My trip to the Olpadwala Community Hall on Chowringhee today was to learn more about one particular Indian community which has long intrigued me.
My first encounter with the word was when I heard what the oldest section of the town I grew up in was named. The stately ancient houses and the narrow twisty lanes had a name – Parsiwada, the area of the fire worshippers.
Whether there were any Parsis left in that neighbourhood by the time I first saw it is a matter of debate but that they did sail there, escaping persecution in Iran, a few hundred years ago back when Bharuch was still a port town is certified history.
The exhibition which I visited, named “Threads of Continuity”, was peppered with bookmarks from my formative years in Gujarat, port towns and stories as to how Parsis had first found refuge to launch the incredible Indian chapter of their 3000-year history. I became aware, even more than I had been earlier, of how this tiny community had always punched far above its weight giving India some of our greatest freedom fighters, scientists, industrialists, soldiers and rock stars.
These factual updates and the current crisis in their community notwithstanding, that first image that I had of Parsis, of ship sailing families carrying and protecting their sacred flame, braving stormy seas and uncertain fates still holds strong in my head. The fire that they saved - the fire of faith in better worlds for those dared.