This is the story of the Parsee Zoroastrians in Jhansi. Unfortunately not much is recorded & we will endeavour to keep researching and adding more information to this site as we come across information.
The Parsis, as we knew them, great stalwarts in their own rights, whom we remember fondly, with pride, left their mark in the past. You hear of the tales of Railway engine drivers, the train guards and the accidents and occasional adventures on the railway line, and the great bonhomie developed among the running staff. This is the stuff that exemplifies the human spirit.
The Railways in those days, with British foresight or the idea of mass trade & military aggression, were creating a rail network that still exists, and which drew many a brave man to leave the comforts of home and hearth to venture to Jhansi.
Early on, Jhansi became a central point for the Indian railway network of the British Empire, due to its central location in India, easy access to all parts of the country & skilled local populace. Also it is to be noted that except for the famous battle of the Ranee with the British, Jhansi was always a pro British territory.
After the battles of 1857/58, as the British at the time were adamantly keen to set an example of, destroying all rebel towns, hanging the rebels from trees in public or blasting them from cannon mouths, destroying the land & communities & the same faith happened to Jhansi along with other rebel hotspots like Delhi, Kanpur, Lucknow and many more.
In 1858, the Ranee was forced to leave Jhansi, after the gates were treacherously opened by an insider (this is local oral parlance, not recorded anywhere), the fort stormed and the town was systematically looted (recorded by various eyewitness records). Jhansi was burnt down, with fires and smoke coming out of the fort & township for days.
So this is the Story of the Paris in Jhansi
In our time there were just Parsis, which included all Zoroastrians and even descendants of Iranees, we never had the distinction of Parsi or Irani has taken that rigidly, everyone was either a Parsis or not, simple.
So Where Do You Begin?
At this time we do not have a clear record of the very beginning, of which the first families or person was that arrived here. But it is clearly acknowledged that the Raja & the Boyce families were probably the earliest settlers. On enquiring for old records, sadly a lot of them were destroyed due to age, withered paper & termite attack on records
As per Phiroze (Filly) Boyce his forefathers came to Jhansi from Morena, near Gwalior, at the request of the British to open a General merchandise store in Jhansi, in the late 19th century. The British were opening up a large cantonment area in Jhansi and they required all sorts of people to tag along for their town settlements.
As recorded by William Dalrymple in his newly released book in 2006 -The Last Mughal, during the 1857 rebellion, the enterprising Parsi firm of Jehangir & Cowasjee, have been recorded to have been in Delhi, supplying the British armies all sorts of commodities, mostly liquor, groceries, & foreign goods.
As recorded by Tahmankar, in his book – Ranee of Jhansi, an account of the rebellion of the times, there is also a record of a Parsi trader in Sagar, close to Jhansi, where he mentions that a Parsee trader supplied food items and trade provisions to the British army marching past, at a very large profit, but the British had to take the provision from him as no one else could provide the supplies required. So we can surely conclude that the early enterprising Parsees are recorded in Delhi & Sagar as early as 1857 or before. Also in the Jhansi Zoroastrian Aramgarg (graveyard), there are Parsis buried there as early as 1889, so we can assume Parsis would be there much earlier.
Some Snippets on Jhansi Parsees History
By Rony J Dick, Current President of Jhansi Anjuman (Pictured below )
Exact details are still sketchy with us but the following is an indicative history of Jhansi Anjuman as provided by Mr. Rony Dick, (photo) current President of the Jhansi Anjuman. Anjuman formed in the early 1930s: the following is the succession of the Presidents;
- First President was Mr Eduljee Merwanjee Boyce, served as President from inception to 1940 when he passed away.
- Who was succeeded by Dr Jamshedji Patel.
- Who was succeeded by Cowasjee Ballaporia.
- Who was succeeded by Maneck Mirza – He was a Railway Workshop Foreman.
- He was succeeded by Hormusjee Engineer – A businessman- from around 1954 to 1982.
- Who was succeeded by Adi Engineer from around – A businessman -1982 to 1987.
- He was succeeded by Noshir Dinshaw Roowala, A Railway Guard – only 3 months in the interim (was Anjuman’s secretary for almost 35 years).
- He was succeeded by Rony J Dick – A retired Railway Engine driver – who has been the president since 1988 to date.
