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Zenobia Panthaki Oral History Interview

The interview was conducted as part of SAADA's ACFP 2021-2022. This interviewee discussed her early childhood and family life in New Delhi, India. She shared differences between the Parsi community in New Delhi and Mumbai. She also shares in detail her ancestral history since the British colonial rule in India. She described her migration experience of coming to Falls Church, Virginia in 1990s. She also described her husband's experience as a Zoroastrian priest in Virginia and their local Zoroastrian community life.

Childhood, Family, Migration, Memory & Remembrance, Reflections on America

Duration: 01:23:32

Date: January 10, 2022
Subject(s): Zenobia Panthaki
Type: Oral History
Source: Archival Creators Fellowship Program
Creator: Sharmeen Mehri
Contributor: Zenobia Panthaki
Location: Buffalo, NY

Transcribed by Sharmeen Mehri

Sharmeen Mehri: Today is February 18th, 2022. The time is 12:11 pm EST. My name is Sharmeen Mehri and I'm interviewing Zenobia Panthaki online from Buffalo, New York for the SAADA Archival Creators Fellowship Project about Zoroastrian South Asian migration to the United States. Zenobia hi.

Zenobia Panthaki: Hi

SM: Would you spell your name for us, please?

ZP: Yes, it's Zenobia is ZENOBIA and my last name is Panthaki which is P for peter ANTHAKI.

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

ZP: My current address is 2320 Highland Avenue, False Church, Virginia 22046 and we've been in this house since 1996.

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

ZP: Sure, I was born on the 1st of January, 1950 so that makes me 72 years old.

SM: Okay, thank you. So, we're going to begin with some questions about just your past, your background in your home country. Before we begin, we want to, you know, get to know you a little bit too, so using 3 nouns, how would you describe yourself?

ZP: Well, I would say that I am a Parsi. The second noun would be Delhi, I'm from Delhi and the third is that I am quite progressive in my outlook.

SM: So you were born in Delhi?

ZP: No, I was born in Ajmer actually at my grandmother's house. My mamaiji's house. My family was in Delhi.

SM: How do you define other parts of your identity along with your Parsi and Delhi roots? Are there any other parts that you'd like to share us share with us today?

ZP: Well, yes, the Delhi identity is a little different from the standard with my roots from Delhi. Delhi is a very government-oriented city and therefore it is multi-ethnic, multicultural, secular. You have foreigners, you have people from all over India who come to Delhi because of their government jobs. So as children, my brother and I grew up in a government colony where there wasn't a single Parsi family for miles around. And, neighbors were mostly Punjabis although we had South Indians and every other community too. But mostly South Punjabis. So that was one of the main identities that we carried. But on the other hand, we had a very strong Parsi identity because we have a good Parsi association there called the Delhi Parsi Anjuman and we used to go there for functions. They host functions for everything from Papeti and Navroze to Diwali and Christmas. Plus, it was a very active association so once a year they would do a variety entertainment show by the children mostly for Jamshedi-Navroze so our parents would take us there for rehearsals and we met Parsi kids. We played with them, and also being a small community, these friendships were 3 to 4 generations deep so apart from just being friends with the kids, the parents and grandparents were also friends. And apart from these rehearsals and functions, the association would put up a skit either Gujarati or English skit once a year. There were elocution contests and fancy-dress competitions, picnics to all the historical places that surround Delhi. So, there was a bit of education thrown in and also the Delhi Parsis were unique in that most of them were, well-educated affluent. Because they came there with government jobs or with the private sector, there wasn't really a need for anything like charity housing or charity. You see so people came to Delhi because they had a job in Delhi. That was the primary motivation for coming to Delhi. So, that led to our Parsi identity and then of course every summer we went home to our mamaij’s, our grandmother's house which was in Abu, where all the families on the street were Parsi and all of us were related so you would have anything from a dozen to twenty second cousins, but at home, my cousins my masis would arrive with their children from Bombay and other parts so you would have 5 or 6 cousins at home. So that was a beautiful summer that we spent in a very Parsi environment. To continue, this continued after marriage because I married an army officer and wherever we were posted again generally we were the only Parsi family and we were lucky if there would be another Pari officer or two in station. Sometimes we were posted to towns in India like Mao where there was a Parsi population and there you know the army families would meet with the local Parsi families. So, there was a mix of everything, but I would say that we never lived in a completely Parsi environment.

SM: where is Abu located?

ZP: Rajasthan.

SM: Can you describe in a little bit more detail your childhood home and how many family members lived at home with you?

ZP: Well, it was a small house. It was a government colony. It wasn't a standalone place. It was a house and actually we were a joint of what in America is called a multi-generational uh family. So apart from my parents, we had my grandparents and 2 of my fui, my father's sisters. They lived with us until they got married. One got married when I was eight years old, just after my Navjote. The other got married, she was much younger to my father and she actually got married when I was in second year college so she was like part fui, part elder sister. We shared a room and we were very very close. And and the neighbors we had were so fantastic that one time my neighbor, our neighbor of ours saw the lights on in our house at 11 o'clock in the night. Now we were known to be early birds. In the Master's household, the lights would go out by nine o'clock so they got concerned and this man came rushing to our place. He knocked on the door, didn't ring the bell. My father opened the door and he said, I hope everything's all right. Well actually, it wasn't my grandmother was having a mild heart attack and Daddy was getting ready to rush her to the hospital. This gentleman went home. He got dressed and accompanied my father, insisted on accompanying my father, stayed up with him all night in the hospital. They came back at four in the morning. Now this neighbor was a Sardar gentleman, but even otherwise the friendships were so deep that my parents would leave our housekeys with the neighbors. They would leave us as children. Their children would stay with us in turn and when one of our neighbor’s daughters got married her trousseau. We gave them a room to display her trousseau. This was a very Punjabi tradition in those days. It's not followed today where the trousseau was on display for the bharathi, the boy’s side to see. So, we lent them a room for a week or whatever it was and later when my father died young, it was these neighbors who came to my mother's rescue. For the first week or 10 days they insisted on cooking food and sending at home saying you'll be in no mood. We know your relatives will arrive. Don't bother at all so food would come from their homes to us. At one time, my father was allotted a bigger house in a sort of a more upscale colony and he refused to move. He said no I'm never going to leave these neighbors. I'm going to live here; I don't need a bigger house so it was a very safe and a very comfortable environment.

SM: Do you have any siblings?

ZP: Yes, I have a brother whose uh married and settled, I mean he married also a girl from the only Parsi family of Srinagar. He's now retired and settled in Puna with his wife so to some extent we are a very very North Indian family. But uh, one thing I forgot to mention was that, you know, living in this joint family also takes something. It's a different style of living and I must give credit to my father for, you know, keeping his parents, keeping his sister. There were no recriminations. And in fact, my parents always said we were everybody's children. It wasn't like we were their children. So, if I got a report card which said can do better or is careless, my mother would, my parents would make a fuss and say, no we are not signing it. But more than that, we were told, go and show it to your grandfather, go and show it to your aunts and everybody would say, oh my God. So, that gave us you know, sort of it egged us on to improve. Also come birthdays, come festivals, we got love and affection from six adults instead of two. So that it came with its territory, you know you have to, there’s a give and take in living in a joint family, and that also teaches you something in life.

