A Tribute To Two Magnificent Parsi Women!

– Mithuben Petit And Zarin Daruwala –


This is a tribute to two less known Parsi women – one from an aristocratic, family – a daughter of a Baronet; and the other – born in a humble, Parsi family. Both achieved greatness – one despite her wealthy family background, the other despite her humble beginnings! What better occasion than Women’s Day to celebrate their glory!


  Mithuben Petit: Born during the last decade of the long reign of Queen Victoria, on 11 April 1891, to (Hormasji) Sir Dinshaw and Lady Sakarbai Petit, Mithuben Petit passed her senior Cambridge from the Convent of Jesus and Mary, at Colaba, in Mumbai. While still in her teens, she was influenced by her maternal aunt – Bai Jaiji Jehangirji Petit, an ardent follower of Mahatma Gandhi and  the Secretary of the Rashtriya Stree Sabha.

Mihuben joined the Gandhian movement to protest against the Rowlett Act. She met with lots of opposition from her aristocratic family – they urged her, even tried to coerce her against her nationalistic fervour by threatening to disinherit her inheritance, which would have been quite considerable, but to no avail. Our petite Petit was firm in her resolve!

Young Mithuben plunged headlong into the Freedom Movement and was soon appointed the Secretary to the Khadi Department of the ‘All-India Conference’, founded by Sarojini Naidu. In her late twenties, she was actively involved with relief work during the 1929 Gujarat floods.

Her presence also made a huge difference to the 1,500 women protesting against wine shops, foreign cloth, and other foreign goods outlets.  On 30th December, 1930, she established ‘Kasturba Weaving School’ at Maroli and a year later, the ‘Kasturba Sevashram’. She also founded a hospital in name of Kasturba Sevashram for the scientific treatment of mental illnesses.

One of the highlights of her life as a freedom fighter was the Dandi march with Gandhi – standing right by his side as he lifted salt on 9th April, 1930. This was the most significant moment in the history of the Indian Freedom Struggle. Mithu Petit was there along with Kasturba Gandhi and Sarojini Naidu. When Kasturba Gandhi was arrested for her role in the Dandi March, Mithuben took over the task of picketing at the wine shops. Soon afterward, Mithuben was also arrested and imprisoned for four months.

Post-independence, she continued serving people, furthering the Gandhian word and philosophy. For her meritorious service to the nation, she was awarded the prestigious Padma Shree on 2nd January, 1954. She died on 16th July that year, in Surat, Gujarat.

Disowned by her father, a wealthy uncle left her a considerable sum to subsist upon. Her reply to her family’s threat to disinherit her sums up her dedication to the cause of Indian Freedom: “It is your business to sit with the government and mine to remain with the nation.”


Zarin Daruwala: British India was gasping towards its end and New India was yet to be awakened to light and freedom. A star was born to shine in the musical firmament of Indian Classical Music, on 9th October, 1946. Zarin Sorabji Daruwala grew up to become the finest Sarod player, achieving ‘finesse and mastery’ over an instrument very difficult to perfect. Her father, Sorabji Dinshawji Daruwala, who served in the Indian Police, loved Indian Classical music. Her mother played the piano. Naturally, the young Zarin took to music – it was in her blood. She started her musical journey by learning to play the harmonium at age four. Barely six years of age, she heard a jugalbandhi between Ravi Shanker and Ali Akbar Khan and instantly fell in love with the Sarod.

Giants of the Indian classical world like Lakshman Prasad Jaipurwalla, violinist V G Jog and S Bhat influenced her greatly. Zarin won the All India Radio Music Competition when she was just 13. Then on, it was a journey marked with greatness and fame. Recognized as a child prodigy, she learnt under genius gurus like Pandit Haripad Ghosh, Pandit Bhishamdev Vedi, Khayal vocalist Pandit Laxman Prasad Jasperware, the doyen of Jaipur and Goswami Gharana, and violinist Pandit V G Jog and Pandit Shrikrishna Narayan Ratanjankar of Agra Gharana.

At the age of fourteen, she played for Queen Elizabeth II, who was on state visit to India. Only 18 years old, Zarin made her entry in the Indian film world, when she played for the title music of the hit movie, ‘Masoom’ in 1960, for the evergreen sing, ‘Nani Teri Morni’. In 1964, music director Roshan was looking for a Sitar-Sarod duet player and he reached out to her. The Daruwala father and daughter made their way to the studio, unsure of what to expect. To their astonishment, Roshan asked Zarin to come the very next day to record the background score for the movie, ‘Chandralekha’. When Zarin and her father, Sorabji, went to Mehboob studio, they were surprised to find the entire orchestra present! It was an intimidating sight! Though Zarin was nervous and her father asked if she wanted to leave, the young prodigy thought it improper to do so. So they waited. Hours later she was called. Being a Parsi from Bombay, her foray into the North Indian Classical music was looked upon as something alien! She was referred to as ‘that Parsi girl’!

It is said, “Sarod is a difficult instrument to master. Few Sarod players display an equal facility with both hands. The need to attain the ‘right-left balance’ is drilled into every student, but it eludes most. On this count alone, Zarine Sharma (after her marriage to Sitarist – Pandit Ashok Sharma) deserves a place amongst the greatest.”

Zarin continued enthralling her audiences the world over – music lovers, world leaders, ambassadors, consuls, and dignitaries. She was conferred various prestigious honours including the ‘Sangeet Natak Academy Award’ in 1988, ‘Maharashtra Gaurav Puraskar’ in 1990 and the ‘Dadasaheb Phalke Award’ in 2007.

In a community as small as ours, Zarin’s contribution has been quite fantastic. Zarin left this world for the concert in the sky on 20th December, 2014, leaving her footprints on the harmonious sands of time, leaving this world a better and richer place.

This little bio-scribble is just skimming the top of two great Parsi women’s achievements. Their achievements can fill volumes, but it is written lest their accomplishments fade out into the fog of time of young Parsi minds.



Dara M Khodaiji
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