From around 1800 to 1880 there were very few Parsi families recorded in Jhansi. Late Eduljee Merchant, Late Fardoonji Raja, Late Mrs Glass & Late Eduljee Ardeshir Dick were some of the early settlers in Jhansi. Rony Dick’s father Jehangirjee was born in 1894; he joined the GIP Railway in 1912 & retired from the railways. Like him his father Eduljee Ardeshir Dick was also with the GIP Railway and retired in 1925 and then settled in Mumbai.
The Jhansi Anjuman building was donated by the Lala family of Surat in memory of their late father Cawasjee Lala. The Mirza family used to stay in the area before the Anjuman building was erected. The Dharamsala building was donated by the Lala family in 1932, who at the time hailed from Kanpur.
The early Boyce family arrived from Morena where they had a business setup. The British Cantonment hierarchy of the day had asked them to come to Jhansi to assist in the cantonment being set up there. So Phiroze (Filly) Boyces grandfather Merwanjee Boyce & Mr. Abbott traveled to Jhansi to settle there.
Mr. Boyce settled in civil lines, where the property etc still exists. Mr. Merwanjee Boyce also was instrumental in donating the Aramgarh area (Cemetery) & the surrounding boundary walls in 1894. Another brother of Merwanjee Boyce also on request of the British Army of the time traveled to Belgaum and settled there. Their off-springs are still there and running a successful business.
Mr Abott with a larger family settled around the cantonment area.
The Abbott brothers built the area of Sipri Bazaar, Roy Gunj, Charlie Gunj, and Abbott gunj. The Abbott Dam was built by Mr. Abott and Mr. Boyce. A stone plaque at the water dam still records this. A proud thing, unfortunately, most Parsis in Jhansi probably do not remember this.
The first Ervad priest in Jhansi was the late Ervad Panthaky. Then he was succeeded by Ervad Dorabjee Dastoor who served the Jhansi Parsi Anjuman for almost 36 years. His son Sapal, an excellent Ervad who recited the Avestan prayers and had a sonorous loud clear pronunciation, and looked after the Agra area panthak for years. Later on he moved to Indore looking after the local Parsi populations daily ritual requirements etc. Dorabjee left Jhansi around 1975 for Udwada due to old age where after a few years he left for his heavenly abode.
Mr. Hormusjee Rustomjee Engineer and Mr. Savaksha R Engineer had a passenger bus company in Jhansi, probably the first passenger bus service in Jhansi. They operated it for many years. Later on, he also had a franchise showroom for Bajaj Tempos, aptly called Tempo House in Jhansi Late Eduljee M Boyce’s wife Late Mrs. Pervizmai Boyce was the First Honourable Lady Magistrate of Jhansi. She had to manage her husband’s shop after her husband unexpectedly passed away just before World War Two. The Shop was popular with the British armed forces as they were the only shop selling European liquors, chocolates, guns, and ammunition, etc.
(Pictured Left) Late Seth Phirozshah Sorabjee Kolah Secretary of Parsi Anjuman Jhansi & Founder of the Jhansi Zoroastrian Boys & Girls School of Jhansi. Today his descendants are settled in New Zealand & Canada.
Most Parsi families were employed with the Railways as drivers, guards, workshop foremen & clerks in offices. Their children also followed the elder’s steps and joined and retired from the railways. This trend only changed around 1970.
Snippets of history as per my aunt Daulat Amroliwala
- There were two Parsi Doctors in the early days. A Dr. Jehangirjee Driver & a Dr. Patel. Both migrated to Bombay later on.
- Also, there were two brothers – Mahearjee & Manekshaw Mirza. Their families stayed together in Jhansi. Later on, Manekshaw migrated to Calcutta. His daughter was married in Calcutta.
- Hormusjee & Savakshah Engineer, both brothers had a Bus transport business, married to two sisters Nergis & Banoo mai respectively. They used to take the local Parsis for picnics on weekends.
