Soon after the Parsis settled on the west coast of India, they started their own trade and business and were on the forefront of the development of Bombay. They flourished under the British rule and became a dominant force to be reckoned with, even when they were just a minority in India. However, when British India was divided into India and Pakistan, many Parsis and Iranis decided to stay where they are. Many of them still reside in Pakistan, which I am sure many Indians would not know. Like any other Indian or Pakistani, Parsis went through their own share of fear and sorrow of losing their loved ones and a part of their country.
Now, with the British gone, Parsis were certainly thinking ahead of how to improve India’s economy and contribute to a country that provided them the support when they needed the most. Parsis not just contributed financially, but also in many other ways ensuring India’s place among the top nations across Asia. One of the biggest challenges for India was to push its economy and to come up with new infrastructure plan that can allow businesses to flourish and new cities to develop generating employment and churning out goods that can be used nationally and also for exports to balance the world trade.
In terms of industry and trade, J.R.D. Tata (Jehangir Ratanji Dadabhoy Tata), a French-born Indian aviator and business tycoon took the Indian economy to a new level. While Jamshetji Tata is often termed as the “Father of Indian Industry”, but J.R.D. Tata soon became a pioneer industrialist in India after he became the Chairman of Tata Sons. He also became the first licensed pilot in India in 1929 and was awarded India’s highest civilian award, the Bharat Ratna (Jewel of India). He is also the founder of India’s first commercial airline: Air India. When J.R.D. Tata stepped down in 1991, Ratan Tata took control of the Tata Sons boosting the company’s growth internationally acquiring some of the top brands like Tetley and Jaguar Land Rover.
Pallonji Shapoorji Mistry also decided to take control across India expanding his construction business with Shapoorji Pallonji Group that today is among the largest business conglomerate with interests in construction, engineering goods, home appliances, power, biotechnology, textiles and real estate. Both Tata Sons and Shapoorji Pallonji Group are voted as “India’s Most Valued Private Enterprises” by Forbes. There are many other names Cyrus Poonawalla, co-founder of the Serum Institute of India. Pirojsha Godrej, entrepreneur and co-founder of the Godrej Empire. Ness Wadia, joint-Managing Director of the Bombay Dyeing. Keki Dadiseth, Home and Personal Care Director for Unilever. In Pakistan, Byram Dinshawji Avari, a Karachi-based businessman and Asian Games gold medalist started Avari Group of Companies building Avari Hotels (5-star deluxe hotels) across Karachi and Lahore.
It goes without saying that Parsis across the world are really passionate about education and to excel in whatever subjects they choose. Scientific advancement is just as important as developing industries and places of employment. Top scientists Homi Jehangir Bhabha, Spenta Wadia, Jehangir Hormusjee Ruttonjee and Sir Jamshetjee Jeejeebhoy were among the notable Parsis that contributed immensely in the field of science. Homi Bhabha is also known as the Father of Indian Nuclear Programme and also the founder of Tata Institute of Fundamental Research. While Jehangir Hormusjee Ruttonjee was based in Hong Kong, he founded Hong Kong’s first brewery and the first anti-tuberculosis sanatorium in the Far East.
Parsis have not only done well in terms of industry, trade and science and academics, but also on the frontline safeguarding country’s borders from enemy attacks. Not many across India would know the contribution of Parsis to safeguard India. Field Marshall Sam Manekshaw is certainly a personality that takes no limelight, but deserves recognition for his selfless service to the nation. Also known as “Sam Bahadur” (Sam, the Brave), he was the first Indian Army officer to be promoted to the rank of Field Marshal. He served in the British Indian Army in WW2. He was leading the victorious campaigns against Pakistan in 1971 which also led to the liberation of Bangladesh in December 1971. So far, he is one of the only two Indian Army Generals that have received the prestigious Padma Vibhushan (the second highest civilian award) from the President of India, the other being Kodandera Madappa Cariappa.
Other Parsis in the military are Admiral Jal Cursetji, former Chief of the Naval Staff, Indian Navy. Air Marshall Aspi Engineer, former Chief of the Air Staff, Indian Air Force. Lieutenant Colonel Ardeshir Tarapore, Indian Army Officer and a winner of Param Vir Chakra, India’s highest award for gallantry.
On the lighter note, Parsis have also been entertaining the Indian and global audience. Parsis are right on top when it comes to entertainment. Let’s start with a rock band called Queen. Well, we all have heard popular songs like Killer Queen, Don’t Stop Me Now, Crazy Little Thing Called Love and We Are the Champions, but little do we know about a Parsi that wrote these songs. Yes, I am talking about Freddie Mercury (his real name Farrokh Bulsara) who grew up in Bombay, but later moved to Zanzibar and then to Feltham, Middlesex, London to become a powerful stage persona.
Apart from him, Zubin Mehta, an Indian Parsi conductor of Western classical music is known globally. He made a conducting debut in Vienna in 1958, and now is the Music Director for Life of the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra and the Main Conductor for Valencia’s Opera House. Other prominent Parsis in Indian entertainment industry are: Boman Irani (actor), Daisy Irani (actor), Kaizad Gustad (director), Homi Adajania (director), Mehr Jesia (model), Erick Avari (Hollywood actor – Stargate, Flight of the Living Dead, The Mummy, Daredevil, Home Alone 4, Planet of the Apes and Mr. Deeds), and Shiamak Davar (choreographer).
Other prominent authors and journalists are Ardeshir Cowasjee (newspaper columnist for Dawn, Pakistan’s oldest English newspaper), Behram Contractor (worked for The Free Press Journal, The Times of India and founded The Afternoon Despatch and Courier), B.K. Karanjia (Editor of FilmFare and Screen – Entertainment Magazines), Deena Mistri (educationalist in Pakistan), Farrukh Dhondy (author, playwright, and screenwriter), Homai Vyarawalla (India’s first woman photojournalist), Keki Daruwalla (poet and short story writer), and Rohinton Mistry (Indian-born Canadian writer – Neustadt International Prize for Literature laureate), Bapsi Sidhwa (Pakistani author – Cracking India).
While Parsis have played an important role in the development of India, they are equally responsible for developing and contributing to other countries where they are settled. Today, one can find Parsis in the United States, Canada, Pakistan, Afghanistan, United Kingdom, Singapore, Australia, New Zealand, and Iran and Azerbaijan. However, the population has been dwindling over the last few decades. To some this post might seem boring because it is more about the achievements of individuals in their respective fields. In the next post of this series, I will talk about food, culture, language and other related topics and compensate to make it more interesting. I also have received few questions from people that I will answer in my next post, so stay connected.