The year 2020 will soon be upon us and we can choose to welcome it with our usual Veil of Vanity or a Vision of Value. ‘20-20 vision’ is a term used by ophthalmologists to express normal visual acuity (the clarity or sharpness of vision) measured at a distance of 20 feet. Do we, as a community, have the clarity or sharpness of vision for the next 20 years?
Laying The Foundation Of Faith: Very often, people ask, will our community survive beyond a few more decades or will they be reduced to a tribe and finally go extinct? One could quote Dr. Albert Einstein, who famously said, “I never think of the future. It comes soon enough,” or quote the noted American preacher, Henry W. Beecher, who felt, “Every tomorrow has two handles. We can take hold of it with the handle of anxiety or the handle of faith.” Surely, as a community we can choose to consider holding our future with the handle of faith. Not blind faith, but faith based on past experiences and present resources.
The Bane Of Our Community: When social scientists and demographers provide the community with frightening statistics, there is always another group which claims that there are lies, damned lies and statistics. There is also the theory of the redistribution of our numbers, with fairly large concentration of our community now living in North America, the United Kingdom and various parts of the world. However, can anyone ignore the fact that today, there are more deaths than births in the community? There used to be a time when Parsis married early and raised fairly large families. Today, due to urbanization and high literacy among both sexes, the bane of the community has become – NO marriages, LATE marriages and INTER marriages.
It is also a fact that since the arrival of our forefathers on the friendly shores of India, sometime during the early tenth century A.D., we have, as a community, never been very large in numbers. Even the census figures for 1881 indicate that Parsis as a community in India numbered only 85,397 souls. Hence, those with faith are not unduly perturbed about our global numbers being around a hundred and fifty thousand in 2019? This community has witnessed many miracles and maybe we shall witness another. They say, miracles happen to those who believe in them.
Adaptability: Perhaps, what has helped this miniscule community to survive the vicissitudes of time is its famed quality of adaptability. Our community members have a remarkable ability to adapt themselves to the social and cultural environment of any geographical area they reside in. Ever since we left the shores of Iran in the wake of Arab persecution and arrived on the friendly shores of India, we have, as a community, been through several stages of social and cultural evolution. After our arrival in India, we gradually lost our hold over the Persian language and adopted Gujarati. With the winds of westernization, even Gujarati is being gradually abandoned for English. When we arrived in India from Iran, we also changed our food habits and dress. The traditional saree is a dress our women adopted in India.
Our Identity: Let’s face it, despite undergoing social and cultural changes over the centuries, the Parsis, as a distinct and unique community, have survived. However, here, one must not lose sight of the fact there were certain ground rules which the community has strictly followed without compromise and which has helped them to retain their unique religious and ethnic identity. Yes we are Indians first and last, but, in-between we are also Parsi Zoroastrian and that’s what makes us so loving and lovable to one and all in this country and the world. What gives us our identity is not just our belief in ‘Humata, Hukhta, Hvrashta’ (good thoughts, good words, good deeds) but our way of life. For example, we wear the Sudreh-Kusti and revere fire as a living embodiment of Ahura Mazda’s Truth and as a medium that connects us to Divinity and the fire within. As a long-standing policy, Parsis do not convert or accept persons of other faiths into the community. Not out of a sense of racial or religious superiority, but purely through a sense of self-preservation. Larger communities may be able to absorb the impact of conversions – not so a micro-minority such as the Parsis. The community also prays in the language of revelation (Avestan). These prayers are full of meaning and devotion and have the added power to heal both – physically and spiritually.
Ours is not a sense of racial or ethnic superiority over others. Ours is a belief celebrating unity in diversity. Every person on this planet is unique. The Divine Creator has chosen not to make copies. The Creator creates only originals and every single person has something different about him or her. It’s the same with ethnic communities. They are different and must be respected, loved and celebrated for what they are.
Managing Our Resources: Our ancestors have also bequeathed large properties (both movable and immovable) to the community in trust. It is essential that we learn to respect and not abuse these generous bequests. Just as ‘an army marches on its belly’, ‘a community marches on its coffers’. One can hardly imagine a strong and dynamic community sans economic prosperity. Fortunately, the resources available with the community are plenty. Much of our economic prosperity in the years to come will depend on how we manage and optimize use of our present resources.
