Roj Amardad Mah Adar, 1382 Yz.
It was a quiet evening, of an yet un-eventful day, the 23rd of July, 1922. Those were the days when Mumbai was still a cluster of the main city and the distant suburbs made up of small villages. In the hamlet of Marol, situated in the suburb of Andheri, Putlibai and her husband Ardeshir Merwanji Bharucha, along with their children, and Ardeshir’s brother, Darabsha, had just finished their dinner. They settled down in their sprawling mansion, called Shapur Baug, nested amongst many acres of verdant land covered with numerous trees and gardens.
The property had been acquired and built by their illustrious relative Sir Shapurji Bharucha, a self-made man and one of the leading stock brokers of his day, well known as the person who had gifted to charity, in those days of easy prices, the staggering sum of Rs. 25 lakhs. In admiration and recognition of this astounding charity, which was given for both Parsi as well as cosmopolitan purposes, the British Empire had knighted the gentleman.
An intensely devout and very traditional Parsi family, the Bharuchas, despite their great wealth and prosperity, never forgot their humble roots. The expansive mansion was built in such a way as to enable the easy practice of all the Tarikats of purity and ritual cleanliness of the faith. The family had also installed a small Atash Dadgah, which was kept burning perpetually and also kept on the estate a full time Priest to tend to the Fire and offer Boi at regular intervals. Of the many rooms in the mansion, one room had been specially set aside and was out of bounds for any non-Parsi or any non-family member. In this room, was kept a very heavy, fire-proof safe where the many riches of the family were stored. On top of this giant safe was kept a perpetually burning Divo along with a framed picture of Prophet Asho Zarathushtra. Next to the safe was also kept a photograph of Sir Shapurji Bharucha who had passed away recently. This room was cleaned and maintained only by the family members and no servant or non-Parsi was allowed to enter.
Just outside the estate, but within visible distance of the mansion, Seth Ardeshir had recently constructed, in honour of Bahman Ameshaspand (the Zoroastrian Divine Entity looking after the welfare of cattle), a water trough where roaming cattle as well as beasts pulling carts on their way to the city could stop and have a drink of the water and refresh themselves as well as their riders.
It was in these peaceful and verdant surroundings that the family resided away from the hustle and bustle of mercantile Mumbai. Ardeshir’s brother, Darabsha had returned home just the previous day after spending a short period in hospital for some medical problem.
As the light disappeared and darkness settled, the family recited their nightly prayers, with special focus on Sarosh Yazad, the Prime Minister of the earth and the Divine Entity who protects man and other creations in the night. Saying their cheerful ‘Sarosh Yazad Panah baad!’ greetings, which is the true Zoroastrian way of wishing good night to each other, the family went off to their respective rooms. While the children slept in a different room, Darabsha went off to his own bedroom and Seth Ardeshir and Putlibai made their bed in a special room. This room had been cordoned into seven parts, with the names of seven different Zoroastrian Divinities inscribed on the walls of the room. Seth Ardeshir’s bed was placed in the area of the room marked by ‘Sarosh’ so as to afford him the full protection of Asho Sarosh Yazad through the night. The servants slept in an outhouse beside the mansion. Small candles were placed within the mansion at different points to give some brightness in the night.
As the family slept peacefully, trouble loomed nearby. A group of nine Pathans had recced the property and come to the conclusion that great wealth must be hidden there. They had made their plans carefully, and shortly after midnight, the nine ruffians entered Shapur Baug, under cover of darkness. Four of the miscreants stood outside the mansion to ensure that not only could no one from outside enter, but also bolted the doors so that the sleeping residents were themselves made prisoners in their own home. The remaining five entered inside and quickly extinguished the few lights to make it difficult to spot them. As they entered Ardeshir’s room, they spied Putlibai sleeping on her bed. Taking her to be an easy target, they threw Putlibai off the bed and two Pathans stood over her and threatened her with death if she did not hand over the keys of the safe.
