Roj Khordad Mah Meher, 1385 Yz.
It is my sad duty to inform readers of Frashogard of the passing away of Darab Unwalla, the last surviving son of Mobed Behramji Unwalla in Boca Raton, Florida on 18th February 2016, Roj Spendarmad Mah Meher 1385 Yz. In his passing, Darab also shares his Baj with that of the great Khshnoom stalwart Ervad Phiroze S. Masani, who passed away on the same day more than 70 years ago.
Unlike his father, Darab did not join the Mobedi profession but was more interested in academics. He left India to come to the United States and after a brilliant academic career, reached the position of Professor Emeritus of Business Administration at Florida Atlantic University. He was a pioneer in the introduction of the executive MBA Programs in different Universities in America.
Despite his academic brilliance and high position, Darab remained an intensely humble man. His heart and mind were always like his father’s and the towering personality he possessed. His love of Khshnoom pervaded his life, he was always eager to learn more and more of the intricacies of Khshnoom. It was this thirst to know more about Khshnoom that drew him to articles on the Frashogard blog and eventually to me.
We seemed to hit it off from the very first meeting. He excelled in telling stories, often merging one ending into another’s beginning till we would both end up speaking for hours without realizing what started it all! In all these stories, which he recounted to me, what shone right through was the intense love and affection he had for his father, which was never reciprocated by Mobed Behramji, who was a stern man of very few words.
He often used to say that there were hardly any occasions when Behramji actually sat down with him and had a full conversation. Most of it was work related. Yet Darab had great love and respect for Behramji, and also for Ustad Saheb. Despite this awkward relationship, in every thought and word, Darab would breathe the name of only Behramji and Ustad Saheb. I had a great time listening to those stories of old, often with tears in my eyes, as Darab would recount the intense poverty in which Mobed Behramji grew up, yet never ever compromised on his principles or his staunch faith in Khshnoom. And the stories of the various fights between the different Mobed Sahebs would always bring a wry smile to my lips, as I would think about my own life and some painful experiences and wonder, how little has changed in our Mobedi tola – those jealousies and intrigues, those insecurities and back-stabbing…
After our initial meeting, Darab was very concerned as to what would happen to the ancestral house of Mobed Behramji in Udvada. I made a small project report and sent it to him. One thing led to another and after some hiccups and misunderstandings, and the attempts of some to scuttle things, the house of Mobed Behramji was gifted to me by Darab and his wife Nellie, with the gracious cooperation of their children Perry (Pirojshah) and Jasmin. Little did I realize at that time in March 2014 that the house of Mobed Behramji would become my primary residence very shortly.
As his age progressed, Darab was affected by dementia. Slowly his speech became labored, names, times and dates started failing his memory. The sentences would be left half said… It was terrible to see a man’s mental faculties deteriorate so fast, especially someone as brilliant as he was. In all this, his wife Nellie stood by strongly, the tenacious rock on which Darab’s ship would always anchor. That and the love of his children and grandchildren made the journey somewhat easy.
As time progressed and things grew worse, Darab would often ask to talk to me. He was eager to come to India one last time to see the changes I had made in the house, to inspect the small Dadgah I had constructed to perform daily prayers, to see the archival material I had collected on Mobed Behramji…alas it was not meant to be. I kept sending him photos and videos but his eyes yearned to see all of it in person. Time and again he would ask Nellie, call Hathiram, ask him to come and see me, what will he do about my prayers?
Time is a cruel taskmaster. It strips each individual of every shred of dignity. As the dementia progressed, Darab even forgot his Kusti prayers, often breaking down as he could not form the words to do the Kusti. His son would help him, yet again that same sentence – ‘call Hathiram, ask him what should I do…?’
A month ago he had severe seizures and had to be shifted to hospital. As he lay there, with tubes and equipment which allegedly make you live, but in effect condemn you to a life worse than death, Darab would keep mumbling ‘Hathiram ne bolav…’
Eventually, I could make the trip and landed on the very last day of Darab’s life. As I entered the hospice where he lay, surrounded by family, his eyes closed shut, the breathing labored and struggling, I held his hand and told him ‘It’s OK Darab, hu Marzban chev, Udvada thi avi gayoch tamare mate.’ Those eyes seemed to open for one milli second, the mouth seemed to utter a few words and a huge burden seemed to be lifted off his frail shoulders. I sat down and held his hand, with his wife and children around him, and began the recitation of the Patet Pashemani prayer to help him prepare for his onward journey. A strange silence seemed to envelope the room, punctuated only by my quivering voice and then the sobs, slowly first and then more and more often as I lost control over my own emotions, even stopping to remember the words of the Patet as they seemed all jumbled in my overburdened mind.
As I recited the Kardas one after the other, slowly and painstakingly, going over their meaning in my mind, trying to form the righteous Mithra to aid the Ruvan, my mind would wander to the Darab I had first seen and known, and then the comatose figure on the bed, and I would keep breaking down and asking help from God to complete the recitation. It was a very long and painstaking exercise…
Outside a stream of visitors gathered to pay their last respects to a man who had strode as a colossus in the Florida community for so many years. One by one they walked in, many in tears, to offer their wishes and condolences. Soon some small talk started and before we could realize, a mini class began on what Khshnoom is and who Behramji Unwalla was; followed by the familiar questions – ‘why no conversion in Zoroastrianism, the meaning of our prayers…’ In all this Darab seemed to be listening in with some humor, as if thinking, finally all these people are getting to know what Khshnoom is…
As the time passed and the breathing grew more labored, we pounded a few seeds of pomegranate and made a teaspoon of juice for him. As his wife lovingly applied the juice on his lips and tongue, my own hands fumbled to tie the last Kusti, not on his waist as we could not shift him, but on his arm, like the ancient Peshdadian Pahelwans used to. And so we lovingly entrusted Darab’s Ruvan to the custody of Sarosh Yazad, performing the last Sarosh ni Kusti, yes the same Kusti which was revealed to us by Ustad Saheb and the same Kusti for which his father Mobed Behramji had fought so long and valiantly.
As the time grew close, we gathered around, all of us in the room and performed a Humbandagi of three Ashem. Then it was time to leave. What more could one do, but turn around for that one last look and leave the room, eyes filled with tears but the heart somewhat relieved that, in some small way, I had succeeded in giving him some relief.
And at 11:15 in the night, the Ruvan of Darab was eventually set free and entered the custody of Sarosh Yazad.
Readers of Frashogard, Darab had one great regret in his life. He felt that in some way he had not lived up to his father’s ideals, that he had not followed the Mobedi life, that Behramji felt he had wasted the opportunity given to him. But I want to tell Darab and his family today, that on the Chaharum, when Darab’s Ruvan begins its flight to Chinvat and finally reaches the threshold, where the Ruvan of Mobed Behramji awaits him, they will hug deeply, as only a father and son can, and there, in those rarefied environs where there is no distress and grief, no lies and untruth, the Ruvan of Mobed Behramji will lovingly and tenderly take the hand of Er. Darab and guide his Ruvan to its rightful position. Finally, father and son will be at peace with each other and the cosmic progression of Frashogard towards salvation would have moved one small step forward.
I request readers of Frashogard to recite one Ashem Vohu in the memory of Er. Darab Er. Behram, with a Mithra that his Ruvan quickly achieves the state of Anushehi and progresses ever forward in the heavenly realms.
Farewell my friend, Darab. And hope you will be there to receive me when my own time comes shortly.
Ervad Marzban J. HathiramShare