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Saturday, April 22, 2017

An Indian Parsi: #MoreIndianThanYouThink

The best part about living in India, is the number of diverse cultures influencing our lives everyday. The best part about being a Parsi, living in India with parents (who are, well, #MoreIndianThanYouThink) is that I get to celebrate each and every festival that comes our way.

NEWSFLASH: Each and every day is a festival, occasion, reason to celebrate, for at least one sub-culture in INDIA. While one can spend life bored, looking at how mundane it is, wondering why there’s nothing or no reason to smile, here’s what should be done: Celebrate Like An Indian!

A quick brief about the Parsi community in India: Came to India after fleeing from Iran a long, long time ago, were given refuge here, promised to seamlessly get assimilated into the ever-accepting Indian culture - just the way sugar melts into milk and sweetens it. Kept that promise: by accepting and submitting to whoever was the central authority (that obviously kept changing as centuries passed). Meanwhile, Parsis absorbed whatever each culture the authority endorsed and mixed it with ours.

However, while we sweetened the milk, enriched India in whatever ways possible- the tendency we call ethnocentrism swam in.

Entry only to Zoroastrians.”- says each signboard outside our Agyaris, i.e. place of worship for Zoroastrians. Parsi women who marry outside the caste are considered belonging to the groom’s religion. Indian Parsis don’t accept conversions. Today, not only the Parsi culture but also the Parsi population is shrinking. But after all, each and every culture has its ups and downs, right? We try and embrace the culture we are born in with open arms- and then make modifications in our personal lives for our individual needs, and that is what makes us true blue Indians.

It is amazing to enjoy the Parsi culture and I have basked in its glory ever since I remember. But it has its rigid structure that has it’s restrictions - my mother being a non-Parsi is not allowed to pray with us in the agyari. It is unjust, but that’s another story. And since the culture is relatively smaller (or not widely known for that matter), it limits its people to very few festivals and celebrations in a year.

So what here, is the winning strategy that held me from thinking of a Parsi’s life as a ‘limited celebrations life’? What should I be doing that allows me to pray at God’s abode with my mother? What will suit me best, if I want to have a sneak-peek into varied cultures and relish each one? The answer is, well, in the fact that I am first, before a Parsi, an Indian. 

So...I Celebrate Like An Indian! Now, what is that even supposed to mean? First, it says: Accept All and Respect All. Second, have a look at what an Indian Parsi’s absolutely Indian way of celebrating festivals looks like. And you will know, I am #MoreIndianThanYouThink.

I do my kusti prayers, wear my sudreh everyday and pay obeisance to God. If it is the day of one of our festivals- Parsi New Year or Navroze, we celebrate with good… no wait, great food, wine and relatives!

But does that stop me from enjoying each and every festival all year round? Of course not! January sees me flying kites and relishing til-gul (mixture of sesame seeds and jaggery) on the day of Makar Sankranti, one of the ancient Hindu festivals. In February comes Maha Shivratri which consists in offering prayers to Lord Shiva. It is an auspicious occasion that brings the family together. March brings with it Holi, that has me drenched with water and bathed in several colours- what is a better festival to have a gala time with friends?

Ram Navami and Gudi Padwa are the festivals that follow. These days are full of rituals that involve songs or bhajans or prayers and of course a number of delights for the taste buds. Mid-year, we have Rakshabandhan (that helps me meet cousins I otherwise never meet), Ganesh Chaturthi (which is a grand function in most households here in Mumbai, ranging 1 and half to 11 days of bringing home Lord Ganpati’s idol), Navratri (nine nights of aartis or prayers followed by the dance of Garba and Dandiya- the only excuse for us- the busy metro people to get together) and Durga Pooja (bowing to Goddess Durga). Nothing stops us from celebrating Eid either, with a nice big pot of Biryani.

Each festival has its own flavours, rituals, celebrations and fun element. Deepawali, the festival of lights and Christmas come towards the end of the year. Again, both these festivals are a superb time for many to take off for vacations and trips. Making the Christmas tree is an activity I have always enjoyed along with lighting divas during Deepavali.

The utter beauty lies in the fact that celebrating like an Indian makes us enjoy a “New Year” every couple of months. Each calendar followed by different cultures may sometimes lead to overlapping of festivals of different cultures/ religions.  I still remember a day in the distant past when we celebrated our Navroze along with singing prayers in the afternoon for another festival. I remember eating Biryani on Eid and simultaneously watch a troupe trying to break the pot during the Hindu festival of Janmashtami. But how does it matter if you Celebrate Like An Indian?

Of course I love the Parsi delicacies and love Dhansakh, but I can’t have it all year round, can I? I need some Idlis, I need some Dal Makhani, I need some sabjis, I need some Biryani, I need some Daal Baati…! To taste each and every flavour of each and every culture is my right, and well, duty, maybe ;-) as an Indian. What did we say by the way? Celebrate Like An Indian!

How does it matter, if I am a Parsi, and some other culture predominantly celebrates a festival I want to celebrate? If a festival brings me closer to my family, if it gets me in touch with friends to make plans who I might otherwise lose contact with, if it acquaints me with relatives I never meet for the rest of the year, if it puts a smile on my face, if it breaks my routine, if it treats me to a fantastic, authentic meal I can get to eat only on that day, if it strengthens bonds, why fret? I just put my guards down and Celebrate Like An Indian!

And it is this we-feeling that ties all Indians together- and we do not even know about it. And this, has strengthened India’s influence everywhere. Yes, we accept all. But we are distinct. We are We. Lufthansa is truly celebrating like an Indian. Here, have a look at this all new TVC:

A conspiracy for winning against Indians, by Thinking Like An Indian, Eating Like An Indian, Training Like An Indian, Dancing Like An Indian…and finally, Flying Like An Indian! But how do you fly, like an Indian? Don’t even break a sweat. Lufthansa has answered this question already! Lufthansa, like me, an Indian Parsi, is #MoreIndianThanYouThink. Its in-flight experience involves a welcome with a Namaste- which in itself promises a hospitable experience to passengers. Indian-i-fying further, Lufthansa offers a delicious Indian meal with a cup of chai along with entertainment in the form of Bollywood blockbusters.  Have a look at the Indian-ness that Lufthansa provides:

That is how you truly Celebrate Like An Indian- the gorgeousness of Indian-ness!  

-Shahen Pardiwala

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