Roj Rashne Mah Ardibehesht, 1384 Yz.
It is my solemn duty to write a few words in memory of my senior colleague and profound Ilm-e-Khshnoom scholar Adi F. Doctor who passed away on Saturday, 27th September 2014 after nearly a year of illness.
Adi bhai or Adi uncle, as we used to fondly call him, was a living example of the saying ‘appearances can be deceptive.’ A short, thin man with a slightly unkempt appearance, hardly someone who would be noticed twice. But when his pen wrote, or when his tongue was in motion, Adi uncle was a different person altogether. So-called community stalwarts, trustees of various religious trusts, custodians of religious properties like Dakhmas, Agiaries and Atash Behrams, self-styled scholars and tongue-wigglers, Vada Dasturs, rogue priests and their backroom conspirators, all would shudder and let out a momentary moan of dismay when Adi turned his attention to them. ‘Arre baap re, ai kah thi aayo?’
And what a challenge he was! One of the last of that once-profuse but now nearly-extinct species of Parsi – one who spoke truth for the sake of truth and nothing else. He belonged to the pedigree of our forefathers who cared a twit about money-power, muscle power, influence-peddlers and sundry wheeler-dealers. Nothing, nobody scared him. When the question was about the religion, its institutions, our long-standing traditions – then one could be sure that Adi was there, somewhere, working his pen or preparing a public meeting to jolt the community into action, to open the eyes of our somnolent brethren, lulled into a stupor of materialism, show-biz religion and the ever present ‘chaalva de ni bhai’ attitude that has been our downfall.
Adi was a highly educated person, having done his MA in Avesta and Pahlavi. A bank officer for several years, Adi resigned from service and dedicated his life to the service of Khshnoom and the religion. A man of prodigious reading and wide interests, Adi was equally at home amongst the tomes of Dr. Saheb Framroze S. Chiniwalla as he was in the score sheets of Wagner, Beethoven and Mozart. For a few years he even had a music critic column in an English eveninger. A simple man of frugal tastes, a confirmed bachelor with the accompanied eccentricity, an extreme traditionalist who spent several hours a day in prayer and a stickler for Tarikats and purity, Adi could be off-putting to the casual observer.
But once you got to know him well, Adi was a gem, albeit a sharp-tongued one. He had an extremely dry sense of humour and a collection of one-liners and punch lines which he delivered with a straight face and with devastating effect. His pen could be hyper-acerbic and could tear to shreds the fake appearances of many of our community’s leaders. No one was ever too sacred for Adi. Religion and its sanctity was paramount. Even when his closest friends crossed that line, Adi would not hesitate to go after them.
Adi had a special soft corner for youngsters. Many years ago, when I first began speaking and writing Khshnoom, I received a call one night from him. Speaking in his soft and gentle, but firm voice, Adi explained how as a public figure one had to be careful while accepting any favours from organizers of functions. He gave me several pointers and guidelines which have helped me immensely to this day. As someone much senior to me, Adi uncle was always available to sort out any queries or to explain a particularly difficult chapter of Khshnoom. His phone line was constantly humming with activity as many in the community used his expertise to solve the numerous riddles of life and religion.
In the last several years, as real estate prices began their dizzy climb, the community began to face an unprecedented threat from Trustees of our religious properties who suddenly metamorphosed into real estate developers. Many in the community began to exploit the large land masses attached to our religious institutions. Had this been for the betterment of the community, it could have been maybe allowed. But in most cases it was outright robbery. Some peanuts were tossed into the Trust coffers and the majority of the profits went into the personal pockets of developers and Trustees.
As this trend began to take alarming proportions, Adi Doctor stepped in. He waged a long and lonely battle against these land-sharks, often at great personal risk. Many attempts were made to soothe him or ‘convince’ him. But Adi stood firm. Through his writings in ‘The Parsee Voice’, and through community meetings, Adi rallied against these ungodly affairs and many times succeeded in thwarting their evil designs. When a well-intentioned, but brash and religiously ignorant architect tried to ‘do-up’ one of Mumbai’s most iconic Agiaries, Adi Doctor stepped in and gave a valiant fight, showing how the desecration of an Adaran Saheb had happened in the name of modernizing and repairs. And what did the Trustees do? They stopped allowing Adi to come and give talks in the Adaran.
When the Vada Dastur of the highest Atash Behram of the land joined hands with the same architect to ‘do-up’ the structure and caused monumental damage to the majesty and aura of the Padshah Saheb, Adi trashed both of them, exposing their lies. When the Trustees of another Atash Behram planned to demolish a perfectly sound stone building over 150 years old and construct a residential tower, Adi went for them and succeeded in stopping the foolhardy venture.