- The famous Surty company in Sipri bazaar belonged to Burjorjee Bhagal, her mother’s brother
- The other famous shop was the Boyce’s, mainly for foreign goods
- Daulats mum had a Horse cart and in the evenings they used to go for outings & in the hot summer evenings – Ice cream parties were held regularly
- Other families of the time were –Kohinas, Kolahs, Aibaras, Umrigars, Mavalwalas, Bhagalia, Sheriarjee Elavias, Bhagats, Merchants, Faram Eduljee, Engineers, Batlivalas, Gheewalas, Jehangirjee Dick, Hansotias – 3 brothers -Nadirshah, Jalejar & Ratanshah, Kaikhushroo Raja, Eduljee Merchant, Eduljee Boyce, Olias and many others
Some of the Jhansi Parsi’s who have worked hard & made a name for themselves
- In India: Burjor Bharucha – retired as General Manager of Bombay Dyeing
- In India: Hoshang Kohina – was Deputy General Manager of Union Bank of India & is presently Chairman Zoroastrian bank of India
- In India: Boman Mirza – he settled in Mumbai and is married into the famous Chinoy family of Hyderabad
- In India: Nari Contractor – the famous Indian cricketer, is from Tikamgarh a small village very close to Jhansi.
- In Calcutta: Late Baji Mirza’s son Late Manekshaw Mirza donated Rs 150,000 to the Jhansi Parsi Anjuman in his will when he passed away in Calcutta.
- In Canada: Mr. Filly M Maneckjee settled in Canada donated Rs 1,00,000 to Parsi General hospital in Mumbai for the poor and needy Parsees health support
Many of the Jhansi Parsi people have earned a good reputation for themselves wherever they have settled in
(See their photos in the families sub heading in this website)
- Canada: Filly & Vera Elavia, Sunnu and Nari Mavalvalas, Pannu J Dick and the Engineer brothers Behram & Percy
- USA: Gev Ogra & Rosy Bhagat
- Perth (Australia): Firoz Pestonji, Katy Shazadi (Nee Mirza), Nari Manekjee’s daughter Farzana Bhada (Nee Manekjee) & families
- Sydney (Australia): Bomi Wadia & Roshan wife of Porous Kolsawalas
- Kuwait: Porous Kohina and Pervez Mirza,
- London: Hutokshi Roowala
- Switzerland: Lily Roowala
- Hong Kong: Armin Dinshaw
Jehangir Baug the Gathering Place for Jhansi Zoroastrians
Members of the Jhansi Parsi Anjuman – (1942)
Following is a list of Members of the Jhansi Anjuman of 1942, kindly supplied By Katy Keki Khambatta Katy ( nee Kolah) left, translated from Gujarati into English by her daughter Farzana (photo right) . They live in Pune now.
- Baiji Pervizbanu Eduljee Boyce
- Baiji Dhunbai Rustomji Bhagal
- Baiji Soonabai Maneckshaw Ichaporia
- Baiji Dinbai Nusserwanji Driver
- Dr. Jamshed Pestonji Patel
- Khan Saheb Maneckshaw Hormusji
- Khan Saheb Dosabhai Cooverji Ogra
- Seth Rustomji M. Mody
- Seth Sohrab Jehangir Battiwalla
- Seth Hormusji Sohrabji Kolah
- Seth Jehangirji Edulji Dick
- Seth Jalejar Hormusji Mody
- Seth Maneckshaw Ardeshir Driver
- Seth Pirojshaw Dinshaw Billimoria
- Seth Pochaji Navroji Ichaporia
- Seth Dinshaw Cooverji Driver
- Seth Shavakshaw Rustomji Kohina
- Seth B. Shapurji Driver
- Seth Manchershaw D. Mistry
- Seth Nadarshaw Pestonji Hansotia
- Seth Eruchshaw A. Amroliwalla
- Seth Shavakshaw A. Patel
- Seth Jamshedji K. Boga
- Seth Machershaw K. Roowalla
- Seth Nadarshaw K. Roowalla
- Seth Dinyar Dorabji Bharucha
- Seth Maneckshaw R. Lali
- Seth Kaikhushroo F. Raja
- Seth Jehangir R. Contractor
- Seth Minocher Sohrabji Governor
- Seth Mahiarji Hormusji Mirja
- Seth Minocher Mahaiarji Mirza
- Seth Jalejar Pestonji Hansotia
- Seth Rustomji Pestonji Hansotia
- Seth Ratanshaw Pestonji Hansotia
- Seth Sohrab Manchershaw Anklesaria
- Seth Behramshaw Manchershaw Anklesaria
- Seth Cawasshaw Bejanji Olia
- Seth Darabshaw Bejanji Olia
- Seth Dosabhai Shehriarji Elavia
- Seth Pirojshaw Ardeshir Amroliwalla
- Seth Dorabji Rustomji Dastur
- Seth Burjorji M. Driver
- Seth Behramshaw Jehangirji Darukhanawalla
- Seth Rustomji Dhanjibhai Patel
- Seth Bejonji Pestonji Olia
- Seth Hormusji Rustomji Engineer
- Seth Shavakshaw Rustomji Engineer
- Seth Manchershaw Navroji Anklesaria
- Seth Hormusji Pestonji Bhagal
- Seth Jamshedji Rustomji Bhagal
- Seth Burjorji Jamshedji Bhagal
- Seth Mehernosh Framji Battiwalla
- Seth Kaikhushroo Dinshawji Bijlikhan
- Seth Edulji Nadarshaw Merchant
- Seth Dinshaw N. Patel
- Seth Navroji Sohrabji Driver
- Seth Dinshaw Cooverji Pesuna