SM: Could you maybe share some particular moments, you know, that you think about living together?

ZP: Well, it was I mean not anything in particular. I mean it was just life was routine. Our parents Would go out like when they went for a show a movie or a you know concert or something, we were left at home with my grandparents. There was never a need for a nanny. The neighbors were so good that if they caught you doing something wrong. They say okay wait I've just caught you, you know, climbing that tree or eating such and such, wait till your mother comes home, I'm going to complain. So, you know it's like what Hillary Clinton said you need a village to raise a child. Today unfortunately in society, there's a lot of selfishness and possessiveness. It's my child. It's not your child. It's everybody's child, and if you take, if you bring the child up to accept that. As a child, you know you accept corrections and scoldings from everyone, you grow up to be a better human being, even at work. It helps you; you don't become hypersensitive.

SM: I mean it's interesting that you're coming from this New Delhi background. It's pretty unique so have you ever visited Bombay? Is there been a strong connection with Bombay because it is more known for its Parsi identity? Or did you just dwell in your own Parsi community in Delhi.

ZP: No, we did. We did go to Bombay partly because my mother's younger sister was married in Bombay so we used to visit Bombay, but my father had a whole lot of cousins in Bombay. You see, my father's family was mostly from Shimla. As uh, my grandfather worked for army headquarters. In British days when government officers used to spend nine months up in Shimla and three months in Delhi during the winter, but apart from that his sister and brother-in-law ran a hotel in Shimla so there were a whole lot of cousins and they all went to this school over there called Bishop Cotton school. So, all the Parsis boys who came to that school, my grandparents and the other Parsi family would be their local guardians. So, Daddy had a whole lot of cousins in Bombay so we would go to visit or once in a while we would go for a wedding but it wasn't too frequent. I would say it would average out to once in 5 years and my mother had another sister who was in Bilimora which is just outside in Gujarat, a couple of hours away from Bombay. We did go to Bombay we were kind of acquainted with Bombay as children. We found it very different and very strange. We couldn't imagine that there were colonies where only Parsis lived or that there were shops that catered to Parsi needs or restaurants that served Parsi food. That was a bit strange for us in our childhood. Of course, later we got used to it but it was strange coming from Delhi.

SM: Could you just elaborate a little bit on what particular things, why it was strange for you?

ZP: Firstly, to see so many Parsis together living in a colony that was something which we found, in a way, strange. But I would say also to some extent enchanting because again it was a great support system. And, you know that that was strange but the other thing was Bombay was just different from Delhi in many respects. You know the distances like Bombay is sort of clustered in South Bombay so distances weren’t so big. Although my aunt lived in lived in what they call in Bombay cosmopolitan building called Heliopolis and Colaba, but um it was it was different and it was good. You know.

SM: Could you describe a little bit of your educational background, particularly in India and then after as well? And then, if you could also describe your current employment situation, what do you do?

00:12: 34
ZP: Yeah, well the thing is that as a child I mean I was admitted to the Convent of Jesus and Mary in 1954, that was soon after partition. So, the school literally had entry level. It had an English section and an Indian section which in today's world would not be acceptable. But if you were fluent and understood English, you were put in the English section, otherwise until you did you were in the Indian section. Now my grandfather drove me to school and being the paka British generation person. He spoke to mother superior and said that she understands, she's just not able to talk complete sentences, but she'll be talking within a week so I was put in the English section. And I wasn't a particularly nervous child so I was as soon as a nun entered the classroom probably the middle of the day or something I went and pulled her tassel and I said to her in Hindi, “gunta kab bajega?” “When will the bell ring?” and when can I go home? So promptly is she not knowing the background to this caught me and transferred me promptly to the Indian section. When my grandfather came to take me home, he was appalled to see his blue-budded Parsi granddaughter in the Indian section. So off he went promptly to mother superior again and I was back again in the English section. To cut a long story short, I graduated from that very school in 1965 but by 1959, my mother had started teaching at the school. I had a younger brother, he, when he began schooling, my mother also started teaching. Now his school was across from us. It was the brother’s school called Saint Columbus, the boys school. And in the middle, there was a church, but one thing I would like to say in context of what we see today everywhere and in the world around us was that we would have assembly where we would all say Christian prayers. We would liberally go through church all of us, meaning all the students of the school would go through church. Especially when we had an exam, “oh I've got an exam, I've got to say my prayers,” and this was with ninety percent of the students being Hindu. There wasn't a single person who objected. We said it with enthusiasm we went through church of our own free will and none of us for any less connected to our own faiths because of that. So that was that was a very harkening and a very enlightening I would say experience especially in retrospect. So, after I graduated from school, I went to a college in that university called Miranda House where I did my bachelor's degree, in Delhi University we have an honors degree, which is like halfway to a master’s. So, I did my BA honors with English literature. And after that I got my first and while I was in college, I was very fond of dramatics. So, I acted in a couple of plays including one in our brother’s college called Saint Stevens which at that time was a male bastion. Today, it's a co-educational institution and in fact, that's where my daughter went. After that I got my first job with IBM. I worked there for about 3 years and I resigned after I married my husband Behram and we had a little daughter. And because I decided I was going to be a full-time army wife and accompany him on his various postings. So invariably we were posted in the small one house, one horse towns. And in 1978, when he was posted in Firozpur, I decided to go back and work so the only job I got was as a schoolteacher. And then I continued working in various schools until I ran a school in North Bengal when he was posted there, in a town called Cooch Behar and I was lucky that I was able to convert that school into a central school. To do that, I had to fight some battles, meet some standards, but eventually that happened so that was very satisfying. And then 1984, Behram got posted to army headquarters in Delhi. And that's when I went back to a full-time job. So initially I got in on in the administrative stream. But within, I think three months, I was looking after their budget and their work program. And so, I was sent to Washington when they computerized the budget program. So, I was sent here for training and then later I came here to do a management development program. And finally, in 1994, I transferred to Washington. I had to apply it was a competitive process, you apply, and then you get have to get selected. So, I transferred here and why I did that I shall explain to you as we go through this interview.

ZP: So, the fallout was that soon after coming to Washington, the banks decided that you couldn't do budget work unless you had a degree in accounting which I didn't have. So, I fought that for a couple of years; I was in my approaching my fifties by then. But uh eventually I relented and I decided to do a course in financial management and accounting which is what the institution expected me to do so I went to college here from age 51 to 53 and finally got that degree. Funny part was that by then my children had grown and they were working and they would rip me and say mom are you working hard enough. What is your great point average? You know you really need to work a little hard and I hope you're not watching TV. So, it's been a long haul. It's sort of had I've had a very varied and a very challenging life. Sometimes it's really not been easy, other times it was a cakewalk. So, that's about sums up my education and my career and then of course I retired in 2012 and since then I'm working as a consultant at the bank.

SM: Do you belong to any organizations that represent these interests or other interests or part of you know the Zoroastrian community?

