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Zoroastrians and Bombay

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

This poetry was recited by Nadir Godrej at the 10th World Zoroastrian Congress on 27th December, 2013

Today we're used to say Mumbai/It wasn't quite that way/So please forgive if I don't try/And stick with old Bombay.

Though somewhat shrouded in a mist/The roots of both are same/Bombay has a Portuguese twist/Mumbai's the original name.

By any name these seven isles/Did not amount to much./The Portuguese with all their guiles/Could see no future as such.

But Parsis came in the early days/And helped the Portuguese,/Began to learn European ways/And learnt to sail the seas.

Now Charles was looking for a Queen./A wedding was in the works/From Portugal came Catherine/And one of many perks

The British gained from the deal/Were the isles of Bombay./In retrospect one might feel/That they would rue the day

They gave away all those mud flats/But what imagination/Could have foreseen a city that’s/The power of a nation?

And Parsis right from the start/With the Portuguese came in/And on their own they played a part/In a military win.

Now shortly after the British came/A plague made them withdraw./Bombay looked like easy game/But Parsis came to the fore.

They bravely fought the rowdy raiders,/Held on with determination,/Drove away the fierce invaders/And rose in the estimation

Of the British, when they returned./Perhaps it was their gratitude/Or the respect the Parsis earned/Or enterprising attitude.

The reason might be all of these/The facts are very clear/Everywhere one sees Parsis/While others don't come near.

The British brought the rule of law/Which made the Parsis strive./They seized the chances that they saw/And they began to thrive.

They started off as go-betweens/Dubash, Dalai or Shroff./But soon became men of means/But critics would often scoff

That Parsis were just compradors./But they traded on their own/And quickly reached far off shores./And soon the trade had grown

And spread quite wide both East and West./And often they succeeded/But China was by far the best./Much offered, little needed

The Chinese then had it all./But you must take and give/We then got them in Opium's thrall./We should have let them live.

Though this indeed was quite a blot/Much charity ensued./No matter how the gains were got/Good progress was pursued

And Canton's loss was Bombay's gain/As hospitals were built/And causeways spared commuter pain./They gave not from their guilt

But feelings of Noblesse oblige./Asceticism was disdained/Their storied wealth gave them prestige/But only if they deigned

To share their wealth for public good/To satisfy a need./Their wealth, they always understood/Was not for private greed.

Zoroastrians were always taught/That for the good they stood,/In a cosmic battle that is fought/Between the bad and good.

And education was a cause/Dear to the Parsi's heart./New institutes without a pause/Played a major part

In ensuring that our nation/Would ultimately rise./Parsis then led in education/And nobody denies

For years they had the major share/Of degrees in every field./The explanation would lie there/For the influence they wield.

They gave their money and their time/And no example's better/Than the one I celebrate in rhyme/Sir Pherozesha Mehta.

From Lincoln's inn to the bar/He quickly honed his skills./As a lawyer he went very far/But then gave up those thrills.

In politics he played a role/He chose the middle road./Freedom then was not his goal/But all the same he'd goad

The British to allow self rule/As Mayor he played his part./He was astute and no fool/Saw through the British art

Of keeping Parsi's on their side/With excessive praise/And claiming there's a big divide/With Parsi and Indian ways.

Sure some Parsis were allured/And believed in this divide./But there were others who ensured/That India would keep her pride.

Madame Cama comes to mind,/The first to raise our flag./No greater patriot one could find/Quite safely we can brag.

There is the moderate patriot school/That saw some British good./They merely sought dominion rule/By that they understood

On local matters we would vote/Within Imperial sway./It is important that we note/This was the British way.

Now Canada went that way/And then Australia too./And Naoroji was the first to say/Something thafs very true

The British didn't walk the talk/And had Unbritish rule./They talked of cheese but gave us chalk/And always tried to fool.

The next Parsi to be MP/In the British Parliament./Sir Muncherjee Bhownagree/Would readily assent.

The benefit of doubt, you see,/The British got from him./They called him, "Sir Bow and Agree!"/But he wasn't quite so dim.

So army spending was protested/And the Africa campaign./While Science training was suggested/He often did complain

That economic exploitation/Made India very weak./His defence of our nation/Shows he wasn't meek!

Both these MPs worked with the Shah/For brethren in Iran./Their efforts went very far/The Jizya saw a ban.

And thanks to them Iranis came/And brought us fine Cafes./They added to Zoroastrian fame/And do as well these days.

I welcome all from our homeland/And the diaspora as well./And governments from any land/Where we are treated well.

And some might think that we would claim/Back our ancestral land./But that we're sure is not our aim/For Bombay's in our hand.

In 1900 six percent/Of Bombay were our tribe./We punched above our weight, that meant/That almost every scribe

Who wrote a piece about Bombay/Would laud our contribution/But now this is a different day/We look for a solution.

Our share in Bombay took a drop-/Much less than one percent./We fear we may reach a full stop/But our Government is bent

On well ensuring our survival./Do learn what they propose./Can we hope then for a revival/Only Ahura Mazda knows!

Two ways have often been proposed/And you can take your pick./The traditionalists have supposed/That we should only stick

To partners found within our fold/And quickly start to breed./The other camp, now I am told,/Believes that what we need

Is to accept many more/Into the Parsi pool./Of course, it is hard, to be sure,/Deciding on a rule.

Now should our pool be shallow and wide/Or narrow but quite deep?/And can we bravely turn the tide/Or let the water seep?

Maybe we are destined to last./Or maybe we'll disappear./But we can glory in our past/And hope the world will cheer

Our contribution to mankind/Whether we're here or not./Our influence you'll always find/We will not be forgot.

In museums we will be preserved/And you can have a look/At the many ways we have served/In both the aisles and book.

So come and visit NGMA/And CSMVS/The first has something new each day/The second I have to guess

My Parsi audience will be lost./I'll call it Prince of Wales!/Please visit both at any cost/And understand the trails

That Zoroastrians left far and wide/But Bombay was the hub./To this city we are tied/And that to me's the nub.

In Bombay, Parsi thoughts were made/And Parsis then gave back./Much was gained and dues were paid/And I have tried to track

The linkages between the two/And much has now been told./Much more could be said, it's true/But now it's time I fold.

I'm sure that you will all agree/Bombay's a special place/To hold this WZC./And so I rest my case.

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