The Parsi Avaz digitization project

Posted by:

Roj Gosh Mah Sherevar, 1381 Yz.

In one of my earlier posts, I had talked about the great hope and desire in my mind to completely digitize and make available to our community the most valuable religious knowledge present in the Parsi Avaz newspapers. As readers of Frashogard are aware, the Parsi Avaz newspaper was started by late Jehangirji Chiniwalla in 1947. Till a few years before that, Jehangirji used to write regularly in community newspapers like the Jame Jamshed, which was a bastion of orthodox thinking. However, with changing times, the views and opinions of the owners of the Jame also began to change. Soon thereafter, Jehangirji’s articles were sidelined and views of dangerously liberal minded persons began to appear with regularity.

Jehangirji foresaw the danger of this silent change of mentality and its ultimate outcome. He therefore began preparations to launch his own weekly newspaper where he would be unfettered by any editorial shackles. After intense planning, raising funds and the secret backing of the Guardians of the Zoroastrian faith, Jehangirji launched the first issue of Parsi Avaz on the 20th Baj of Ustad Saheb on 7th July, 1947. The first headline of the paper said it all: in very large Gujarati fonts, the headline said simply: ‘Ustad Saheb Behramshah ne arpan’ – Dedicated to Ustad Saheb Behramshah. Here is an image of the first page of the first issue.

PA first issue front page

Over the next 27 years, Jehangirji, along with a very small team of dedicated persons brought out the weekly every Sunday, without fail. The newspaper was filled mainly with articles written by Jehangirji, his elder brother Dr. Saheb Framroze, other prominent Khshnoom students and some scholars. In addition, the paper carried the very important Paidust column, a column of marriages within the week, as well as current news, stock market data and railway time tables. Over the years, the Parsi Avaz newspaper became the primary source for the dissemination of orthodox information about our religion. It was at the forefron of many memorable battles between the orthodox and liberals of the community. After Jehangirji’s death in October 1973, the newspaper was continued for a few months, before the last issue was taken out on 7th July 1974 – the 47th Baj of Ustad Saheb.

From the very beginning there were a few staunch Khshnoom lovers, who meticulously collected each and every issue of the newspaper and preserved it carefully. As the years went by, the importance of these archives increased. But as persons passed away, these collections began to get scattered and broken up. In the end only a handful of persons had the complete sets. Unfortunately, some of these individuals displayed a hoarding mentality and refused to let others have access to the files. My efforts to get a complete set made no headway for many years.

In June 2007, Ervad Eruchshah Karkaria passed away in Navsari. [Read my tribute to Eruchshah ] After a few months, I was invited by his daughter Ketayun to his house and asked to take whatever books I wanted from his huge library. I immediately grabbed this golden opportunity and set off for Navsari with my friend Porus Fitter and a couple of empty bags. As we entered the room on the second floor of Eruchshah’s house opposite the Navsari Bhagarsath Atash Behram, a wondrous sight awaited us. Piles upon piles of books were lined up against the walls of the big room. More books were lying on two huge four-poster beds. Like children in a candy shop, we fell upon the books, wondering what to see first and what later. As I began separating the volumes I wanted to take, my eyes fell on some old newspapers lying in a corner in a huge pile. My heart missed a beat and I called out to Porus – ‘come here fast!’ As I uncovered the pile, row upon row of Parsi Avaz newspapers lay before us, neatly tied in bundles with twine.

Over the next few hours, we gathered all the papers as well as a large number of books. Soon we realized that the two bags we had got would be insufficient. We then went to meet Dasturji Meherjirana at his house in Dasturwad where I gave him the good news about the Parsi Avaz papers. He laughed and said: ‘good for you, I have a complete bound set!’ After a few discussions, and the gift of a few books and the handwritten index of the Pursesh Pasokh column in the Parsi Avaz paper (more on that later), we went back to Eruchshah’s house. His daughter was most concerned as to how we would be able to carry all the stuff with us. We then went out to search for a courier who would carry all the material to Mumbai. We found one and then carted all the papers to his office in cardboard boxes. He looked most surprised that we wanted to courier 50 year old newspapers to Mumbai by express service. After a bit of haggling, we left the consignment there and caught the train to Mumbai with the most precious books in our bags.

After we arrived at Mumbai, there was no sign of the courier for over a week. After repeated calls we were told that the consignment was lying at Borivli station due to some strike. A few tense days later, the courier finally arrived at the Agiary. Now started the process of sorting and arranging the newspapers. Helped by my friend Hanoz Banaji, we sorted out all the bundles and began arranging them. The accumulated dust over the years and the decaying newspapers gave us coughing and sneezing fits. As we opened the papers, many simply fell to pieces. We had to be very gentle and careful of not breaking the paper down the middle, as they had been folded and kept that way for decades. Soon I realized that I would not be able to read these papers or handle them for too long before they all disintegrated. Copies had to be made.