ZP: Well, yes over here we belong primarily to three major institutions. I would say one of course is ZAMWI, which is the Zoroastrian Association of Metropolitan Washington and that anchors us to our Zoroastrian roots. And more on that association after we move forward. But then we also belong to something called IVONA which is The Indian Veterans Association of North America so that comprises of Indian army, navy and air force officers retired from the Indian army who have settled in this area, began with a membership of like 5 to 10, but then word reached out and now the membership crosses a hundred which is a bit surprising. And uh the third association that I belong to is what is called the 1818 Society. 1818 8th Street is the address of the World Bank and this is a society of retirees so that keeps me in touch with my ex-colleagues and also the society looks after our interests like it makes sure that our pension fund is well invested, that our medical premiums and all are not, you know, shooting through the roof and also keeps in touch with the organization like, the President of the World Bank before changing policies, will consult the retiree association. We do a mentoring program for new staff who join so it keeps us in touch with our life at the World Bank so these are the 3 primary organizations.

SM: And could you just you know elaborate a little bit more on ZAMWI. Wow are you involved in that organization? What is the purpose of that organization in your perspective?

ZP: Well on ZAMWI we are involved in like two ways. Firstly, in the beginning when I came here in 94, it was just me and my son. My husband still hadn't UH taken his retirement or put in his papers. So uh, when we and my daughter was still finishing up her bachelor's degree. So, when we went to association functions, we met with people from the community. And what I noticed over a period, we've noticed over a period of time soon after we came was that 60% of the membership over here is Iranian Zoroastrians and about 40%, I would say is Parsi Zoroastrians from India and Pakistan. What we noticed was that it was not the same as being a member of an association back home. Here there were cultural differences that needed to be bridged. The religion may be same, but the culture is different. It's eventually what you hearken back to is your language, your food, the songs you sing, the life you've led so I won't say that there was a conflict, but it was difficult to reconcile those differences for a long time. But over a period of years and now we've been here for a while, what we've noticed is that there has been a a realization that we are not doing this for ourselves, we are doing this for the next generation. So, the children don't see themselves as Indian, Pakistani, Iranian, they them, they see themselves as Americans Zoroastrians. They speak English, they want American food, and that is why we have to curb this desire to look inward to ourselves and we have to be more all-encompassing and inclusive. It’s for the sake of the next generation and I think in ZAMWI that way fortunately, we have settled into this kind of a pattern. So that was one aspect of ZAMWI. The other one was they didn't have a priest here and so the first function or the first couple of functions that I attended in that I met Kersi in 1 of them I met Kersi Shroff who I think at that time was president. And he was very interested and excited when he heard that my husband would be coming and that he was a Navar Martab because he came from a priestly family. Earlier they used to have a couple of priests who would drive down 3 hours from New New Jersey to perform ceremonies and of course age catches up with you. You can do this up to a certain point, but it's not you can't do it forever. With the arrival of my husband that changed because he became their ex-official priest. Although he did this as honorary work because he had a full-time job which he got soon after coming here. He worked as a human resource director for 2 organizations successively and he did this. He performed his Navar, his priestly duties over the weekend. But after coming here there was a difference also because he got the time to read up and study the religion and he was also serving the Irani community so there had to be some differences in how he performed his job here compared to how he would have done this back home and he managed with those adjustments. Yeah.

SM: How did you support your husband in this role and how does this impact you as the wife in the family and just the family in general?

00:23: 46
ZP: Well, as I said you know I came from this uh very progressive community in Delhi where non-Parsis were always accepted as full-fledged members. That's a different story I shall come to that at some point. But we had a large number of people who were married out and initially they were associate members but my grandfather was very active on the board and he thought that was ridiculous because they could come to our center in Delhi and play billiards every day but they couldn't participate in a tournament. And he being a sportsman, he had played a cricket and ice hockey on ice with the army headquarters team. He said this was most unsportsmanlike and not fair so they were made and of course we had a very progressive board and a very progressive president who was an ex- ICS officer called Mr. Nargolwala so they changed the rules and they said non-Parsis will be full-fledged members. My children grew up in that atmosphere in Delhi so supporting him in his role was not a big deal. It was we were doing exactly what we would have done in Delhi. The only thing I would say supporting him, it's like any job, I mean like any honorary work that you do sometimes you have to make sacrifices. Like one time, my daughter was visiting for a weekend and just that day I think we had a dinner at home or it was her birthday, I can't remember but something was happening. And he couldn't attend because he had to do a funeral so you have to be ready. It comes with the territory you have to be ready to make those sacrifices. But fortunately, my children and I having come from an army background and having seen his frequent deployments, his sudden disappearances. We were used to that kind of life and so we were very supportive. It was always like do what you, what you have to do you have to do, don't worry about us carry on. So.

SM: I know that in another previous conversation we talked about, you'd also mention that you'd visited Iran and that you've become a lot more interested in these Iranian connection and history to do with Zoroastrianism.

ZP: Sorry before I proceed with that um Behram also had to make some changes, you see, to serve the Irani community. He was willing to make changes and their customs are as I said different from us. Like their priest stands and prays. Their pronunciations are different and he went all out to try and say those words in their, with their pronunciations when he was praying with them. They don't do their enough Navjotes until they are almost in their teens and in one case, the Navjote was done just one day before the wedding. He was perfectly comfortable with all of that because we believe that this is custom. This is not part of the religion like it was not like Zarathustra said do it like this. It was what evolved evolved probably with the persecution we faced in Iran, evolved when we came to India, evolved with requirements of small towns versus large concentrations of the community. So uh, the biggest hurdle was that he was ready to adjust and adapt. But more than that he was concerned for his father who was a practicing priest in Bombay so he wrote to him and said before you get to know from other people, I want to mention to you that this is what I'm doing I am performing marriages. You know, mixed marriages and I'm performing Navjotes of children off springs of such marriages and you should know from me from the horse's mouth rather than through gossip. So, his father said look you've gone there and you're serving a community. If you if these are the needs of the community, you have to adjust and serve the needs of the community that you are the priest for so that was very you know comforting for us when my father-in-law was in his 90’s said that that was very comforting.

SM: I know that you've visited Iran and you've become a lot more interested in the Iranian connection and history so could you talk a little bit more about that?

ZP: Well, uh yes Iran was always one of the countries to visit on our bucket list and we managed to do that in 2018. Well, you know the thing is you can visit any number of countries in the world. But there's some things special that happens when you are in Iran. There is this some kind of intangible connection. Ah we went on this tour with a lady called Siloo Mehta from California who organizes these tours extremely well, everything is thrown in from religion to culture to architecture. You know, uh historical sites, palaces, gardens, what have you, the works. We traveled through the length and breadth of the country from the shores of the Caspian to the West then to the South and through Isfahan. And Fars to Mashad in the North Northeast and then back to Tehran. When you are there, you look at every place and somehow it makes you wonder did my people live here. Did they live in the North? Did they live in Fars? Where did they, what kind of persecution did they face that they had to leave this beautiful land? And leave everything probably that they owned to go and start life from scratch. It makes you really wonder about that and the other thing it makes you realize is that us in India and Pakistan, we got a very fair deal when we went. We've been welcomed. We've been included. We've been put on a pedestal in fact. The community is hero worshipped in both countries whereas our core religionists who lived in Iran, we have to realize that they lived with a certain amount of persecution and they survived and we have to give them credit for that. And so, the compatibility will only come when we realize that they have endured a lot of hardships that we did not have to endure. Fortunately, we have come to that kind of understanding in Washington. On our return from Iran, we did a slide show on our visit and at the end of the show, the Iranian Zoroastrians came to us with tears in their eyes and they hugged us for understanding and showing empathy now. This is the kind of stuff that will bond us instead of you know, causing rifts amongst us. So, I think this is very important to understand.

