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Anahita Sidhwa Oral History Interview

The interview was conducted as part of SAADA's ACFP 2021-2022. This interviewee discussed her childhood life and neighborhood in Karachi, Pakistan, her experience as an international student in 1975 at the East-West Center in Hawaii. She shared memories of moving with her husband to Oklahoma and eventually settling down in Coppell Dallas, Texas since 1980. The interviewee described her experiences of living as a Zoroastrian and South Asian in Dallas, placing an emphasis on her community and events at the Zoroastrian community center as well as her teaching experience as an astronomy professor.

In this slideshow, you will see:
A digital photograph of Anahita Sidhwa with her husband, Feroze, inside the Zoroastrian Association of Northern Texas. In front of them are the Muktad (All Souls) prayers table, which is kept in the center for the five days of the Gathas in remembrance for departed souls.

Education, Immigration

Duration: 01:37:36

Date: January 7, 2022
Subject(s): Anahita Sidhwa
Type: Oral History
Source: Archival Creators Fellowship Program
Creator: Sharmeen Mehri
Contributor: Anahita Sidhwa
Location: Karachi, Pakistan

Transcribed by Sharmeen Mehri

Sharmeen Mehri: Today is January 7th, 2022. The time is 9:35 PM. My name is Sharmeen Mehri and I'm interviewing Anahita Sidhwa online from Karachi Pakistan for the SAADA Archival fellowship project about Zoroastrian South Asian migration to the United States. Anahita, could you tell us your address and where you live?

Anahita Sidhwa: I know that the Parsis pronounce my name as Anahita. I like to pronounce it as ‘Ahnahita’ and my name is Anahita Sidhwa and my address is 129 Glendale Drive, Coppell, Texas. Zip is 75019 and Coppell is a suburb of Dallas so basically, I live in the Dallas-Fort Worth area in Texas in the USA. We have lived in this area in Coppell actually since uh 1980 and so we have actually even lived in this current house of ours since 1991 so that is kind of unusual, I think sometimes for people in America to live in the same house for this long, but we are perfectly happy here and uh we don't really intend to move in the near future unless something drastic happens. Well, I came to the United States in 1975. I came with the East-West center. I came to the East-West center in Hawaii. I don't know if uh many people know about this organization but uh from Karachi, I did get a scholarship to come to East-West center and uh this is uh, it's a kind of a unique program in the United States. It was created when Hawaii became a state and they wanted to do something special uh to kind of uh celebrate and use the unique location that Hawaii has because it is sort of a a meeting place between Asia and the US and so I attended the University of Hawaii, but I was on a scholarship from the East-West center and so the East-West center is sort of uh encompasses many different students and many different areas of study. And so, we lived in the East-West center dorms and we were part of the uh intercultural interaction groups. But we were also going to the University of Hawaii. Okay, and there were some people who came to East-West center and they were uh, they were on short programs but I was on a degree program. And so I came to the US in 7. I got my master's degree in Education in 77 and that's when I got married and then I, my husband was in Oklahoma, in Tulsa. So we lived in Tulsa from 77 to 80. And then in 80 because of his job, we moved to Dallas and to Coppell and we have lived in Coppell since 1980. Yeah, and so we had one house, well we had 2 apartments in Tulsa and one house in Tulsa and then one house in Coppell and then this is our second house in Coppell.

SM: Um and please state your occupation.

AS: I have been an educator, a teacher all my life. I taught in Karachi uh for about 4 years at St. Joseph’s College for Women and then I did my master's degree and I taught briefly in Tulsa. That was in a part-time capacity and then once I came to to uh over here to Dallas, I taught part time for about 9 years. So I taught at this place called Brookhaven College in Dallas since um 1981 and I was part-time for about 9 years and then in 89, I got the full-time job at Brookhaven so I taught at Brookhaven uh until just recently, 2017, when I retired. And since 2017, I have still sort of taught one class on a part-time basis because as adjuncts, we are like called adjuncts, and the adjuncts are you know, due to whatever insurance rules, etc. were only allowed to teach certain semesters and certain classes and all that. I have taught continuously from 2017 to 2020 summer. Now I'm not really sure whether I'm going to or not because of a lots of administrative changes and uh insurance rules and all that. Basically, what do I love to do yes, I do love to teach [laughs]. I have two master's degree, one in Physics from Karachi University, from University of Karachi, and another one in uh Secondary Education Curriculum Design. I um have taught physics when I was teaching part-time for the nine years that I was at Brookhaven. I taught physics, only physics, but when I became full time, the astronomy classes, which used to be taught by another part-time person. That person retired and that was when they first opened the full-time position for physics and astronomy. They kind of put astronomy with the physics, and so I had to teach astronomy. Now uh a lot of the science in astronomy is really physics and so it was a challenge because I didn't have any experience in the observational part of astronomy and so uh yes, it was a challenge the first two, three years. But since I've gotten into it, I really have found a great passion for astronomy. As far as my favorite subject to teach now has been astronomy and so I have uh it's been a different, it's it's been a different population. The students who learned physics, they are more of the engineers whereas the students, because we offered astronomy as a non-science major course, and so the students who take astronomy, for them, this was more, I took it more as a science literacy course, you know as a course of science literacy. It gave me the opportunity to teach them very basic things and then take them from the very basic things like the structure of the atom, all the way out into the universe, and you know, what is a black hole, and galaxies, and cosmology and all that. So, it is it was uh, teaching astronomy has been uh has been a great experience in my life and I have enjoyed that very much. And so, when I, when it was time for me to teach, to choose what I wanted to teach after I retired, I have chosen to focus on astronomy rather than physics, which may be detrimental to me now because it seems with some administrative shakeups, there are fewer astronomy classes that they're offering. And so I'm not sure whether I'll have one next next week or not or whatever but it's okay.

SM: Where were you born?

AS: Uh I was born in Karachi, Pakistan. I was born to my parents’ names were Gool Thanawala and Firoze Thanawala. And uh my mother was a Montessori teacher. I don't know some of you may have experienced her at, you're too young to have experienced my mom, but she taught at the BVS Montessori school for many many years. My mother was a Montessori teacher and interestingly, my mother, when she got her Montessori training, that must have been in 1944, before I was born, because I've heard the stories of how my mother was pregnant with my second sister. And she had the Montessori training with Madame Montessori herself and this may be a little-known fact. But you know Madame Montessori was Italian and during the second World War, she was traveling in India when the war broke out and so she was like a prisoner of war because it was British India and she was Italian. The government allowed her; she couldn't leave India but the government allowed her to travel across India. It was India Pakistan you know both of us, it was there was pre-Partition so they allowed her to travel to different places to offer the course. And she came to Karachi briefly, and she offered the course in Karachi and Mrs. Gool Minwalla, okay and my mother and some other you know stalwarts of the Pakistan Montessori Association, they took the course actually from her. Now my mother did not initially uh teach in the Montessori school, nut I think when I was maybe in the seventh grade or so, seventh or eighth grade, that is when she started to teach at the BVS Montessori school. And then she did that pretty much until a few years before she passed away.

AS: My dad uh is also an interesting immigrant story in a way because he came to Karachi in 1933. This was also way before Partition and uh he came to work for a Parsi company in Karachi, which used to be called Sin Patent Tiles and he used to work for a similar organization in Bombay. He was born in Bombay, and he was you know, there were two sister organize, they were called Bharat Tiles in India and they were called Sin Patent Tiles in Karachi. And he was a young man, and the person who was work, who was the manager of the Karachi organization, he needed some assistance so he reached out to the Bombay organization to say, you know do you have somebody I can train whatever, and so that's how my dad came. Somewhere along the line, you know he, well my grandmother used to take paying guests in her house and my dad was a bachelor and so he lived at my grandmother's house as a paying guest, and somewhere along the line [laughs], my parents fell love in and got married. And so uh, we in a way you know, usually in those days people used to have the extended family. But because my dad's family was not in Karachi, my mom and dad had the unique opportunity to have their own apartment and my mom said that it was when they got married, the family took a lot of pleasure in like uh you know setting up their apartment. And so it was always like oh this particular item, the iron was given by so-and-so Mami and that cupboard was given by so-and-so Masi or Fua or somebody or the othe. Uh, my mother always said that the family had a lot of fun in like setting up her apartment and we used to live in this uh little uh, you've been to Mama school, right? So, so you know that little street right next to Mama school, so we used to live there. So our apartment was like, it was a brand new building at that time, and my mom said that she had her choice of which apartment she wanted because all those buildings was just being built and uh so she didn't want something on the ground floor. So she chose something on the first floor, what we would in America call the second floor, and our balcony like really overlooked the playing field. You know the basketball court at Mama school. I don't think it's basketball court anymore, but you know there were these huge neem trees. And we could sort of look through the neem trees onto the grounds of Mama school and my mom said she chose that because she said that, okay there's a nice open area in front of us so we'll always have that. Kind of I grew up in this little apartment.