But perhaps the greatest fight that Adi waged was for the preservation of our Dakhmas and Doongerwadi. Sitting through interminable meetings with the BPP Doongerwadi committee, writing reams of spiritual and esoteric knowledge on the lofty stature of the Dakhma (which one ‘High’ Priest called a place of Nasu), clashing with the demonic forces of the rich and famous of the community who had inter-married and then wanted the right to build a crematorium on the Dakhma lands, Adi stood isolated but firm. His pen and his voice were unwavering. Through public meetings, writings and lectures, Adi managed to re-affirm the traditional view point of the religion and the overwhelming majority of the community’s opinion – that the Dakhma lands were sacrosanct and only for Zoroastrians. His numerous writings and speeches on the soundness of the Dokhmenashini system prevented many a misled Zoroastrian from going in for alternate methods of disposal of the dead and saved their souls from misery.
Adi Doctor left behind several writings that displayed his deep study of Khshnoom. But perhaps the best gift he left for the community were the succinct question and answer series published over the years in the Dini Avaz magazine. The questions, which ranged over the most diverse topics, were answered in a very short, but deeply effective manner, with loads of humour thrown in. It is a pleasure to go to the back issues of Dini Avaz and read these Q&As. Later on, some of the selected questions were brought out as a book called 101 Q&As. This book is out of print and I would request the Zarthushti Din Sahitya Mandal to look into bringing out a reprint of this valuable book as a Memorial in Adi Doctor’s name.
In the last years of his life, Adi uncle was a disappointed man. Two classes of Parsis failed him. The first was a section of the political class which claimed to be traditional and orthodox, who stood for community elections and asked for his support. Despite misgivings, Adi lent them his strong support, in the hope that they would set right the various ills facing the community, including the very important Dungerwadi issue. But once the elections were over and the Trustees were elected, they turned a cold shoulder to Adi and forgot about their promises to him. This left Adi a deeply disappointed and broken man. Even in his passing, the same worthies could not ensure that Adi’s body got a quick Sachkar and instead it lay on a stone slab for nearly 14 hours before a Bungli could be made ready. Thankfully, Adi’s closest colleagues got together and prayed continuously next to the body for the 14 hours, till finally the Sachkar could be done.
The second class that failed his expectations was our own Ilm-e-Khshnoom Anjuman. In his last years, Adi uncle used to say with deep regret: ‘there are persons who have been attending all my lectures for over 25 years, but still step out of the class and remove their Topi. What is the use of my research and speaking?’ For Adi uncle, the knowledge of Khshnoom was not for mere intellectual pleasure, it was a life-changing experience. Unless one put into practice even the very basic Tarikats explained by Khshnoom, what was the use of attending the lectures and making a show of religiosity? In this sense, we have to accept that our Anjuman failed Adi Doctor’s hopes and aspirations.
And so one more stalwart of Khshnoom passes away. Adi’s loss will be sorely felt by all of us, but the work of Khshnoom will go on. We will miss him terribly, but we will be re-vitalized by his passing. In the back of our minds, the sometimes loving and sometimes stern face of Adi will always be there, goading us on, helping us give fight to the reformists and safe-guarding our religion and its most precious institutions from the danger they face today.
Even in his passing, Adi Doctor left us with some valuable lessons. During the Paidust as well as the other prayers, it was a real pleasure to see the many students of Adi sitting down solemnly with the Khordeh Avesta in hand, praying for him, which is a marked contrast to the general gossip and talk which pervades the Bungli. It was my privilege to lead the four days’ prayers at Dungerwadi for him. As we sat down on the carpet to begin the Uthamna prayers, Ervad Jal Balsara (who kindly allowed me to lead the prayers) remarked in his colorful language: ‘Mumbai na badha lamba Sadra-wala avela lagech. Badha choost che!’ Realizing the worth of the Ruvan we were praying for, Ervad Balsara immediately consented to the necessary changes I suggested in the prayers to make sure that the right procedure as per Khshnoom was followed.
On the dawn of the fourth day, before we began the Padruz Uthamna, Ervad Jal was a mellowed man, as he reminiscenced about his days working as a young priest under the formidable Ervad Behramji Unwalla. Finally, as we finished the Dahm Yazad Jashan, I requested all present to stand up and bid the final farewell to Adi along with the Mithra that his Ruvan safely and securely reach its appointed destination. With our final Salaams and the power of three Ashem Vohu, the Karasyo was opened to let Adi Doctor’s Ruvan begin its long journey towards Chinvat. Nature always takes care of her own. In the same way, Adi’s Ruvan will surely come under the protection and watch of Asho Sarosh Yazad and quickly pass through the regions of Chinvat. May it bless us and help us in our efforts from there!
I request readers of Frashogard to recite one Ashem Vohu in memory of Behdin Adi Behdin Farokh.
Ervad Marzban J. Hathiram