SHERNAAZ ENGINEER's blog on the Parsi community
Thursday, April 2, 2009
I will never let the community down: Armaity Rustom Tirandaz
With her poignant grace in the face of enormous personal grief, and her spunky determination to give the community her best, Armaity Rustom Tirandaz is a profile in courage.
While unbiased voters will judge her on her merits, it’s not surprising that some of the biggest and best names in the community have come forward to endorse her candidature: Farrokh Kavarana of Tatas, eminent lawyer Homi Ranina, former Chairman of the Central Bank of India, Homai Daruwalla – and many more. Worthy individuals, who could be (and perhaps should) be Trustees of the BPP in their own right – yet they have stepped forward to stress that she is the right choice.
If one pauses to think – and think one must before one votes – it stands to reason that people of such unblemished stature would only commend a credible candidate to the community.
Yet a perception has been created that Armaity Rustom Tirandaz is, at best, a sympathy seeker. However, in the course of this interview, she comes across as calm and competent, and she does not play on sentiment. Her resume is robust. And while it’s true that being the wife of Rustom Tirandaz cannot be counted upon as a qualification for Trusteeship – neither should it be deemed a disqualification.
Over to the lady, then, as we seek to clarify some preconceptions – and clear many misconceptions…
What does one call you – Rabri Devi (as you have recently been rechristened) or Armaity Rustom Tirandaz?
I was born Armaity Karani and, by marriage, became Armaity Rustom Tirandaz. I cannot be anyone but myself! While I yearn, strive and struggle to fill my Rustom’s shoes, I certainly cannot wear anyone else’s but my own.
Ideologically, where do you stand on crucial community issues?
I have no qualms confessing that I’m a traditionalist. However, this does not mean there should be no progress for the betterment of the community. I’m all for change – but not when it comes to our religious tenets, which are time-honoured and must be treasured. I am totally against cremation – no Cremate ni Bungli and no four-day prayers for those opting for cremation. Neither do I advocate intermarriage – I had told my children a long time ago that whenever they married, it should be within the community. Intermarried Zoroastrian women know from the start that they need to make a choice between their spouse and their religion – and they make it willingly, so why raise a fuss later?
It’s being suggested that you have almost been coerced into contesting this election, propped up by people who want to use you as a puppet?
There is a two-letter word in the English language, which is not unknown to me – ‘NO’. If I were not keen, or if I felt I was not qualified to rise to the challenge of Trusteeship, I would have said no. As I have in the past. Let me explain…
When Rustom was in politics, and he was a Corporator for 17 years, our ward changed its ‘complexion’ many times. At one point it became a Woman’s Ward, and at that time Rustom was very keen for me to contest since it was a ward where we had worked very hard and were very well respected. But I said no. I refused. Nobody, not even my husband, could push me into doing something I did not believe in doing.
This time, when I was asked, I consulted my conscience and after due consideration I accepted because I believe I can contribute meaningfully.
Yet it is feared that you will be a ‘rubber stamp’ to Dinshaw Mehta…
I want to ask, why only Dinshaw Mehta? There are six other Trustees who have as much say over everything that happens at the BPP. Will I be a rubber stamp to them all? Rustom’s colleagues are well aware that I’m the sort of person who will not let anything get past if it goes against my grain. I’m perceptive enough to know my priorities, and principled enough to stand by them. Ultimately, I’m answerable not to any individual but to my conscience and my community – I will never let them down.
How does it feel when you’re called “just a housewife”?
It feels wonderful! I’m proud of the title, and so are most housewives, because it connotes love, sacrifice, a capacity for sharing and caring and creating something strong, vibrant and wonderful: A happy family. The same values that I brought to my family are the ones I will bring to the BPP and to the community. Women are natural negotiators, but they know where to draw the line and will let no harm come to those they care for. I’m sure the community will appreciate these values.
But you are more than a housewife…
I’m a qualified Physiotherapist from KEM Hospital, and I have been associated with several social causes for many years. I have never spoken about them, because it seems strange to do so. However, since I have been asked I will confess that I have worked with the Jai Vakeel School for the handicapped for over 13 years, the Dadar Blind School, The Sakarbai Petit Hospital for animals for the last 18 years, the Bandra Hospice for the terminally ill for over 10 years, the Shelter for Girls in Distress, and so on. I have also been shoulder-to-shoulder with Rustom since the start of his political career in 1970, and while I have been actively involved in public life, I have not been very much in the public eye.
Your critics say we need professionals in the BPP…
Am I not a professional? And what ‘profession’ do you need to serve the BPP? You can outsource many things, but not the spirit of service, the integrity to uphold the right values, and the determination to do your best by your community. I bring all of this with me, in addition to my academic qualifications.
As a front-running candidate for Trusteeship, what is your vision for the Parsi community?
I think we should do as much as we can to alleviate the suffering of our poor. We need to arrive at how many people live below the poverty line, and set into place special schemes to help them. The Merit Rating for Housing needs to be followed diligently, and those deserving a house must get one. We need to work on many fronts to ensure that our youth get all the opportunities they can. Above all, my vision for the community is one of unity. I have redefined ‘Community’ as ‘Kom ni Unity’. I will do everything to heal the rift that divides us. Rustom was an expert at diffusing tense situations – he would come up with something so witty that it would smoothen frayed nerves fast enough! I may not have his talent, but I’m prepared to try.
His victory in the October elections was, perhaps, the only genuine moral victory any candidate could claim. Rustom Tirandaz won with virtually no budget, no publicity, no hate speeches, no lavish banquets…
Yes, he won solely on the strength of the love, admiration and faith the community had in him. When he wanted to contest, we were all trying to dissuade him. But he had full faith that he would win thanks to Universal Adult Franchise. He believed the community would recognise the hard work he’d put in. He kept telling us, this is my last chance. Let me go ahead and contest my last election…
How has the experience of your maiden campaign been?
It has been heart warming. I’m grateful for all the support I’ve been getting. Although initially shy of public speaking, I seem to have overcome that and feel empowered to be able to offer myself in service. Seeing the crowd response has been emotionally uplifting.
Are you a practicing Zoroastrian? The Parsi Press reported you were a Theosophist…
Theosophy is not a religion – it’s a philosophy. Of course I am a practicing Zoroastrian, what else can I be?
Would you abide by the guidance of the High Priests on matters of religion?
Yes. The High Priests have a deep understanding of the faith and the best interests of the community at heart.
Since this is your first election, and you’ve put so much at stake in terms of personal commitment, what will happen if you lose?
I would not consider myself a loser – I would still continue to perpetuate Rustom’s legacy and vision because I understand it and I believe in it. However, as a lone individual I may not be able to succeed to the extent that I could if I were part of an organisation like the BPP, which is deeply committed to social welfare.
Let me stress, this election is not about power or fame or position. Because should I win, I know I will not be able to take sole credit for it. It will not be my victory, it will also be Rustom’s victory – a victory for the service he rendered, and for the service I will be able to render, to the community.