SM: And did you have any uh Zoroastrian neighbors?

AS: Oh yes, we did uh because uh you know we lived in this building. It was not a Bagh. We lived in this building and the four houses, like in the sense the flat uh next to us was usually, short period of time it wasn't, but usually it it was people living there were Zoroastrians and the two flats underneath us were also Zoroastrians so there were like four Parsi families in that building, and then the others were Muslim. So we kind of had this little conclave, of course we were on good terms with our with our Muslim neighbors and even at the back, we we had some Muslim neighbors. And you know one day, years and years, years later when my mom had her sorts of some kind of uh, we're not sure whether it was a minor stroke or a minor heart attack or something like that and she was by herself. It was the Muslim neighbors who had come and helped. I have two sisters one of them is Nazneen Spliedt and she lives in California, and then my second sister is Sarfaraz Golwala, she lives in Karachi. She still lives in Karachi and I think, and I was the third one, I was the youngest. And uh we had a, you know I mean by American standards, yes, we never had a room to ourselves because our flat had four rooms and you know, there were, and the four rooms were kind of interconnected. There was one room that was reasonably tidy because it was like the outside room and then behind that we had a dining room and it was a dining room-cum-study, I mean that's where I did all my studying. My dad had this big drafting table and for the, I think for the six years or so that I was like, going through matric, and then going through inter-science, and my all my four years in the university, I used that table. I mean he wouldn't get to use that table at all so it was it became my table [laughs] and we did have a dining room and then there was a kitchen and all that at the back and there were two bedrooms and uh we we lived in reasonably, oh by American standards, we lived in very crowded quarters, but it was a happy life and uh I I don't, I didn't feel um in any way like as if I, as if I didn't have or whatever. I mean one interesting thing about my parents was that, I don't know if I should say this, but my dad would, I mean you know you get you get your pay pay in cash, you get paid in cash, and I mean we all knew where the money was and we just took what we wanted. It was a whole pile of uh you know notes under his Sudreh, under his pile of Sudrehs and we just took what we wanted. And so if I wanted to buy a book that costs 30 rupees or 40 rupees, which was a lot of money, I just get it and that's kind of remarkable about my parents as to how much they trusted us because we did not misuse it. I mean when you saw the pile was shrinking you waited until the first of the month.

AS: so, I attended uh Mama Parsi Girls Secondary School, high school, whatever the official name. I first attended uh because our Montessori connection and the Montessori connection of my mother. BVS Montessori did not exist when I was, when my sisters and I went to Montessori school so we all started at this Montessori school which used to be in the Katrak Hall Zoroastrian Club compound. There used to be a Montessori school there and it was started by uh Temi Behramji and Gool Minwalla and at some point Gool Minwalla may not have been particularly involved with that. When I was there, it was really run by Temi Behramji. You may not have heard these names but at some point, when I was like in the last year of Montessori school uh, it shifted to Clifton, to one of the apartments, one of the houses underneath the bridge where current Mehrabad is. Temi Behramji had a house there and she shifted the Montessori school there and so I had some interesting Montessori teachers, uh who were Parsis and so I went there until, I guess until I was seven or so, so you know you started Montessori school when you were three or maybe lower, and then and then I went there. I went to Mama school; I think I started Mama school either when I was seven or when I was 8 but I was maybe it was between seven and eight. I went, I started Mama school in grade four, that I remember well. I started Mama school in grade four. And then grade four onwards through uh matric, through the tenth grade, I was in Mama school, and then I was at St. Joseph College’s for two years and then I was at the University of Karachi, so I got my masters from the University of Karachi yeah in physics.

SM: And so, how did you come to learn about this East-West center and what motivated you to apply there?

AS: You know when we were at the University of Karachi, we there was a little, not that little, but because you went into the honors program. Stepping back one step, when I was at St. Joseph's College, doing first year science, inter-science, the question was did I want to major in biology or did I want to major in in something else, and really what happened is that I was kind of squeamish, I you if you took, if you took biology and inter-science, you went into medical. I'm squeamish. I didn't like dissecting frogs and things like that. So the question was always okay I'm not going to do biology and sometime during that period I also heard some very interesting lectures on physics with, they were given by Dr. Abdul Salam, you know you've probably heard of Dr. Abdul Salam. He was the Nobel Laureate from Pakistan and all that. Of course, we, we had we had a TV set in our house very late. We had a refrigerator in our house very late in life. So, the radio was really the only thing crackling all, radio was the only thing we had and so and yet it was a very happy life. So the decision for me was always physics or chemistry and so when it was time to choose to go to the University of Karachi, I chose to major in physics because I felt like after having heard Dr. Salam, wow there's all these different things to do and you know all the ideas that he had were were so much more interesting. So that's how I ended up choosing physics and when we went to first-year science, uh first-year science at the university, second-year science at the university, we were in a you know group of 30 or so students and then when you went into third-year science, that was your honors class, you also had other people who had done there BSC regular who would come to do their masters. And so, it was sort of, kind of the common thread in our graduating class that we will go somewhere. That this was not the end of the road for us. You know that we would all be going somewhere, and so after masters finished, I was actually, I think I might have been the first one in my graduating class to get a job. In fact, I got a job before my results were out. Because you know how in Pakistan you give the exam and then you wait for a couple of months and then you get your results and so. And this is sort of interesting, I know it's an aside, December 1st, 1971, which was like just fifty years ago [laughs], I walked into my first classroom as a teacher at St. Joseph’s College because at St. Joseph’s College, there weren't many physics female physics teachers. Okay, so for physics, the principal had to you know, have male teachers and so when a girl from St. Joseph’s College went into the Physics department, aha you know Sister Emily would keep their eye on them and so she knew [laughs] I was there and uh somebody, the physics teacher was leaving to go to, wherever England, America wherever. In the middle of the semester because December 1st was kind of the middle of this, middle of the academic year, this person left and so I was like she had to look my address up and send somebody to find my house. She sent me a letter saying please come for an interview or something like that and before I knew it I had like two days’ notice or something and I had to start teaching. So during those four years that I was teaching, I was also still in touch with all the other, all my other classmates, and of course I was the only Parsi girl there. I mean there were there were four girls in our group, you know in the first-year second-year, and then in the third-year, we got a few more girls from other colleges and so we all kind of kept in touch. You know this is coming up uh, this scholarship, did you see this scholarship thing, and some of my classmates left before I did but I was kind of comfortable in my position at St. Joseph’s College teaching and I could have continued to be there, but it was just sort of uh it was just sort of an accepted thing. I don't think I ever really thought deeply about it that okay, that's the next step. You did your inter-science. You did your master’s, you worked for a few years, and got your stuff together, and you went wherever the opportunities, wherever the best opportunities came about. I know I was applying for some scholarship to Thailand and I'm I’m glad I didn't because, and the question was why, some of the people around me were asking: why are you applying to this thing, and I said well because whatever, and I'm glad that didn't, it didn't, but I don't know whether it didn't materialize or I just decided not to but I uh that’s how I applied for a Fulbright and the East-West center together, at the same time, and the East-West center came through and it was completely uh paid for and that's how I ended up coming to Hawaii.

