The Parsis have managed to be seen as the good guys irrespective of anything. The fact that they choose to lead exceedingly ghettoised lives does not seem to concern anyone.
Today’s papers say that they have demanded an apology from actor Arjun Rampal, who is married to Mehr Jessia, a former model, for certain statements he made in an interview about walking into a fire temple pretending to be a Parsi. Rampal clarified that he had walked into the garden of a fire temple when he was eight.
That is not enough. The Parsi Panchayat is livid. They are reacting…Non-Parsis are not allowed inside fire temples. If he was eight, why is he bragging about it now? Yes, they think it is bragging.
Even worse is this:
Everybody in Mumbai knows that non-Parsis are not allowed to enter the fire temple, said Firoza Mistree, a researcher of Zoroastrian studies. Mistree says that the actor should apologise and identify the temple so that it can be purified.
This incident must have occurred at least three decades ago. How many devotees must have prayed there and been born or died in the course of this happening. What purification ritual is possible?
While it is true that a religion must be respected, how do people ascertain who is a Parsi and who is not? There are many people marrying across religions and I do know of the Parsis in such marriages who want their children to be aware of their side of the culture as well.
That too has created problems.
Khushroo Madon, a Zoroastrian priest, has been banned from praying at the Towers of Silence and fire temples for conducting Navjotes (initiation ceremonies) for children from mixed marriages and offering after-death prayers for cremated Parsis. He has been doing it for ten years and said:
“I will continue to offer these services. I am not bothered by the ban. I do not practice at the Towers of Silence or at fire temples. I do not want anything from there. Those who call me for prayers usually decide the place.”
Increasingly, people are opting for cremation. And as I already mentioned, people do wish their children to become Parsi, at least to some extent, since Zoroastrianism forbids conversion to its faith. The report mentions that 40 per cent marry outside.
The priest’s actions do go against the basic tenets, but for those who are using his services outside how legitimate do they think it is? Is this merely a feel-good thing for them? Does he charge more money? Is there a confidentiality clause involved wherein he would not reveal the identity of those who approach them? If so, then what are these believers seeking if they wish to be hidden? Just one more ceremonial religious identity?
These are questions that those indulging in it must ask. Just as the real Parsis must know that no religion is blemish-free and scandals beset even the pure ones. They do know about some priests and their activities at the Tower of Silence, don’t they?
Now, we have a whole bunch of people questioning the newspaper report where the priest himself has been quoted. Will anyone raise a voice and refer to it as ‘backward’ and ‘intolerant’ as they do with other religions? No. Will anyone from outside dare to tell these community leaders it is time to reinterpret their scriptures? No.
Muslims, Hindus, Jains, all have restrictions on outsiders being participants. And their faith is always put to test, which it should be when it goes beyond reasonable limits. The same standards must apply to Parsis.
After all, when they came to India they said they would be like sugar in milk.
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Image of Khushroo Madon from Mumbai Mirror