Early Parsi Stalwarts of Jhansi
Some Early Photos of Jhansi
Sports in Jhansi
The Senior Railway Institute is a very popular meeting place for people in the early days, for sport, evening dances, parties and get together. The institute was restricted to mostly the Europeans and Anglo Indians and Parses were also allowed. It had all amenities from indoor games like table tennis, billiards, pool, carom, card facilities as well as luxurious bar etc
Cricket, like hockey badminton, table tennis, wild animal hunting, billiards, carom etc was a major sport the Parsis took keen interest in. In the British days a lot of the local Rajas used to sponsor the cricket teams & as per the older Jhansi people a lot of times teams from Jhansi used to be sponsored also to games in distant princely kingdoms, under the rulers patronage.
Other time also Saturday afternoons and Sunday mornings were family days & players would don their white cricket uniforms and with families and picnic hampers be off to the Senior Railway Institute or the Junior one, for a full day of cricket and families having a great time with lots of food, frolic, and fun. The games were played for the sake of fun and playing and it was more the camaraderie they used to play for, than aggressive combat as in today’s game.
At the Railway institute and cantonment club, cricket was an event each weekend. The whole family would go and it was a picnic time, with huge Tiffins of gourmet food, which the ladies served and the men coming off the fields always had a good supply of. These weekends were a fun time to relax, keep fit, meet others and enjoy life. Friendships were forged and strengthened, relationships built up that lasted a life time & a good point for young people to meet and form relationships also.
Cawas uncle was a natural player and according to Dhanji Anklesaria was one of the best cricketers with a natural grasp of the game, he has ever seen. Funnily he used to bat right handed and bowl extremely well with the left hand. Along with his brothers they had a trio of cricket fanatics, in the family. The brothers used to play a lot of cricket with the neighbouring teams of Princely kingdoms also.
There are a lot of interesting cricketing stories in the family and our cousin Percy Pestonji, Dali’s uncle’s son in fact almost went up to the Ranji trophy tournaments and was an excellent wicket-keeper and batsman.
Jhansi Hockey teams visit to Lucknow: From left standing are Homai Engineer, Zerin Bhagat, unknown, unknown, behind is Goolu Mirza, front in floral frock centre is Hansu Bhagat, lady in black sari & coat is Dolly Elavia, Bapsy Mirza & Maxine Barnes & others
The Romantic Days of Indian Railways – Then & Now
Many a Parsi Engine driver operated these engines for their livelihood, and most times they excelled in their work with dedication and excellence. We have recorded examples of many a famous personality being engaged in conversation with the drivers en-route to New Delhi & Jhansi drivers were driving the trains Minoo Mirza was driving a similar engine when Dr. Rajendra Prasad, free India’s First President was travelling to Delhi, the train was running late & the President was anxious to be in Delhi, so Minoo used his skills and ensured the President reached Delhi on time. The grateful president personally came and thanked him on the engine.
Similarly Dali Pestonji was on engine when Shree (Mr.) Morarjee Desai, then Prime Minister of India, travelling from Agra to Delhi, came to the engine and our Dali Uncle offered to have the Prime Minister come on engine for the trip, which as the PM later recounted to him was a hugely memorable experience. Incidentally Dali uncle also secured an interview with the Prime Minister for later on and requested his intervention in getting our family home, then a local post office released, so he could retire and use it. Incidentally that house is where our Pesi Uncle resides now
My uncles Cawas, Dali, Kaku, Darab & Dosu & lots of other Jhansi Parsis earned their living driving these engines up and down from Jhansi. Most runs were up to Delhi & Itarsi on the male passenger’s trains, like Punjab Mail. Jhansi drivers would change over, rest, and return back on another train run back to Jhansi.