SM: And at that moment with the acceptance, how did you feel about uh possibly moving to the United States? What were your expectations?

AS: At that time, it was not a permanent thing. It was it was like okay I'll I'll go back to, in fact, one of the things was that I was on a J visa and with a J visa, you're supposed to go back and so the expectation in my mind was always that I would go back and because I got married and that's why then the whole staying over here, even then, even in the first years of my marriage, I would tell my husband, oh I would prefer to go back, and especially when driving was like over here, you know in Dallas, Texas, everybody drives so fast and [laughs]. Getting my driver's license at the age of 20, whatever 27, 28 was far harder than getting a master’s degree.

SM: What was the political and social climate at the time when you moved to Hawaii?

AS: So Jimmy Carter was inaugurated as President uh when I was in Hawaii. Since you ask this question, I'm sort of just thinking back to this one incident that we were all in the dorm, we were living in the dorm. I was living in in a girls’ dorm. And we were all hearing the inauguration speech that Carter gave and this one American girl uh, she just after the speech was over, she said, oh that was not inspired and she just so. And I didn't have any opinion because I'd never heard an inauguration speech you know, but somethings to that effect. And one of the things I want to tell you which has affected me over the years is that at East-West center, the way the East-west Center was set up was it was supposed to be one-third American and two-thirds Asia, so in the dorms and all that, we were actually in a majority. And the whole idea was to have this one-third, two-third split so that the people from the US mainland and the people from Asia and the Pacific regions, they would all interact together, and you know have experiences together. And usually in dorms, you're not allowed to cook, but our dorms we were allowed to cook because food is such an important intercultural avenue and so you know we had these co-ops and uh we would, they they tried to do, I mean the co-ops were self-regulated but nonetheless, I remember there was a huge co-op with Pakistanis in the other main dorm which was a co-ed dorm and I wasn't in that dorm. But I remember meeting up, the Pakistanis telling me initially, we're not going to have you in our co-op because you know you go to some other co-op, we have too many Pakistanis in our co-op and so it it was and it was really uh, quite uh quite uh eye-opening and I would say a very very rewarding experience. I I think I I've had a much more comfortable entry into the American experience because I was in this environment that had so many more Asians then if I had come to you know the mainland and been stuck in a you know Physics department somewhere.

AS: I was in a co-op. My first co-op was with, there was a, I think we were 8, there were 8 of us in the co-op or 10 of us in the co-op. When my sister, I did not do any cooking at home. I knew nothing. I liked to bake and things like that. But we never really had a good oven so we never really did stuff. I would read recipe books but not really [laughs]. Anyway, so my eldest sister Nazneen, when she heard that I was in this co-op with 10 people and I had to cook once in two weeks I would get uh I would get my turn to cook so she wrote out some recipes for 8 people. I I forget now whether we were 8 or 10 something like that. Maybe we were 8 and uh she wrote out these these maybe five or six recipes for 8 people and she sent them to me, and yes I used them, and yes I did try to make all these things. I'm a pretty good cook [laughs]. In fact, it's one of my, one of my favorite things. I like to experiment. I like to make pretty little things [laughs]. As my sisters, they tease me and they say but why are you jinu junu bhonu banaveu. I I like to experiment. My mother uh was a very uh imaginative cook also so I sort of remember you know things that she would do and all that and then I married Firoze Sidhwa and his mother is Khorshid Sidhwa. She's kind of a well-known name in Karachi. She used to have a catering business. She came many times to the us and I learned a lot from her. I learned a lot from my mother also so we've, I've enjoyed the whole cooking experience and it was sort of a nice entry into that aspect of life through the cooking and eating co-ops at the East-West center.

SM: What did you expect coming to America to be like?

AS: You know both my sisters had come to America on this American Field Service, AFS program that used to exist for a while. And they both spent one year in America, in the US and they would live with the family and go to the last year of high school over here. And then they would come back and they would have their yearbooks and all their experiences. They would travel across the US during their last before they left to come back to Pakistan and so not only my two sisters, but my two cousins also. And those, because of hearing about all that I felt like I kind of knew what I was getting into, although it was lonely uh in some respects. But because of that dorm environment that I was in, it wasn't as difficult as I, as it could have been, but I do remember I do remember the very first day. We landed in Hawaii. I was traveling there with these other, I think it was three other guys from Pakistan. We were all in this program. And two of them were from the interior of Sindh. One of them was, I think he was from, he was a Pathan so he was probably either from northern Pak, somewhere from Northern Pakistan. He was a Philosophy major and spoke English very well and all that. The two guys from Sindh, they were at this food institute at the East-West center because East-West center was divided into different institutes and so I came there. We landed in Hawaii. We didn't really know what to do and I mean we collected our luggage and then we didn't quite know what to do. And somehow, I think we got a taxi or something and came on to the center, came to the center. And there one of the Pakistani guys who had already been there and been through everything, he sort of came to take us to the dorm and those three guys were living in the uh in the in the co-ed dorm. I was in the other dorm. I remember sort of coming into my room and the rest of the crowd had, we kind of had come a day or two earlier than the rest of the other scholarship holders. We all had to come in a month earlier because we had all these programs at East-West center to attend and I remember that the whoever the RA was, they showed me into my room. It was a single room and I kind of closed the door and I couldn't hold it. Somehow, I I was I was really emotional. I kind of really cried [laughs]. Maybe I've never told anybody that. And more so because the mattress was so dirty [laughs]. I turned the mattress over. I mean I'm not a big person and I kind of got onto it and then this one guy who had come to sort of show us around, I mean he was really nice because he, he said okay, let me take you to the cafeteria. He took all of us to the cafeteria and so he says now now you have to push this. This was a turnstile you know when you enter the cafeteria. There was a turnstile. Says now you have to push this. Okay so we push it. And okay, now you go here. You go here. Now you pick up the water from here. Now you pick up the glass. You push this little lever so you get your water. You know all these little things. It was really very nice of him because it is these little things that uh have you confused like this morning. Okay, which uh do I have to, do I have to get into my email through Chrome and I don't know my password anymore or I didn't give the right answer to my, I knew my password but I didn't have the right answer to my question [laughs]. And then because that first month was quite, it was all like social, cultural activities, and interaction with people at the East-West center who were in this program. Because we were like hundred and some grantees we were, because we had a grant therefore, we were like called grantees. And there were these 120 so you were in a cohort with these with this hundred people and so that made the entry into America quite comfortable. And you know the political climate that you see today, it was nothing nothing nothing like that, you know you felt welcome and protected.

AS: I I don't think there was anything to anything that comes to mind that was that was unpleasant. Of course, because I was on a J visa, when I got married, I had to ask for a waiver of my 2-year requirement because I was supposed to return to Pakistan for 2 years so I had to ask for a waiver of that and that was a lot of paperwork and frustrations. It did take me 2 years to get a green card. In today's day and age, 2 years is nothing. At that time, living through that experience, not knowing whether I would have to go back to Pakistan and live apart from my husband, when we had just been married, it did weigh on you a lot a lot. I mean at that time we were living in Oklahoma and Oklahoma didn't even have an immigration office and so we had to communicate with the Dallas office. And I remember it was, there was, it was a Saturday, I mean we had put in all our paperwork. It was a Saturday morning. My husband was at work and I uh I went to just pick up the mail and I have this, there is this envelope from the immigration service, which said I had to appear for an interview that day in Dallas. Okay, and we were living in Oklahoma and so you can imagine how [laughs] but then all of us have been through these experiences and I know they are much worse. Uh today this this situation is much much worse than what I experience but when you're experiencing your own thing and this was in 1977-78, I was not able to go back to Karachi until 79 because we got married in 77 and the whole process of getting my green card, it took until 79 and so I wasn't able to go back home until 79.