SM: Could you share a little bit more about the Irani Parsi divide that is there in Zoroastrian communities around the world and maybe talk about how it might be shifting or changing in the US?

ZP: Firstly, I don't think this divide is going to last because as you see we are all turning old and the next generation. These are generational prejudices and these will go with as this generation goes and the new generation becomes younger. They are already in their teens and twenties. When they take over the reins, this will all disappear automatically. The pet peeve that Parsis have is oh they speak all the time in Farsi. Well, the thing is we don't realize it but we speak all the time in Gujarati when we meet. Because eventually language is a not only a bonding factor but it takes you back to your roots. So, when you meet over there and you're living in this new country. You want a piece of your old life and the peace of your old life comes from your language, your tradition, your customs. But that is changing as I said. To add to it all what I would like to caution the community is just now we are Zoroastrian from Iran and from India and Pakistan, the Parsis. But what if you add a third lot into this mix. Like we keep hearing that 200,000 people in Kurdistan have reconverted back to their original faith, which is Zoroastrianism. They are practicing Zoroastrians and I raised this question. We had a Mobed council meeting here in Washington. At the end of which there was a questions answers session and of course I'm always the troublemaker. So, I asked them I said what if the people from Kurdistan come knocking at our doors and say now, we are refugees. We've landed in the US and we are Zoroastrians so we want to become members of your association. Now you will have a third mix. And the point is that they have lived with very recent persecution and genocide. So, the way they practice the religion is going to be very different from even the Iranis Zarathostis. So, what are we going to do? Welcome there or turn them away? The point is we need to look at other religions. You look at Christianity, how many different forms there are and still they are all Christians united under one church. Well one church in the sense symbolically one church. They're all different churches, but they all call themselves Christian. Look at Hinduism, how many gods they have. A Hindu from the North prays something different from a Hindu from Maharashtra, Hindu from South India but they are all considered Hindu. The same thing is we will have to and given the lesser numbers that we have, the important thing is we will have to stick together, otherwise we'll get fragmented.

SM: Now I'd like to move on to talking more particularly about your migration experience to the United States so what first prompted you to come here?

ZP: Well very frankly, my husband was an army officer and in those days the army salaries were not even what they are today. They were much more frugal. Plus, for a long while I had stopped working just when we started a family so in 1973 when I gave up my job with IBM, I was making a good thousand rupees, good money in those days. And after several years, when I went back to work as a schoolteacher in Firozpur in 1978, my first salary was three hundred rupees. Five years down the road salary was 70% less. So, in any case I mean we still led a very comfortable life. There was nothing that we lacked. We were very happy. Money is not the be all and end all of life, but as the children grew, they had aspirations. My daughter wanted to do her masters abroad at Oxford or Cambridge, and my son would soon be headed in the same direction and frankly we didn't have the money to support that kind of education, but I had always had it at the back of my mind that I could always do, go back to a full-time job in order to you know, do better by the children, to allow them to fulfill their aspirations which were also our aspirations. It wasn't just theirs and that is why you know I went back to work and that is one reason why, I was able, I opted to transfer. Not only did I go back to work at the World Bank, but I opted to transfer to Washington. The reason is when I came here on training, initially we were seen as country office staff. Those of us who worked in various countries were not allowed to apply for jobs in Washington. But when I was here for my second training in 1992, the bank opened up that option and we were allowed to apply for jobs and I seriously looked at it because if I, if and when I transferred to Washington, the Bank would pay my daughter's tuition, airfare, and a shipment each year to take her personal belongings and bring them back and all of this was only given if the child was working, uh sorry, studying in another country, not in the US. And since she wanted to go through the UK. This would have fitted in very well with our plans. And that is what drove me to apply for a job in Washington.

SM: Were there any concerns about moving to the US?

ZP: I, I guess the uh the concerns were more regarding, there are always concerns of how life will pan out, how you'll settle down. For instance, my husband being an army officer, what type of job would he get. It is difficult even for American army officers to find a job after retirement in America. Now here, this was an Indian person with no work experience in the US so that was one major concern. Second concern is always will I settle down, will life settle down, when you come from our countries you have job security. In America, you can lose a job very easily so you opt for a certain level of uncertainty so those were definite concerns. We had you know as to how things would settle down over here.

SM: Where did you arrive when you first came to the US and have you always lived in the DC area?

ZP: Uh, yes, we arrived in Washington, you see the the thing was that uh we arrived in the Washington area because the Bank only operates out of capital cities everywhere including in the US. So the concerns were more about the people we left behind. I had a widowed mother as I mentioned earlier although she was living with my brother and I had my younger aunt with whom I was very close. She had become a widow within three months of her wedding. So I was leaving all of them behind to come here but the plus, on the plus side, the Bank gave us something called home leave so this the with your spouse and children. You could go home every year. They would pay your airfare and even pay you a small allowance so that was. And I had about, I was entitled to six weeks of leave by then, so I knew I would spend at least six weeks in the year with my mother. Later I moved back uh to work in the South Asia Vice Presidency. Initially I was working in a central Vice Presidency that uh does policy work. And I moved back to South Asia so my work took me on what is called missions on official travel. So I would make 1 or 2 trips a year to South Asia for work and then at my personal expense I would go to visit my mother. So that became, that kind of, see those were the initial uncertainties which settled down as life settled in this country.

SM: And yeah, could you maybe um describe to me what your few uh first few days in the United States were like?

ZP: Well, the first few days were not very different from what we had envisaged because as I said we had been here twice so we knew what the whole deal was all about, but the Bank is very good, I mean the first week they do something called orientation training for what they call new staff, although we were not really new staff. Where they, which is, which includes a segment on cultural differences. So given that our staff over here are very international and come from every other part of the world. In fact, we have only maybe 10 percent at the most American staff so they help you to deal with different cultures. They take you to, we have our own credit union, they take you down to, in the basement so they take you to the credit union, they tell you how to open your accounts. They guide you through all these American systems that you're unfamiliar with. And in fact, in our days they used to even have a housing office. So if you're looking to rent an apartment and also school counseling as to where you should send your child to school so they had all these offices that helped us in this transition, from a country office into headquarters, which was, you know, which I would say was much more than what other people who come get and you had to be extremely grateful and acknowledge the fact that you were kind of chaperoned through this process. So, the other thing was that Delhi office had become a feeder line to jobs in Washington. The reason was it was one of the first decentralized offices like we handled all the operations directly from Delhi with very little intervention from Washington so a lot of us staff managed to make this transition and come to Washington far more easily than staff from other countries and I had already by the time I arrived about 8 people had arrived before me and they were a great support group in guiding me. So, for instance, one of my colleagues who had come 6 months before me, she was living alone in a 2-bedroom apartment and she said to me and she said don't even look for a place, just stay with me, so we shared an apartment and I lived with her for the first three months until I moved out. My son and I lived with her, we because we were the first two to arrive here in the family. Then I had another colleague whose who was a very good friend and whose sons were the same age as my uh son was and they had identified the ideal school so she said this is a very good school called Yorktown. They have a strict Irish principal, just exactly the kind we like, so my son went to the same school, in the same neighborhood and then of course you select to live in that neighborhood so that your child is entitled to go to that school. And then the 4 of us from the Delhi office who lived in this area, we used to carpool. I didn't have to worry about how to go to work, how to come back. 1 of these ladies was very kind, she even taught us driving on in her car. I mean and they would go grocery shopping. They'd ask us, can we buy something for you, would you like to come along. If you were not sure in those days you know is this expensive, should I buy this is $20 a deal is it cheap, is it expensive. They would guide you on all sorts of things and eventually one of them also helped me identify an apartment which we moved into so I would say that we had a lot of support which really softened the harshness of leaving home and migrating to a new country.