I first planned to take digital photographs of each page of the papers so that they could be stored as JPG files. My friend and ace photographer Noshir Moolla fabricated a special wooden stand where the camera could be attached at the top and the pages placed below. This not only ensured correct image size and resolution but also eliminated the shaking which invariably comes when the camera is held in the hand.

PA photo stand

Another friend, Kurush Kapadia took on the extremely monotonous job of placing the Parsi Avaz pages, clicking the photos and then turning over to the next page. Every evening I would then sit down and sort and number the image files. Soon we realized that this would be a very slow and tedious process. Also the pages would still be damaged. Another method had to be found.

After talking to our friendly neighbourhood photocopy guy and a bit of bargaining, I managed to convince him to keep the shop open from 9 pm to midnight and do the photocopying of the old papers at that time, so he would not be disturbed by regular customers and that the assistants could handle the papers slowly and carefully. Obviously, Mr. Rameshbhai Patel had not realized the state the papers were in. One look at them and he tied a handkerchief around his face and slowly but steadily began the photocopying process.

Over a period of nearly three months, we managed to photocopy nearly 12,000 pages of the Parsi Avaz papers. Once each bundle was copied, I would arrange it issue wise and page wise and then make a note of the missing issue numbers or page numbers. Soon my small office in the Agiary was full of piles of the newspapers. They had to be stored in a proper way. Taking the help and advice of our colony printer and elderly friend Mr. Firoze Bulsara, I decided to have special files made which could accommodate the A3 size photocopies. These sturdy files, covered in Rexene binding cloth were made by Mr. Bulsara at a most reasonable price.

PA file

The photocopies were then punched, the punching holes covered with hole-guards, and then the papers were filed, year wise. Thus 27 files, each about 4 inches thick, were readied. Once the files were ready I realized that they could not be stored standing up, since the weight of the papers would tear them or make the file open up. They had to be stacked horizontally but in individual shelves, so that the files below would not bend with the weight of the files on top.

Thanks to my friend Noshir Moolla, I got hold of a good carpenter and had a huge book case made especially for these files with individual shelves for each year of Parsi Avaz papers.

PA cabinet

After this organization was over, I sat down and made the complete list of missing volumes and issues. I found that I had about 60% of the total issues. Now a few years earlier, Mr. Curset Patel, the editor of Dini Avaz and organizer of our Khshnoom lectures had photocopied a set of Parsi Avaz from the originals he had. These photocopies were kept at the Mahella Patel Agiary at Grant road. However, they were not stored properly, but merely kept in plastic bags, one on top of the other. Moreover, the photocopying had been done on both sides of the page. As a result, over the years, the black ink from the facing pages had rubbed against each other and made the pages smudge. I took the chance anyway and through the help of my friend Aspi Tavadia, who agreed to carry each bag of the photocopies from Mahella Patel Agiary to my Daremeher at Jogeshwari, began making copies of the missing volumes and issues. Over a period of a few months, the exercise was complete.

But I found that the photocopy set was still not complete. A senior Khshnoom speaker had taken many of the photocopies for his research and talks, but had not bothered to return a large number of them. Hence the set was still incomplete. Rather than wait for the set to get complete, I decided to proceed with the digitization process. Here stepped in my young friend Mr. N, who got a car one day and loaded all the Parsi Avaz folders into it and carried them away to his residence. He then contacted a document scanning company and convinced them to send a high speed scanner and two technicians to his house. Over three days, 14,000 photocopied pages were fed into the high speed scanner (60 scans per minute) and individual PDF files made of each page. Then, with painstaking labour, Mr. N sat with each PDF file and optimized it using a judicious mix of high resolution and small file size. To enable future archiving and indexing, each page scan was first made into a separate PDF, and then one consolidated PDF of each issue (consisting of 16, 12, 10 or 8 pages) was made. In total the Parsi Avaz scans number over 12000 files arranged in over 1200 folders.

After this immense labour, I uploaded the scans to the Ilm-e-Khshnoom SkyDrive where they sit occupying about 6GB of space. After analysis, we have realized that 226 issues are still missing, covering about 16% of the total. Hence nearly 85% of the Parsi Avaz has been digitized and is now available online here.

In the meantime, Dasturji Meherjirana passed away in January 2010. As per his wishes, the entire library of his personal Khshnoom books, including the complete set of bound Parsi Avaz volumes was bequeathed to me. In this manner, I came into possession of the complete original set of Parsi Avaz, bound in year wise volumes.