AS: And so I had this four years where I didn't see my parents and that was a bigger, and that was a bigger, that was the harder part of immigration and, not knowing and all that you know as to what would happen and that definitely was difficult. Keep in mind that when I'm saying that you know I didn't see my parents. We used to write uh we used to write air letters. You know the aerogrammes and also, we did not talk on the phone. I mean there was, I don't know by then whether my parents had a phone or not. I don't know if my parents had a phone so we had to use the neighbor's phone. So even if you would call, it was just a “how are you? How are you? How are you?” You know it wasn't really a meaningful conversation. So whatever meaningful you did, you did with letters. So so that was, that was the sadder part if you wish [laughs]. Also when I got married. It was a very very, it was a Parsi wedding. I was marrying a Parsi guy but it was a very small ceremony in a friend's house in Chicago simply because I knew there was this priest in Chicago and there were 20 people, I mean I don't know if we even had 20 people at our wedding [laughs]. Firoze's parents came uh Firoze's mother came. His mother and his Masi from India came for the wedding and because my mother-in-law is such a good cook and all that, and so you know we had gone the day before to buy all the groceries and then we had spent the day, the evening before, cooking together and all that and so those are good memories but compared to what happens today and it was, it was a simple life [laughs] you know. I don't regret it. I don't regret it.

SM: Were there any other things you would miss about Karachi and your home?

AS: Oh lots, you know I was twenty-five years old when I left Karachi, twenty-seven when I got married, twenty-nine when I went back, but those four years in some respects were difficult in how much I missed my family. My mother, my dad, my dad was always was a hugger. You know I mean he would always give very tight koties and I did not realize when I left Karachi, I did not realize how much I would miss them. I wouldn't miss because I had never really been away from home. I had gone on Girl Guide trips and things like that. But for any real length of time. So I that was, that was, maybe thinking about it now, I think that was perhaps the most surprising thing, how much I missed my family.

SM: Do you have other family members in the United States now?

AS: Oh yes, I've got lots of family members. Of course my sister, my sister my elder sister Nazneen, she lives in San Francisco. I have another cousin whose name is Roshni. Well, you know Roshni you've you've talked to Roshni. So Roshni was is uh I think she's eleven years older, yeah she's about eleven years older than me. And in a way, Roshni was the trailblazer in our family. Stepping back one more step. Family: my mother and dad they got married on the same day as my Mama and Mami, Roshni's parents okay, so Roshni's parents and my parents, they had a double wedding. And they had three daughters and we were also three sisters so the six girls you know, it was like this coterie of six girls and we were all like one after the other. You know Roshni is the eldest then Roshni had her sister and then my sister and then my other sister and their third. And so, like all of us were like in line with each other, one after the other and so Roshni had already been, done her PhD at Berkeley and all that, when I came here. And so, she was like uh in some respects a role model if you will or it’s like and I have gotten to Roshni to know Roshni a whole lot more here than I ever knew her in Karachi because by the time when I was growing up, I mean she was already going abroad and doing her PhD and all that. And so I have sort of, connected with Roshni because when I, first time I really met Roshni uh and kind of got to know her as an individual person was uh at the East-West center during your, after your first year, you got this chance to do a field trip wherever in the world you wanted. And so, I came to the mainland and I, my adviser, my education adviser told me that I should not take a summer course in one place, but I should take short courses in many different places so I would have an overview of the American education system and all the best that it had to offer. So I started uh in California so I spent a few days with Roshni. And then you know I went to Washington DC and New York and there was some at Teacher’s College, Columbia. There was some of group of Dutch educators were attending a workshop. My advisor arranged to have me join that group and so I spent a week at Columbia University [laughs] and then there was a course at Harvard and then there was a course at Northwestern in Chicago and so I had this this this massive experience. You know during the summer of 1976. It was also 1976, it was the bicentennial and that was a pretty noteworthy thing in my life, I think. Anyway, so coming back to my cousins. My other relatives in the US so Roshni continues to be you know a big part. We talk quite often and then Roshni has another sister Sunamai who is more my age. And she was, she's a year older than me so I'm the youngest of our three and Sunamai is the youngest of their three. We talk quite often and you know we're pretty much know what's happening in each other's lives to a large extent. My husband has a brother here and he has children. So now there are grandchildren and so there's quite a big extended family in the US but not in Dallas. And so, the family in Dallas, and so that brings up the immigrant experience, of how we in Dallas, we have developed relationships in Dallas with our group of friends. Yeah, we have we have built relationships in Dallas and the community and all that.

SM: While settling down in the US, what was the most difficult change to your lifestyle or you're thinking that you had to make?

AS: I don't know if there was a change that I had to make. I think I've pretty much I'm comfortable with who I am and what I am. And the story after we moved to Dallas is that okay, we we knew maybe three Zoroastrians here and that was also through the Parsi connection in Karachi. You know somebody had given my husband that that oh you know I have my my brother's sons live in Dallas and so if you live in Tulsa, is is Dallas close to Tulsa? Yeah, maybe well if you ever go to Dallas, please look up my sons, my my nephews. Well, when we actually moved to Dallas then it was like okay, let's look up these two people you know and so we looked them up. Um meantime, my husband did have another cousin, we were living in Tulsa, but you know at OU, at University of Oklahoma, there were a number of Parsis and so one of his cousins went there, one of his friends from Karachi BVS, still in touch, went to OU. And so we would go to, we would go to to OU quite often and then they had this other Parsi friend who lived in Dallas so you know we kind of connected, you know that way, friend of a friend of a friend. And so we knew when we moved to Dallas, we knew maybe five people or three people I would say three people. Okay, these two guys from Karachi and this one other girl who was a friend of one of the OU people.

AS: And so I think then they knew somebody else and so the first year, it was always okay so it's Navroze, let's have a dinner. Let's do something or the other. And I think the first two years we had maybe a limited family gathering or something, but then and I was trying to think exactly okay so 77, 80 we moved to Dallas. I think it was 82, August okay, 80, 1982 August, the Shahenshahi new year and we wanted to have a, let's invite people, okay. We said okay, we are going, and then we found other people from Karachi, this that by then, so we said okay, we'll have people at our house and most of the others were students. They had apartments. We had a house. So okay, so we said we'd have a party and then, bring you know if you know somebody you can tell them to come to, and you know we have thirty people. And we didn't know thirty people but it was through word of mouth that we got thirty people and thirty was a big number. And and for example and this is interesting like one of the couples who has since become a big part of our life over here from India. They didn't know anybody either and they had left a message at the Indian store. In Dallas, there weren't that many Indian stores also at that time, but they had told the guy at the Indian store this whatever Mohan Bhai or somebody that you know if you come across any Parsis, please let us know. And this Mohan Bhai had given the name to somebody else [laughs], who told somebody else, who told me look I got this name from the Indian store, you want to call them, and I said okay and we call them. And so by word of mouth, it was a real surprise to have thirty people. By then we already knew that there was an association in Houston. Then the March function the subsequent year 83, the March Navroze party was hosted by this family in Fort Worth. At that time, we said we should really start to form an association. And so that's when it started in 83. Wouldn't you know it, we got into the whole non-Parsi wife. How do you, what do you do or will they be members? Will they not be members, etc., etc.? Who is a Zoroastrian etc., etc.? And we ended up not doing anything about it, until there was there was ill feeling you know because some of the people involved, they they did have non-Zoroastrian wives or husbands and so we ended up not really tackling the issue of forming an association for another three or four years after that. And until I think it was 87 or 88 where we said okay, this is not something to be discussed with everybody. Let's just have five like-minded couples get together and form the association. Actually, somebody went and formed THE association and they just announced. They said we formed an association that it was all 5o1C3, it wasn't all that it was just they said they said this is the name and we formed it. We said, Okay, all right?

