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Kayhan, Teshtar, and Noshir Irani Oral History Interview

The interview was conducted as part of SAADA's ACFP 2021-2022. In this two part interview, the interviewees as a family shared their memories of moving to Queens, New York City from Mumbai, India forty or so years ago. They shared their memories of childhood and family life in Mumbai and Queens as well as their memories of growing up in the local Zoroastrian community of New York. They discussed their favorite parts of the Zoroastrian community as well as described certain concerns about orthodoxy and gender equality. The parents also described their move from Mumbai to Irani before the Iranian Revolution and then eventually migrated after to Queens with their two kids.

Childhood, Family, Immigration, Gender & Sexuality

Duration: 01:56:09

Date: March 22, 2022
Subject(s): Kayhan Irani, Teshtar Irani, Noshir Irani
Type: Oral History
Source: Archival Creators Fellowship Program
Creator: Sharmeen Mehri
Contributor: Kayhan Irani, Teshtar Irani, Noshir Irani
Location: Buffalo, NY

Transcribed by Sharmeen Mehri

Sharmeen Mehri: This is a two-part interview with the Irani family. The first part was recorded with Kayhan and Teshtar Irani on March 10th, 2022. And the second part was recorded with Kayhan, Noshir, and Teshtar in the beginning of April 2022. The second part starts at 34 minutes and 30 seconds.

Part 1:

SM: Today is March 10th, 2022. The time is 7:27pm EST. My name is Sharmeen Mehri and I'm interviewing Kayhan Irani and Teshtar Irani online from Buffalo, New York for the SAADA Archival Creators fellowship project about Zoroastrian South Asian migration to the United States. Um could you both please spell your full names?

Teshtar Irani: My first name is spelled TESHTAR. And the last name is Irani, IRANI.

Kayhan Irani: And I’m Kayhan, KAYHAN Irani, IRANI. My full name is Kayhandokht, KAYHANDOKHT.

SM: If comfortable sharing, could you both share your address or current location and how long you've lived there?

TI: I'm living in New York for the past 41 years. Uh I have moved residences. I stayed in one apartment for 20 years before I moved to this new place that I have now for the next 20 years [laughs]. We lived, we started out in a one-bedroom apartment with two children. And once they were gone to college, I had two-bedroom apartments [KI & TI laugh].

SM: And were you living in Manhattan, Queens?

TI: No, in Queens, in Queens.

KI: That’s where your, yeah, her current apartments still in Queens. Yeah, so same. I've been in New York for 41 years, and um grew up in Queens uh, on the border of Rego Park and Forest Hills. And I live in Jackson Heights, Queens now where technically I've lived for 12 years, but with one just last year and a half break, moving to Brooklyn, and we just a few months ago bought our apartment here. We'll be here for a really long time [laughs].

SM: If you both are comfortable sharing, could you tell us your birth date or age?

TI: I'm 70. I will be 74. And I'm born July 14, 1948.

KI: I'm 44. I'm 44, currently.

SM: I'd like to begin with getting to know a little bit about your past and background and you know, your home country. So where were you both born?


TI: I was born in Bombay.

KI: So was I.

SM: Using three nouns, how would you describe yourself?

KI: Noun, not adjectives.

SM: It can be adjectives too, whatever you're comfortable with.

TI: I'm quirky. I'm a Zoroastrian woman. And I like to, I'm silly, sometimes silly.

KI: [Laughs] I'm also a Zoroastrian woman. I am a mother. I'm a storyteller.

SM: So how do you define the key aspects of your identity? Or when you you know, introduce yourself, what kinds of identity do you present?

Well, that's an interesting question because it, it changes depending on who I'm meeting, or who I'm talking to. I don't always present every part of my identity to anyone. Like for example, my Zarathosti identity, even though it's very important to me, it may not be what I um divulge at all. Even from a first conversation, meeting someone, you know very much, especially in the US, because it's always like, well, this is the way I look, I can't can't be American. So it's always a question people have of where you're from, or what's your heritage? So Iranian and Indian is always there. But it you know; it changes it changes who I'm talking to. Sometimes I don't want to tell people about myself [laughs].

SM: And what about you Teshtar?

TI: I, this has never really come up as an issue you know. So, I just say who I am. And if people ask me, where are you from originally, I sometimes I'm very facetious, and say planet earth, and then they say, where's that? And then they say, I say, are you an alien? Psycho. But the issue of identity really hasn't come up when meeting people. Once in a while, they will ask me about my country of origin or something like that, but especially the religion part never really has come up. I’m a I'm a mixed bag of everything. Yes.

SM: Could you maybe describe your childhood home for us?

TI: Oh, what a lovely home I had. What a lovely home. I wish it was there.

SM: This is in Bombay?

TI: Yeah, in Bombay, and we had a very loving family life. My mom and dad were always full of fun. My mom was strict, not my dad so much, but because my dad traveled a lot, so when he came home, which was like my mom had the, we were neglected and she would go out with my dad. And that was our free time, but was a lovely home we had. Full of joy, love and a lot of caring.

SM: And where was this home located in Bombay?

TI: In Bombay? It just it was in Shapur Baugh, which is a Parsi colony. And so, we practically grew up with our neighbors like you must have grown up in the Parsi colony. And you knew everybody's neighbors, relations and relatives and everybody played together, are together. Not consciously I've not I've not thought of it consciously, but I'm sure your upbringing is a part of you, which is part of your identity.

SM: And could you maybe describe a little bit more so how many siblings did you have, how many?

TI: I have, I have two, I have two sisters and one brother. They're all in Bombay. My sisters are retired. My brother has retired. They all do different things. My sister works with the Lions Clubs a lot. While the sister, my younger sister tutors the kids or the Dadar Athornan Institute, the school for the mobed boys. She teaches she she volunteers and tutors them for their exam. My brother used to work in Air India, and now he's retired and he's enjoying looking after his little granddaughter.

SM: That's wonderful.

KI: Mom is the second eldest. She has one older sister and then one younger sister and the brother is a baby.

SM: And Kayhan what about you? Describe your childhood home for us?

KI: [Kayhan & Teshtar laugh] It was also full of love and actually um thinking about my mom's childhood growing up in, in a Parsi colony, where the neighbors are like family members, extended family members. I felt that very much also in our apartment building that my mom very much considered the other neighbors like our extended family. And she knew every single person on our floor, every almost everyone in the building [Teshtar laughs], um you know, they were like our extended family could go. If I was doing something wrong, someone else could scold me, it wasn't a problem. You know, children would come to our home mom was very active in the school. And you know, being a former teacher herself, you know, was in charge of all of our studies. We lived in a one-bedroom apartment. So my mum and dad slept on a sofa bed in the living room. And my brother and I shared the bedroom. And you know, it was very tight. But we had enough room. I didn't know that I didn't have certain things. You know, it wasn't about like, oh, I don't have this thing. You know, and very much learned how to just get along by ourselves because the parents were working all day. My dad worked in a hotel. Mom had various jobs until finally she landed in health care, doing claims research. But uh but they would be out early in the morning, and then come back, you know, not late at night, but normal time. My dad would come home a little earlier. So he would see to it that we are home and doing our work, at least playing outside, you know, safely um. But you know, my brother also raised me a lot. He would go pick me up from school, dropped me at school in the morning because he was my older brother, and he would watch out for me outside in the playground and so on. But we definitely self-organized with our friends. And there was a lot of freedom in that to just you know, for hours, be outside on your own. Doing whatever, no parents are gonna come and moderate or tell you how to play or what to do. You have to figure it out yourself. And if you had conflict, you had to deal with it yourself. And of course, you know very much they were there. But I felt, you know, my friends could come over and very much see my mom is a mom and I would go to a lot of my friends’ homes and see their moms as a second mom. So, there was a lot of like close-knit community.

SM: Do you both belong to any organization that represent your interest or community?

TI: Yes, I belong to ZAGNY. I take a very active part uh in all the. I used to teach the religious classes. I used to be on the board. I used to organize functions like the Navroze functions, and do all the volunteer work there. And for the past three years, I've also been a mobedyar and I pray at the Jashans and.

SM: So how long have you been part of ZAGNY for?

TI: I, for since I since I came so 42 years, I guess [laughs]. And that's another part of a big community because you make friends there and they are your they are like your family. You know, it's I always call it my ZAGNY family.

SM: And where the community center located?

TI: In Pomona. It's like in the boondocks, literally boondocks. There's no public transportation it’s horrible.

KI: Which isn't super far, but it is inconvenient for those of who need to take public transport.

TI: You have to take a bus and then you have to take a cab. And it becomes like a two three-hour thing you know. Oh yes, it is gorgeous, the new place you've been to the one in Pomona right? It’s beautiful, it's beautiful.

SM: And what about you Kayhan?

KI: Same I’m a member of ZAGNY. I haven't gone very frequently as an adult, unfortunately. And now because of COVID, you know, haven't been able to take my son there yet. But yeah, I grew up there, going every first Sunday of the month, to religious classes where, you know, not just taught the prayers, you're taught history of the various Iranian dynasties, Persian empires, history of the Zarathosti migration to India, taught prayers, and also then you're just around people of your culture, you know. It's very strange being well, one Americans, at least where we lived, even though Queens is quite diverse, couldn't identify me as Indian, you know. And, of course, we're a mixture. But um, this idea that I was Indian didn't fit was like an American image. And so it's nice to be in a place where you don't have to explain yourself and everyone they're speaking Gujrati and English and whatnot. And, uh you know, the the aunties and uncles are, again, very similar to your mother and father. And so, you know, you had kids that looked like you, who were all again, studying the same thing, and they're, you know, eating the same foods. And it was, it was, um you know, really, really lovely place. We had summer camps, and they were different functions. And at that time, it wasn't in Pomona, it was in a very small house. Yeah, New Rochelle. And so it was like this little house, and you can go in the rooms, and there were different things. And, you know, I always noticed how active, the aunties and uncles were like, you know, like, always, there were groups doing different things, groups of Auntie's cooking in the kitchen, and groups of aunties setting up the buffet tables, and getting everyone ready. Different aunties and uncles who would teach the different classes, who would be on the board, who would organize activities and fun. And, you know, it was just really, really close and loving. And to this day, you know, of course, maybe when you're a child, you don't appreciate it so much, you take it for granted. But now, you know, knowing that, that I had almost that that community that those experiences were almost like a buffer against some of the racism and some of the ways in which people made me feel I didn't belong, you know. And so I was a place I learned my history, I learned who I was, because it's not in the US curriculum. And so in a way that was a bit of an antidote to some of the ways in which this culture can strip your identity from you or kind of incentivize you to forget who you are and assimilate into whiteness. You know, I really appreciated that.

