conversion and inter-marriages, be it involving females or males. These practices have already done enough harm to our community. The ideal and sincere Parsi/Zarthosti journalist, when writing on religious topics, is one who works in harmony with the Dasturjis by combining his/her writing and presentation skills with their religious knowledge. If you are a talented and gifted writer, isn't it your religious duty and responsibility to help spread the Light?
Any reader who wishes correspondence with us may do so at the following address :
Ervad Jamsheed B. Sidhwa,
50 B, Millhouse Drive,
Mr. Tehemton B. Adenwalla,
20-A, Kellsmere Crescent,
Island Bay, Wellington.
Ervad Jamsheed Burjor Sidhwa, Auckland, New Zealand.
Mr. Tehemton Bhikhaji Adenwalla, Wellington, New Zealand.
1. from the book "Our Heritage", published by the Nasik Boys Town, Nasik, India.
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