AS: It was Zoroastrian Association of North Texas ZANT. Meanwhile, we would always meet at the March and the August Navroze okay. Somebody or the other would would do it at their house and then it got big enough where we also started these. Five couples said okay we will pool our resources and do it in a hotel and so we paid for it and we barely broke even. I've forgotten about that until this minute haha. It was like a big deal that you're charging somebody to come to a Navroze party. You know but it was in a hotel and then we so, we kind of did that actually I think we did that for more than a year, and then we said okay we are now comfortable enough with each other to start thinking of officially forming the association. We officially started writing the bylaws and we were like-minded enough to be able to come up with our paragraph for who is a Zoroastrian. We were able to also incorporate the idea that non-Zoroastrian spouses would have equal membership. And so then we went through the legal thing and registered the organization. We are now are of course a registered 5O1C3 organization and that happened in 89, so from 83 to 89, it took us to really form the association. And it's it's very important. It's very important because I'll tell you what, our association, the group of people we have here, we have asked 50 questions before we've taken the step. That was also the case when it came to having our building because 89, we formed the association and around 91 or 92, we started talking about having a building. Well, our building is now a reality but it took twenty years for us to make that building. It took us twenty years because maybe for the first ten years people were not convinced, many people were not convinced that we needed a building. Why do we need a building? And who's going to come and how are you going to finance it and how are you going to keep it up. And even people who believed in the fact that we needed to have a 5O1C3 official organization, even they didn't believe that we needed a building and it took us a long time and especially in seeing how things were going in Houston. You know because Houston is a much larger organization, but they have many more people, uh but at the same time they you know they didn't make their building until I think it was 98 or 99, maybe it was 98 or somewhere thereabouts. After people experienced that enough, that they felt that we ought to start thinking about it and we collected all the money first and we asked. We had these huge documents that we made. I mean these were, we had lots of meetings where okay, you want my money, well what if the building doesn't happen, what are you going to do with the money? So we have these extensive documents that were made about what will happen to the money if the building doesn't happen. And so sometimes when I look at some other organizations and they have, they said oh we had this problem or that problem or that legal issue etc. I said, well hey you know we already put it into our document before we even had $10,000 in the bank. So we were able to make our building and our building opened in 2011. We broke ground I mean sometimes but but even the building building making it. We bought the land then there was a little school on that land. There was a little private school on that land and they didn't want to move and we didn't have all our ducks in place anyway. So we let them stay there for a while and then then we decided, then we used that old building for a few months. We decided it was not really worth saving so we really broke it down completely and built a completely new structure and so ZANT has been uh very important part of my life uh and I feel very gratified that uh you know we've been able to do it and and even that, even the building that we built, we had a plan and we didn't have enough money to put the plan in place and so we ended up doing just phase one of the building. And so phase one of the building consists of the prayer room which is I think, I still think that our prayer room is one of the best in America. Maybe just because I have my own little feeling for it. And we have the prayer room. We have a library room. We have kitchen, restrooms, all that, and one big room except that big room was supposed to be two classrooms and that was supposed to be another main room but we haven't built that main big room yet. So currently, our center is is not very conducive for anything that has more than seventy, eighty people okay so for our Navroze parties, we are still going to hotels and things like that. You know that is something I mean I hope it happens. But then again, you know this pandemic has brought some other things to mind. I mean people don't want to come as much so you begin to wonder that should we just stay where we are. I mean every time I go to Karachi and I see how our institutions and organizations and buildings and halls. I mean there's not enough people to support it. So, you wonder whether what we've done so far is good enough and stay there. I mean we have the land. We have a nice nice property. We can build it anytime we want and money maybe an issue but may not be an issue but. I don't know if the need is justified.

AS: Purpose of this organization. Oh, you want me to read our list of objectives that we have in our bylaws [laughs]. It’s like every time there's a conflict or something where like I'm always the one I'm a teacher so I say what are your objectives? Well our objectives are basically to to you know, have uh here’s our directory, our most current directory. We just don't have bylaws. We have bylaws and then we have for our organization and we have bylaws for our building and we have operating rules for our building [laughs]. And so you know yeah we we are very detail oriented because we have some people who are very particular about these things and I may be one of them. Essentially as far as our organization is concerned, yes, the purpose is to promote our religion to also have a, to cultivate and promote friendship and goodwill among Zoroastrians and their families. Objective number one was to advance and promote the Zoroastrian religion and objective number two is to cultivate and promote friendship and goodwill among Zoroastrians and their families. And then a whole lot of other objectives also, which most other organizations uh you know will have and we’re a member of FEZANA and I mean it's it's it's very noteworthy what they do and the fact that you know the second generation is now coming in, your generation is coming in to play a big role I think that's, that's gratifying, that's good to know.

AS: Our organization and I've been one of the people insistent on that that we would not have family memberships. We would have individual members. That keeps the voting very clean. What happens if you have a father, a mother visiting for a little while, visiting for long, whatever you know, pay your $50 dues. We have one of the lowest dues, I think. It's $50 a person period. But you can be a member only after eighteen and I think they have a reduced rate for senior citizens and students. Even so some people will feel $50 is too much. What are you giving me for my $50? you're not sending newsletters anymore. They just come on email. Why should I be a member and that is the saddest and most uphill challenge that I feel. The official membership count may be between hundred and hundred and fifty. However, I haven’t counted recently exactly how many families we have in the directory. But I think we have that many families in the directory and there are so many people, there are so many people who will choose not to be members or they will choose not to attend ZANT events and that is sort of a sad part for me because you know we, and some of them we know personally and we'll go to their house personally but we've sort of learned not to talk about this issue. I mean they know that I feel very strongly about ZANT and so I have also learned over the years not to bring up the topic of why aren't you a member. I've said it done it in years past. But I have also learned that in the interest of social niceness, let it go. People they they know that the membership is due and it used to be it used to be that $50 was a lot for some people. I mean my husband and I we've been fortunate. We've had good jobs and it's an economic struggle. There a lot of other people who've had economic struggles and $50 was a lot, but then when people don't become members just out of careless, sometimes it is carelessness. But I don't think it is carelessness. I think it is it is an active decision that this is not important enough and I feel whether you come to ZANT or not, you know you are, when you become a ZANT member you are stating that, yes, I am a part of this community. And the number of people who choose not do that is is saddening.

AS: So, when you ask the question how many members that is a difficult question to answer and I think you'd probably find that in probably all organizations at least in all Zoroastrian organizations in the US. Okay, my husband isn't greatly interested in coming to the Congress, but I'm interested and I've said, I’ve told all other people also okay remember we’re, don't plan a trip between July 1st and July 4th. And if everything goes well, if Covid is okay, unless something drastic happens regarding Covid or something like that, I hope to come and my husband will tag along with me to the Congress. I haven't been to all the Congresses, but I've been to a fair number and Firoze enjoys the social part of it. The thing is that there will I know that there will be a lot of people who will say no it's too expensive. And so the people you see at the Congress will be not just the people who believe enough in the Congress. But also, the people who can afford to be there and so that is not necessarily a good cross-section of the people. There are in our in our general party meeting, now it doesn't come up anymore, but initially it was always like why are we giving $100 to FEZANA, what for, what do they do for us and the the idea that you’re part of a bigger whole is not there in everybody's mind. That is the challenge and that more than anything that attitude more than anything has caused me to not forward the idea of our making our phase 2 for the building.