SM: I want to go back to Teshtar’s point. You were mobedyar. So how did that feel for you, to be?

TI: Oh, it is, it is the most joyous experience I've ever had.

SM: And when did you decide to become one?

TI: Many, many years ago. I when I first wanted to be, there was so much of no, no, no. And you know, every year we have the muktad ceremonies, and it would be held in homes. And I would hold it every year in my home and the second gatha because that's where mom's death anniversary. And one day I asked the Dasturji, come can I pray with you? And he said, yes. And he told me and I said, okay, tell me what you need to pray. And I prayed with him. And at the end of the prayers, he said to me, I will recognize you as a mobedyar. And then I learnt more and learnt more. And then now the North American Council has also recognized us as mobedyars. And for the past so many years, even before I was recognized as a mobedyar, I used to pray in my own home with the muktad and jashans and all that stuff. It's just, I cannot say I have, it’s I can't put it into words because it's just roused me up completely.

SM: And are there folks that disagree with you?

TI: Oh, yes, there are, but I don't pay any mind. That's all. It's all humbug. It's, it's for male fear, hypo junk male fear. I put it to male fear, because it is all their power. It's a power thing to the men. Men Dasturjis you know, and sometimes it's just like saying, and then you say, oh, because you haven't can be because if we didn't have a period, none of us would be born. So don't give me that BS. You know, that's a whole lot of BS to call it impure is stupid. I mean, it is a natural thing. And we know we don't pray when we have our period but that it's stupid to call it employer and bring it as an impediment. And actually, the religion in Iran, there are so many female mobedyars who do every single ceremony. They do a Navjote, they do a wedding. So I mean, if the Motherland can do it, I mean, what’s stopping them. You know, the NMC sorry to, but they are old farts there, you know, they're really old, these men are. So you have to chip away slowly. You can’t do it. You know you have to be very kind and cruel. To be kindly, cruel. It's all about doing the prayers with the joy that I feel.

KI: Mummy NAMC is North American Mobed Council?

TI: Yes, the North American Mobed Council. And they never recognized the female mobedyars till 2013 or 14 or something like that. And then to it with such your luck and even now they say, oh, yes, you are there. But we would prefer a male mobed. I mean, that is pure garbage to me, pure garbage.

SM: Teshtar, what first prompted you to come with your family to the United States?

TI: Oh, I never ever dreamt I’d come here. When I got married, I went to Iran and I lived in Iran for a good seven years, not seven years, three, and from 74 to 78. And, and I left because of the revolution.

KI: First of all, you got married, then you were living in Daddy's house, no?

TI: Not at all. I lived in my own house with my, your daddy. Your daddy and I lived together in as paying guests for three months. Yeah, in India, we were living near Bombay Central. So, from April to Sept., I got married in April. And from April to September, we served as paying guests in somebody's home in Bombay Central. And my husband kept working and I was working. And then in September 74, we moved to Iran.

SM: Why?

TI: Well, because all the Parsis were going and the person was doing it. And my husband was not feeling comfortable somehow or the other. He had answered all kinds of issues. So, we moved. And then he found a job and we live there.

KI: Mommy, what was that scheme that Iranian Iranian?

TI: There was, the Zoroastrians in Bombay had a scheme with the government under the Shah there, and they would actually promote the Zoroastrians from India and Pakistan to come to Iran. Because I've met many Pakistanis Zarathostis there too.

SM: And so how is the move for you from Bombay to Iran?

TI: It was a change. Yes, it was a change. Well I like different things. So I adapted very quickly, because I like quickly learnt the language too, because that to be out in the street to learn to talk. I didn't have a formal Farsi education, but on the job, as you say, on the street is your best teacher. And so I you plod on and then you move on. And then, of course, in 78, I had to come back because I couldn't live there with two children, couldn't go out. And my husband had his job there. So he kept working. And then one of our friends from America had gone to Iran to see my husband. And my husband had broached the topic of moving to the States at that time. So he started rolling, he had his own business. So he started to put in papers as if he was going to employ my husband. And so then the papers came through. So first, I said, you go first because I have two children. You know, we he was staying with a friend who was a bachelor. You can take two children into a bachelor’s apartments, and I was working and the babies were little. So I said, you go you settle. And then afterwards, I'll come and you have got a job and moving along, you know. It was not easy, because I spent nearly 13 hours at the airport because flights got canceled and stuff like that. But you do you did what you had to do. You know sometimes I don't think about these things. But when people ask these questions, I'm like, what did I do? I don't even remember. You focus on what you have to do. And you do the best that you can do. And you're not thinking about, what am I going to tell somebody about this. You know.

SM: And then when did you all, when did you come with the kids to the US?

TI: I came in April, 81. My husband had a had rented an apartment, the old apartment where we were living in a one bedroom. So, they had a home so at least, and I remember the second day, I took both the kids and walked around the neighborhood to see where the school was, to see what the neighborhood looked like. All very good because I enjoy new things I I'm I like different things. I don't like to be put in a box in any way. Then the next day after that, I took them to the subway and just let's go into Manhattan. We got off I think near 42nd Street. We walked and we saw and it was nice. And then we came back. And I remember my husband saying: “You did that, you did that to them?” I said, yeah. It's I mean, see you when you come from a city, you love to hop on a bus and a subway and a train. It's not. It's not like a shock to you to see traffic on the streets. I mean, you don't live in the boondocks, so that you're like having culture shock, you know? And then the language is not that difficult. I mean, there's no language barrier.

SM: Had you visited the United States?

TI: No, no, no, no, no, no.

SM: Did you have any expectations of what this place would look like?

TI: No, no. See, I I always say you should not have no expectations so that when you get something you're happy with what you can do. It's true because if then, you know you keep on burning that you didn't get this and you're didn’t get but you missed out on what you have. So it's it's lik,e at work I would say, okay I have no expectations of what to do. So show me what you can do. First, I used to teach in the school. First, I was a teacher because I was a teacher even in India.

SM: Okay, what classes did you teach?

TI: I did, I taught seventh and eighth. First, I started as a Montessori school teacher. Then I got ambitious and I went into junior high. Then I left because I saw somebody throw a teacher down the steps and, and that would put me off. So, then I started to work in health insurance and do all kinds of other work. So that was my work life. And I worked and I had to run the house and you know, do everything else that everybody does.

KI: Well, you worked. You worked in an advertising.

TI: I worked at a advertising agency for some time then. And finally, I landed up in health care, in health insurance.

KI: You worked at a veterinarian's office or Richard’s Lab?

TI: Yes. Richard Lab. Yup. I can’t, I don't how many jobs I've had, it's like.

KI: You and dad opened a business.

TI: I had my own business for a little while. We used to do tea cosies and all kinds of tea - for the luxury hotels. But that was like a sideline gig. But it paid a lot of bills, and enabled us to do a lot of stuff.

SM: And Kayhan, do you remember your first memories of coming to the US?

KI: No. My first memories really were at the preschool, of playing, that one of my earliest memories, of playing with a box of of fabrics and clothes, and in preschool, um with other kids. And I have other memories of preschool. But I remember coming here, you know. My mom tells me though, that I think when we were leaving, because, you know, after Iran, I was born in India, but I was only born there. And then after the kind of three months, my mom brought me back to Iran. And then I stayed there for about one and a half years or so and then came back then came back to India for another year. And then to the US, which I think mummy, when we you told me that in the airport, Jimmy Mama brought us was there and then I ran back from the gate to hug him. I didn't want to, I didn't want to go. So I can imagine it was pretty hard. You know, being around an extended family, I can see my son now. You know, he has my mother and his uncle. And if we had to go somewhere he didn't have you know, his, his extended family, it would be pretty hard. And that and that day, in those days, we were living all together. So I had my uncle and grandmother and mother and extended family right there. So, you know, to go from there to somewhere where we had no one, I'm sure was kind of scary. But I don't have so many direct memories of that. Well mummy, you have you have so many memories of Iran.

TI: I have plenty of memories

KI: Well, I guess because right now my Masi is sick. She's in the hospital and India, you know, and so it's been on my mind of like, oh, what to do what what to do if she really needs us to go there or to be there. But you know, at least now we can FaceTime, we can talk immediately, we can get the news within the second anything bad happens. But in those days, you know, we have to write those air mail letters. Yes, those blue air mail.

TI: Or talk to my mother on the phone once a month.

KI: Once a month? I mean, I feel like we only did like three times a year. There were birthdays and big holidays, you know.

TI: No, once a month, but only for 10 minutes [laughs].

KI: Very fast. I remember they were expensive calls. But what was it like for you? I mean, that gap in communication. I know even there was a huge communication gap, because of the Revolution in Iran and important news didn't get to you?

TI: Yeah, when my father died uh. It was the height of the Revolution, kind of and um. I never knew my father died till we went back home, in 78. It so happened that I landed home late at night, we landed late at night. And when we knocked on the door, and they were all right, they were surprised to see us because no one knew you're coming. And then I saw my mother had the divo near my father's picture. And I said dad dad is dead? And they said, did you get the telegram or? No, because because of that all that upheaval, there was no, there was a real gap. And I never knew till I went home. And I think these things have given me more practical perspective. You know, it hurts but you have to sort of deal with, each one deals with these things in their own way. It was upsetting and I couldn't sleep well. But then after three days, it was the 10th day of so I was able to attend the 10th day prayers and then the monthly prayers and everything so that was a good thing you know, but had I known it even later too. I've been, I think, a little bit more devastating, you know.

KI: And also so what else about those airmail letters? Do you remember any of those airmail letters that were particularly important? Or getting one or receiving one that was important for you?

TI: Not really. No.

SM: Do you have any with you?

TI: No, you'd never kept any of these things, right. You just read them and then you destroyed them unfortunately.

KI: Maybe dad has one. I don’t know.

TI: But I had, I did have, I was in Bombay, when Jehangir was born, and my father had sent a telegram to Noshir. And Noshir had kept the telegrams, telling him that he had, he had a baby boy. And last year, I gave those telegrams to Jehangir, to keep as a memento. You can't keep every bit of paper, you just keep what's really important, I guess, and that dad these rich telegrams stashed away somewhere among all this other stuff. And then just last year, I give them back to give them to Jehangir.