But Putlibai was made of much sterner stuff. Refusing to get scared by the thugs, Putlibai immediately recalled her religious training and her deep and passionate faith for the Zoroastrian religion. Instead of answering the thugs, Putlibai began to chant the sacred Manthra ‘Sarosh Yazad Panah baad!’ in a most loud voice. Meanwhile the other three Pathans crept up to Ardeshir’s bed and lightly pierced his chest with a dagger causing him to wake up with a start. As he woke up, two of the Pathans seized his hands and held him up, while the third began to beat him mercilessly with a lathi, asking for the keys to the safe.
As the blows of the lathi began to rain on Ardeshir’s head and body, he saw in the distance the water trough constructed by him in honour of Bahman Ameshaspand. Taking that as a cue, Seth Ardeshir immediately appealed to Bahman Ameshaspand, who also denoted Divine Wisdom, to give him the quick mind to overpower the thieves. Simultaneously, Seth Ardeshir also heard the sacred chant of Sarosh Yazad Panah bad, being repeated by his wife who was lying on the floor with the two Pathans hovering above her. He too, picked up the sacred words and shouted loudly ‘Sarosh Yazad Panah baad!’ It was as if Seth Ardeshir had been endowed with superhuman strength. The next second he managed to free himself of his two captors and immediately rushed to the aid of his wife Putlibai. He held the two Pathans threatening his wife and seizing them by their hair, he banged their two heads hard with each other, causing them to move away momentarily. Taking advantage of this diversion, Seth Ardeshir asked his wife to run away to the children’s room, from where noise of the children crying could be heard and lock herself inside and protect them.
In this way, Seth Ardeshir saved his wife and kids and now stood alone, facing the five Pathans, armed with daggers and lathis. In normal circumstances Seth Ardeshir would have shouted out for the servants to come to his aid, but armed with the intelligence given by Bahman Ameshaspand, Seth Ardeshir realized that there was no time for that and the servants would not be of much use. He decided to rather depend on the Divine Mercy and help of Asho Sarosh Yazad. He immediately began to recite, in a loud voice the Nirang of the Sarosh Yasht Vadi. As he began to chant the sacred words of ‘Sarosh Asho tagi, pirozgar bad, dastagire Ruvan, hama tan pasban…(Asho Sarosh Yazad is the strong and victorious, protector of the Souls, protector of all men and the pious…)a strange thing happened. The five Pathans, who were ready to beat him up, suddenly froze and could not move. They seemed to have entered into a trance like state and stood like mute statues, while Ardeshir recited the powerful Nirang.
As long as Seth Ardeshir recited the Nirang, the thieves were frozen. Soon, however, the Nirang ended and one of the five suddenly snapped out of his trance-like state. He shouted at Seth Ardeshir: ‘Yeh Sarash Sarash kya karta hai! Chavi lavo!’ Angered by the Pathan insulting Asho Sarosh Yazad, and armed with the divine strength bestowed on him, Seth Ardeshir lunged at the five and without any weapon, began to single handedly fight with them and their sticks and daggers. As the commotion and shouting increased, the Mobed Saheb who had come to tend the holy fire suddenly appeared in the room and began to see how he could help. But Seth Ardeshir shouted at him: ‘Go inside the room and lock yourself in. We must protect the Atash Dadgah at all costs!’ The priest did as he was ordered.
Meanwhile one of the five Pathans began to rock the cupboard which was in the room in the hope of finding something valuable. As the cupboard was locked, he could not open the doors and using his great strength, the Pathan pushed the cupboard and rolled it over, trying to force the doors to open. As it crashed to the ground in a loud noise, the other four Pathans kept trying to beat up Seth Ardeshir, who gave them tough competition with just his bare hands and the Divine Strength given by Asho Sarosh Yazad. Grabbing their strong forearms, Seth Ardeshir would dash one against the other and throw them to the ground again and again.
However, a time soon came when Seth Ardeshir began to get tired and out of breath. His strength started sapping and he felt the end was near. In his mind he sent up a plaintive prayer to Asho Sarosh Yazad: ‘O Holy One, are you forsaking me?’
[to be continued…]
Ervad Marzban J. Hathiram