As children we used to watch in awe our uncles open their huge metal trunks (luggage) which were like modern safes with compartments for books, pens, clothes, torch, etc and if we were lucky and uncle was in a good generous mood we would get some novelty to us like a gooseberry, dry nuts or special Delhi halwa, etc or the seasonal fruit. Both my Sara Kakis (Aunts), very loving & very caring women who looked after their husbands & children.
Family life revolved around the males a lot, depending on their “line” runs & quiet had to be maintained when an engine driver returned back from a run, so he could catch up on his lost sleep.
Jhansi Engine Drivers
Jimmy used to drive these and later the diesel and Electric engines also. Most train runs for the Jhansi drivers would originate from Jhansi, train runs going up to Delhi, to the north & Itarsi to the south. These are the Romantic steam engines, operated on huge coal fired boilers & if the driver wanted more steam, more coal had to be shovelled by the assistants speedily. The coal particles used to smear ones clothing and so you see all three engine operators wearing head bandannas.
Drivers were expected to maintain speed limits on the tracks, obey the signals and directions given, keep records, maintain logs, liaise with the guard, maintain signal communications with the passing by railway station masters on the lines, by means of signal flags & nonverbal communications, keep the engine working to best optimum, keep a watchful eye on all gauges, record readings on instruments, maintain safety and other issues. All at the same time & ensure the engine stayed on track.
On the Indian railway tracks a lot of rural animals, scavenging birds & even people were killed by the roaring trains passing by. Skilled drivers on off duty and sitting on the train can actually even tell you when a bird or animal has been killed by the engine, listening by the sound change on the tracks.
The Engine Drivers’ assistants were called Firemen as their primary task in these engines was to shovel coal into the boiler firebox & the term still refers to them although the engines are now run on electricity and no naked fires are there. Modern engine lingo calls them Assistant engine operators.
This is a true story from Indian Railways.
Okhil Chandra Sen wrote this letter to the Sahibganj divisional railway office in 1909.
It is on display at the Railway Museum in New Delhi.
It was also reproduced under the caption “Travelers’ Tales” in the Far Eastern Economic Review
Okhil Babu’s letter to the Railway Department:
“I am arriving by passenger train Ahmedpur station and my belly are too much swelling with jackfruit. I am therefore going to the privy.
Just I doing the nuisance that guard making whistle blow for train to go off and I am running with ‘lotah’ in one hand and ‘dhoti’ in the next when I fall over and expose all my shocking to man and female women on the platform.
I am got left at Ahmedpur station.
This too much bad, if passenger go to make dung that dam guard not wait train five minutes for him.
I am therefore pray your honour to make big fine on that guard for public sake. Otherwise I am making big report! to papers.”
Any guesses why this letter was of historic value?
It apparently led to the introduction of toilets on trains
Engine Driver Jimmy Bhagat
These photos show Jimmy Bhagat and his firemen’s assistants on the Railway engine. Jimmy used to drive these and later the diesel and Electric engines also. Most train runs for the Jhansi drivers would originate from Jhansi, the train runs going up to Delhi, to the north & Itarsi to the south. These are the Romantic steam engines, operated on huge coal-fired boilers & if the driver wanted more steam, more coal had to be shoveled by the assistants speedily. The coal particles used to smear one’s clothing and so you see all three engine operators wearing head bandannas.
Drivers were expected to maintain speed limits on the tracks, obey the signals and directions given, keep records, maintain logs, liaise with the guard, maintain signal communications with the passing by railway station masters on the lines, by means of signal flags & nonverbal communications, keep the engine working to best optimum, keep a watchful eye on all gauges, record readings on instruments, maintain safety and other issues.
All at the same time & ensure the engine stayed on track. On the Indian railway tracks a lot of rural animals, scavenging birds & even people were killed by the roaring trains passing by. Skilled drivers on off duty and sitting on the train can actually even tell you when a bird or animal has been killed by the engine, listening by the sound change on the tracks.