SM: And I know Zenobia this isn't on the uh question list but I wanted to ask like you and your son came first so were there any difficulties there or struggles that you had to deal with just on your own with the child?

ZP: Actually, not really because even if my husband was here, we would have had the same questions you know which school should he go to, what should he do, but all of that got resolved because as I said this other colleague had 2 sons approximately the same age as him. And for strangely enough, her husband was also a retired Indian army officer. So, when they said this is the school to send Jehan, my son to, we went with it blindfolded. Plus, it was not only Indians. I mean in the Delhi office, one of my officer’s wives, she was a teacher in Virginia school system and she told me which schools were good in Virginia, which in the DC area of Virginia and she said don't ever think of this one. This one is very good. That one you have a choice so I was limited to a choice of 3 and there were all these people who stepped in to fill the vacuum of knowledge that you have when you come and to guide you.

SM: Did you know or consciously seek out Zoroastrians and Parsi communities near you or were you comfortable with your colleagues that were nearby?

ZP: No, um we did seek out Zoroastrian colleagues and friends. As I said, we went uh to the association activities. We found out there was an association but more than that you see through the office itself. One day through email I um Parsi named popped up and so I was in touch with that lady and when I came here on training, she was very kind. She took us to a house, took us shopping, guided us on what to buy, and then when I finally moved here there were Parsis at the Bank who took me out to lunch and asked me you know to approach them if I had any difficulties. And then when I went to the Parsi association functions, there were people again who reached out and said when your husband comes, we can help him to get a job us, please contact us so we did reach out to the community for support. And in fact, one of the things is that these World Bank friends of mine would say well you've got a ready-made club. You Parsis are very lucky because wherever you go you have a readymade set of friends and a readymade social safety net, which is very true, you know.

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

ZP: See the thing is that one of the things you feel like you've arrived in the US is that you, you can't believe how well things work over here. You know as soon as uh, like you don't need to pray bribes to get any, to get a telephone line, and when you pay your taxes, you get a statement at the end of the year, which is, which tells you exactly how many dollars went to fund the roads or the schools or or for repair work or for emergency services. So, all of that is is sort of it's it's it's very gratifying and it's different from what you're used to back home.

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

ZP: I think that the difficulty is that when you come here, you wonder how you will live with this preconceived notion that you have of the American being an aloof person. Like in India, as I said our neighbors were so helpful and then later on also in the army, there was so much interdependence and you wonder how you will be able to bridge that gap after coming here. What I've found was that we come here with a lot of preconceived notions about these people. That they are not family people or that they're not very friendly and we found over a period of time that all of those preconceived notions are wrong. It's like if they made up their mind about us as Indians by looking at Bollywood movies. It's not at all like that. They are very family orientated, its, for Thanksgiving and Christmas their children make it a point to go home, regardless of the hardships that they might have to endure. They take care of their aging parents and they make very caring neighbors. We have an American neighbor with whom we leave our house keys when we go to India. This is like back home in my childhood. He walks through the house. He makes sure that everything is in order. He picks up a mail for us and stops puts it all on the dining table. So, you know, uh he calls us in India if something is amiss like one time, he had to uh. So, over the years you dispense with these stereotype notions that you've made in fact, we found that they are extremely charitable and have great family feelings and they're very helpful. One time we had, the same neighbor over for dinner. His elderly mother was staying with him at that time and she came along too and what she told me surprised, what she told me was quite surprising. She said she was suffering from cancer and the doctors had given her six months. She used to live in California. Her son brought her over and kept her at home here in Virginia. She said because of the love that they give me, son and daughter-in-law, I have lived for 6 years. When she died, we were leaving for India that year, at Thanksgiving and he said well, it's been one week before but come and have Thanksgiving dinner with us. And he said you know my brother and I have stopped celebrating Thanksgiving ever since my mother died because we can't bear to celebrate it without her. So you know we come with a lot of preconceived and false notions which we have to dispense with after we come here. We would come back from a ZAMWI function on a Saturday night and initially there was an old lady, who lived used to live across the street from us and next to her an old gentleman. Now they had lived in this area for like 30, 40 years. They brought up their children here. We would come back and we would find them sitting on the steps and chatting. It was a bit like being back home and they would say come come. We would sit with them and they would tell us the entire history of who had lived in our house and how the normal window had broken down and white had been converted into a bay window so we got to know a lot through them. And it was, you know, it was very reminiscent of our life back in India so basically human beings are the same world over.

SM: How important is your Parsi and South Asian identity to you, especially in relation to your migration to the US and being an American?

ZP: Well, I think these are our 2 prime identities. Prime identities that we shall always live with. So one is is the South Asian identity. Now that we are Americans citizens we will always identify as being South Asian, whatever happens see whether in the Bank or anywhere when you meet somebody, the first thing they will ask you is where you came from originally as they will tell you that my grandparents came from Norway or Sweden or wherever they came from. And being Indian over here is not a big deal. Indians are doing well they are well placed in government, in law, and politics, and medicine, in Nasa and also, we have a lot of Indians who are doing extremely well at the World Bank. In fact, one of our managing directors is an Indian lady and the number 2 person at the IMF is Indian so it's not a tussle to manage your Indian and American identity. Similarly, the Parsi identity may be a little more difficult in the sense when you tell somebody I'm a Zoroastrian, I would say 80 to 90 percent of the time they have never heard of that, but when they hear of it, they are very impressed. So you know it's like, the other day we were at a street party. And we met this couple and they had worked at the state department and not only did they know about Parsis because they had been posted to India and Nepal but they wanted to eat Dhansak. So again, this being a very government area, there are people who have worked in different countries and if they worked in South Asia, the chances are that they might even I know what a Zoroastrian is all about.

SM: And so could you share, and if you feel comfortable, have is has there been any occasion when you felt you were treated unfairly because of your non-American origin?

ZP: No, not not really, I mean I would say that we are fortunate, for whatever reasons, we've never experienced that and I would say as normal human beings, you know, you experience that even back home. So I would say to some extent wherever I have experienced is not because of a national or a religious identity, but just because it's a very personal prejudice that somebody brings to the situation. So for instance, it could be a prejudice. agenda prejudice. Or uh educational level prejudice or where I live kind of prejudice, and unfortunately, I hate to say this but you find that more from colonial cultures. We ourselves are very very stratified by in society back home, and unfortunately even during our training, they had said that you will find this when you are meeting with people from colonial cultures. In fact, the colonizers have given it up but those of us in the colonies still seem to perpetrate it on ourselves. So unfortunately, a couple of times when this has happened to me, it has never been from anybody who's Westernized. It's either been from people back home or from other parts of the world but never I've never found a White or a Western person to hold those prejudices.