KI: He had a story also of, because, again, you know, my mom had, though they were living in Iran, when both of us were born, my mom had gone back to India to give birth to each of us. So, she could be with her family and with of course, the doctors that she knew, but my dad also has a story of being in Iran and trying, like begging the person at the telegram off because it was, I was born in 77. So, it was revolutionary times, you know, and there would be uprisings or things happening in different parts of the city and I guess he the telegraph office, whatever the you know, communications shop, whatever was closed and or they weren't letting people in. He was just begging them please, please, please, please let me come in please. Uh, I'm waiting for for news about my about a child, my wife is giving birth, you know, and he shared with me, finally she she let him come in and he got news that he got a girl and he said something very, like he, dad loves this Farsi saying, but I don't know the Farsi. I don't know the saying, but he's like, oh, I you know, like to thank her, he said, oh I’ll give you. He said, I give you the world or something like that. And she said, I give half of it back to you or something like that. But you can ask him, when you see him. It's very sweet. Very sweet thing.

SM: And so, Teshtar were there any concerns about moving to the US?

TI: No, I've never really had any concerns. No.

SM: And how emotional was it for you and your husband to leave your family and friends behind?

TI: It was but I guess you I just took it in my stride. You know, it's new beginning.

SM: Have have your family members been able to visit since then?

TI: Oh, yeah. My sisters use my house like I godown. They go, they leave their bags, and they are out.

KI: They didn't, they didn't visit when we were young.

TI: They came for your Navjote. My sister was.

KI [overlapping]: I know. But I was, it was only time I met my grandma.

TI: Because in those times, they did not have that much of money or the time. So grandma, and one of my and my eldest sister came for the Navjote. And then afterwards, they came twice. And now they come whenever they want to.

SM: And when was this Navjote? Do you remember which year was this?

TI: 84? 84, 84? Right. You have pictures of that.

SM: Kayhan, do you remember your Navjote?

SI: Yeah, I do. I do. I love my Navjote. You know, of course there I was very young. Because Because my guess my grandmother and one of my Masi’s were going to travel, they want to do both of our Navjotes together. So my brother was about nine, but I was seven. And but I was you know; I was I took it very seriously. I remember the prayers. I remember when one of the Dasturs in the in the class. I mean, it was everyone was learning their prayers, you know, not just me, but they taught you that the the Navjote is a time when your parents are no longer responsible for your good deeds or your bad deeds. That, you know, God would hold you accountable for what you did in the world. And I remember thinking, like, I remember that landing on me very deeply in my heart, but okay, like, you know. Now any lie I tell [laughs], any naughty thing that I do. God is gonna see me I don't have any escape [laughs]. I don’t have like a way out. Like, oh, the parents over there. So um, so I remember taking it very, very seriously. Like, this was a really big deal. This was a new ethical dimension to my life that I had to take seriously and consider, gave me a little seriousness, not that I was like, seriously as a child that was kind of crazy as a child,, but it gave me just another lens to consider. And I remember, you know, I, I don't really remember them telling us all the details about what would happen like the bath and the thing I remember that being a surprise that when we went into the, to the Agyari, that we had to go for a bath and all this stuff. I was like, oh, that's strange. And the interesting thing is that I guess I knew but I didn't realize, there was a caretaker and there was like an apartment in the house. So, there was a house and we had the rooms that we would have the different things in the kitchen and the dining hall, the sunroom, and these other rooms, but then there was an apartment where the caretaker and his family lived. And the the kind of ritual bath area was through the apartment. And we had to go up. And so, I remember being oh there is an apartment here. And there's this other secret part of the Darbe Mehr that I didn't get to see before. And, and we, we went up there, and we did the bath. And you know, I remember the processional, like when they brought brought us down from our bath, and we were prepared with our sudrehs and our topis, and our these beautiful shawls that my Masi and my um Nanima had brought from India. And, you know, Masi was carrying the ses and the kind of ritual items down.

TI: And Mani fui was there.

KI: Ah Mani fui was there. That's right, yeah. And so, I remember that, you know, kind of grand feeling, and it was a tiny Navjote, you know, it was maybe 30 people, not many. Wasn't like these big things today. I just remember feeling very grand, and very important. And, you know, there we were walking through and we the stage was, you know, we had a little stage and it was very beautiful. And I just remember being so focused on the prayers, and, you know, watching the Dasturjis as they were doing all the ritual movements, and then feeling really satisfied at the end, when, you know like, my first prayer, my first, kusti prayer was kind of accepted, you know, and yeah, I felt I felt really, really at peace really was a grounding, very beautiful day for me, I felt

TI: And she still, she still has her Navjote dress with her.

KI: I still have my Navjote dress. It's got some stains on it.

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

TI: To me, it is the equality and, and the principle of integrity. Because and even from the readings that I have done, the studies of the Gathas, and how the religion itself is talking of man and woman being equal. In fact, in fact, in the, in one of the books, they say that if the woman has really given her thought and mind to learning, she can become a mobed, not just the mobedyar. And I think that's where the Iranian tradition of the women mobedyars comes from. And it is the thought that you have to be responsible for who we are and what we do. And we have to do it in an honest way. That's why integrity is very important. You have to be able to sleep at night and face yourself.

KI: I think similarly, the, the way that I understood good thoughts, good words, good deeds, was not about being nice, and was not about like a surface level of just charity to keep ugly things at bay. It was very, very much the expectation of a deep engagement in the problems of the world. Yeah, that you would not, it's not about giving money to make things better or making yourself comfortable. And then taking on the problem, it was really about putting yourself in the center of, of important things, of of of troubling things. Because the the expectation is that we are put on earth to heal the earth, that we're here to heal humanity and the ways in which humanity might have been led astray by evil. And so maybe it's also my nature to kind of get in the middle things. But it is and also my mother raising me to not be afraid to really not stand on the sidelines to get in the middle of it. If you want something if you're interested in something to be fully, to fully embrace curiosity and fully embrace the unknown. So that has also helped me to really step in the middle of things that people think are absurdly hard or are terrifying for me or like well [laughs], I was close, you know, so why wouldn't you step in rather than step back?

TI: Our religion teaches us you have to engage in life, that is what it is, it's just living to the full, you have to engage.

Then I also want to maybe even talk a little bit more about the Parsi/Irani divide.

TI: It is there and I don't know why we don't see ourselves as Zarthostis and not just as Parsis and Iranis and you know when they say oh, the language is true, that language barriers are not to be really constructed. They have been constructed.

KI: Maybe some discrimination against dad right in the baugh. He was the you know Irani family.

TI: Yeah, they used to call him “Irun jungli” and you know, unfortunately, in those days, it was like accepted. There were very few Iranis who would even speak up for themselves and then when I showed up, that's what I used to hate it so what so jungli about the Irani that you have to bring this and you know, that with a typical, like a accent kind of a way of saying “Irun jungle.” I hated it, I hated it.

Part 2:

SM: Noshir, would you like to spell your name for us please, your full name.

Noshir Irani: NOSHIR

SM: And your last name as well.


SM: And if you're comfortable sharing, could you share your current location or address and how long you've lived there?

NI: 15060 Joval Avenue, Apartment 76B, Flushing, New York 11367.

SM: And if you're comfortable sharing, could you tell us your age and birth date please?

NI: Born on June the 1ST, 1941. When there were dinosaurs.

SM: [Laughs]. So first I'd like to begin with just you know, learning a little bit more about you. So, using three nouns, how would you describe yourself?

NI: So I think I'm a good father. And I haven't been that involved with my grandchildren. So, I could be a bad grandfather. I don't know. [All laugh]. Neutral ya okay. The neutral grandfather and I’ve been an honest grandfather and a caring one, yeah.

KI: Caring son. Caring brother. You care for all your siblings.

SN: How would you define key parts of your identity? Do you see yourself as Zarathusti, Iranian, Indian American?

NI: I would like to call myself more on the religious side that I believe in my tenants of religion. I try to follow as much as I can. I can’t be 100% but as much as I can follow. Whatever, trying to be honest, as honest can be and help my fellow religious other people who are less fortunate.

SM: So where were you born Noshir?

NI: Oh I was born in Bombay, India. Yeah.

TI: Pre-partition. was that pre-partition?

NI: Yeah, after the partition.

TI: Pre-partition. 41.

NI: 41. Yeah, yeah. It was pre-partition [all laugh].

TI: He’s a, he’s a dinosaur [laughs].

SM: So, could you describe your childhood home for us?

NI: We had [laughs]. It was a very, we had eight people or nine people living in two rooms. So, each one was supportive of the other. Each one fought for the other, stood for the other, that way. I was the youngest.

SM: Who are you living with?

NI: Oh with my mummy, grandmother, my uncle and their kids, my father and siblings, yeah on both sides. OrhI had a six including myself and three on the my uncle’s side. Plus, my uncle.

SM: And where was this apartment located? Was it in a Parsi colony?

NI: Yeah, in a Parsi colony, in Bombay. Shapur baugh on Lemington Road.

SM: What when you think of that neighborhood and the colony, what comes to mind? Any particular memories you'd like to share?

NI: We had a lot of fun. We were all close-knit friends, also. One would always fight for the other and people who are also in those times, very nice. People can be nasty, some were but basically, they were nice, like, nice thing when whenever we needed some financial help. So, they would uh say okay, we'll help you out with so and so. And sometimes some people as usual would uh, just take out their anger on us. That this is a bunch of people who are hooligans. Though we were loud mouth mouthed, but we were not hooligans [Kayhan laughs]. But them don’t bother them.

SM: Now, can you describe a little bit about your educational background in India and then what you did for a living?

NI: Yeah, I did my BS. I brought I was I got my, what do you call? What do you call SSE? High school diploma, from an orphanage, Parsi orphanage. And then in Puna, yeah, outside Bombay, and then did my BS in physics from Bombay University. And then never used my degree, work in the bank because I had to bring some money for the family. So, I worked really then 15, 20 years in the bank. And then when the chance came, I jumped on it and came to America, went to Iran. And from Iran, I came to America.

SM: And how was that experience going to Iran? When did you go?

NI: When the things opened some uh.

TI: In 1974. When did you go? In 1974.

NI: In 1974, somebody got a letter from the Iranian government that they would welcome Zoroastrian. So, a lot, a lot of bunch, of people went there. First year or so was tough. But that it was very good, mostly because I was jobless. And it was a tough call to go for 14 months with no money in the pocket.

SM: And did you know how to speak Farsi?

NI: No, I learned it, slowly. Because there was no other way to express or to talk, that I had to learn.

KI: Tell her the story about the job interview [laughs] because you needed to know Farsi for the job interview. Tell her that one.

