The idle ramblings of a Jack of some trades, Master of none

Unlike the hordes of Hindus, the masses of Muslims, the crush of Christians or the (damn, I'm running out of alliterations) surfeit of Sikhs, the number of that gentle tribe known as Zoroastrians dwindles with every passing day.

This is a culture that is best exemplified by a possibly apocryphal story. Seeking escape from religious intolerance in their native Iran, several Zoroastrians arrive in India. They request a local king to allow them to settle in his demesnes. He replies wordlessly by sending them a cup filled to the brim with milk. They understand that he means that there is no space left to accommodate them. They dissolve sugar in the milk and return the cup to the king. The king understands that they will blend well within his kingdom, and indeed sweeten the lives of everyone. He also realises that these are seriously smart cookies. So he permits them to stay, and stay on they do, maintaining their faith for centuries and providing much more to their adoptive country than they ever took out of it.

In reality, as the Qissa-i-Sanjan documents, the ruler of Gujarat, where the Parsis first arrived, allowed them to settle only if they would explain the tenets of their religion to the ruler; they were also to learn the local language and speak it rather than Persian. They were also required to adopt the dress of the area rather than wear Iranian garb, they were to celebrate their weddings in the evening rather than in the morning, and they were to put aside their weapons and not wear them at any time. Other traditions say that the Zoroastrian pilgrims were never to convert their Hindu or Muslim neighbours... The Parsis kept their promises.

Indeed, Zoroastrians in India have been singularly successful. They have done well in journalism, music, the sciences, the armed forces, sports, business, nuclear engineering, and film. There are literary stars among them, and ravishing models. And yet, over time, their numbers have been shrinking.

The chief reason for this is that the faith does not recognise conversion, so if a Parsi marries outside the community, the children are not considered Parsis any longer. As with Orthodox Judaism, this has caused a deep schism, with some reform-minded Zoroastrians willing to countenance conversions into the faith. There are opposing voices.

Another reason is the diaspora. Many Parsis have left India for Australia, the UK, and the USA, where it becomes even more difficult, owing to the smaller communities, to preserve their culture.

There seem to be far too few children being born to Parsis as well. As pointed out in this article, their population is an inverted pyramid, with fully 31% of them being above the age of sixty.

Meanwhile, there are heroic efforts to keep the community together. Ader Gandi runs the Parsi Chronicle, an online compendium of articles about his people. There is an online directory where nearly 50,000 Parsis and Iranis seem to have registered themselves. Finally, a listing here might elicit a response from a Parsi that one has lost touch with.


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