SM: Okay, thank you for sharing. Now I'd like to move on to more reflective questions about you know your life in America in general. So how has being in the us affected your relationships, for you to develop relationships in the US and more importantly, raising your children here?

ZP: Relationships have not been difficult to develop. I think to some extent that's been easy for me because basically by nature I'm an extrovert also, but uh you know coming from uh multicultural, secular environment, adapting to a similar environment here was not a big deal. You know one day, for instance, I have a Turkish colleague and I had made save and I took some for her. She's a single lady, lives alone, so I took some Sev for her and she said oh my god you you people also make the same stuff. And the same way as we do. So I said well eventually what we were probably one country at one time. So I said and we probably carried this tradition with us to India. Well you know you will always find similarities. I think today the problems are coming because these are not human. These are political problems of us versus them kind of so if you look for it, you will always like, when I speak to colleagues from Kenya. We always talk about or did you go to a uh, school run by an Irish priest, did you go to a convent, did you get to give your senior Cambridge exam. So, there's always something in common to talk about. And then as far as bringing up the children over here goes you know it wasn't a big deal because. Firstly, their value systems were ingrained into them by the age of 7 or 10. By the time my children came here as I said my daughter was finishing college and my son was in grade eleven. Yes, there were anxieties. I think those are normal anxieties that you would have regardless of where you were. Like we felt that at a young age. My daughter was going off to England, she knew nobody over there. Wish we hope things would work out well, but today who doesn't even children from India and everywhere in the world leave home at that age. They're all going out for further study. So it's not because we were here I don't think there was anything different today. The world is becoming kind of, it's the world is flat, but it's also becoming unipolar in one way. Kids are doing the same thing everywhere. So I don’t think and then again as I said my family was progressive and forward thinking so taking that leap and adjusting to the way things happen here has not been much of an issue.

SM: Was there any difficulty in instilling the same Zoroastrian values and customs while your children were, you know, growing up in other countries away from India?

ZP: Well, no, the customs and the traditions were in them but they too missed Delhi a lot. They had a very active young Zoroastrian group over there. They had become friends. It was so they missed that group. And but then of course you know they made their own friends and established their new relationships over here. But as far as the religion and the community went, that was a done deal because they came here at a much later age, when all of this was already well within them.

SM: Now that time has passed, uh what is your, what is your perspective of living in the US compared to your first days and now?

ZP: Well in the first days there were these uncertainties. You know it was like even my human resource officer told me, she said I hope you realize that you're living a very safe job in the India office. Over here the units expand they shrink, you can be out of a job. The second biggest worry in the initial days when we came was what kind of job will Behram get. He'd been a brigadier in the Indian army he had staff. He had people to do his bidding and you come to America and you've got to do everything yourself. So it was like will he be able to make this transition which of course he did beautifully, so you have all those concerns when you come and and then you come here with literally I would say no money in the sense. Your local currency doesn't convert well into dollars and you have no savings and you're starting life in your late forties. You are starting life all over again, mid to late forties so there are you know concerns about that. But luckily for instance, again for Behram, when he came here, we used to have something called a spouse career center. So all the spouses who came, not only were they given training, computer training, how to talk during an interview. If it is an interview, which is a lunch interview, what to eat what not to eat, whether to drink not to drink, how to speak, how to say something you know, given their cultural diversity. So with all of that he got his job. He settled down. When we look back now we do see, that yes, we did have anxieties. I mean I think any normal human person would have to have anxieties but we also look back and say that we were very fortunate. You know when you look at today's Afghan refugees coming into the country and you say god you got a really good deal so you have to count your blessings and never forget the people who've helped you.

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

ZP: Well I'm pretty proud of both the identities so I have no hesitation in telling anybody that we come from this beautiful faith. Ours is one of the few faiths that talks about things that are being spoken today like environmental preservation. And and speaking the truth, being honest, doing charity. So. It's a beautiful faith. In fact, I once met a lady who's agnostic and she said if I were to follow any religion, I would follow Zoroastrianism. And similarly with the South Asian identity, we are quite proud of it and happy to talk about it. But as I said you know there's always something in common. You don't have to worry. Like once I was on a bus from New York and there was an Irish couple with whom I had to do some uh still seat adjustments. We got talking and they said they were from Ireland and I said well you know, I've been to a school run by Irish nuns, and they said, oh my God then did you get whacked on your knuckles with a ruler, and I said yes of course a hundred times at least. So you know these were the common, when you talk about India, you talk about school, you talk about Zoroastrianism, there's always a common connection somewhere.

SM: So what does it mean for you to be a Zoroastrian in the United States?

ZP: I think being a Zoroastrian, for me, over here, I would say, the most important thing is to make sure, I mean I can't do anything really I'm a small fly, but whatever you can do within your limited sphere to bring about harmony between you know the Iranian and the Parsi community or to speak to it so that it impresses other people and makes them also think in like manner is what I would say. And to be more inclusive and to accept the fact that we will might have people from Kurdistan joining us, in the next ten years so I think that is what and and important to keep the traditions, going keep doing charity.

SM: Is there a particular Zoroastrian principle or tradition that has meant the most to you and why?

ZP: I think of all the principles that our religion stresses is, I think one of the most beautiful one is to speak to the truth and I've done that and I've also kind of suffered for doing that which I don't mind. Because, unfortunately, I always spoke to this truth. I spoke up and at one point of time, I had management that was thin-skinned and not able to take that and I did suffer for a few years, but I take it as well. Okay I stood by my principles and I can sleep well at night, I don't care. And somewhere have this feeling that you know God makes up to you because I did suffer under that particular management for 6 years. My promotions, my increments were held back. But after I've retired, I've managed to keep a consultancy going which very few people do so I I believe in this thing, in our faith that you know speak the truth and God will stand by you. Heard about those also through community elders, through people who are my ancestors grew up hearing those stories. So those are the traditions that I value and I will always stand by them even at if it comes at a cost.

SM: And are there any traditions, beliefs, or customs that have changed since you've moved to the US? Um is there something that you may be practiced less of or do other things instead?

ZP: Well, what has changed is , really that I think more than anything else, it's Behram who has brought about brought about these changes. Like for Jashans and all, he issues flyers and he makes the audience participate so he will point to a flyer and he will stop in the middle of his prayers and he'll say page one, para six and so everybody joins him, page two, such and such. Now according to orthodox Zoroastrians, if you talk in the middle of your prayers, your prayers don't reach their destination. They don't go to Heaven or some such thing which he doesn't believe and neither do we. So with this audience participation, in fact, he's been able to hold the attention of the people. I think that is how we have changed, I mean, otherwise there's no gigantic leap that we've made which is very different from what we do back home.

SM: And I know you've spoken about this a little bit, but I just want to ask again, when you introduce yourself to others as a Zoroastrian, how do you, how do others approach you or perceive you?

ZP: It it really depends if they've heard of it or not heard of it but invariably when you tell them that this religion you know is about all about the basic tenets about good thoughts. good words and did, good deeds and they say well, what a simple and a beautiful religion to follow. And I said as simple as that sounds, it's very difficult in practice. It's also not a prescriptive religion. It doesn't tell you, you will go to church or you will have go to confession, but it tells you that use your good mind to think and bear the consequences. So if you think you're doing something right, then uh and if you're sure of that then be prepared for the consequences, which I think is a fair theory. Its, the other thing is it's a democratic religion I mean our rulers and our kings and all were democrats so I think it was very advanced thinking that went into the formation of this religion and that is what people appreciate.