PA bound volumes

In case we are unable to find the photocopies of the Mahella Patel Agiary set, then I will break up the bound volumes of Dasturji Meherji to photocopy and digitize the missing volumes.

How to use this huge resource? Without an index and listing, the volumes are useless. Here again, the immense work of Dasturji Meherji comes to help. I would request readers to first download the Parsi Avaz index file available here.

This file comprises of the following:

  1. An alphabetical index of the complete Parsi Avaz articles, with Volume, issue and page number references, page 1 to page 94.
  2. An index of translations and commentaries of various Yashts appearing in the Parsi Avaz and other Khshnoom books: page 95.
  3. An alphabetical index of the writings of Dr. Saheb Framroze Chiniwalla appearing in the Parsi Avaz: page 96 to page 101.
  4. An alphabetical index of articles relating to Shah Behram Varzavand appearing in the Parsi Avaz: page 102 to page 103.
  5. An English rendering by me of the index of the writings of Dr. Saheb Framroze Chiniwalla with the volume and issue numbers, arranged chronologically: page 104 and page 105.
  6. An English rendering by me of the index of the writings of Dr. Saheb Framroze Chiniwalla with the volume and issue numbers, arranged topic wise: page 106 and page 107.

Depending on their interest, readers can decide the topics they want to read and access the relevant Parsi Avaz volume and issue number from the SkyDrive.

I do hope readers of Frashogard will make ample use of this invaluable resource which is presented to the community for the first time ever. May the blessings of the Abed Sahebs descend on all those who have helped in this mammoth task.

Ervad Marzban J. Hathiram

Related posts:

13

Comments

  1. Firdaus  January 29, 2012

    Excellent work. Immense work done with intense devotion.

  2. Paurus  January 29, 2012

    Hello Ervad Marzban,

    I salute you and the entire team who have shown such immense dedication and commitment for this project. I hope the current and future generation make use of this treasure trove of zoroastrian literature.

  3. Aspi Colah  January 30, 2012

    Dear Ervad Saheb Marzban Hathiram,

    It brings tears to my eyes to read about your hard work, diligence and dedications to bring this most awe inspiring knowledge of Khshnoom a new lease on life by digitizing all the old writings on your Farshogard SkyDrive.

    At this stage I would like to request if you will allow me to make some financial contribution to defray some of the many cost you and your volunteers have had to incur during this long drawn out process of making this treasure trove of knowledge available to some of us avid readers across the globe. I most definitely would like to support this very worthy effort and also help out with future such projects that you might be contemplating.

    May Sarosh Yazad always be your protector and may you always have the strength and courage to do this remarkable job you do with Farshogard.

    Best regards,

    Aspi Colah
    Houston, Texas.

  4. kfkeravala  January 30, 2012

    Great Effort.A heartfelt Thanks to All those who helped in this digitization project.

  5. Zarine  January 30, 2012

    Stupendous work — truly a labour of love. May Ahuramazda bless this effort and and all your future ones.

  6. arZan sam wadia  January 30, 2012

    Marzban

    This is fantastic. And a perfect example of the labour of love….for something that transcends the material world.

    I am sure that this archive will come in handy to religious scholars and general laity for years to come.

  7. Ervad Aspi Keki Rao  January 30, 2012

    Hi Ervad Marzban,
    Fantastic and Fabulous digitization works of PARSI AWAZ volumes. This reflects great
    devotion undertaken by a dedicated Zoroastrian and your personal efforts and hardwork rendered for which we are ever so grateful to you and your team.
    All the good wishes for your future endeavours.
    With best regards.
    Aspi

  8. Ashish  January 31, 2012

    Dear Ervad Saheb,

    Amazing work by you and your team members. Can’t thank you enough. May Ahuramazda be with you always.

  9. Ashish  January 31, 2012

    Dear Ervad Saheb,

    Amazing work by you and your team members. Can’t thank you enough.
    May Paak Ahuramazda be with you always.

  10. xyz  February 1, 2012

    Excellent Teamwork. Superb Co-ordination with all the people who helped you. May Lord Ahuramazda and his team of Ameshaspands and Yezads always guide you to do such wonderful work for the Mazdayasni Zarthosti Religion. Yatha Jamyad Yatha Afrinami. God Bless You All. Amen.

  11. FAROKH D. VARIAVA  February 1, 2012

    I take this opportunity to wish you and all your colleagues who helped you to make your dream come true for which we are ever so grateful to you and your dedicated team members. May Ahura Mazda shower his choicest blessings on you ever Amen! Keep up the good work.
    Regards,

    FAROKH VARIAVA
    KARACHI
    PAKISTAN

  12. Benaifer  September 2, 2015

    what dedication? Excellent teamwork and great job in preserving our old treasures. our community should be grateful for the same. God Bless