Tuesday, July 1, 2008

XIII: Tarapore (cont'd)

Back in Bombay, I went to meet Pallanji Dastur, who had been referred to me by Percy Bhadha. Pallanji was the panthaki at the Jijibhoy Dadabhoy Agiary in Colaba. He was from Tarapore, he had grown up there. His father had moved there from Udvada to become the panthaki at the agiary, and Pallanji had stayed in Tarapore till 1965, before moving to Bombay. He told me that there were still many Parsis left in Tarapore then.

He showed me an article he had written about Tarapore for a Parsi newspaper. It was tilted ‘A history of Tarapore’ and had been printed a few years back. “In 1881, there was a population of 2939 in Tarapore of which 2124 were Hindus, 397 Muslims, 366 Parsis and only 52 Christians,” it said. “At present, the population has increased 3 or 4 folds, whereas it is sad our Parsis have decreased and decreased drastically. Today there are only half a dozen Parsis left in Tarapore.”

I asked him when Parsis would have come to Tarapore. He told me it was hard to say, but definitely, Parsis had been in Tarapore for at least five hundred years. The agiary had been established in 1820, and the dokhmas were even older.

I asked him what Tarapore was like in the days of his youth. He told me that the elders of the community controlled the affairs then, and refused to give the youth any say in matters. The youth then had got together and built the dharamsala in 1950. The Viccaji Meherji family was the grandest family in Tarapore. Their house had a secret tunnel which led to the Portuguese fort in one direction and to somewhere near Boisar station in another direction. It was probably built to escape from attacks by pirates. He had been in it in his youth. Part of it was in ruins then, and they had had to turn back.

He couldn’t explain the decline. His generation, though they had moved to Bombay for work, regularly kept visiting their families in Tarapore. As the older people died, there was less and less reason to go there, and houses were allowed to get decrepit. The agiary itself had had to be closed down for a few years for want of someone to take care of it. He and other trustees had managed to revive it, and he had convinced Percy to take up the responsibility. He believed the agiary had great power, and even when it was shut he would go to it every year on the anniversary of its establishment and perform a jashan there.

I also met Parzon Zend in Bombay. His family had land in Boisar and Vangaon which he managed, but they did not belong to Tarapore. He had taken up the trusteeship of the agiary recently and was very enthusiastic about his position. He was working towards getting the dharamsala in shape and was hoping to attract regular visitors from Bombay. He told me he was also the trustee of the Tithal Anjuman near Valsad. There also the condition of the community was in quite a bad state.

He told me that Parsis were nomads. Right from the beginning, when they were nomadic shepherds on the steppes on Central Asia, they went wherever the grass was greener. From Iran to Gujarat, from Gujarat to Bombay and now from Bombay to Canada, Australia and New Zealand.

I questioned him about the state of the community property in Tarapore. He told me that he believed than India had been good to us. And that if we couldn’t make use of the land any more, then rather than allow it to fall into disuse and neglect, we should give it back.

While we were talking at his family wine store at Crawford Market, his uncle was listening to us while minding the till. He asked me if in the course of my research I had been to Sangli and Miraj. I told him I hadn’t, I didn’t know that there were Parsis there. He told me they were from Miraj, but now that they had moved to Bombay, no Parsis remained there. Their cousins though still continued to live and do business in Sangli. They had never been a large community in these places. Mainly it was just their family, so there were no community institutions there, just their businesses. They had moved there from Poona, he told me, to expand their business. I had thoughts of visiting Sangli to get to know their story but since Tarapore was now the story I was most interested in, like Homi Dupetawala and Daund, it remained unfinished business.

Dhunmai Tarapore's house, Tarapore

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