SM: Now do you imagine yourself moving back to South Asia, uh if not, how does that decision make you feel?

ZP: Well about moving back to South Asia, again that's not a big thing for us because as I said, we have remained in touch with the country. We've gone home every year and sometimes more frequently. We have maintained our friendships. We have a large number of friends. Both from the Parsi community and the army. In fact uh, we'd written a book on uh field-marshal Sam Manekshaw with whom my husband worked for over six years and whom we are very close to and the army launched that book on his birth centenary. So, we've been going back to India for various book launches etc. Plus, we owned property with some of which we disposed of; we've still got a house over there which is our fallback option in case we ever have to go now. Of course, we'll get used to life over here, how things work so there will be adjustments. As there would be if you moved from any one city to another, but we, I think we'd be able to bridge that gap and take that leap of faith.

SM: So what would you like to convey to the following generations, particularly Zoroastrian generations, to come who live in the United States?

ZP: Well, what I would say is that you know this is a beautiful faith. It's a modern faith. It's a forward-looking faith. It's simple. It teaches you basic values. It has stood well for generations so cherish it, abide by it. And I would say to our young people, get married soon and produce children so that we don't fade away because it will honestly be a sad day if there are no no Zoroastrians or no Parsi left on the face of this earth. I mean I would say just preserve the faith whichever way you can. And to the elders I would say, welcome new people, otherwise you're going to die out. It's a two-way street, I mean it's two things you just can't expect. You can't put the whole burden on this on the young generation. There's something that the grownups also have to do and their contribution should be acceptance.

SM: Thinking about the memories we attach to things we carry with us, especially when migrating, I'd like to ask you if you could put three things you own in a capsule, what would they be?

ZP: Well firstly, what I would like to mention is that I had two very illustrious ancestors. One was my Bapuiji’s, my maternal grandmother's father and he used to be the Divan. Well not the Divan, the principal secretary to the Maharajah of Bhavnagar, looking after his personal assets. The man was so honest, he served two successive Maharajahs. He never compromised on being harsh. When the younger Maharajah was being a profligate and buying more and more foreign cars, he rebuked him and said you've got five in the garage, you don't need the sixth, go and cancel your order. The man served this royal family for 50 years. When he retired, the Maharajah appointed one of his own relatives to manage the personal treasury. The wealth of this Maharajah was such that apparently, he had mounds of diamonds and mounds of pearls and mounds of rubies. They were not counted. It was like the rubies are one foot high off the ground and that emeralds are two feet high off the ground. Well, the mound started diminishing in size and so the Maharajah had a suspicion that his relative was thieving. He called the man to the palace. He didn't show up. He made some excuses based on not being well. Finally, the Maharajah sent an armed guard. When this man, shot himself in the head because he'd been stealing from the personal treasury, whereas my old great-grandfather was honest to the core. And when the Maharajah told him that you've retired and I'll give you a pension. He said no I've worked for 50 years you paid me a salary. Why should you give me a pension so it went back and forth between them, both being strong headed, and eventually the old man settled to take a token pension of one rupee a month. Before him. his ancestor had also served the British resident and the Maharajahs in the Kathiawar district, Saurashtra, Gujarat. And that's a different story, which I can come to later, but he was also an equally honest and an upspoke, outright outspoken man. So, these are two items, that I would like to put in a cylinder for posterity, that these are the people we should emulate. The second thing is I would like to acknowledge the women in my family, many of whom have been young widows. They have stride. They have not broken down. They have put one foot in front of the other and carried on with life and I owe a lot of my courage or resilience to having seen these ladies who had less than me and still struggled in life to prison, to move forward, to take care of their families. And also, my mother-in-law who on a priest's salary brought up 5 children. But when her sister was widowed, she brought home 2 of her sister's children including a spastic son and she raised 7 children. So, a great lady, so these women are exemplar in our community. The third thing is I would like uh you know, put in that cylinder the fact that we come from a very progressive forward-thinking religion that has produced great people. In whichever country we have lived, we have done well by that country. Even today in Iran, the Zoroastrians are thought much of and that is something we need to do regardless of where we live. As this world is becoming flat and we are migrating to all different parts of the world, that is what we should preserve our religion and these characteristics and of course not to forget our great sense of humor, which makes us caricatures in all movies. But the day we stop laughing will cease to be.

01:08: 41
SM: Last question for you. What is home for you and how do you define home?

01:08: 48
ZP: Well, I think home is where you have all your memories, your mementos, pictures of your ancestors, a place where you can stand in solitude and meditate and think. Especially when you are in, you know, when your when your mind is perturbed about something, and if you can come to solace by looking at those people and meditating, I think that is where home is. Home is where you're comfortable, where you have love. And you have all these thoughts and people to go back to.

SM: Before we end the interview, would you like to share any additional uh information or memories or details about your migration or about Zoroastrianism?

ZP: No I would, I would just say that you know given today's context, I would say that, follow your faith, but respect others look for common principle, common commonalities, don't look for differences. And try to participate in other people's religious practices that doesn't make you any less of what you are. I've taken part in Hindu prayers. I've gone to church for mass when I go visit my Christian friends, if they say they're going to church, I go to mass with them. Yes, when we go to Rome, we all visit the cathedrals right? We all burn candles. So why can't we do it with our friends and that doesn't make you any less of a Zoroastrian. In fact, it reinforces your faith because your faith is so strong you will still come back to it.

SM Thank you so much Zenobia for sharing your story. Now what I'd like to ask you to do is read some of the passages from the translations that you've shared and maybe even give it a little bit of context of these translations.

