The Congress : An aam aadmi’s view

I drove into the NSCI at breakneck speed on the morning of December 27, 2013 and found the security team of the President of India doing a thorough check of our arena, ironically delaying the start of the Congress of the most timely and trusted community in the world.

As the gates opened to a sprawling stage designed to look like Persepolis, with yellow accent lighting casting interesting shadows, I felt like I was walking right through Jimmy Mistry’s building in Dadar Parsi Colony.


After the enchanting benediction by Vada Dasturji, little girls dressed in traditional attire sang Monajats that were conducted by a gentleman who looked a little like Beethoven’s contemporary.  Messages from various dignitaries were read out, and by the time the Iranian delegation finished paraphrasing protracted sentiments of the President of Iran in sacchariferous Farsi, an old Parsi lady was already snoring on my shoulder.


Lord Karan Bilimoria revived the morning with tales of taking an oath on the Avesta rather than the conventional Holy Bible while being sworn in at the House of Lords — though he did seem a little miffed when the master of ceremonies forgot the Lord and just called him Karan!


As the next set of panellists discussed the need to affirm our global identity, our brethren decided that there was no better way to manifest it than to rush for food. This left the organisers, who’d been planning the food arrangements for over six months, very perplexed. Our unadulterated love for divine nourishment continued over the next four days.


Three books were released that afternoon amidst a barrage of sniper dogs doing the rounds for Mr. Mukherjee’s preservation — another security check of this faithful community to protect the honourable President who strutted in Safari-suited, at 5:30 pm despite the Mumbai traffic. He was welcomed by the soulful Paranjoti choir, and when it was his turn to speak, the seasoned politician found it really hard to pronounce ‘Zoroastrianism’ in his garbled Bengali accent. And just to add to the spice, whoever had written his speech had put that word in there a million times.


While the President left us mesmerised, Mallika Sarabhai hypnotised. The majority were rendered comatose by her rendition of how the Parsis came to India. At the end of the show, we only wished she hadn’t. But once again, the scrumptious dinner spread drove away the blues; only, this time, the queues were shorter as people had tactically taken to eating midway through the performance.


The next day began with bumping into the same people we hadn’t met for years, again and again. ZYNG showed the crowd that the youth was the future of the community, and the answer to our dwindling numbers was as simple as speed dating/mating. Despite such energising sessions most people usually went into a food-induced coma after lunch and priests were seen resting their paghdis on the bordered saris of greying ladies. The reason the remaining few could keep awake was the tantalizing ZYNG calendar.  


The highlight of day 2 was the session on late marriages and divorces among the community.

The small, minimally ventilated makeshift hall was brimming with single Parsis who were either waiting to be married or recently divorced. One look at them and you knew who belonged to which group. When asked to marry early by the panellists, one of our local youth commented, “Being married in your twenties is like leaving a party at 8 pm!” The lawyer on the panel then took some time to explain to the young lad that life wasn’t exactly one big party. The final consensus was that the reason for late marriages and divorces is that the women have become more educated, more independent, they earn much more, and hence end up marrying more times!


The riveting Mrs. Rivetna presented the true demographics of the community across the world. Until her presentation, everyone had been thoroughly confused by what our numbers actually were. These figures were followed by Shiamak Davar’s figures and their performance, Selcouth. Well-toned, agile dancers in white loin cloths covering their bare essentials looked like Gandhiji’s disciples doing Iyenger yoga to Adele’s music. Synchronised to perfection, they tossed and tumbled, contoured and jumbled, and more than made up for what Mallika Sarabhai left us ‘without’ the previous night.


The next morning belonged to the stalwarts of Indian medicine. Dr. Soonawala and Dr. Udwadia beguiled the audience with their lifetime achievements, receiving standing ovations. The latter stressed on how diabetes, hypertension, coronary artery disease, cancer and degenerative illnesses were on the rise, plaguing the community. They also emphasised on the growing number of mental illnesses, but comforted the crowd by saying that our inherent madness and eccentricity had nothing to do with it.


Dr. Udwadia ended by quoting Max Plank who was once asked if science did really have all the answers and he said, ‘Science cannot solve the ultimate mystery of nature. And it is because, in the last analysis, we ourselves are part of the mystery we are trying to solve.’

As almost every session was running late, time seemed to be an illusion. Lunchtime, doubly so.


We headed to the races that Sunday afternoon. Clueless race-goers dressed in summer suits and designer glares headed straight for the fancifully decorated VIP guest stand for a race that was dedicated to a community for the first time, courtesy Cyrus Poonawalla. Bets were placed on fillies that galloped past our shouts to finishes that were won by a nose. Some made money and those who lost compensated by attacking the fancy spread of free food that was so graciously served.


The evening was set for Laughter in the House. Back from the racecourse, everyone made themselves comfortable with copies of the Jam-e on their table. While some geared up for the Jam-e-sponsored show by putting in their glaucoma eye drops, others sneaked in a Parsi peg in Aava’s small water bottles. Bomi and Dolly Dotiwalla’s gang made us laugh till our ribs cracked and tears rolled down our cheeks. Oh what joy they bring to our lives!


On the last day they discussed redevelopment of Baugs and contemplated on providing Saunas, swimming pools and Jacuzzis in each baug for rejuvenating the aging population, considering 60% of the tribe is above 60.


The day’s sessions ended with a Vote of Thanks from Maneck Davar, Hon. Secretary of the 10th World Zoroastrian Congress who looked completely pooped by the end of it all. But he relentlessly pulled off a stellar show – a show dedicated to progress, peace and friendship among 1250 participants with 2500 views. The enormous exchange of ideas and accents, the insight into our ancestors’ contributions, and foresight for the future left me inspired to do more for the community.


The evening ended with a musical extravaganza at the Turf Club, with Boman Irani wondering why the previous days’ horse race was ambitiously called the Zoroastrian Million and not more appropriately the Zoroastrian 75,000. The best young Parsi talent in the world did wonders to get us all grooving. Which part of ‘young parsi talent’ did Cyrus Broacha and Kunal Vijayakar do justice to, you’ll have to decide. Once again, food dominated the evening, with Godiwalla at her gastronomic best.


We did our kotis and kissis and called it a night to the best four days of the year most of us have had. For those of you who missed it, see you in Singapore in 2017.