Roj Ashtad Mah Khordad, 1379 Yz.
In Mumbai, preparations for the arrival of Ustad Saheb were in full swing. Mr. Khodabux Poonegar sent out a postcard invite to all the major Parsi scholars at that time. The postcard mentioned that a Parsi had appeared in Surat who claimed to have met and stayed with a group of Zoroastrian sages in Iran and had got detailed explanation about the true essence of the religion. Scholars were invited to meet with this gentleman and hear what he had to say. A detailed description of the first meeting (and subsequent meetings) of the scholars with Ustad Saheb is given by Mr. Sorabji Nanabhai Banaji, who was himself an invitee to the meeting in his article published in the Ustad Saheb Memorial Volume.
Mr. Banaji describes that on the appointed day, a group of around 35 scholars, including the very senior and leading lights of the day like Mr. Kharshedji R. Cama (founder of the K. R. Cama Oriental Institute and the first lay Parsi to study Avesta and Pahlavi from the European scholars), Dr. Sir Jivanji Modi, Dr. Davar, Mr. Sorab Bulsara (an accomplished archaeologist, numismatist and brilliant scholar prolific in over 12 languages!), Khodabux Poonegar, Ervad Desai of Navsari, Seth Meherjibhai Madon, Seth Wadia and other prominent Parsi sethias of that time assembled at the hall of the Bai Bengalee Girls High School at Churchgate. On the stage sat a gentleman (Ustad Saheb) of very traditional bearing who with great reluctance delivered an account of his journey to Iran and then proceeded to give a talk on the esoteric meaning of Atash in the religion. Ustad Saheb answered the detailed cross examination of the assembled scholars with great patience. When asked by one scholar as to which University he had studied from, Ustad Saheb very humbly replied that he had studied only till the third standard! Yet his talk was peppered with many references from Avesta scriptures, Pahlavi literature and gave an idea of his deep knowledge which was at great variance from his stated lack of formal education. The scholars also noted that Ustad Saheb spoke totally ex-tempore, without any notes or aids. The scholars were not satisfied with the initial meeting and asked Ustad Saheb to present himself the next day too, so that they could listen to him in greater detail.
On the next day, the hall was overflowing with more scholars and lay persons who had heard of the previous day’s proceedings. The meeting started with Mr. Manchersha Master giving an overview in simple language of what Ustad Saheb had said the previous day and then Ustad Saheb himself rose and spoke for the whole day. At the end of the meeting, the scholars decided that they should further listen to Ustad Saheb in a private meeting without any public so that they could more closely cross examine him as well as enter into a dialogue with him. Mr. Banaji arranged for a large room in his own house opposite the Banaji Limji Agiary at Fort where all the scholars agreed to assemble for one full week!
On the very first day the scholars started with a barrage of questions, till Ustad Saheb gently told them that to answer each of the queries required a certain basic fundamental knowledge of the Zoroastrian Mystic Revelation, which he called Khshnoom. Ustad Saheb suggested that he give them all a basic understanding of the religion as revealed to him by the Abed Sahebs and then the scholars could ask him questions in the evening. This method was agreed upon and the scholars all sat down to listen to the Master, each confident of his own theories and personal beliefs. It is worth mentioning that during this week of talks and question answer sessions, a very young son of Mr. K. R. Cama called Sarosh, who had gone to England for further studies suddenly passed away. Yet so eager was Mr. Cama to hear what the Ustad had to say that he excused himself for only two days, till the major prayers and ceremonies were over and immediately thereafter rejoined the class, putting aside his grief over the loss of his young son.
Mr. Banaji gives us a very detailed and tragically humorous account of how the week proceeded. As long as Ustad Saheb was talking about deep metaphysical topics like how creation began and the various stages of creation, time, space etc. all the scholars seemed very happy and deeply interested. But as Ustad Saheb came down to earth, the atmosphere changed. As the Master first began speaking about the importance of Tarikats in the daily life of the Parsi, and how the fundamental pillar of all Tarikats was the use of ‘Taro’, the reform-minded section of the scholars began to get uneasy. When Ustad Saheb explained the deeper esoteric meaning behind the use of bull’s urine, the importance of the Varasyaji in the Zoroastrian religion, why bull’s urine could be used despite being dead matter etc., the reformists grew very worried. When Ustad Saheb came to the topic of segregation during menstruation, the scholars had had enough! Some of them got up and began leaving, muttering: ‘For fifty years we have been trying to get rid of these things from our community and take it ‘forward’, and here this man comes and pours water over all our efforts! It is better that we parcel him off to Surat before he does further damage! Use Taro, indeed!’
Then when Ustad Saheb began to explain the unique spiritual position of Zarathushtra as a Yazata, rather than the normal human being that he was portrayed by the western oriented scholars, one more section of the audience got restive. When Ustad Saheb explained the truth about the Universal plan of different religions, why the Mazdayasni religion was supposed to be the mother of all other faiths, the status of the Prophet with relation to the revealers of other religions, the cyclical concept of time, those scholars who had been influenced by the new fangled doctrine of Theosophy got uneasy, because they believed that all religions were equal! Soon these two groups beat a hasty retreat from Ustad Saheb’s lectures!
Finally, Ustad Saheb began to explain the role of rituals and the importance of priests. Ustad Saheb emphasized how the Priest was a part of nature’s government and the vital role he had to play. In order to successfully do this, Ustad Saheb revealed the life of Tarikats, piety and prayer which the priest should live. He deplored the short cut tactics adopted by certain priests and in fact suggested the correct method of doing various ceremonies which had been neglected by the priests. As he began to explain the ceremonies and give away the “trade secrets” of the priesthood, there was a murmur of disapproval among the few priests who had gathered to listen to him. Soon they too decided that they had hard enough!
So who were left? Those few Parsis, who were truly eager to know the reality of their religion, who had no ego problems in listening to a so-called uneducated person, who had no preconceived notions of their own, and most important, those who had the ‘maaddo’ – the spiritual and intellectual quotient to understand and imbibe the knowledge of Khshnoom – they were the ones left behind at the end of that week.
What a sad reflection – a gem was presented before the community, but for their own selfish purposes, the majority of the so-called leaders and teachers of the community decided that he was not a gem, but a mere stone, and accordingly flung away the stone and turned away from the true enlightenment that they could have received at the hands of our revered Master! My friends, this is the meaning of those two words which Ustad Saheb always used to say: ‘Mataa nathi’!
Ervad Marzban J. Hathiram