AS: I mean I still go along and plod along and push along with ZANT activities uh the best I can, but you begin to wonder whether we need, we are barely using what we have right now and so why should we spend another. In those days you know this phase two was going to maybe cost $500 to 600,000. Now it'll probably cost a million dollars. The official like the official accounting thing will I mean it almost cost us a million dollars to build it. We thought it was going to cost five six hundred but it ended up costing us almost a million and this extension would cost another million and we're hardly using this, except for the two Navroze functions. Yes, if we have it. Yes, we can rent it out more. Yes, if we have it people can have Navjotes and weddings there. If we have it maybe it will be used, but then again, you know you also reach a sort of um. Every 2 years we we have a hard time getting people to say yes to become [laughs] to serve on the board you know it's pulling teeth to get people to serve on the board. And then the next generation is here I mean they've, they've participated. One very sad and scary piece of population number that I can tell you. The first generation you know those of us who formed ZANT, we also started having religious classes. I mean we we did the classes for the children. It was just 1 group and then it was like okay, let's have 2 groups and then for a while we didn't have them and then we started again at our priests, uh Poras and Pearl Balsara, when they got a house and they had a little child. They said okay, it will always be in our house and that was a good idea and then we ended up having you know religious classes consistently. So, we had a first generation of children and there's like 15 kids that I can count, which was our first generation of children. Out of those 15 children, only two have married Parsis. They're all married. But the other 13 or 14 whatever the number is has married non-Zoroastrian spouses which is fine but those people, I mean although their non-Zoroastrian spouses are allowed to become members of our association. They have not come forward to become members, and if they are members, it's because the parents have paid for them or the parents have decided. Also, most of them are not in Dallas anymore. That's the nature of our life. I mean they moved on. They got a job. They went to school somewhere else. They've got a job somewhere else and so actually very few of those 15 are even in Dallas. Even so even though they haven't married Zoroastrian spouses, I don't know if any of them are going to have their children's Navjote. Although they care, we have priests now who will do anybody, who as long as one parent is Zoroastrian, they will do their Navjote but it is too much trouble. They may think they might like to have the children's Navjote but do I really want to go through that effort. And that is what is saddening. Now the second generation of children. They kind of grew up going to religious class every month at Pearl and Poras’s house. And so, they ended up bonding better and because they bonded better, they also saw the center being built. And now that group has just started to go off to college and where they'll all end up with, I don't know, but they to what extent it remains to be seen to what extent they will you know have their children's Navjote or not. I don't know how all that will work out and.

SM: When you meet another American, do you introduce yourself as a Parsi, a Zarathosti, a Pakistani, a South Asian? What do you identify as?

AS: 1 minute let me take a sip of water. Do you see I'm using a Dallas Cowboys’ glass? Cowboys big big uh I mean hey big thing in everybody's life over here. My husband's big fan. So people will usually look at me and they'll say where are you from. I'll say from Pakistan. They said oh okay whatever and I can't resist saying almost in the next sentence that I'm not a Muslim, I'm a Zoroastrian. And then maybe there'll be a conversation about what it is or depending on the depending on the group that you're with. I would say that my Zoroastrian identity is a very big part of my life. Although I never really talked about my Zoroastrian identity to my students, I never did I because I was teaching science, I wanted to sort of keep it professional. Some people on campus knew about it and I may have had some meaningful conversations with some people but very few very few. It depends on the group you're with. Since I’ve retired, 've also gotten involved with the interfaith group in Dallas. They always want, they always kept inviting us because we've got a beautiful interfaith chapel in downtown Dallas and there's a whole organization that goes along with it and we did participate quite a lot in the 90’s with that organization. Then changes happened there and we weren't invited very much and recently about five years ago so that group has been led by an Ismaili woman from India and so she is much more aware that you know Zoroastrians are different and she has made at a point to invite us and so we've gone and I've been working actually with them on some other things. You know like they do a festival of faiths and we've made sure that ok Navroze and they've organized this festival so I would on the our end say okay kids let's do something and so we made presentations there and we've had one year. It was the first day of spring break and everybody was happy to go, to this chapel and do the Navroze thing and set up the table and all that so we've we've we've done stuff like that and it has been sort of rewarding for me to be with people who know that I am I'm yes, I'm from Pakistan, but I'm from this other small group. So, I would say, but then I'm also part of this organization this American Association of University Women and I've been a member of that organization for years and I know some of them really well and I've served in various capacities on the board and all that but none of them are really interested in the religious aspect of my life. I don't think and so I haven't really had any meaningful conversation at all. So, their more of um, I mean I know that individually some of them are religious but they've never really asked me. I've sort of perhaps perhaps the best answer to that is that if people ask, I will tell them. You know it depends on whether you want the 5-minute elevator speech or you won the 20-minute elevator speech.

SM: What Zoroastrian principle or tradition has meant the most to you and why?

AS: You asked me for the archival objects. Uh this is the first archival object that I'm going to show you. It says Homage unto Ahura Mazda by Dhalla. You've probably heard of that. It’s my dad's book so he's got his name over here, but I'd like you to look at this. It says Homage unto Ahura Mazda, but look at this date. It's the first printing, it's the first printing, New York, 1941 and so it’s just a beautiful little book. The print it's 1941. It's the printing, the the paper the the the the font, the feel of the pages, is just so nice. I sort of grew up on this. My parents were big admirers of Dasturji Dhalla. In fact, my mom, she didn't want to give us usual names so our names were quite unusual. My sister's name was Nazneen. To date it is a common Zoroastrian name. Anahita is a common Zoroastrian name, but I was the only Anahita in Karachi in Mama school. And I was always mad because Miss Thompson always used to pronounce my name Anita [laughs]. Anyway, so my my first my sister's name is Nazneen, my second sister's name is Sarfaraz and Sarfaraz is very much a Muslim name. She gets mad at my mom now you know why did you name me, not only that, but it's apparently a male name so. You know when we born my mom asked Dasturji Dhalla for name choices and he was the one who gave a set of names and I don't know whether Nazneen was and of course there's the whole rassi thing. My mom chose our names from what he suggested. No from the list that he gave so uh so so I kind of soon after I I don't know it at what point in my life but ever since I was in the ninth, tenth grade I guess I have sort of read this prayer was always an important part of um, my home. My mom never left home without doing lobaan in the house you know and I do lobaan now, but only once a week. One of my very happy memories of, my oldest sisters were not too much into individual prayer. But I mean doing your Kusti was more than enough but I liked to sit and pray. My dad used to pray but not as regularly as my mom did and we didn't go to Agyari a lot. We didn't do Behram Roj and you know Dae Mahino, we didn't do all that, but uh they did do individual prayer and in fact I remember, yes it was maybe, when I was in matric, somebody was cleaning out a closet and there are all these prayers books that had the Avesta and the Gujarati translation and an English translation in three columns. And it was like okay these books you want them? Yeah, okay and I took it and somehow, I got into understanding the meaning of the prayers. But I couldn't read, I knew how to read Gujarati a little bit but not a lot. One day my mom we were in the Agyari, in the Saddar Agyari, and my mom said okay uh we let's sit down together and she sort of walked me through Atash Niyayesh because all the prayer books used to be in in Gujarati at that time and I didn't get my first English prayer book as such until I was maybe 15, 16 years old. It was sixteen I was I distinctly remember my, I had seen this English Khordeh Avesta book and I had a friend whose dad was used to sell the um sukkar and all that in the in the Saddar Agyari and I remember meeting her uh for the Humbandagi prayers and she said maybe I'd asked her or something, somehow, I knew that there was a book for sale or a few books sale in the Saddar Agyari. And I told my dad let's go there and let's buy it and so we bought that book. It wasn't freely available. It wasn't like as available as it is now and that. And it was it was 1966 because I remember my grandmother grandmother had just died. Prayer has sort of been an important part of my life and reading the prayers, reading the translation of the prayers becoming aware of what the Gathas are.

AS: All that has played an important part of my life. You sort of, I think we lived Zoroastrianism before we really understood the theology and the theory of it. That we did have religious classes at Mama school but the, when you were in eighth, ninth, tenth grade, you went to this religious class which uh Godrej Sidhwa used to do and there was that Zoroastrian catechism book and you learned questions 1 through 19. By then when I was in matric, I was fifteen years old. I I think I needed much more than what I was getting from there. And so over the course of my life I have, you know, learned to pick up and it's only now that after having formed ZANT and having to give a talk to multifaith groups and all that, that we've really sort of learned more about it and then after we formed ZANT, we always used to have somebody or the other coming I know Dasturji Kotwal, the high priest has come. We've heard him at least twice. Khojeste Mistree has come at least twice. We've had other lesser scholars, whatever, we've always been open to. My personal philosophy has been that anyone who has anything to say, I'm going to hear them. Okay I'm not not necessarily follow them. But I'm going to hear them so I have been very open to hearing whatever everybody has to say and the best thing that has come out of the pandemic is the fact that now we can listen to Zoom all over the world you know. And the North American Mobed Council thing happens twice a month. For years I have tried in ZANT [laughs]. I have got this okay, the children's religious group that has been going on. But then it's like okay as an adult, what am I doing for myself and what are the other adults doing for themselves? So so we've got this Vohu Manah group. Some people [laughs] have told me, you give all these big names and people get scared. They don't come [laughs]. But it's a religious discussion group for adults and I don't know exactly when we started. But we started before 2011 because we definitely had it going at people's houses before we had the center. We've tried to do these monthly meetings. We've walked through the Gathas, took us about 2 years. Not many people come and I'd be lucky if there are 10. I mean usually it's 5 [laughs], but anyway I feel that, you know that we as adults need to do something for our own enhancement, for the enhancement of our own knowledge base. We've been fortunate our priest has been very helpful and he also shares some of the desires that we have for engagement and so and he's also very knowledgeable about everything, Poras Bhalsara.

