Until recently, the images I most commonly associated with Parsis and Zoroastrianism in India were of fire temples, successful industry and fetas, and it got me wondering. What could the future hold for this tiny faith? Over the centuries Parsis have made enormous contributions to Indian society, and their ranks have been filled with stories of monumental success. Now, with the faith numbering approximately 100,000 members, will they continue in their position as India's most financially visible minority? Or, as industrialists such as the (Hindu) Ambanis and Mallyas grow their own business dynasties, will the Parsi influence begin to wane?
Zara took my blunt preconceived image of the Parsi faith and sharpened all the edges. Young, precocious and beautiful, she gave me a window – through the wonders of the Internet and social networking – into the life of an up-and-coming Zoroastrian in Mumbai. She's a complete hedonist who cares deeply for the rights of the oppressed and an occasionally bitter critic of the Parsi community who nevertheless places great love and faith at the door of her prophet Zoroaster. Financial security has given her an attitude concerned less with money and more with contribution to society. Zara is full of contradictions but somehow, they add up to a rounded being.
Whether Zara represents the lives and opinions of the majority of young modern Parsis is something I cannot claim with any certainty, but I found her particular case fascinating and managed to convince her to answer a few questions for The NRI. ***
Tell us a bit about yourself, a basic profile of your past/present/future as you see them.
I'm a freelance fashion stylist and a part-time counselor. I have been very lucky to have lived a life full of love and understanding.
I am the only child of my parents. Ethnically my paternal side is Parsi Zoroastrian whilst my mother is an Iranian Zoroastrian, but born and brought up in Iran. My parents met in London during the early '80s. Mom had recently migrated to the UK with her family following the Islamic Revolution of 1979 in Iran. My dad was there for a vacation. Love happened swiftly.
My parents have always doted on me. I guess the environment and mentality in my home were not at all "Indian", so to speak. I don't mean that in a bad way, but the whole approach to parenting me was different, as I understand it. It helped me in building a strong sense of individuality for myself, which I am very grateful for. My parents have never believed in imposing themselves or even being remotely authoritarian. Yes, they have been strict, and they have been disciplinarians, but I think that is necessary. Parents need to be your best friends, and at the same time they need to make their stand felt.
When you think of your upbringing, what do you think of?
My childhood reminds me of sunlight, lots of brightness and warmth. My days were filled with school, the weekends being reserved for picnics, and such things. We would vacation frequently, travelling here and there, experiencing different places and cultures. Basically a lot of fun, and love.
High school was a blast, so was college. I got into trouble and I loved it. The fact that boys were a major reason for me getting into trouble added to the chaos. My father is extremely protective and couldn't really digest my newfound affinity for socializing so much with the opposite sex. I had rebellious fights at home with my parents, but that's all a part of growing up. I don't see it as a cultural/religious/societal reason in my parents to act that way. They were just protective. What helped was that my parents did not totally oppress me. At times I would make mistakes but they were 100% there for me when I would be in trouble. I never had to hear "I told you so". This did wonders for me. I became responsible, and started to grow up. I think overall my parents did a fabulous job raising me.
What is your relationship with your parents like today?
My parents have always let me have my freedom. There are no restrictions. We have a sense of mutual trust and understanding. I am a responsible person and take care to not offend my parents' sentiments whilst they take care to not impose themselves or interfere with mine. After years or trial and error with minor ups and downs, I think we have somewhere found agreement.
However, lately they have started with a new anthem – ZARA GET MARRIED – which I think is a bit silly and stupid. They have made me meet numerous Zoroastrian men, since they are ethnically and religiously quite devout. They wish for me to only marry within the community, as the Parsi Zoroastrian religious code says "a Zoroastrian must marry only a Zoroastrian." Quite restrictive and archaic in my eyes.
Who are you now, and where do you see yourself in 10 years?
In the present day, I am a happy and confident woman, whimsical, extremely moody, and I am also quite the tease. ;) My interests include listening to a whole lot of music, cinema, art, persian history and culture, FASHION!, the machinations of the human psyche and I'm a big animal lover too.
In ten years from today? I see myself living the life of a hedonist that I have always led, being happy, spreading happiness to those around me, probably married, with a child (preferably a girl). A great life.
What do you love in life?
I love LIFE, in totality. To be specific: I love fashion, psychology, my family, my friends, having a good time, strawberry shortcake, Dita Von Teese, Lady Gaga, Mary Magdalene, the prophet Zoroaster, chicken dimsums!, high heels, MEN (lol), travel (love London and Vancouver, like, ALWAYS), Wikipedia, to spend time with myself, nature, animals.
Tell us more about your fashion design and counselling.
Fashion has been one of my biggest loves. Right from as early as I can remember. I would watch my mother dress up for her soirées and I would be so intrigued. The beauty of fabric, cut, color, style, the glamour! I knew that fashion was just IT for me. As for counselling, I tend to reach out to people very easily and am highly social. I realized that it gave me immense satisfaction to counsel/advise those genuinely in need of some light, and hope.
What really makes you angry?
Sly people. Eve-teasers, male chauvinists, religious bigots, active hypocrites who won't admit it. . Bad civic sense, a lack of responsibility towards one's surroundings. Misogyny. I also CANNOT CANNOT stand the whole concept of anthropocentrism.
Why is anthropocentrism of particular frustration to you?
Anthropocentrism frustrates me because I feel human beings do not respect other living beings as equals. A lot of religious propaganda suggests that human beings are superior than others, which is absolutely ridiculous in my opinion. I believe in respecting the right of every living creature to exist. I believe that every living creature must be treated with care and compassion. After all, for all the religious people out there, is God not in the details?
My religion's prophet, Zoroaster, always preached love, respect and goodness. This is the most simple and basic fundamental to healthy and positive living.
The second (and final) part of my interview with Zara will focus on her relationship with Zoroaster, Zoroastrianists and Zoroastrianism.
Photo credit: Nima Fatemi