29 January 2010, In the 10th century, a group of Zoroastrians arrived from Iran on the shores of Gujarat, India, and sought refuge in the kingdom of Jadi Rana in Sanjan.
An oft-told tale then describes a meeting between the reigning Hindu king and the community chief, Dasturji Nairyosang Dhaval. “My kingdom is like a cup of milk, full to the brim.
How can I accommodate your people?” the king supposedly asked the chief. In reply, the chief dissolved some sugar in the milk and offered it to the king. It is said that the shrewd king understood the message — the chief’s people would blend well with his own and even enhance its quality.
Centuries later, the Parsis (as the Zoroastrians are referred to in India) still remain a smallish community worldwide, yet this has not deterred the community from thinking big. The 9th World Zoroastrian Congress, which was held in Dubai at the Crown Plaza last December, showcased the community’s efforts in this direction. Lord Karan Billimoria, CBE, DL topped the list of luminaries who took the stage on the opening day of the Congress where he urged members “not to forsake Zoroastrian values while they strive for success.”
“Sometimes, people ask me if being a Parsi has helped me succeed. I believe that the Zoroastrian emphasis on good thoughts, good words and good deeds definitely helps,” he added, in his inaugural speech at the Congress.
Other luminaries included Nadir Godrej, managing director of Godrej Industries; Neville Shroff, chairman and CEO of Shroff Company Limited, creative ad-man Sam Balsara and acclaimed actor Boman Irani. The four-day Congress, which was themed ‘Unity through the sands of time’, also saw other members from diverse walks of life discuss their perspectives on the current state of Zoroastrian communities worldwide and their future.
While Balsara presented a blueprint for the community to “reposition itself as a leading light for other communities and as a beacon of hope for its own members”, Godrej used a poem to explain the significance of entrepreneurial spirit within the community, touching on one of the major points discussed during the Congress. Incidentally, this was also the primary point of discussion when I met Meher Bhesania, chair of the Congress, days later.
“Most of our youngsters work at prestigious firms today and hold significant positions in their respective fields. One of the Congress’ aims is to urge them to use their intellectual capital and resources to do something on their own and tap into their entrepreneurial skills,” she says.
Bhesania believes that the accumulation of wealth is not just for personal glory but also a benefit to the community at large; it would be “a continuation of the Parsi legacy that boasts of industrial greats like the Tatas, the Godrejs and the Wadias.”
For Bhesania, the work doesn’t end with coordinating and organising the event that took place last December. Based on a list of outlined action points, various community members have been entrusted with the task of working on the different goals discussed.
“We identified six focus areas — the global working group, health, entrepreneurship, women, youth and communication. These were based on the opinions of our community members on how we could better the community and mark our presence better worldwide,” she explains.These focus areas touch on sub-points that include harnessing youth potential, encouraging women to inculcate better Zoroastrian values, and health facilities for the poor and elderly. Community leaders are to work on them over the next four years and the progress reported at the next congress, scheduled to take place in Mumbai in 2014.
Bhesania feels that this is a good sign of things to come for the community, not just in Dubai but all over the world.“Parsis who came to this land (Dubai) 40 years ago were mainly from Aden, and over the years, while several have migrated to far-off lands, some have stayed back and started their own businesses. The choice of this city is a salute to Zoroastrians who, like the city, has shown progressiveness and the spirit of innovation while retaining their culture and values.”