Udvada, a hamlet of a handful of Parsi-owned bungalows and perpetual calm, woke up to much fanfare on Friday. Members of the community descended on this rather obscure coastal town in Gujarat’s Valsad district not only from different parts of India but also from across the world. They all shared a common belief. The support of the Gujarat government, especially Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who they credited for sowing the idea of the Iranshah Udvada Festival, a first-of-its-kind celebration for the community with fast dwindling numbers world over.
The opening day of the three-day event had Gujarat Finance Minister Saurabh Patel in attendance. Patel, asserted High Priest Vada Dasturji, had been a “force to reckon with” and a “driving force” behind the development of the community.
Patel said the prime minister’s “love” for Parsis was evident. Praising the likes of Jamshedji Tata, Dr Homi Bhabha and Dadabhai Naoroji, the minister declared that the competitive spirit of the community was responsible for their reaching the pinnacle in various fields.
Modi, when he was chief minister of Gujarat, had in 2011 suggested that Valsad be given the tag of a “World Heritage Centre for Religious Harmony”.
When minister Patel spoke on Friday he was pretty much in consonance with the PM’s impression of the community. Addressing a crowd of about 2,200 Parsis in Udvada town, he elicited a loud cheer when he made, perhaps, a promising statement.
After a meeting with the Udvada’s sarpanch earlier this year, he asserted, no permissions would be given to builders for constructing highrises in the town. In order to preserve Udvada’s sanctity, he said, the government was willing to provide guides for tourists. “The government has already made the proposal. Besides there are suggestions for CCTVs, tourist police in Udvada,” said the minister.
The three-day event will also be an occasion to discuss afresh the community’s dwindling numbers. A recent survey on Parsis revealed that there are only 65,000 Parsis left in India.
“There are a mere 1 lakh odd of us living in the entire world. It’s a personal loss when even a single Parsi goes down,” Dastur said.
The minister also said the receding numbers posed a threat to the community’s culturally rich heritage . “It is not only you (Parsis) but even Gujaratis are worried,” he said while seeking more participation from the younger generation.
While an ensemble put together by Shaimak Davar’s dance troupe had the Parsis enthralled, a Parsi play by Surat-based Yazdi Karanjia Group had them in splits. Davar, who could not make it to the event, had a special message for his community. So did Cyrus Broacha, whose satirical take on his community’s population problem and its solution through an “Aapro app” tickled the crowd’s funny bone. Bollywood funny man and actor Boman Irani is likely to mark his presence on the second day of the event. In addition, Tata Group Chairman Emeritus Ratan Tata is scheduled to be felicitated on December 27. India’s Finance Minister Arun Jaitley is likely to join the celebrations.