AS: Our center is in Flower Mound which is about a 20-minute drive from my house so that is convenient. Now our center has a prayer room. And our prayer room and I can show you some pictures. Our prayer room is you know that was one of the things that, one of the things that we decided early on is I was telling you we thought and talked and argued about 50 things before we put anything down on paper. It's not a small room. It's a nice sized room because we've noticed in other centers. The centers especially the centers that have been remodeled. You know there have been churches or whatever and they remodeled it. With the prayer rooms, always a little tiny room stuck somewhere and that's not what we wanted. We said if we're going to build it, let’s just build a good size prayer room. So, we've got a prayer room which looks very traditional. It's got a very nice goombut, goombut is the little room in which you put the Atash. We've got a big Afarganyu. The Afarganyu you came from Baruchm from an Agyari in Baruch and because Firdosh Mehta who is involved in many things over, I mean he was, he happened to be living in Dallas at that time and he made arrangements for us to receive this this Afarganyu from the Baruch Agyari because it was like that Agyari was either being shut down or this this particular Afargan was not in use, but it was a big good size Afargan. So we have that. We have a bell and everything. We have a beautiful picture of Zarathustra on one side and we have this graphic on the other side which is really very unusual and that is our prayer room. We don't have the bars on the goombut like everybody else has. We made a conscious effort. It was a design effort. I wasn't part of that decision but I was very glad and because of the lack of the bars, our prayer room looks, it's very dignified and it's very peaceful and very nice. And I'll tell you this little incident that the day we were opening. Well, we had 2 opening ceremonies. We had one week. We had the soft opening and in the second week we had the more social opening. So in the soft opening, we first had the Vandidad the night before. Then we had a large prayer in the Jashan in the morning and then in the evening we had a Jashan. It was a big Jashan. In the sense that there was like 7 priests, most of them happened to be, we were just lucky at that time we did have 7 priests in Dallas. One of them was Soli Dastur who came from Florida, and he had sort of helped Poras, you know with all the planning for the ceremony. And it was a big layout. The Iranis had said told us that you know, you know Parsis don't want to put too much stuff in the Jashan because kharab thai jase, that sort of a thing and it has to be eaten and the Iranis no, they want and they said we will do it. Do not put little fruit. You know we want big food. We want big kumcha full of nuts, etc, etc. We've done all that. And so, after the Jashan, the Afargan from the Jashan, the smaller Afargan from the Jashan, was carried into the prayer room and the ashes were transferred into the bigger Afargan. Now we didn't know how many people were going to show up. We were of course first time having this live fire, fire department all, we didn't know what was going to happen. Was a fire alarm going to go off, sprinklers come on you know. Also, number of people you know we have a limited capacity so we didn't know how everything worked. When the fire was walked into the main prayer room, the congregation then you know we all filed in. We thought it through. We said okay let everybody take off their shoes where they're sitting in the main hall because we do have another room for removing shoes. But we said no, there's no way everybody can be stuck there so walk barefoot into the prayer room. Everybody managed to fit in. And then we have these east-west windows, high windows that are east-west and it was a cloudy day and we were all afraid it was going to rain. And at five o'clock or so when the embers were transferred and they were praying Atash Niyayesh. The 7 priests were praying Atash Niyayesh around the fire, the clouds to seem to part and this this burst of sunlight from the west window just came and shone right onto the Afargan right onto the main Afargan. So I mean it's been so many years but I see yeah, yeah, yeah. So that to me was one of, now of course I realize I see it all the time because of the way our windows are positioned. It's not difficult for this for the sunlight to shine onto the Afargan but still you know the sun does uh does not travel in the same path so you know as far as the inclination uh that the seasons do do matter [laughs] whether the sun shine shines onto the Afargan or not. So uh yes, so we do have access to uh to a very nice prayer room. We we do have uh you know we do have a system where anybody where people if they you know we do have a key card access and things like that so people can go in whenever they want. The priest of course it's not our 24-hour fire, it's an Atash Dargah. We just use regular wood from wherever we get it to burn that fire. We you know you don't get sukkar anymore anyway, even in India so.

SM: How important is it for you to stand out or fit in particularly in relationship with your Zoroastrian South Asian identity in America?

AS: Well I don't know if it is important for me to stand out. I feel like I'm living my life. I am happy with what I've done. I hope that I can do some more. I feel comf, I'm at a point in my life where I am comfortable with who I am. Yes, I'm a woman. I have friends who kind of identify with the women's movement and all that. Those are my AUW friends, but then I'm also a Zoroastrian and yes I have the ZANT connection. Everybody who is in ZANT is not necessarily socially my best friend. You do recognize that just because their Zoroastrian, they're not necessarily, they do not necessarily share the same same social values. But then over the years we have through ZANT made friendships and you know who you feel most comfortable with emotionally and we have a group of friends, people who live the people we are closest to. It's a couple called Khurshed and Jamshed and they they live close to us. Uh well, that's just an accident I mean they they lived in Fort Worth and then when it was time for them to buy a house, they chose to buy a house in the same city. I have seen their children being born. I've seen their children grow up. They have 2 daughters; their children grow up. Now the children got married. Both the girls got married. They both have 2 kids of their own. So, I'm really into the you know second generation with this particular family and similarly we've got some other friends that we feel close to and especially you know used to be when you when ZANT was a group of 30 people. Everybody was invited to everything but now when you're a group of hundred plus people, you will you will gravitate to you know, not being invited everywhere. That's okay, you know that's okay. Especially some of your questions have started me thinking like, okay, what did I expect when I came here [laughs]. I don't know what I really thought about. I really don't know what I expected. I feel very grateful because especially in the interfaith movement, especially in the last couple of years since I've been actively participating in some of their events and learning about their faith, their faith and what the faith teaches you, and all that. I so often feel in my mind that hey we don't have that problem because you know when if you think of use your good mind. Okay, what is what is what are the principles of Zoroastrianism: use your good mind, choose the right path, follow the part of Asha, and if you do all those things then uh life will be, I mean leave the world a better place. I know these are just platitudes, but they're not. I mean you live that life and I honestly think that I uh I I try to do all those things in my daily life and I have no conflict as you know. Maybe some people, a lot of the Americans, they may not have a faith. I've known people who when the person dies, they say well no, nothing is necessary. You know, but shouldn't you, don't you believe in something bigger than yourself. No and so yeah, you let go of your interaction I mean you you let go of that question with that person. But inside me. I feel that my parents are looking after me, that prayer has meaning that prayer is, that there is some higher power listening to you and may not your prayer may not be answered in the way you wanted it to be but I have definitely found in my life that prayer is answered in a way that is beneficial to the bigger picture and you don't always know what the bigger picture may be. I mean one very personal thing I might share is I don't have children and yes, I prayed for children and I I still didn't get children. But through prayer, I learned to make peace with it and to me that is the benefit of prayer. And so I do some prayers regularly on Sundays, I mean Sundays simply because it's convenient and I do my divo and I do my lobaan and I do my this little prayer and. And then on special occasions. Yes, I will do divo lobaan and I will you know say at Atash Niyayesh, whatever whatever I want to pray. I follow the faith to the best of my ability.

SM: What would you like to convey to the following generations?

