SHERNAAZ ENGINEER's blog on the Parsi community

Saturday, October 31, 2015

The Iconic Parsi

October 29 was ‘Cyrus the Great Day’ – a day some people celebrate as the anniversary of the entrance of Cyrus into Babylon.
It is said that Cyrus the Great’s empire extended over almost 30 nations and was marked with exemplary governance and religious tolerance. Cyrus liberated the Jews and they, in turn, bestowed upon him the titled of ‘Anointed of the Lord’.
Cyrus was a man of great vision, compassion, courage and is best remembered for giving the world its first ever Charter of Human Rights – also known as the Cyrus Cylinder.
At a time when barbarism, violence and slavery were in vogue, he gave people the freedom to flourish without fear. Tolerance, equality and magnanimity – concepts unheard of in those days, were put into practice by Cyrus the Great, paving the way for what we call good governance today.
To think that we proudly count him as one of our ancestors – but just who in the community is upholding his illustrious legacy today!
On November 5 is the death centenary of Sir Pherozeshah Mehta, yet another iconic Parsi. His statue stands tall and proud outside the beautiful BMC building, opposite Victoria Terminus.
His long tenure of 46 years in the BMC, being Mayor (then called President) four times, and also being appointed Vice Chancellor of the Bombay University, are but a few of the many highlights of his life in public service. And what a life it was!
That finally brings to mind yet another iconic Paris who was in Mumbai last week: Zubin Mehta. His humility, warmth and devotion to his craft have won him many accolades all over the globe. Yet he remains a genial and gregarious Parsi to the core, settling down to hearty lagan-nu-bhonu with his team at the Colaba Agiary every time he performs in Mumbai!
He wears his talent and fame lightly, but continues to take his work very seriously.
What is it that makes us a community capable of producing such icons – although fewer and further between these days – and yet, paradoxically, we see so many young Parsis wasting away?
Have we become too comfortable for our own good? Do we believe that the dogged pursuit of excellence is no longer worthy? Have we started fancying ourselves to the point where arrogance has gotten the better of us?
Before we dive into our Sunday dhansak and doze off, perhaps we need to introspect and see if we can steer our course back on track.
We don’t lack role models – Cyrus the Great, Sir Pherozeshah Mehta and Zubin Mehta are but three names on a long list of illustrious icons bestowed upon our small tribe. But if we don’t generate new names, we’ll be doomed to mediocrity. Then the legacy of Cyrus the Great and scores of other iconic Parsis will be forever lost.

This column appeared in Jam-e-Jamshed dated Nov 1. 2015

Getting inspiration on board

The good thing about having a democratically conducted election for the Bombay Parsi Punchayet (BPP) is that it gives a wide variety of candidates the opportunity to contest.
While this might bring on some sniggers at the sheer audacity of relatively unknown persons in trying to push themselves into the fray, it is heartening to see that so many people, both humble and high-flying, have a shared mission of doing something for the community.
If any real progress is to be made in the coming seven years, our leadership will have to learn to be inclusive instead of being exclusive.
While several candidates may not have been successful at the polls, they still had noteworthy ideas that could be incorporated into the mission statement for the new term that has just commenced.
Elsewhere in this edition of the Jam-e-Jamshed, corporate honcho Jamshed S. Daboo has given a blueprint, detailing how the new BPP board can execute an actionable agenda for the community.
We are all looking forward to positive change at many levels and one of the ways of achieving this could be by integrating the best ideas from the manifestos that various candidates put out in pubic domain.
Some of these candidates could be co-opted on to committees to contribute by extending their ideas further.
For instance, a couple of candidates with impressive corporate backgrounds spoke of management systems that could be instituted in the areas of housing allotment and awarding contracts, so as to ensure good governance.
Another candidate spoke of a Code of Conduct, a Code of Ethics for trustees and the importance of a Declaration of Conflict of Interest, whereby sitting trustees do not get into business deals with the trust or take any benefit from the BPP, in any manner whatsoever, at a personal or professional level.
Yet another candidate spoke passionately of compassion and the need to speedily redress the grievances of the downtrodden, a priority that seems to have been pushed on the BPP’s backburner because of in-fighting.
Reducing the trustees’ term to five years was another worthy proposal, which should be acted upon.
Yet another candidate spoke of encouraging research in our religious scriptures and recommencing religious lectures by scholars of repute to restore pride in our roots.
Care for senior citizens was spoken of by a few contenders. This is an area of grave concern given our large ageing population. In fact, this election was once again driven by senior citzens, with one estimate saying barely 10 percent of the votes were polled by the youth. It brings home the need for the BPP to address the elderly demographic segment with the seriousness it deserves.
Solar power generation, water harvesting and garbage recycling to make our vast Baugs and Colonies ecologically complaint was one particular candidate’s mission – and it makes sense.
Entrepreneurship and educational opportunities for the youth was another point elaborated upon, which can certainly give our youngsters the fillip they need.
Doongerwadi and Dokhmenashini were also right up there as concerns for some candidates, with unequivocal commitments to preserve their sanctity and efficacy.
While many of these ideas might be part of the newly elected trustees’ agendas, it would not hurt to incorporate several other sound suggestions that germinated during election season.
While it was not possible for all 23 candidates to come onto the BPP board, their ideas could certainly be brought on board for the betterment of the community.