The Engine Drivers’ assistants were called Firemen as their primary task in these engines was to shovel coal into the boiler firebox & the term still refers to them although the engines are now run on electricity and no naked fires are there. Modern engine lingo calls them Assistant engine operators.
The above right side railway station is Morena, from where a lot of the Jhansi Parsi s was connected. The Boyce family came from here, and as did a lot of Railway engine drivers and guards of Jhansi who were transferred to and from this place. The photo was taken in August 2007
Signal cabins like these were very crucial communication centers for Engine drivers, especially when they were passing by a station and not halting. Signalmen manning these would be signaling with colored green or red flags, to the driver to give them a go-ahead, signal clearance, much like the Control tower operator does for airplanes. If signals were wrongly given major accidents could take place. Most cabin men also physically operated lines changing with huge mechanical levers to guide the oncoming train onto the correct track line. With modern technology, things have changed though.
Modern day Engine Driver Rony Dick
Many a Parsi Engine driver operated these engines for their livelihood, and most times they excelled in their work with dedication and excellence.
Rony Jehangir Dick, like his father, grandfather and elder brother was an Engine driver. After an illustrious service of over 40 years he was presented with a Railway medal and certificate.
As with most drivers, he started at the bottom of the ladder and rose to be a senior driver. He is also President of the Jhansi Anjuman and has done a lot of good work in bringing Jhansi into the limelight amongst the other Anjuman’s and the Federation
Diesel Engine & Me
Diesel powered engines like this one, were fundamentally the prime movers, between the older coal fired boiler engines that our grandfather and later Uncles drove and the electric engines of modern India.
From around the 1970s to the late 90s these engines were instrumental in providing the prime mover for trains in northern India, replaced by the Electric engines now.
More powerful and cleaner than coal-fired boiler engines, however less romantic and nostalgic, then steam power, ones, but very fuel-efficient.
Most of our cousins like Jimmy Bhagat, the brothers Rony & Jimmy Dick & many other Jhansi drivers in the last 2 decades retired on these types of engines.
Annoo Pestonji and Her Scooter
Anoo daughter of Sera & Cawas Pestonji & sister of Dara, poses next to her scooter. The Jhansi girls for their time were pretty modern, fashionably dressed, Anglo influenced & excelled in sports also. Anno is married to Yezdi Edelbehram and lives in Dadar Mumbai. She has a daughter Natasha married to Adil living in Andheri. Note the smart fashion of the day.
Some of the Jhansi Parsi Anjuman Members Activities
Photo is taken at a Sunday religious class & children’s activity day out in the morning at the Jehangir Hall & Dharamsala.
Standing left rear: Mrs. Daruwala
(in a frock ) Mrs. Dolly Merchant, Mrs. Zerin Merchant, Mrs. Naju Patel, Master Neville Merchant, Mr. Dosu Elavia, Mr. Keki B. Pestonji, Mr. Adi Engineer, and Mr. Behram Anklesaria.
Standing front row: Starting from Young Boy in chequered shirt & 2 pockets, Farokh K. Pestonji, Fredy Merchant, Mrs. Zerin Dick, Miss. Kashmira Maneckjee, Mrs. Mani Bhagat, (in specs & sari, behind) Miss Roshni Bhagat, Mrs. Freny Anklesaria, & Rony Dick.
Sitting rear row: Miss. Beroz Daruwala, Miss Tanaz Bhagalia, Miss Diana Daruwala, Miss. Peris, Miss. Alice, Miss Dinaz Bhagat (Large collar frock) Master Neville Dick, Master Firdoz, Master Tubin, Master Freddy Bhagalia
Children front row (from left to right): Master Zubin Patel (looking down), Miss Goolnaz Dick, Miss. Monaz Patel, Master Farhad Dick, Miss Yasmin Sethna, Miss____, Miss Dimple Bhagat (Right hand on cheek).
Three Generations – One family
Photo Left : Kersi – Kaiku Bhagat (seated left) & Jehangir Pestonji Olia probably photo taken in early 30’s. This photo shows the fashions of the day. All of Jehangir uncles ‘s photos show him to be very well attired and a debonairly dressed person. According to my father, he was a strict disciplinarian and was strict with all his brothers for self-control, manners and respect. He dabbled in a few businesses and also had the Singer sewing machine agency in Sadar Bazar in Jhansi
Photo centre : Standing are Zerin Bhagat her mum Mani Bhagat, Sera Cawas Pestonji & daughter Anno Pestonji. Sitting are Hunsu & Rosy Bhagat.
