One of the leading global personalities of our worldwide Parsi/Irani Zoroastrian community, the much- accomplished President of the ‘World Zoroastrian Organisation’ (WZO) – Zerbanoo Gifford, has always endeavoured and succeeded in furthering the legacy and glory of our blessed community. Her most recent initiative includes hosting an extraordinary exhibition with illustrated panels, titled, ‘Influential Zoroastrians’, at the WZO House in London, which honours some of the most outstanding members of the Zoroastrian community, for their extraordinary contributions, across various fields. The exhibition is also meant to highlight to all – Zoroastrians and non-Zoroastrians – our exceptional heritage by showcasing some of the many Zoroastrian greats who have impacted our lives in myriad ways.
The idea of this exhibition was conceptualised by Zerbanoo Gifford and will now be on permanently display, thanks to the munificence of Dr. Cyrus Poonawalla – the Chairman and MD of the Cyrus Poonawalla Group, which includes the Serum Institute of India – the largest vaccine manufacturer in the world and Poonawalla Fincorp – a leading NBFC in India.
“The idea of an exhibition of famous Zoroastrians came about because I wanted to adorn the blank walls of the WZO House with the deep respect I have for our ancestors, which would serve as an inspiration for generations to come. I wished to show the sheer greatness of Zoroastrians from all over the world, from every period of history and every endeavour. I must thank the ‘three wise men’ who came with their special gifts to make this exhibition happen – Dr Cyrus Poonawalla who magnanimously offered ‘gold’ to fund the exhibition; WZO’s Ex-President – Darayus Motivala and Britain’s top designer – Simon Blacker, who greatly contributed towards ensuring this exhibition being a great success,” said Zerbanoo Gifford.
Speaking about the panellists honoured in the exhibition, she shared, “It fills all Zoroastrians with a deep sense of pride as we pay homage to greats including my hero – Dadabhai Naoroji, the Grand Old Man of India and the first Indian member of the British Parliament. Few knew of his extraordinary achievements – he had such strength of character and selfless devotion to justice. Then there’s Sohrab Godrej – Zoroastrian philanthropist and visionary environmentalist who greatly contributed towards saving our planet and wildlife. We have also honoured Cyrus the Great who gave the world its first Human Rights Charter; one of the greatest philanthropists ever – Jamshediji Tata; the unparalleled music prodigy – superstar Freddie Mercury as well as the three Magi (Zoroastrian priests) who welcomed Jesus into the world.
There’s also the fabulous couple – Bachi and Dinshaw Tamboly, helming WZO Trust Funds, for comprehensive body of work for the welfare of the community; legal luminary – Nani Palkhivala; and two women that I idolise – Bhikaiji Cama who fought for India’s independence and Frene Ginwalla – who led the African National Congress and fought for a democratic South Africa. And of course, Dr. Cyrus Poonawalla whose benevolence has ensured that children in all poor nations received free vaccinations. His equally industrious and charismatic son, Adar carries on his legacy at the new Poonawalla Centre in Oxford, which researches new vaccines to protect humanity from deadly catastrophes like the recent Coronavirus pandemic. Many other Parsi philanthropists who helped in nation-building as well as served at high levels in the forces have also been honoured.”
The exhibition has received an overwhelming response across the world, with video going viral. “I’m overjoyed to see how it has caught on and that it will inspire a younger generation of Zoroastrians throughout the world. Even non-Zoroastrians who have seen the exhibition are bowled over with the impact that Zoroastrians have made and continue to make. We have much to thank our ancestors and current trailblazers and visionaries for!” says a delighted Zerbanoo.
When asked about her future projects, she quips, “I always have future projects, with God’s blessings! As a Zoroastrian, we are ACTION people, we’re here to transform the world for everyone into something good, true and beautiful. I have started the outline of a much larger exhibition and hope to exhibit it at the National Portrait Gallery in London – which should be a major endeavour. When I find the funding, I plan to present an exhibition of our inspirational women, past and present. I’d love to host a Zoroastrian women’s conference at the ASHA centre in Gloucestershire UK for our outstanding, ground-breaking women.”
Sharing her experience as the WZO President, Zerbanoo Gifford says, “It’s been fascinating and rewarding – I’ve been shown such kindness. Over my term of office, I plan to put WZO on the world map outside our spheres of influence. I hope to ensure that leaders and communities of all faiths will be more acquainted with our religion and people. I will specially look to spread awareness amongst the youth. We look forward to welcoming everyone to visit WZO House – the Centre belongs to all Zoroastrians from Iran, India, Pakistan and the entire diaspora where we are flourishing and keeping our faith alive. So, till I return to my maker, I will continue working towards growth and development and other’s wellbeing… hopefully having some fun along the way!”