Saying goodbye to Darab

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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.

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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. Hathiram



  1. Arzan Sam Wadia  February 20, 2016

    RIP Darab. Thanks Marzban for sharing the story.

  2. Keiky M Press  February 20, 2016

    Wonderful recital dear Ervad Marzbanji and May Ahura Mazda Bless Er. Darab and his loved Ones Souls and Bless you wth Wisdom to face this world. So happy that you could take care of his family Home at Udvada!

  3. Hutoxi  February 20, 2016

    Prayed for Er.Darab Er. Behram. May his Ruvan achieve the state of Anushehi and keep progressing.

  4. Yezdi  February 20, 2016

    Thank you Ervad Marzban. We did the Sarosh nu Patru for dear Babu, as we fondly called him.
    Yezdi N. Unvalla

  5. Aspy  February 20, 2016

    Darab ne Garothman Behest. What a wonderful article Ervad Marzban, transported us to that moment, put up in the manner which only you can.

  6. Er Gustad Maneckshah Panthaki  February 21, 2016

    Very moving obituary. I met Darab for a few minutes in Florida when I came to participate in Navjote a few years ago. As you have said he was very humble and started reminiscence of Udvada once I told him; I spent a few years in Udvada with my maternal grandfather and grandmother. May AhuraMazda grant him eternal peace.
    Er Gustad Maneckshah Panthaki

  7. Zarine  February 21, 2016

    Darab uncle was the hero, the idol in our family. He studied in Street lamps, and entered the US to pursue academics,and rose to become Professor Emeritus at FAU. I got admitted to FAU but my student visa was rejected but with his and Nellie auntys encouraging words I succeeded in the aviation industry! His live, kindness and erudition were phenomenal! We will miss you so much.

  8. Mahabanoo  February 21, 2016


    May God almighty grant Anushehi to Holy Ravan of Er. Darab Er. Beheramshah .Amen!

  9. R E Darabna  February 21, 2016

    May the Ravan of Ervad Darab Unwalla get his destined place in the abode of Ahura Mazda! May his good deeds pave his way to higher realms! R.I.P. Ervad Saheb.

  10. Firdaus Dotiwala  February 25, 2016

    a giant among men he was. even though i did not get to truly know him as well as i would have loved to, you could just feel his presence. a true loss for our community & our people. may god help you rest in peace.

  11. Vili  February 26, 2016

    Dear Bapu,as we knew him cald him by this name only.l pray to Almighty God to bless his soul in eternal peace of Heaven n may his soul progress in d highest of relam.Goodbye dear Bapu.
    Thank u mr.Hathram for throwing lights pn our religion.
    Villy Dhan Mehta.

  12. Pauli Bhadha  February 28, 2016

    Thank you for a wonderful eulogy and for taking us step-by-step through his inspiring life. Indeed, it was so surprising that dementia progressed so rapidly through this magnificent man, a giant amongst us all!

    Darabshah used to love engaging me in long, intellectual conversations whenever he met me at any party. We still remember the beautiful Jashans he did at our house and will always cherish our friendship with Darabshah and Nelly, Jasmine and Perry and the spouses and grandchildren. His spirit and inspiration will always live on in his family.
    Pauli & Kashmira Bhadha

  13. Pourushaspa M. Panthaki  February 28, 2016

    My prayers for Er. Darab Er. Behram. May his soul rest in peace.

  14. Dhanju Darab Chichgur  March 25, 2016

    Thank you Er Marzban for a very enlightening obituary on the brilliant Er Darab Unwalla. I did not have much acquaintance with Darab, but my father, also Darab, new him quite well. I had met Darab initially at the Globe Hotel at Udwada, where he had come to help, Kekobad and Homi Sidhva, in his college vacation. I remember my father telling me that this man will one day make a name for himself. He was also a very mischievous student in college who was loved by his professors and fellow students. After his student years in the USA he came back to India to marry Nellie Sidhva. One of the last times I met him was in my Freemason Lodge where he came to meet his Brethren, when he visited India.
    May his noble soul rest in eternal peace

  15. Forbes  April 16, 2016

    Dr. Unwalla was my Strategic Management Professor when I pursued an MBA at FAU in the Summer of 1994. I found him to be a very good teacher and fun to be around. He was very helpful to me when I called on him for some assistance five years later.

    My sincere condolence to his wife (of whom he always spoke fondly) and the rest of his family. May his soul rest in peace.