·         This column appeared in Jam-e-Jamshed (October 25, 2015) 

Don’t Shoot The Messenger

Today’s issue carries the advertisements of 22 out of the 23 candidates contesting for Trusteeship of the BPP.
While this is undoubtedly a humbling indication of the high esteem the Jam-e-Jamshed is held in, with its fair and balanced stance and unmatched reach across India and abroad, it also puts tremendous strain on our staff and infrastructure as we endevour to give each candidate our best.
Alas, there’s no pleasing everybody!
Although it is a wonderful opportunity for our readers to find, within the spiffy folds of one single newspaper, all but one of the candidates addressing a range of issues candidly, it does mean that some of our regular features have been deferred until after the elections.
It is only fitting that right now the candidates are given preference. After all, it’s not every day that we have an election. Did you say, thank God!
Our policy has been fair and square – no favours have been done to anyone. No agenda in the guise of interviews, profiles, views of eminent Parsis propagating certain select candidates, slanted articles or motivated editorials have been sneaked in. All advertisements have been clearly marked as such.

It ought to be obvious that Jame does not endorse the views of any of its advertisers and leaves it to the good judgement readers to make up their own minds. Not all the messages carried herein may necessarily be music to everybody’s ears. In that case ignore the message, but don’t shoot the messenger!

Vote With Care

Campaigning for the BPP elections is aggressively under way and by all accounts attendance is thin and lackluster at various candidates’ meetings.
Contrast this to the days (many would wistfully call them the good old days!) when food packets were dished out and upwards of 500 Parsis would enthusiastically attend.
Fuelled by the prospect of delectable bhonu at the end of it all, attendees would ask probing questions and put the candidates on the mat – getting fiery exchanges underway.
Contrast this with the current cooling off amongst the electorate. Perhaps, it’s the no-food policy or maybe it’s because the community is disenchanted with Parsi politics, but generally around 50-80 people turn up for elections meetings and few hard-hitting questions get asked.
It seems most Parsis are content to let contentious issues slide by, without putting prospective Trustees through the diligent scrutiny that is required before handing the BPP over to them.
Several worthy candidates are at a disadvantage because they don’t have the assertive PR skills some candidates have at their command and, thus, cannot drum up enough shoo-sha in their favour.
It’s crucial that the electorate makes an informed and careful choice. Many candidates are not revealing their full agenda and not enough attention is being paid to their track record and hidden intentions.
Voters are being fooled, in some instances, into believing glib projections of candidates, which are far removed from reality.
The onus lies with each one to attend election meetings and objectively assess candidates by asking relevant questions. Only if fully satisfied, should voters give their stamp of approval to a candidate.
We must mention here the thoughtful online advertising campaign (see it on the ‘Jam-e-Jamshed’ Facebook Page) that Sam Balsara has created for ‘Parsis For Harmony’ --  a small Think Tank of well intentioned community members.
The series of advertisements offers an important checklist to follow while voting:
1.      Is the integrity of the candidate absolutely impeccable?
2.      Is the competence and track record of the candidate outstanding?
3.      Will the candidate selflessly devote more than adequate time?
4.      Will the Trustees of the Punchayet work together like a well-oiled machine?
Ask these questions and then, only then, vote with care.