It’s strange, but I water my community roots not at the Mumbai font, but at a tiny stream a subcontinent’s breadth away. Maybe not so strange. After all, Calcutta was where I was born as a Parsi, and ‘navjoted’ as a Zoroastrian. The gongs of the fire temple adjoining our 100-year-old house were my subconscious metronome, and the fragrance of sandalwood intertwining with our mundane kitchen aromas the double helix of my DNA.
As important, we were part of the rainbow coalition of minorities which made Calcutta such a pot of cultural gold. This too wasn’t some academic ethnograph, but a lived experience. The Jewish synagogue and Armenian church were a chant away. China Town segued into our daily wet market, Tiretta Bazaar. Anglo-Indians gave us ball curry and ballroom dancing, our schoolteachers and the mounted police who scattered rival club supporters who ran amok every time Mohun Bagan or East Bengal lost.
Last Tuesday, a spirited session at The Kolkata Literary Meet tucked into this minorities stew, Jael Silliman representing the Jews and Barry O’Brien the Anglo Indians. Any or all of this ‘eentaallectual’ city’s three literature festivals facilitate my annual return to my dual home, that of city and community.
When I left in 1969, Calcutta Parsees numbered 1,200, today this has whittled down to 380, 200 of them seniors. But while the larger Mumbai base is fissioned with schisms, smaller qaums are an exemplary kutumb. Here, elders are never wanting in attention, a rush to the hospital – or a ride to the regular outings organised by the many binding institutions which still impressively thrive. The Calcutta Parsi Club, spawner of champs and romances; an Amateur Dramatic Club which puts up just one (free) show every Parsi new year; Scouts and Guides; the motherly Stree Mandal … There’s now even a dedicated venue for larger events: Olpadvala Memorial Hall, bequeathed by the ‘Byron Drinks’ baron who himself died in masked penury.
Yes, this shrinking patch remains the most vibrant of ‘Cal’s’ now-faded ethnic quilt. In spirit at least, Qaum rahega CroreParsi.
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Alec Smart said: “Chest thumping day or ‘The Embattled Hymn of the Republic’?”
This article is intended to bring a smile to your face. Any connection to events and characters in real life is coincidental.