ZP: I can start with uh going to the recent past and then going further back in time. So, as I mentioned in the earlier conversation. My Bapuiji’s father, my great-grandfather was the personal secretary to the Maharajah of Bhavnagar. Bhavnagar used to be a royal state under the British in Gujrat, in today's Gujrat. So he was in charge of the Maharajah’s personal assets, his cash, his jewelry. Now he was such a simple man that when the Maharajah went on tours abroad, he wanted to take grand papa with him but he would say no. When he went to Bombay, he would stay at the Taj, but the old man would prefer to stay with his daughter. Now this, the personal wealth of the Maharajah was put in the treasury and the treasury had 2 keys. 1 key was with grandfather and the other was with something called the “Chaus” who was the Arab guard, like a set of Arab guards, and the treasury door, the court, the strong room could only be opened when both cars, uh keys were used simultaneously. So uh grandfather served honestly but he was replaced, when he retired this job was given to the Maharajah 's cousin. Cousin turned out to be a very dishonest man and somehow, he started siphoning off jewels from the court. He managed to hoodwink the Arab guard, who was a simple man, and he somehow managed to get the court-door opened. One day when the Maharajah entered the court, he found that his piles of jewels held diminished in size so he summoned this man to the court. The man kept avoiding coming so when the Maharajah finally sent an armed guard, he knew the game was up and he went to the, locked himself up in his bedroom, and shot himself in the head. Now, grandfather had served so honestly that the Maharajah had given him a couple of, well he never accepted gifts, so forcefully the maharajah gave him two things. One was a lamp which I have in the house. It had the crest of the state of my uh Bhavnagar on it and the other was a hunting bull. Apart from that, he gave the old man land outside Bhavnagar. When he was close to a hundred, close to a hundred, and knew that his days were numbered, he gave the land away to the tillers. He had four daughters besides my grandmother, there were three others, one unfortunately, was not married. She was single because she was deaf and dumb and she died at an early age, but all his three sons-in-law and daughters were were not in Gujrat. They were scattered all over India so he decided that rightfully the land should go to the tiller who had toiled on that land. Now in context, when my father died, we didn't have a roof on our head. Today when people make money, they make money to serve enough for five generations. The old man didn't think like that. He said stand on your own feet and fight your own battles. This land will go to the tillers so you see that is the kind of honesty that we need to showcase and that is what the kind of stuff we need to remember. The man was strictly uh a strict adherent of routine. He would take a walk in the morning. He would walk 1 hour after dinner. He had lunch every day at 12:30 in the afternoon and at dinner at 9. Even if there were guests in the house, he would say you carry on, but I will have my food. So he was even tempered, never got excited about anything, and never got angry. He did not believe in formal religion. My aunts and uncles say that they never saw him going to the Agiari, maybe he did, maybe he didn't, but he wore his Sudreh Kusti and he believed in in following the basic principles of the religion, truth, honesty. He did not believe in practicing religion by dogma. That you have to say this prayer or you've got to say this three times or five times and strangely enough in his own handwriting, I came across something that he had written, which I shall read out, and he says: “to preserve health, ride less and walk more.” Those days they didn't have cars, they used to have buggies, in spite of that. “Eat less and chew more.” We swallow our food without chewing it adequately. “Drink less and breathe more.” If you go to a doctor today. They'll say take a deep breath. “Drink less uh, and breathe more and worry less and work more.” So these were the, this was uh, this was the principled man who'd lived this life and when you grow up listening to stories of people like that, consciously or unconsciously you emulate it in your life. I don't think what I did when I did it whatever I did at work was conscious. I did it because I felt it was the right thing to say on to so and and bear the cons like our religion says do what you think is right and be ready to bear the consequences. So be ready to bear the consequences. Yes, I'll bear the consequences happily.

ZP: The other was the story about Khan Bahadur Bejanji Damri who apparently was this great, grandfather’s uncle. Now this this Bejanji Damri was born in 1843 in Surat and his father, which is typical again of all Parsis, was a contract contractor for the British Raj so when the British went to fight the Peishwas, they went to fight the the Peishwas in Kathiawar, old man Damri went along and established his business over there to supply the British. You know this this was a typical thing that you find with a lot of Parsi families and that's how they moved all over India from Gujrat. So his father Mirwanji set up his business in Rajkot and then later he expanded it eastward to Karachi and Pune and southward to Puna so he used to travel a lot on business and kept him very busy. So his son who was aged 7 was left in Surat with his grandparents because Surat had good English medium schools in those days. So this child of 7 was left behind in Surat with his grandparents. Well he graduated and did well and eventually he joined the British political agency for Kathiawar. Now the British had a very uh federal kind of government, they knew they couldn't govern such a large country, so they would had they created this agencies which would look after 5 or 6 royal states. And there was a political agent who headed that. So the kings were, the Maharajahs were allowed a free hand in governance as long as they gave their taxes and accepted the suzerainty of the British Raj. When Bejanji Damri graduated, he joined, he he joined the British service. And he was attached to this British agent in Kathiawar. Now apparently in Kathiawar, at that time, there was a lot of lawlessness and hostility between the princes and the local tribals. It was mostly there were disputes over land. The legal systems were not good. And administration and welfare projects were lacking so the British agent told Bejanji to set up these systems in each state, state by state, when I say state, I mean these royal states so Bejanji began work. And first thing that he did was he set up boundaries between states so that the interceded fighting that used to occur over land that stopped happening. Then courts of justice were set up, jurisprudence systems were set up, hostilities ceased to be. Then he focused on welfare measures so roads and guest houses were built, hospitals. And transportation system was improved. The first railway line linked Kathia Kathiawar to the rest of India. So with peace prevailing in the region and these welfare measures took hold and then taxation was increased. Now the British also had a system of classifying these states. They were either first, second or third -class states. So the Maharajah of Magrol after seeing that old man Bejanji was a very good administrator, he requested the British British agent for his services. So he was seconded to the Maharajah of Magrol. He did the same things over there and Magrol was improved and it became a first-class state. Seeing that the Maharajah of the next Maharajah of Gondal asked for his services. So Bejanji then worked for the Maharajah of Gondal, which was a second-class state. He was able to raise that also to a first-class state. So eventually one day, the Maharajah uh pulled him up and he said you know you seem to forget that your salary is paid for by the British agent and you seem to argue constantly in favor of the Maharajahs. So he said no I am not arguing either for the Maharajahs or for the British government. All I'm speaking to is truth and justice. That's all I'm speaking to. So the British agent also cooled down. Actually, he realized that that was a fact. The British agent then, eventually the old man retired at the age of 60, but before that they conferred this title of Khan Bahadur on him. Now he retired and went back to Rajkot which is where the family lived and then he died on the 26th of December, 1919 so all the shopkeepers out of respect for him. They brought their shutters down. But apart from that, the British agent also closed all government offices and he lowered the union jack out of respect. Now what I’ve heard is that was the first time the union jack was lowered for an Indian but there's no verification of that statement. So I don't know maybe it was lowered for the first time in Kathiawar. One doesn't know. That is something that if I have the time I would like to go there and look through their archives and records if they are still preserved. This was the old man from, this was the great-great-great-grandfather. So, these are people you know when I say that in the cylinder, I would like to leave a record of what these people did.

ZP: I’d just like to make a record of the names of the family members I have spoken about. So my grandparents were Jal Masters and his wife, my grandmother, was Tehmina Masters (nee Damri). My parents were Jehangir Masters, and my mother was Nargish Masters (nee Khurody). My foois were Nargish Jambuserwala (nee Masters) and Lily Billimoria (nee Masters). My brother is Phiroze Masters. My sister-in-law is Shereen Masters (nee Pestonjee) from the only Parsi family in Srinagar. The extended family in Simla were the Framjees, they owned a hotel, and they were the official caterers to the Viceroy of India. My husband is Brigadier Behram Panthaki (retired). His father was Manekshah Panthaki, his mother, Dhunmai Panthaki (nee Sanjana). My daughter is Freyan Panthaki. She is an alumnus of St. Stephen’s College, Cambridge University – UK and the London School of Economics. My son, Jehan Panthaki, is an alumnus of UVA, Columbia University and Oxford, UK. My great grandfather, on whom an article has been posted, was Khan Bahadur Phirozeshah Damri, the Personal Secretary to the Maharaja of Bhavnagar. His uncle was Khan Bahadur Bejanji Damri who worked for the British Government and whose daughter, Phirozeshah was married to. The person who has documented all this and given me all this was my uncle, the son of Mehran Damri, old man Phirozeshah Damri’s daughter, my bapaiji’s sister, and her husband, Darabshah Commissariat. My uncle, who documented all this, was

SM: That's great. Thank you so much for sharing the details, Zenobia, that was very well said.

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

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