NI: Okay. So, I was jobless. I supported myself in a very hard way. So later on, my wife came from India. And she was pregnant. And coming down the steps, she fell down, and she started bleeding. So, somebody learned about it. He never talked with me. But then seeing the occasion, he told me that there might be a vacancy in his office. Now, I never knew Farsi well. I had to give an interview in Farsi. So, he told the guy in his company ke just say, he's very good. And bah, bah, bah, whatever I talk that guy. - I said, yeah, yeah, yeah, you're good [laughs]. I talk all BS, but he said, yeah, yeah, I know him very well. And that's how I got the job, engineering company, dealing with petrochemicals, physics and mathematics. No, I could never finish what I wanted to finish. But then I got married, had kids to support some two hot headed kids [everyone laughs].

SM: Did you after Iran, did you go back to Bombay or from Iran, you went to the United States?

NI: No, from Iran I went to Bombay. And from Bombay, I came to America. Over here, I found it, found a job very fast. But again, getting up in a different culture, met other type of immigrants, who were tough on immigrants like us. But we've survived somehow. Our house was hardly three or four blocks from Tehran University, which was the hotbed. I sent away the my wife and my children that I couldn't take a risk. Something might happen. Airport, metros, I used to stay alone. So, one evening, there was a huge demonstration. And Anti what you call foreign demonstration.[Teshtar: anti-Shah]. No, it wasn't, yeah, anti-Shah, whatever you call it. So, I said, how many people can say, they saw a revolution. So I went on the road, and uh mixed with the crowd. That time I could speak the language and I had long hair and big moustache. So, I can disguise myself as an Iranian. But things became very, very hot. When people started shouting, anti-immigrants, kill those immigrants, and this and that. And that became little hairy. So, then I had to retreat back from the crowd, slowly, slowly, went back and went home. But I lived through the crowd. And I lived through the day and saw the revolution in real making.

TI: I thought, I thought that was a wonderful experience, because I love to do all this kind of stuff. So, for me, it was like I could have walked too, you know, but without the children. If there were no children, because I will not risk anything for my, I will not trust my children for anything. Because once because during the before the whole revolution really began, there were lots of skirmishes, you know, and when I was in the market, or near with both my children, and there was this big, huge crowd. And, you know, somebody literally helped me and said, said that to the Shah, to say that to the Shah, and survival of my children was more important than saying something, you know. So, I just said that I left everything that I bought on the street and just grabbed both my children and headed out as fast as I could. It actually had something helped to me, you know, like a, like a weapon. So, I mean, my children's lives are much more precious than anything else. Anything is at home. I came home and I could laugh about it, but not then but I mean, see I have this quirky habit of laughing and laughing of serious things sometimes. At the moment, you know, we have this instinct to flee or die, right? Automatically that instinct, right? You fight or flight. So automatically that kicks in when you have got things that are more important than yourself. Right? If I had a baby, I would have slapped the fellow and you know, if I was knowing me, I could have done anything. I don't know that. That's the instinct that comes in when you have got more important things than yourself. Yeah, I get that. Very few people get to undergo such an experience, right?

KI: Did she tell you about it [her experience during the revolution]?

TI: Yeah, the thing that I remembered most, was mostly the cultural part, not the prayer part. But you know, the way they ate, the way they dressed. Oh, I just love that food which we, I mean, you know, because of the Gujarati influence in India, we adapted all that, but that kind of food, the Irani food I love, and I mean, it was wonderful to eat that. And even the ceremonies, the wedding ceremonies are different, instead of the ses, they have this big tray, with a pair of scissors and threaded needle, and that green cone filled with sugar. And they have a picture, Zarathost Saheb there. So it's a whole different cultural or you saw a different part of Zoroastrianism you know, like from the root and these only cultural differences. So, I always say that all this division between Parsis and Iranis, it is all ethnic. This has nothing to do with religion. At heart, all of us are followers of Zarathustra. We are Zarathustis. This is ethnicity and ethnicity has nothing to do with your faith and it's been following the same faith. There are so many Zoroastrians now I know who are even Muslims in one way, from Muslim countries like Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, parts of Kurdistan.

SM: And so I mean, talking about the Parsi/Irani divide, Noshir or Kayhan, would you like to speak a little bit more on that subject as well? What do you think of the Parsi/Irani divide?

KI: Well, dad's mom only spoke really she only spoke Farsi, right Papa?

NI: Right. Yeah.

TI: Dari, not even Farsi.

NI: Dari, yeah, dialect of Farsi.

KI: Yeah, the Zarathostis speak Dari.

NI: Because they were from Yazd, area of Yazd. So somehow, she learned the language. Yeah, and somehow, she taught us. Slowly, slowly, we also learnt, not that fluently, but we could.

KI: Was there a time you -?

NI: Oh, my father came with my grandmother. But my, some of, some through connection, my they've got married, and called my mother from Iran to Bombay.

TI: Tell the story. His mother came on donkey, rode on a donkey from Yazd to Khorasan. And then Khorasan, she was entrusted to somebody, on a boat because she was only 14 or 13 or something like that. And then when she came, I was told by sisters, that she had to, she was with his grandmother all the time, till she matured. And only then was he allowed to sort of, you know, otherwise she was with his grandma. And his grandma taught her everything. I mean, just imagine a child of 14 or so coming in like that, and not an no mother, no father. And then coming alone with one person from Yazd, by, in a, sitting on a donkey, up to Khorasan and then taking a boat. I mean, it's a culture shock. It's also you can imagine a child, 14-year-old child feeling. And his grandma who had come to visit them, you know, later on. His grandmother said come to visit them for some time, [Noshir: for some time].

SM: Noshir, do you belong to any organization that represents your interests or your community in New York City?

NI: Yeah, I am a member of the ZAGNY, Zoroastrian yeah.

SM: Okay, and what are your favorite things about your community? [Everyone laughs]

TI: He has no favorite. He does not attend.

NI: I don't know attend.

TI: No-participating, non-participating members?

KI: It’s okay. So what do you like about it? I mean, I know there's a lot you don't like, but,

NI: No, but I, good things, uh do it.

KI: What do you appreciate? What do you appreciate or enjoy or?

NI: Yeah, because they all stand together, help each other in times of trouble. They help the community also. So, in that area, and all that thing. No, like they are good people, I must say. And yeah, I like it, though I may not be attending all the meetings. But on the whole, I have a good impression of that kind of association.

TI: The critique is sometimes, we are very insular we do if we see new people come, you know, people don't welcome very easily. They sort of hold back and then you know, some people, some people have come up to me and said that, you know, we feel so left out, you don't feel that coming again. And when I was on the board of ZAGNY and said, you know, we must have a welcoming committee that when new people come at least say, hello, call them over, you know, help them assimilate, meet other people so that they can find like-minded friends later on, you know, but then I was like, I was asked well, what are you, the social director or something like that, you know [laughs]. Oh, no, they call me Miss Congeniality, our social director or something like that. But yeah, but I mean, it just gave me, it just came to the top. Because there are many people who do feel that way, you know, and then every time this helps pan out.

KI: Now it’s a, it’s a big association.

TI: If I sit with somebody else, my friends will say: “you never sat with us.” I'm like, I'm allowed to sit with other people. And you know, it's a big thing, it's a big thing. And even when the Iranis come to for a joint function, they always like sit on one side. So, when I sit with some of the Iranis, my friends say: “but what do you talk to them about?” I said, “just like I talk to you, I talk to them.” You show interest, people will talk, right? That hesitancy is differences in culture. And that has got, that's the least [in Gujrati] “alkonu bhohnu evo, alkonu bhohnu” [their food is like this or that]. Their bhohnu is excellent. If you don't have that palette for such good food, that's a bad problem.

SM: And what about you Noshir? what what things are wrong with the community that you think needs to change?

NI: One thing I don't like, there is a Parsi association and a Irani association. It’s one religion, we came from the area of Pars, has to be one people. Somehow the both sides has to sit down, break some head and combine.

TI: We we do have joint Navroze functions. We do meet together, but somehow you always feel that divide, you know, somehow you always see the Irani sitting at one side and the and the Parsis from Bombay and Pakistan and sit on the other side. So, I mean, it's, it's not the dumb thing normally, you know what I mean?

NI: I don’t like it because.

TI: But then, they also feel that divide sometimes. That oh people don't talk to us, you know, it's a mutual thing. The thing is to go out and say hello. Like, I know so many people, because I go up to them, say, hello, how are you? You know, I've met so many Iranis that way. And then they talk to me and I get to know them.

SM: And Kayhan, what about you as part of the younger generation? How has it been for you in terms of meeting with Parsis and Iranis alike?

KI: No, no, I think, well, it was interesting, because I guess when I was raised in the, in the community, I didn't, even though, I didn't realize this um, this fracture between Irani and Parsi until much later, because for me, it was always a Parsi identity. I didn't realize and I guess, because in fact, in the religious classes, part of the, part of the kind of curriculum that young people go through between, you know, K through 12 equivalent is, is learning about the history of the Persian Empire and learning about the the downfall of the Persian Empire, the institution of Islam, and the migration and diaspora of Iran is to India. So, I always saw that as a very core part of who I was, I mean, of course, being in America, right? I know, I'm, I'm American, but quote, unquote, most Americans don't see me as American. So, I saw you know, what I learned as who I was, was this you know, so, it never felt like different. It was only till when I was in my 20s really understanding the history of the migration from Iran to India, and then the history of Parsis within India, how they had to form their identity, to relate to Hindu majority, to relate to a caste system, Then, of course, to relate to and take advantage over fit into a colonial system. That's when these things started to become hardened, and um kind of form into class structure. So, the, of course then the well-established parties who had money and who had influenced, didn't want to say, oh, this is my aunt, the illiterate [laughs] auntie who came, you know, who can't read or write, you know? So not that they didn't take care of the community, of course, you know the trusts provided for, you know, things like the, my dad's education they provided for housing and other things, but um socially, in terms of being a cohesive community, no, there were these cultural and class divides that I learned about in my 20s. You know, and then, of course, and then I learned later on about Iranians Zarathoshtis because my understanding was like, oh, there were no more in Iran, you know, because I assumed that major diaspora happened. And then, of course, again, in my 20, learning about the Iranian Zarathoshtis who still exist. And then I didn't know until even my 20s that they even existed in New York, you know, it was that, it was that like, invisiblized to each other. And so um, it's, it's sad, you know, because I also don't, I didn't get to meet like young Iranians Zarathoshtis when I was younger was, only the Parsis, which, in my opinion, I guess the critique would be that it's very, like, um, you know, middle class suburban, assimilate to climb the ladder type mentality. And so, in a way, it's a little bit safe. It's a little bit conservative, though, you know, like, I would agree with my father, though, kind and stand up for each other, and absolutely would help you if you needed it. No, I would not doubt if one of us needed considerable help, you know, in any way financial or even, you know, someone physically coming here to look in on us and take care of us that that would happen, because we do that for others. You know, that's just something we do we, mummy goes and cooks and brings food to people who are ill, or were elderly, we go and visit with folks who maybe can't get out as much. I mean, there's --- you can do to the entire community, but you do it for those, you know, and have a relationship with um.

