The Parsi in Pardes

I recently (only temporarily) moved from a city that harbours the world’s largest Parsi population to a civilisation that is now home to the world’s second-largest Parsi population. As we prepared to leave a place that has, over the years, filled me with love, life and longing, I realised that everyone I bid farewell to in Bombay knew someone who knew someone who knew at least one person in Toronto. The flight seemed like an effortless commute from Dadar Parsi Colony to Rustom Baug. The number of taxis driven by Indian taxi drivers at the Pearson International Airport was no different than those parked along the petrol pump across Rustom Baug. I was already at a home away from home.


For those who are still contemplating immigration, here’s a heads-up. The community boasts of a robust number of Parsis that fluctuates anywhere around 3,500 to 5,000—depending on whom you speak with: the orthodox, the reformist, the left wing, or the right wing. Just when you thought only the BPP had this segregation! Most of them reside in Brampton, Oakvile and Mississauga (the ‘u’ in Mississauga being as useless as the ‘ueue’ in queue). Until I got here, I thought these were just teeny-weeny suburbs of Toronto, like Thane is to Bombay, but they are actual cities—with their own Mayor, Lord and Council General. The Parsis, too, in each of these towns have executive committees, with their own President, Secretary and Treasurer. They recently had a spirited celebration where 30 priests performed a jashan for 600 people, followed by dhandar-patio cooked by Filipinos, from recipes provided by the organisers.


Everyone I have spoken to in the month that I have been here has not for a moment regretted their move from India. They are living the American dream minus the violence. Whether they came on a boat or they came slightly later by more sophisticated means, they have built for themselves palatial homes with ‘asal nu’ furniture, and decorated their backyards with bushy scrubs and blossoming flowers. They have barbeques on the weekends where they revel in their good life and discuss the weather.  Parents are happy as they have secured their children’s future and children are happy since they have a large, loving, caring, close-knit extended family in another city far away from them.


Though they pay up to 50% in taxes, not many complain, as the perks are far too many to grudge. They have their independence, their privacy and their freedom. Everything you have access to in India is available here, including ‘Camay ni sali neh fudina ni chai’. Healthcare is free. Children get free vaccinations, teenagers get free contraception, and adults get free operations. Schooling is also free. Why do you think this place is filled with Indians? No forms to fill, no exams to give, no homework to do. No matter how intellectually inferior you are, you will move from one grade to the next, as you aren’t allowed to fail anyone in this country. It is also not without reason that most kids end their sentences here with an “Eh!”


They have a wonderful public library system. The enrolment is free and you can take up to 50 books and DVDs at any given time from any of their several outlets spread across the city. They give out free passes to the museums and places of art and design. Mothers can take their little ones and enjoy free baby and toddler time. Their population allows for these systems to be in place. Canada has 35 mn people in an area of 10 mn sq. km. That’s the population of Bombay and a few neighbouring cities in an area of 1,000 sq. km.




We live in Downtown Toronto, in the midst of the distillery district and the entertainment district. What more could a simple Parsi ask for? On a good day, the sun scatters diamonds on the tall glass high-rises that engulf you as you bicycle around the busy streets back and forth from work. The city is bustling with music concerts, parades, theatre, opera, restaurants and everything else that costs more than anything you can afford (groceries included). It’s so social here that the first words my baby has learnt to say is not mummy or daddy, but “Hi!”


When we move to a foreign land, we ache to belong to places, but it is always the people who make us belong. The high-paying jobs, the fast cars, the crisp air, long weekends and fancy homes don’t mean much without the right people. The Parsis living in Canada seem to have found the right balance here. They have kept their culture alive and are proud of their ‘parsipanu’.  It’s a pleasure to be surrounded by MC/BC in this land of multicultural ethnicities.


One evening we were invited for dinner by a very pleasant Gujarati family who served us scrumptious home-made vegetarian food while we listened to old Indian songs and sipped on some wine. One of the songs that played was a Jagjit Singh gazal. “Hum toh hai pardes mein, des mein nikla hoga chaand/ Apni raat ki chhat par kitna tanha hoga chaand”—the physical moon being a metaphor for the love we have left behind. Several families joined in later speaking about the circumstances in which they came to Canada and what made them stay. They say that life takes you to unexpected places, but love brings you home. For most of them, this is now home.


I sit peacefully in the luxury of my 600 sq. foot apartment on the 21st floor, watching the sky swiftly changing its colours with its wavering moods and I ponder – ‘One’s destination is never a place, but a new way of seeing things’. Rumour has it; they have something called a winter in Canada. Since it may not be a very joyous time then, I am relishing the bliss of the summer, and here’s wishing you all a very Happy New Year.