Unless we consider Zoroastrianism as a vital factor in our day-to-day lives and consider the maintenance of our religious ethos as a goal that must be pursued at all costs, our survival is endangered. We must strengthen our sense of ‘community’ by setting aside ‘individualism’. The orthodox and reformists must learn to tolerate each other and agree to disagree without being disagreeable.
The Enemy Within: More than 2,500 years ago, the empire of Darius the Great stretched from the river Danube (Europe) in the West, right up to Sind and the present-day frontier province and part of the Punjab; and from Central Asia right up to the North Eastern parts of Africa. When Alexander invaded Persia in 330 BC, a mighty Zoroastrian empire fell. Yet like a phoenix, the Sasanian Empire rose from the ashes of the Achaemenian Empire in about 226 AD. Such was the grit and determination of the Sasanians that the Empire of Khusro Parviz became almost as large as that of Darius the Great, the King having captured Damascus, Palestine, Egypt and Constantinople – the capital of the eastern Roman empire.
When the Arabs invaded Iran in the 7th century, a mighty Zoroastrian empire fell, once again. We have survived Alexander’s invasion and that of the Arabs. What is there to prevent us from surviving today? Today, there is no Alexander and no Arabs. The enemy is within. We have lost faith in ourselves!
We have survived after Alexander destroyed the mighty Achaemenian Empire. We have survived after the Arabs destroyed the Sassanian Empire. However, let’s not forget that Darius III was not killed by Alexander. Darius was betrayed and killed by one of his own Satrap of governor. Even the last Sasanian King Yazdagird III was betrayed by a Persian Zoroastrian and not an Arab Muslim.
Considering how we have virtually risen from the ashes in the past, we are today relatively in a position of strength. We have high literacy. Our per capita income is above the national average. We enjoy the respect and goodwill of other communities and are blessed with adequate resources.
Faith Is The Key: Like it or not, it is religion, which gives a community a well-defined code of living and regulates the community’s social life. It is again religion, which provides for a clear sense of identity and belongingness. It is this sense of belonging, which binds the members of a community together and ensures its survival.
Faith is a state of mind, which may be induced, or created, by affirmation or repeated suggestions – positive or negative. The trouble is we have filled our minds and spirits with only negative thoughts. A French historian once asked Benjamin Franklin, “How long will the American Republic endure?” Benjamin replied, “Sir, it will endure as long as the principles and the ideals on which it is founded, shall remain dominant in the hearts of the people.”
What applies to a nation, applies to a community, as well. When our forefathers landed on the shores of India, they brought nothing with them except a value system based on the traditions of their religion and a commitment to survive as a community. We prospered and grew and, in our prosperity and growth, the nation also prospered and grew. The individuality remained intact. We gave freely of our wealth and other resources to the other communities, but never compromised on issues concerning our core values.
All of us as individuals can make a difference to our community – make no mistake about that. Scientist Loren Eiseley, in his book, ‘Unexpected Universe’, gives an interesting anecdote: While walking on the beach in the morning, he found a little boy picking up starfish and throwing them into the water. Eiseley went up to the boy and asked, “What are you doing?” The boy said, “I’m picking up starfish and throwing them in the water.” Eiseley said, “I probably shouldn’t have phrased it that way. I meant to say, why are you doing that?” The boy explained, “The tide will go out soon, and the sun will come up very strong and they’ll die.” Eiseley looked at the boy and smiled, “There are miles and miles and miles of beach and starfish. You can’t possibly make a difference.” The boy looked at Eiseley, thought for a moment, then bent down and picked up another starfish. He threw it in the water and answered. “You know, it sure made a difference to that one, didn’t it? This should be our philosophy. We may not be able to make a big difference in this world or for our community. But we certainly must work towards making a difference, however small or insignificant, for therein lies our duty as responsible and devout Zoroastrians.
If, as a community, you think you are beaten, you are,
If, as a community, you want to survive, but think you can’t,
It is almost certain you won’t.
A community’s survival doesn’t always depend on its wealth or numbers,
But sooner or later the community that survives
Is the community THAT THINKS IT CAN!