TI: Yes, on that point, I would say when I had COVID, my friend cooked, like for a whole month and sent for me. He sent food for me for a whole month, just in one shot. And I froze, and I will take out. Yes, that is true. We really go. And it's not just uh mouth, mouth sympathy, but actually doing in action, which is more important than saying, oh, how can I help you? Instead of saying, let me do what I can do.

KI: It’s everyday things you know, it's not like, some remarkable. It’s these everyday things that are actually hard to do. Because you have to make room in your routine to bring like weave someone else's life and care into your life. You know, for example, when we were um, the entire time I went to the Darbe-Mehr every you know, first Sunday of the month, or any even um extracurricular activities. um We would have a friend, one of the friends would come pick us up in their car and drive us. And actually, it was very inconvenient because most of them lived on Long Island, then they'd have to come here. And then they'd have to go to New Rochelle. So, it was quite a bit of a detour. But never never never was there ever a: “will you split gas fee with me?” Never, never, ever was like, oh, it's kind of annoying. You meet us halfway. We'll take the train here. And we'll pick you up.

TI: And I'll tell you another story on this one because when I used to take them, I used to take them by train. And then we used to walk or take the bus and then go up. So, one, and then to go back home, I would always call a taxi to take me to the station because it was late in the evening after four. And one day this gentleman heard me call the taxi and he pulled the phone out of my hand and said: “no, no, no, I'm going to take home.” And I said no you can’t because I live in Queens. No no put to to phone late, put the phone down from my hand. And he said give me your address and from that day for nearly 16 or 17 years. So, for nearly 15 or 16 years, he came and and even when they had stopped going because I used to teach and he used to attend uh adult class there like an adult lecture, he would come and pick me up every single day, every single month he would come. Not a single.

KI: Every single, every month, every function, even for the summer, summer camp, everything.

TI: You you name it, this is. And to to this day, they are dear dear dear friends dear dear dear. You know, when people are old and they cannot cook and are not all depending on something else. I mean, just to go there and sit there for an hour or two and spend time. Yeah, yeah, so me too.

KI: Just very hard. The community is quite like suburban because it's like the professional suburban class of immigrants that came in, you know, on these professional visas after 1986. You know, or no 1969, sorry, after the 1969 immigration act.

SM: Can you share, Teshtar and Noshir particularly, how were your first days in the United States? I know Teshtar talked about this little bit. So Noshir, would you like to add about your first days in the US?

KI: You should share because you weren't here one whole year without us. You were here one year before we came, right?

TI: A couple of months, yeah. From November to April, he was without us. 1980. He came in November 1980 and we came in April 1981.

NI: Yeah, because sometime I stayed with a friend. And uh he has somehow sponsored me. And found somehow, I was working for him. Then, he said, I don't have any more space for you. So, then I found a job in Manhattan, stayed with a friend for few months, and then rented a small space. Then my wife and children came. So, for some time, I was eating myself alone but survived. No friends, few friends here, Indian friends here and there, but not a constant friend. Yeah, but.

KI: What was it like, you arrived on Thanksgiving Day? Right? What was that like? Did you?

NI: Yeah. It was funny. I arrived on Thanksgiving Day.

TI: Farrukh came to pick you, you know.

NI: Yeah, somebody came to pick me. Yeah, my friend who was with me, in the colony in Bombay. And the immigration officer shakes my hand. I said, what happened here? He said: “Oh, it’s a very auspicious day. It’s a Thanksgiving Day.” I said, okay, I'll take that. And I entered New York, somehow and uh made through. Stayed with my friend and then stayed alone with the help of a few Indian friends and I made it.

KI: What was it, what was it like getting a job because you had some funny stories about going for different job interviews, and even some hard job interviews where people would look at you?

NI: Not, at that time, the, my surname being Irani and the Iranian government had taken over the embassy, Iran hostage crisis. So, whenever I fill up the form, and my name came up, they wouldn't care much about giving me an interview. Just the basics. Nah your name is Irani so we'll let you know. So, after one or two interview, I figured out, ke my last name is causing the problem. That's all. But I said, no, I'm not going to change my last name. No, that's, that's the last thing I will do. So, and somehow, I found a small job, got on with it. And it was a tough job. But I did it. Then uh got a better job and a better job. And that's all I got in life.

KI: What was your first job?

NI: It was working in a factory, making tablecloths, and uh kitchen gloves and all those things.

KI: But daddy, so tell her because he said, you know, he said in the interview, I didn't change my name. But why did you say I didn't change my name?

NI: Because I loved my name, because I'll be.

KI: Of course, good. But why would it even be an option?

TI: Because many Iranis did change their last name.

NI: Yeah, but it’s okay. If that is easy for you, take the easy way, but.

TI: I think it’s a cop out.

NI: But that would become an insult to my parents, in my mind.

TI: Do you know that when my son uh wanted to, when my son was in the Air Force, I said, don't ever change your last name. Because if you do, I will disown you. That's what I told Jehangir.

NI: No, but, no, actually, at one stage is a commander in chief, yeah, head of the base, this is the commander. He was very impressed with my son. He called him and he says Jehangir your last name will stop you from going very, very high. He said it's alright. If somebody has a problem with my last name, that's his problem. Not my problem. My name will stay the same. And he did it. And people welcomed him more. But then he got his ground.

KI: Yeah, but he didn't get promoted.

TI: Okay, he came up to me that he wanted to go. Then he wanted to quit.

KI: But, can you believe that the commander actually told them, you know, like, in order to basically move ahead.

TI: Well, my, one of my supervisors told me you see this, because of this, you're not going far.

KI: In which, in which job? Pointing to her skin.

TI: Skin, color of the skin, yeah. And she herself was black, my supervisor was black. And she herself said, you know, because of this, at the BlueCross BlueShield. She said, you know, we are not going far, and you're not going. And and I said maybe to you, but not to me. You know, everybody has their mindsets, right. And some people internalize that, oh, I won't go far because of this. And then you internalize, and you perpetuate that thing, it keeps on perpetuating. But if you say, what, and then when I moved on, and then at United Healthcare, I got such a good job and moved on. I mean, it's not because of the color of your skin, it's what you're up in your head, right? But you have to have that mindset that you're not going to let that affect you.

SM: Noshir, what was your expectations of coming to America? Did you hope for particular things, what it would do for you?

NI: No, no, I just came that at least my kids will have a better life than what I had. That was the intention. That, okay, I'm about 30 years old. And in 20 years, their life will be better than my life, at least. Other problems also in India, with my family, and my, because I had a lousy mouth. I thought that, at that time some political party was coming up in India, and I used to curse them [laughs]. And they were prominent in my area. So, I thought one day, they will get me. So, with that, and the things at home. For me, something opened, and I jumped up. I said, no, I'm going. So, I just took the risk and came to America.

SM: And how emotional was it for you to leave your family and friends behind?

NI: [Laughs] it is tough, but I had to swallow it. I didn't like it. But it's okay. Telephone letters, everything. Yeah. Yeah.

KI: But we didn't speak that frequently. I mean, what maybe a few times a year?

TI: Once a year, twice a year because phones were expensive. And then you had to do it late at night. And you know, things like that. So, it was like, and that too very brief like for five minutes. Yeah.

KI: I remember you have to call the kind of you have to call the international operators. And yeah, because you couldn't call directly internationally from your phone. Even their home phone at those times, you had to call the operator and then the operator would have to connect you to the international wire or whatever. And so, I remember him yelling being like: “011, country code 91, city code 23555.” [All laugh].

SM: Was there an experience that made you feel that you had arrived in the US?

TI: Not me. I didn't feel anything.

NI: No, but when Kayhan went to the school that she wanted and Jehangir went to the Air Force school. I said it's okay, now, it's alright. Now I can breathe easy that they got their way and they will do it. Like I broke my ass. They will also do it. [Kayhan laughs]. They’re my kids, they know.

SM: What was one of the most difficult changes to your lifestyle or your thinking that you had to make when you settle down here?

TI: I had no difficulty but I just came.

KI: Mummy, come on.

TI: No, no, I didn't really have any difficulty in that sense. My difficult, my thing was accepting the fact that the children are in a new, new environment. It's a new society. And so, you have to be a little bit more cognizant of what they will go through. You cannot keep on like even I know that my friends would keep on telling the children you know when you grow up, you must marry a Parsi, you must do this. I had no such expected because I said this is their life now and they have to make their own decisions. And sometimes it's hard because you have to just realize that yes, which was good for me but it is not good enough for my children. And another difficulty, another difficulty was like learning how to manipulate the work environment. You have to be. I'm very blunt. So, I spit out whatever comes first to my mind. So, I had to learn to temper myself. And sometimes people say, oh, yeah, you're, it's all about you. I said, no, it's not about me, and maybe a little bit more enthusiastic, but it's not about me. But you have to learn to maneuver the political structure at work in, for your survival. And then one day one of my uh directors came and said to me, tell us why don't you wear makeup? And I said, I'll take you right down to human resources, will it change your life? I asked him, if it changes your life, I will do it. But I will take you first to human resources. That's what I mean by saying that it just spit out like that. I said, how would it make a difference in your life was the first question I asked him. If I put on makeup, how would that change make a difference? Tell me. And secondly, I'll take you right now down to human resources. And he never thought I'd react like that. You know, people just think that because you look, you maybe you're not that oh because I've got this white skin now that people will be afraid of me if they're immigrants, or I have no fear of anybody because of their white skin. That's the last thing I would be afraid of, you know, but to say something like that, that why don't you wear make up at work? It is crossing the line. So, you have to learn how to manipulate and yet you have to hold your ground because if you're given once then they eat you up.

KI: Also, mom is like, five feet tall, always calls her cute, you know. Even my friends will say: oh, your mom is so cute. I think also that idea plus, being Asian, right? All these stereotypes. Oh, cute, small Asian woman. We can say whatever we want to her, you know.

TI: Yeah, I'm only five feet tall, But I've I'm a little bomb [laughs].

KI: A little lion [Kayhan & Teshtar laugh].

TI: Well, I don't notice it with anybody and and people have this wrong impression that I make everything about myself, which I don't I don't make anything about myself. I have no desire to. I know who I am. I don't need any affirmation from anybody. It's like to even think that oh, because I will be approved by somebody, I should do that. I have no desire. And as I got older, I couldn't care less. Je ne sais quoi: It's your problem not mine.