AS: I definitely definitely would like to convey them, very vehemently I would like to convey them, that you have this beautiful gift. You know you were you; you were born into this faith. Explore it. And I mean I've always told people that like teenagers you know you guys have spent more time learning calculus than you have learning you know reading the religion. So perfectly capable of of exploring more deeply and that is one of the things you know this book has now been reprinted recently by the Zoroastrian association I think of, by somebody, by WZO or somebody and the thing is this book has got like the Avesta, this is written Roman script uh in English script. It's got the Avesta and it's got the translation. Okay Dasturji Dhalla’s translation. In Karachi I know they reprinted the translations without the Avesta and I thought that was sad, that was a travesty because the Avesta words. I shouldn't say this is a translation. It is not a translation. It's a free translation. It's a sermon made by Dastujri Dhalla, based on that Avesta verse. Soli Dastur was uh quite a fan of this and he used to have it online so when I retired, I said one of the things I'm going to do, I have the Avesta verses with it and so I did like I have scanned this whole book and I do have it. And I did send it to Soli Dastur. I don't think he ever had a chance to put it online or something but now there is that other printed version available. So, one of the things I have to do is I have to let them know that I have a second volume of it also. So, the the message I want to convey, you have to search because unfortunately the translations that you read and the prayer books etc., they're they're not very meaningful or if it is meaningful, it's not very um something emotional something that connects you. It's not very inspiring. The word I was looking for was inspiring. The translations that you see in general are not very inspiring. And I think our generation and people like you who have a better grasp of the English language and of this generation, they have the ability to make more, to write more interesting, inspiring translations, and I think that's what we need. That the message is all there. We just have to dig it out and that's what is difficult and that's what turns people off. You know I mean even your simple parts of your Jasa-me Avanghe prayers or simple parts of your Hormozd Khodae prayer. You know there is a meaning there. You have to search for it. Unfortunately, it takes time and effort and devotion and I wish that the new generation would find it. Maybe it happens at a later point in your life, when you're in your thirty’s forty’s or later. Maybe not in your thirty’s forty’s because at that time you're concentrated on uh you know, setting up your career and all that. So, I I wish that that our next generation will choose to follow the faith and the faith will continue. I feel that the faith will continue because look we've been around for so long and we keep, I keep saying we're dying, but as long as. It may not be in the form and fashion that we're used to, but that's okay, that's okay, as long as the message continues.

SM: If you could put 3 things you own in a time capsule, what would they be?

AS: So I'll choose I show you five things I got okay because I've been thinking and thinking so one was this book because I think it was sort of an introduction. It connected me as a teenager to the faith and that has been like a goal that went on. Also just as an aside, I don't know if you've seen the book and Dr. Dhalla's autobiography. So Dastur Dhalla’s autobiography was written in Gujarati, but my uncle and aunt, you know the uncle and aunt who got married the same day as my parents and their kids and all that, same age as us, they were the ones who did the translation. That's just an aside. That's not one of the archival objects. Okay, so let me show you some other archival objects.

AS: This is just a picture and is just a little I mean you know you got 10,000 photographs, right? What do you, What do you put in a time capsule [laughs]. I don't know. But if I had to maybe I choose this one. This is a picture of Firoze and me in our ZANT center. Behind it you see this graphic, that is a lighted graphic. It's very, it's very unique to our center and it was designed by our priest and it’s got the 3 important prayers Ashem Vohu, Yatha Ahu Vairyo, and Yenghe Hatam. And then they've, it's got an Avesta script, same three prayers and an Avesta script written in a spiral with a little Farohar and a flame in the middle. So it's etched on this glass and It's it's really very nice, but this particular picture was taken last year when you know Covid, we were just all struggling with Covid and all that, and this is Firoze and me in front of the muktad table. We did two muktad still; we did have a live muktad although we zoomed it zoomed the prayers. And this is something that I do enjoy doing it. I had experienced the muktad for my grandmother with my mother in Karachi when I was a teenager and I sort of feel like I would like to continue the tradition. Personally I don't believe in the Shenshai calendar. I know the history enough to know that the Shenshai calendar is wrong, but because most of the community uses it, I look on it as an opportunity to get the community together, to have prayer in our heart and our lives and so if that’s when everyone wants to do it, that's fine. It doesn't matter. The Fravashis know. We have, we need to invite the Fravashis whether they come in October or March or June, it doesn't. August I shouldn't say October, August [laughs] but I I do my my parents actually use, my mother used the the Fasli calendar so I kind of do my own muktad at home. I mean nothing much, it’s just a vase with flowers and remembrance and so I in my prayers I I say Fasli roj this this, Shenshai roj this this you know I just do both.

AS: This is an ugly index card box, but it has all my, I have three feet of recipe books. But it's got all the recipe [laughs]. So I got all these, all these little recipes that work and you know it's got, It's splattered and it's like half, the half the recipe, what will the proportion be three times the recipe if you're cooking Dhansak for a Ghambar. What should the proportion use all that is in there. Uh we had did make a CD of ZANT memories when we opened so we had a CD you know when we opened, we had a CD of the actual opening ceremonies and all that so. However, you know I've never, after I did it I never opened it [laughs]. I’ve never seen it so I had to really search for them for you today. This is you know I haven't spoken about the astronomy part of me. I went, I was invited to Oxford University a few years ago, and I I told you that I've never really spoken about my religion professionally. But at that conference I did because the the topic was science and religion. And so I wanted to do something you know focusing on Zoroastrianism of course and so I wrote a paper and if you want, I'll send you the paper. And it's about the vernal equinox and how important it is and all that astronomically speaking. And I have this little doodad thing that I found when I was teaching and it really kind of shows you. It really shows you like what happens. This is the sun I don't know if you can see it. This is the sun. It's a little little cardboard device that students can hold and I've used it in ZANT also with my children, with the children and I keep saying okay, what happens you know, what really happens on the vernal equinox compared to the solstices and I sort of feel like okay, the equinox. You know instead of celebrating January 1st, we should all be celebrating March 21st because that's a day that belongs to everybody. It's not related to a calendar but it's related to the fact that the sun is at its, of course the same thing happens on September 21st but being spring in the Northern hemisphere and all that so that's that's my astronomy part and my, I'm being ethnocentric and astrocentric [laughs] by saying that should be a national holiday.

SM: How do you define home and so what is home for you?

AS: If you’d have asked me that question twenty years ago, I would have still said home is Pakistan, Karachi. You know we all tend to say when we're traveling to Pakistan, I'm going home, but I think in the last 10 years for sure I feel like home is Dallas, Texas. If not Dallas politically, home is this community. This community that that I feel I've had a part in creating it. Not the only one by any means. I mean there was there have been a lot of people who have gone to make this community, but this is where I feel comfortable and especially the personal friends. The closest friends I have are Zoroastrians and I’ve also come to the realization I mean especially when I was working that, after I retire, I was, I was amazed at how little contact you had with I was still working and other people had retired around me and there was so little contact. Here you saw this person every single day and then once they retired you saw them maybe once a year if that. And they didn't know as much about it and it’s just like you know who's going to come to my funeral [laughs], not them. It'll be the Parsis [laughs] hopefully [laughs].

SM: And so, is there anything else you'd like to share before we end?

AS: Well, no I'm very glad that you are doing this. I don't know that I told you much about the immigrant experience as such. I think I told you more about myself. Life has changed for sure in the last five years. Things didn't used to be this inflammatory and I don't even think that I was aware politically of the nature. I wasn't as aware politically five years ago as I am today you know. I mean although I've lived here. I mean I know Democrats, Republicans, Congress, Senate, I mean you know. We've read the newspaper all the time. I mean I still use, I still read a physical, my husband and I will like to read the physical newspaper and I won't throw it away until I look through it. So sometimes it finds out but I just hope that the world will be a better place. I don't know. I mean part of me thinks that sometimes we just have to go through certain difficulties to see the light and maybe that is what is happening right now. So, I am hopeful that good sense will prevail everywhere.

SM: Thank you, Anahita. It's been an honor to listen to your story. I'm just going to stop now.

Collection: Sharmeen Mehri Fellowship Project
Item History: 2022-06-10 (created); 2022-06-29 (modified)

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