NI: No, there was nothing at work. Work was okay, like work. But I was more worried about the kids in the school and in the playground. Because both had a big mouth and a hot temper. And would bring something home. [Teshtar: Their mother, their mother is at fault.] Yeah. And Jehangir, like, wanted a motorcycle, bicycle, sorry. [Kayhan: like a dirt bike]. And we were not the richest people on the block. But somehow, I got him a brand-new motorcycle, that bicycle.

KI: And only like the most expensive like hottest latest dirtbike.

NI: On the third day on the playground, somebody threw him off the cycle and took it away. And he came home crying and.

TI: My mother was there, but my mother couldn’t do anything.

NI: I felt bad. So yeah, so I had to pacify ke ya ya Jehangir, I’ll do something. But I felt very bad. So now I couldn't get him another cycle. That's all. I felt bad. But somehow got it through.

SM: Can you think of any other occasions when you have felt you were treated unfairly because of your non-American origin?

NI: I look at New York as a miniature, bigger Bombay. Because too much more noise, too many people too many car. Same thing over here. But on a bigger scale. So it was okay. I could get along. And when I started working in a hotel, I met all types of immigrants. And each one understood the other side's problem. So, it was okay.

KI: I'm wondering also, because my mom actually finished, mom did a master's degree at Columbia in Education, right? And then she was working in a nursery and doing some other things. And then you briefly taught.

TI: I briefly taught and then I left. Yes, I left. [Kayhan: what was that experience like?]. Because that experience, because when I was teaching at the junior high school, I actually saw somebody push a teacher down the staircase. And that was like, no, no, I'm not going to continue. So, when the school year ended in June, I started to look for another job and I said to them, I'm not coming and so I started working in other jobs.

KI: But how was that because you left like your passion, you left a field that you studied, your whole life and you. You had to go to random jobs.

TI: But see, I just sort of go with the flow and.

KI: I know, but what was it like?

TI: I I cannot express. I didn’t feel any kind of uh. It was like.

KI: No, but tell me the feelings? You tell me you have no feelings?

TI: No, it’s not [laughs]. You see this as a co-conspirator, your co-conspirator uh. It's just that uh, it was okay. Let’s say it was pragmatic. It was a pragmatic decision. Because it could, then, you know, not only was that teacher thrown, but she broke her hip and she went became wheelchair bound. So, you know, the decision to do this was pragmatic more than anything else. And I had a dirty feeling in my mouth. I had a dirty taste of that in my mouth. And when I'm not happy with something, I, I sort of tried to turn it over to something that I will do. Never mind if it's not right up my alley, but I'll do it. That's how you do it. You know. Everything is not a production, everything is not a big, you know, sometimes life just gives you a hand and you just got to take it and make it better for you. That's all that is there. I look at it like that. Some people keep on moaning about their lives; oh, duh duh duh. The more you moan, the more disgusting and the more disgraceful you get, you know. You bring all that negativity more into your life. So, it's best to say, okay, it's happened. Now, what's the next thing that I can do something like that, because I cannot be negative for too long. Maybe for a little brief moment, and then something will pop up. And I'll just bounce back to whatever I need to do.

NI: No, many times you think, this way. But then all of a sudden, you said, no, no, no, it doesn't go with the society. Okay. So, change it, and then go in a different way, without too much thought about it. But again, you adjust yourself.

TI: And yes, when you're young, you’ve got to sort of fit in with society and you realize what a burden you're having on your back. [Noshir: And slowly slowly you think]. Especially, the younger women, I say to them, just forget, it just live your life.

KI: Any example Daddy of that? You had one idea, you have to change it and keep going?

NI: No, sometimes, the way I would behave in the hotel. And my immigrant fellows used to work with me. “Noshir, I know your mouth is big, and they all got a temper, just come down.” Five fingers are not equal. All the humans will not think the same way. So just go with the flow. Calm down, you said your idea thought. Okay, that is his thinking, his thinking is different. But go with it. So somehow I had to adjust to that thing and not start a fight with that guy.

KI: You know, it's too hard to say because it's very funny. So, one thing is that you know, as a Zarathushti, as a person of Parsi heritage, Irani heritage, you're completely invisible in America. You know, because no one looks at you and knows who you are, you know um. Even the, the narrative of the image in American mainstream of what an Indian looks like, it doesn't look like us, you know. It's like straight hair, little browner hair or you know. [Teshtar: accent]. Girl hello, [Kayhan & Teshtar laugh], but um, you know, so that image doesn't always land like, you know, so for example, growing up, people would think I was Italian, Latina, um Greek, Jewish, you know. It depends on the neighborhood, of course you live in. So that was like, our neighborhood is very Jewish. There was Latina, Puerto Ricans, of course, at that time in New York, I mean, everything. So, I didn't feel particularly marginalized or mistreated because I'm Parsi. But I felt that I'm not white, right, or that I'm um different than what the American ideal is. And um, and so that was that's challenging to just figure out. One is to just like to name it, because in those days, you didn't talk about racism a lot, or I mean, I don't even think the word came up, you you would have people be discriminated against, or you would have these other words, but I didn't even know like, what is exactly racism, you know, what does it mean, you know, how does it show up? How does it show up, even in between friends of different nationalities, you know, in different ethnicities? So, we, it was, it was a strange thing to, like, know, and experience is happening, but not have a name for it. And that's something I could not like, go home and talk to my parents about. One because they're busy. And they're living their life. And also, like, they're working really hard. I didn't want to, like trouble them with like, oh, this person did something mean to me and, you know, then they're feeling stressed, you know, the next day, what’s going on.

TI: I would’ve gone to school right away, the next day.

KI: What’s happening, you know? And again, you can't quite even identify what the mistreatment is about. You just have to kind of figure out how to survive within it and part of my survival was to yeah fight back. Um like my dad said, you know, his children had a lot of hot temper so I would get into a lot of fights [laughs]. [Teshtar: Physical fights physical.] Yeah, I got into a lot of physical fights.

TI: She fought for her girl uh for her friend’s uh jacket. You remember Sarah? In the mall?

KI: I didn't fight for her jacket.

TI: No to save her.

KI: Yes, I did. I did. Two guys actually robbed my friend and we were walking home from the mall. We had like, just nothing. We really had no money. So, we had nothing. And they and they jumped on Sarah. Yeah, they snatch the bags and they took them away and they rip them open. And um and I stood up to them and said their girls’ clothes why? You know you don't even want them? Why do you want them? And they were like give us your money and I was like I don't have any money you can check my pocket. We just spent the money and then they threw the clothes you know, they just kind of threw them on the street and we picked them up and went home. Of course, Sarah was so scared and like crying.

TI: Sarah still remembers it to this day.

KI: I was scared too, but more I was angry. You know. Um, so my, my response very much was the response of anger. Plus, my brother beat me up all the time. So, he taught me how to fight [Kayhan laughs].

TI: And it stands you in good stead. It stands you in good stead.

KI: In some ways, you know, you really got to let down the armor though. You have to know how to put it down.

TI: You can't be angry all the time.

NI: And that's what my mother always says to me. You can't be angry all the time.

TI: No, you can't because anger is a totally useless emotion. Totally useless. It has no place. If it is a productive angle. Production. But there's a lot of unproductive anger that she has and he has and everybody else has. I'm the least angry person in the family. [Kayhan: She is]. I have no anger. Because I just take the thing and turn it around, I have no anger at all. So, I know to deal with all anger. Tune it out and let it go.

SM: How has being in the United States affected your family life, um relationships with your parents, or family back home, developing relationship or raising children?

TI: It has strengthened our family ties. It has strengthened our family ties. Our family other than once my once my sisters could come, my mom could come. Everybody was able to know. And it it also brought them to know their cousins and their aunts and their uncle and everybody so they got to know.

KI: I didn't get to know anyone till I was like 16, when I first went back home.

TI: No, no, but no. But when you met Mani Fui during your Navjote time, grandma, Silo Masi. Then my youngest sister.

KI: They didn’t come frequently.

TI: No, they came just for the Navjote. But then when we went back later on.

KI: Mani Fui was the only one who came right.

TI: Because she used to have a job here, his sister. She was a nanny here. So, she would come over to our house every Friday evening. For a couple of years. Yeah. But it strengthened that bonds in many ways, you know.

KI: What do you feel about Papa?

NI: Having that far away from my mother, I felt ke yeah she really took pain to bring us up and I appreciated it more than what I was in Bombay.

KI: But it was also hard in some level not being there.

NI: Yeah, correct, but somehow, she made it through, I made it through.

KI: No, no, but I mean even because like their family issues that come up. You have to deal with from afar.

NI: Right, right, but I could do the maximum I can do and pray the rest to God then. Please do something good. And he was also or she was, the God was on our side.

TI: I have two sisters and one brother back home. He has one sister back home and one brother in Australia.

KI: The other sisters are deceased. Yeah, they were all there as well. Yeah, their whole life that was in Bombay too. And Mani Fui then Bombay and then Ahmedabad for the end of her life.

TI: The guy who sponsored him was living in Connecticut and his job was here in New York. And I told him anyway, I'm not going into any boondock town. I'm a city girl. I need concrete under my feet, smug in my lungs and I'm happy. I don't need trees and flowers for too long.

NI: She says she won't go to Buffalo.

TI: No. [Kayhan laughs]. Well let me tell you Sharmeen. Noshir was saying he wants a house way far out in the boondocks. I said go alone and come up with a home on the weekend. I don't mind at all. I'm not going anywhere. When my friends says why don’t you relocate and come to New Jersey, I say, New Jersey is good for one day after that I have to come home. I'm allergic to suburban life now.

SM: Since so much time has passed that you've been in the US, how has time changed your perspective of the United States and living here?

TI: I think the States have gone down a lot. Yes, life has deteriorated. Because there is a lot of inequality, maybe it was there always but it was not so blatant as it is today. And you can literally see the divide, you know, like, even when I go to the supermarket, I can truly see, yes, that more and more people are using food stamps, EBT card or the EBT card. And people are sort of juggling actually, what because I've seen people put something in their hand and put it back after they saw the price. And I've seen it. I mean, it's, and sometimes I also say to him, I mean, I went to the store that really bought nothing and $100 bill is gone. It's not that I cannot afford to but you know, I still put myself in a budget, but I can I can afford to do what I want to do. But there are many people who cannot afford because they just don't have the means. There are no jobs. Standard of living is hard. They have children that they have to look after. So nowadays, they look at I've seen this in the past year or so. I’ve been noticing it.

NI: And this political divide and the color divide, the skin divide has become a little bit further and further and further and you just come up, boiled up now. It was not, when we came a long time back, it was everybody used to get along. At least not I would say they used to kiss each other but they used to get along. Nowadays, they don't even get along well, that that I don't like.

TI: And there's a lot of mental health issues in the cities as I'm seeing, large homelessness, mental health, a lot of it, a lot of it. Not, not that there was no homelessness when we came, and over the years.

KI: I mean, New York city in the 80s.

TI: But this is, this is more pronounced because they are actually hurting other people, by pushing people on, the beating people on the streets, pushing people in the subway, which never used to occur very usually. Not to this level, not to the level.

KI: Is it being reported more or didn't happen as much?

TI: I think, what I don't know what but I mean, I never say now I you know, I used to stand on the edge of the subway to look at look for the train, I don't stand any more. I stand behind the yellow line, you know, and I wait for the train to come in. Because you never know who's going to flip for whatever reason. And the people have I mean, the two years of COVID has done a lot of damage to people's minds to. That has affected people's physical health, mental health.

NI: And the political temperature is no good.

TI: And so much of it [Noshir: no good at all.] I mean, you can't laugh at some things, you can make a silly joke, sometimes. It's taken in the wrong way. So, it's like you have to be politically correct all the time. And it's like a burden on people.

NI: Somebody might slap you [laughs].

TI: It's like you can't it's like a burden, you know, to sort of not be able to crack a joke or laugh at something. [Kayhan: no mummy, it’s not a burden]. Because little things. No, no. I’m not talking racist, but sometimes things that slip out. Some things are taken in a different way by somebody. You don't know. I mean, you have to be like, but people have lost a lot of mental issue healthy and physically also known. That's something that's really the homelessness. The inequity, you know, inequality is really stark, very stark, which wasn't there before. Which is many different things. You can't just blame the government for everything. But you can blame the political divide on the inability to hear each other out. Or to come to a kind of compromise in some way or the other. And political lobbying also this money talks. Money talks and talks, you know, and who can influence somebody more with their pocketbook is really distressing.

NI: Instead of talking with each other, we are talking at each other. That's bad.

TI: Yeah, that's true.

SM: Now thinking about your Zoroastrian identity in the US. I wanted to ask what traditions or beliefs have you continued since migrating and how have some changed over the course, since you've been here?

TI: I, I celebrate all the festivals, Navroze festival. I celebrate my children's birthdays even on their roj birthday. Yeah, and I I cook traditional foods on certain times, you know.

KI: Actually, I think. I'm sorry, but you've also adopted more Irani stuff. Like we never made the haft seen until

TI: Till about 10 years ago. 10, 12 years ago, yeah.

KI: Even as a community, the ZAGNY, the Parsis never had the haft seen table in the Zoroastrian association. Now everyone is posting their pictures of their haft seen. And so in some ways they've adopted some of these customs more intentionally. Mom is a mobedyar so that's super different. That would have never happened in Bombay.

TI: I showed her the pictures. And you you sort of maintain certain traditions, right. But when the baby's birthdays come, I do this sagan. I did Kayhan’s bhesna, now a couple of months ago. When – learnt to sit, I did –‘s bhesna. So, I keep those little traditions alive because it's very good to have a continuity, you know, and maybe it will inspire them, maybe not. Not so blatantly but subconsciously they may want to keep up the traditions later on, you know. And then they have to make their own traditions too. Take what is given them, restructure it and make it theirs. You know, it's not mine.

NI: We have people after people in our house [Kayhan and Teshtar laugh]. What about Javed? What about Dilshad?

TI: Our our house is, our house is called the Irani Dharamsala. We have friends’ children come and stay for a year or two years. We have friends, friends come unbeknownst to us and come and stay with us.

KI: Since I was young they would, people were living in our house.

TI: And that was even, even when I had a one bedroom.

KI: Yeah, we had a one-bedroom apartment. They slept on the pullout bed, my brother and I shared the bedroom. But then we also had Kashmir living with us.

TI: We had a friend living with us for a year, doing a dental degree.

KI: Then other people would come and stay for a few months at a time [Teshtar laughs]. Now, this house, they have people coming.

TI: But, I had people from all different castes also come here. You know my friends, my friends from the Bombay would come and everybody would just it's that okay. My sister would have, yeah, go, she's there, she'll, she'll keep you. That's it, they’ll say she'll keep that’s it, nothing more [laughs].

SM: How do others approach you or perceive you when you mention that you’re a Zoroastrian?

It never came up. That question never came up. To you? Did it ever come to you? I don't see anything. I've never had anybody really outside the community ask me anything about my religion or faith. So, it never really.

KI: Most people, some people um, for me, a lot of people are interested, they don't know what it is. And they want to know what it is. You know, if my, the question of my faith comes up, yeah, people are just like, Oh, what's that? You know, even when I was young, I remember it, elders and other people, you know, would kind of be like. And then you know, not like, oh, that's strange. But like, oh, that's interesting. And then I would explain it. Actually, the only one person who annoyed me was a friend of mine, Frieda. Remember Frieda, Frieda’s father um. They were they were quote unquote, Russian. But that was when the Soviet Union was still in existence. So, they probably were it was Uzbek or Georgian Jews. And, and so he was familiar with, you know, Iran and, you know, Central Asia and Iranian kind of custom. So when I told him I was Zoroastrian, he's like, that's a pagan religion. I was like, no it’s not a pagan. And he was like, you’re a pagan. No, I’m not pagan! [Everyone laughs]. So yeah, so some people would know a little bit about it. Some people would know nothing and be interested. But never. It was never like, for example, you know, post-911, if you were Muslim, and you said you were Muslim, people would be like, get the hell out of my house or like, I don't want to touch you. You know, there was never that type of responses. Mostly neutral. Like I don't know what that is, or even like, a little bit interested.

SM: Do any of you imagining moving back to India or Iran?

TI: No, thank you. No, because I have no desire to live there anymore.

NI: I don't even have a house to live there.

TI: If you don't have a house, you cannot like there. I mean, I love my sister dearly but I cannot live with her 24/7, no.

NI: Plus, the environment is no good now. The health uh [Teshtar: for him, especially health wise]. The health system is not good. Lots of transportation. Yeah. [Kayhan: Pollution, overcrowding]. Pollution, overcrowding.

TI: And the political system, the political the politics is going downhill all the time. Like in same in Pakistan, right. I could not believe myself; it is all, it is just so frightening. You know, it's just so frightening what's happening in both the countries.

SM: And um I know that Noshir you recently went to India. So how was that experience for you, visiting back home?

NI: No, I go there to see my sisters, my friends. And then go with my old colleagues, visit some other part of India for 10, 15 days. Yeah, I always go to some new places. This time I could not because of the virus, they were also afraid, but next time surely, I will.

TI: Well all his friends as old as he is, so they have to be a little careful you cannot, you know.

SM: And so now this is a question for each of you, please take your time answering this um. If you could put three things you own in a time capsule, what would they be? These can be things that have been passed down to you in your migration journey or just things that are, you know, very meaningful to you. But what would those three things be and why?

TI: I would put my gara. I would put my mother and fathers’ wedding picture. And I would put a picture of us with my children as babies. The gara was handed down to me by my mother, and it came to her from her great grandmother. So, it's a very precious thing. In that sense, it's a family heirloom. It's just so evocative and it just brings out so much joy in me. It's just it's just something I cannot explain you. It's, it's, that picture just is so beautiful and just brings out the best that I can think of. And have had such beautiful parents. It's such joy. We used to have so much fun. This is my mama. This is my dad. This next to my dad is my bhapaji, next to my bhapaji is my kaka. No, next to my bhapaji is a very dear friend who was a doctor. This is my kaka at the very end. Here is my mother's mother. And my mother's father.

NI: And this is me and my mommy, when I was in school.

TI: What what are the three things that you would put in a time capsule if you had you had a chance to?

NI: Yeah, one. One is the day I decided to take up the thing that I will go to Iran.

TI: No, no what would you put in a time capsule? Oh, you will make a note of that.

NI: And the second one, the day I landed in New York

TI: Okay so the certificate that he has.

NI: Yeah, and the third thing, a picture of my family when they were young. Yeah, that way it reminds me. Bombay or in America anywhere, but just them to be with us that way.

KI: Um, what would I put? I would put my Navjote dress um because that has a story connected to it. And you know, came from India, my aunt and grandmother brought it with them. It was made there too, right. And little embroidery on it, little roses embroidered on it. Um and it just, you know, part of a very special, vivid day. I don't know maybe one of the photos of our Halloween party.

TI: That was our, that was our tradition. We had no birthday parties, but every Halloween, I would have a big party with all the kids’ friends coming and the house will be a real mess and fun. Everybody had a lot of fun. Actually, I should say my neighbor downstairs was old to go to the movies that they said go to the movies. I would pay you to do that because the kids because they down for Apple, you know we would play in the living room. So, she said okay, and then she said come up afterwards. I said that you could come up anytime you want. But you, I would actually pay her to go to the movies.

KI: Yeah, it was really simple. I mean, just simple time you know not anything big going on.

TI: And no fancy, shancy. Just just fun super, super simple. And yeah, all the kids would come dressed up in costumes.

KI: The parents not so much. Some of them did like Arden did. But um, but yeah, it wasn't even like, you know, we would buy those like plastic masks and things was just you know, but it just showed the whole neighborhood it shows you how diverse the neighborhood was, and you know, shows you everyone squished together.

TI: And it would either to be just like pizza and sandwiches and cookies and you know, all kinds of simple food.

KI: And then what as the third thing I would put in? I don't know. I might put in my dad's mom's Matha banu, the that scarf that you gave me Papa? Yeah, come on. Yeah, yeah. It represents Iran and represents Yazd. It's also very traditional in the striped kind of weave of purple and black. That's very Irani, very, I guess very Yazidi too. So it just, it represents those roots.

SM: And so what does home mean to you? And how do you define home?

TI: Home is where you can go anytime.

NI: Yeah. Which is always warm, always open, and always noisy, little bit. Yeah.

TI: Always messy. In the sense that there is no, not that there are no rules or rules, but they're very flexible. And home is where anyone can come in at any time. And not feel oh, can I come? Can I not come?

NI: Yeah, anyone is welcome. On my terms, this is my home, you won't get anything less. And you won't get anything more. But this is my home and be my guest.

TI: And it's a safe place. It's a safe place when anyone wants to feel safe. [Noshir: Yeah, it is a warm place]. This is your refuge. You can just feel comfortable. Say what you like, do what you like and just be be at ease with yourself. Because sometimes you just want to have a space for yourself. .

NI: That you can also have an argument with me. No problem with that.

TI: Oh brother, don't ever try that Sharmeen, you’ll get a headache.

KI: Yeah, same. I think home is, home is my parents’ home because I feel all those things in their home. I always feel loved, relaxed, like I can fight like I can [laughs]. Like I’ll be fed.

TI: At one point, she had no idea what home was. She would open the door and walk right out in no time. But now she knows what is home.

KI: It felt like home even when I was yeah, that's how I always felt like home was my mom's house because it was always a grounding place. A place I could just rest and land and no, no, no, I don't have to prove myself or anything. But um, but also, I feel like more expansively in the US and as I become a mother and as I become you know, I come from a home with two Parsi Irani Zarathoshti parents, right. I'm I'm leading a home that's only one Parsi Zarathoshti parent and a child who will also branch out from that. And so, a lot of the ways I'm feeling home is home with the the relationships you have, and the close the close relationships that you have in the love that you have with others. That will always make a home if you have people who know you and who see you and who open their door for you and who show you welcome. Who's who gives you a place to sit when you're sad or when you're tired. Then that's what you know, that's really what home means. If you have people around you who can do that.

SM: That's really beautiful. Thank you for sharing that. So, this is something I'm going to open up to all of you. What else would you want to share today about your story of your migration of you know, coming from Bombay, Iran to the US and then Kayhan for you just, you know, how have you grown up as a Zoroastrian in New York City? Also get on if you have questions for your parents that you'd like to ask that we haven't touched upon today.

TI: For me, I think I became more aware of my Zoroastrian identity as I got older, especially, you know. And I always wanted to be a mobedyar, even in Bombay. I remember when I was at my aunt's Jashan, and I was maybe 17. And I told the Dasturji: “hoon tamaari saathe bhesi ne bhanu?” and my aunts had a fit and they told my mother to take me home. And my mother said, no, you're not going, you're not you're going home, but she'll sit there. And I, I was so mad at my mother because my mother preached that we are all equal at home and in front of her aunts, she became like a pussycat. So, on the way home, I kept on arguing that how come we are and my mother was. And if you think I'm bold, my mother was, I’m like a pussycat compared to my mother. And she said, she said, “amna waat nai, amna waat nai.” And then slowly when we're coming home, she said, maybe after I’m dead and gone, you'll do that.

SM: And so then can I ask you what is your most favorite tradition or belief in Zoroastrianism?

TI: My belief is the joy of life that Zarathustra asked us to have. He said that there's, that to live a good life fully, you know, you have to participate in it mentally, socially, heartfully. And also, I feel that that I haven't, there is no fear of God in our religion. God, God is your ally. He's not something that's going to give you punishment all the time. Like how the Jewish faith says he's an angry God. The 10 commandments tell you that we have no such showing God as unmerciful, angry, vengeful. In fact, that is the most important thing that God is your ally. And we have to live our daily life in a joyful way. So that we make each day really count, if we have to, if we have to try. It's very hard to say. Our religion is very easy to mouth. It's very difficult to practice. You cannot be thinking good thoughts, words, deeds, and doing all that 24/7. If anybody said that, you have to be like, crazy, you can't do that. But so you, it's really like a way of life for us. It's not something that's imposed on you from some other like the pope saying, or somebody else saying. It is something that is taught to you like the faith tells you to do this daily. So, it's very hard to practice, but it is to be done joyfully. That is all I feel. That's why I don't like to have any negative feelings and thoughts. And then when I get them, I get very depressed. And then I realized, no, it's going to work in a negative way. So, it's better to turn it around to something better. It's very hard to do. It's very hard to do.

NI: Well, I I lost my father when I was four. So, I couldn't take how much he loved me or how much less loved me. So, I always used to do a little bit more for my kids. So that tomorrow they will say ke my father was not a bad father. I have that kind of complex set in me. That sometimes my wife would say ke how much do you want to pamper them? No, no, no, it's okay. It's alright. That way. And uh second thing, I would like to help all my Zoroastrian brothers if I can. So, when somebody came for any help, if I could, I surely would. And if it was beyond my reach, I would say ke no. No, I cannot. Same way today also, if I can do a little bit of charity here and there. Yeah, it's okay. And I used to do and what you call participated in an organization, give my time but that also I did it for few months. Just work free, volunteer, that way, that at least, I can sleep peacefully at night.

TI: Also you gainfully employ your time you know, when you volunteer you gainfully employed your time rather than just sit and do nothing. Like I used to work in the soup kitchen, and I used to enjoy that.

SM: What would you both like to convey to the following Zoroastrian generations in the United States?

TI: To live life fully, to live life fully with joy. And make it joyful for yourself and for your children. You can’t be joyful 24/7. Don't misread me. But you have to have some element and some element of fun too, you have to be naughty and fun. And do adventurous things. You know, you have to just.

NI: And also, do your religious in real life, not just by mouth. I used to this, I used to that. And when that time came, you went away. No. Do it what your religion tells you. Whatever you can do, do it. You may not do a whole mile, do a quarter of a mile. But do it. Live your religion.

KI: Dad had a cousin. You had two cousins, Aspi and Mehrwan, right? [Noshir: Yes.] They all they came to Florida, right? [Noshir: Yes.] Do they come before you?

Yes. Oh well before me.

KI: So why didn’t they sponsor you?

TI: Because dad was not in touch with them anymore.

NI: No, no. Aspi tried to sponsor. And it’s another whole long story.

KI: But then so what was your relationship with them? Because I didn't really know of them. You know, I saw Mani fui who came from India more than I would see Aspi or Mehrwan who were in Florida.

TI: Because we never kept in touch with them that much right. [Kayhan: why?]. Don't ask me why.

NI: That's a long story. Family long story.

KI: There’s no business, okay. But tell me this. How did you find out that Aspi changed his last name?

NI: No because again.

KI: How did you find out that he changed? Like when did it come up in conversation?

TI: Excuse me, one second, okay, Sharmeen.

KI: Did Aspi say, oh, by the way, Noshir, I changed my last name. I mean, how does how does he tell you? How did you find out?

NI: I found out when I met him, later in life that he had some incident. And to get away from that incident, he just changed one alphabet of his last name.

KI: He changed Irani to Arani, ARANI.

NI: Instead of IRANI.

KI: But so when did you learn to change that?

NI: When I met him in his son's wedding.

KI: Really? So, all this time he was living here?

TI: No, no. Before his son’s wedding. Mehrwan told him.

KI: How did when did Mehrwan tell him?

NI: Mehrwan was Irani on. Aspi changed it, that’s it.

KI: So you don't know exactly why.

NI: Exactly when he changed it, I don't know when.

KI: But why?

NI: Because he also faced some problem with his last name. [Kayhan: In Florida?] Yeah, yeah. So that's how he changed it.

KI: Oh okay. I was wondering. What am I, what was the question about beliefs? I mean, traditions, I love that I love Jashan, you know. Even though it's not something I can do personally, I love the the ritual of a Jashan, the gathering, you know, where you just come together, I love how it's also kind of formal, but informal. I love Jashans that you don't have to, like, sit still and stay there. People sometimes talk a little bit and, you know, things are going on around. It's not like 100% you need to be silent. And, you know, holier than holy, that it's that it is a chance to commune and be with spirit. But it's also an everyday thing. You know, the life goes on around the Jashan. And it is just something I really love. And I love like just the the everyday prayers that we say. And um no, I mean, just I, you know, I really honestly don't know the meanings of any of them. And I know, like in the last few decades, in ZAGNY, they changed them and they would have English translations and such, but I feel I mean, my feelings like I don't want to know the English translation um. Because number one, they can be number one, I don't know if the translations are very beautiful, right? They, they are a little clunky. And they also they also revert to a kind of Christian framing. So, like when they translate to English, the way they word it sounds like, the way the Bible would be worded, you know? And I just don't think that’s.

TI: No, no, some of the newer translations are much better.

KI: Okay, well, you know, it's still like, oh, thou and thy.

TI: No, no thou and thy. It’s you and you.

KI: Okay, but uh. And then a last thing, I just, I feel I like seeing it in the Avesta and not knowing what it is because it again, allows me a chance to commune personally without feeling like I'm making some proclamation, you know. I have to know exactly what I'm doing. I'm making this proclamation. So I kind of like it um. And I like it the Ashem Vohu and Yatha Ahu Vairyo prayers, because they're simple. They're one to do every, they’re ones you can do at any time. And they're meant for that, too, that they're kind of meant to armor, armor you. And um and I guess the belief that I love also similar, something similar to what my mom said, but that God is your ally, that there's no notion of, you know, like original, like I love, I never even knew that this notion of original sin existed till much later in my life. And I thought it's the most horrific, um the absolutely most horrific um idea in the world, like how could anyone form their identity and a whole religion upon the idea that you're bad and you're flawed as soon as you come into this earth and I really love that our religion teaches us that we are, um,one we're perfect, you know, not in the sense of like, ah, you know, cherubs and angels, but that you are, that everything that you need is within you. And that your mind is what will guide you to discern good from bad and will help you know, help you as a as a kind of. You know, the mind is what's connected to the holy. Mind is what's connected to the spirit and with your mind, you can discern and you have that ability to discern. And even if you make a mistake, you have the ability to change and transform. You know, I love that our religion doesn't teach about like burning in hell forever and being tortured because you made a mistake in your life. In fact, all you have to do to pass through to Heaven is have your good deeds, be a featherweight, more than your bad deeds, you know. Um, it's not like, oh, yeah, then I can go and sin and do awful things. But the idea is, [Teshtar laughs] that there is no idea of perfection that you should be like Jesus and Jesus somehow is perfect or some other figure, you know, absolutely angelic and that's something you can never achieve, but knowing that you're human, and when you use your mind and you apply it with consideration and deliberation and thoughtfully, you actually can do a lot of good but you can also transform those parts of you that are evil or that have done harm or that have not done the right thing. It's never you know well you either have to ask someone's forgiveness or just sit back and accept that you're flogging a piece of crap forever you know when there’s hope.

TI: You said a whole mouthful. [Kayhan laughs]. Exactly what I'm saying. You said a whole mouthful.

KI: I don’t know what that means. You should explain it to Sharmeen.

TI: I don't have to. I'm telling you, I'm not telling Sharmeen. Yes, we are a crazy family.

KI: This is your last time, before you die, forbade your sins. Tell Sharmeen

TI: We are a crazy family. Now that you have seen it for your own eyes. You have heard with thine eyes and seen with thy eyes. That we are a very crazy family. [Everyone laughs].

SM: This will then stop this interview. Thank you so much for sharing your story. [Everyone says bye].

Collection: Sharmeen Mehri Fellowship Project
Donor: Kayhan Irani, Teshtar Irani, Noshir Irani
Item History: 2022-06-10 (created); 2022-06-29 (modified)

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