Photo right: Flowers girls for a catholic friend’s wedding. Standing behind are sisters Dinaz & Roshni Bhagat. Standing front are Goolnaz & Farhad Dick & Dimple Bhagat. The three photos show the same family members – generations apart. Note the distinctive dres’ difference. Zerin in the photo in the center is the mother of Goolnaz & Farhad in the photo right.
Kakau Bhagat is Zerin, Hunsu & Rosy’s father & grandfather to all the children on right
Welcome to the Faith — My Navjote on 19 Oct 1969
The year that the first man landed on the moon was my Navjote year. Here, after the traditional bath etc., on stage the two Ervads Sapal and his father ……(with spectacles) are performing the Navjote initiation ceremony. This exact photo is, when the senior Dasturjee was asking me my name.
In the background front row, my Mum Rati, my younger Kaki Seroo, my brother Farokh, my grandmother Goolabai & Daulat aunty. Behind are Dhunji Amroliwala our cousin, Darayus Merchant & my Dad. In far background are Darabshah Amroliwala, Cawas Pestonji, Sam Kohina & in Black suit is Tehmuras Bhagat amongst others.
Photo right My Navajote ceremony and Sapal the Priest is initiating me into the fold. Seated behind is my elder Sera Kaki wife of Cawas Kaka, on right side is Mrs. Young, my school teacher’s daughter, Zerin Bhagat (who got married to Rony Dick, 2 days after my Navjote) and little girl in front is Hutokshi Dinshaw, behind her is Armin Dinshaw & little girl behind Zerin is Lily Dinshaw in white frock. Behind the roller shutter is the storage area for stage, chair, tables etc.
Elegant Ladies of Jhansi
Lady on left is Shera Mai Driver, my Dad’s cousin who used to live in Boyce compound. Lady seated is Tehmina sister of Minoo Mirza. Sheramai was very instrumental in prodding me to read, study hard and at one time gave me a cutting of the Times of India dated around circa 1930 with an article on the Ranee of Jhansi.
She goaded me that if a woman can be so brave and daring, fight for truth under such harsh condition, you too can do so. This has stuck to my mind till today.
My personal contact with her was around 1971 when we moved to the Civil lines house as a 10 year old boy. She would regularly come and visit us and stay overnight also at times. She was a spinster and moulded in the old school of decency, discipline, self control and living in a humble manner.
She tended to her aged mother with extreme love and care and lived in the same house after her passing away. She was quiet fond of gardening and had a “Sitafal (custard apple) tree” which produced sweet sitafals, which most Parsees and neighbours always had an ample share of the lovely fruits.
She was quiet a religious person and prayers were her major solace and support, especially in the old age. As a young boy, I remember vividly that we had a change of the local Ervad saheb (Zoroastrian Priest) in Jhansi & she met the new priest and informed him that he must pray slowly and not like a mail train, for her mothers prayers or else he would be in trouble.
She never had electricity installed in her house as it would spoil her eyes, a popular belief of the time. One evening she had come over to our house to stay overnight, as usual and went to sleep, but never woke up. She met her Maker in the most wonderful and peaceful manner in her sleep.
It was quite a thing for a young boy like me at the time, but her serenity, peaceful manner, and strong personality are still sharply embedded in my memory. May Ahura Mazda, Bless her soul as well as all our other Jhansi Zoroastrians. She was a governess to the Boyce children.
Oldest Graves of Parsis in Jhansi
In the area near the Judges compound in Jhansi, in the area called Kutcheri (The Judiaciary) there are 4 graves, and as per Phiroze Boyce they belong to the earliest Zoroastrians who when deceased were buried at this place.
At that time the Jhansi Zoroastrian Aramgarh was not there. So these people were buried at this site. Unfortunately, there are no headstones or any type of inscription to be found on the graves. In 2007 when on my visit to Jhansi Filly Boyce very graciously, with most physical difficulty took me to the site and it was an awesome experience, to be at the spot.
I just prayed for the deceased and hoped their souls would be in peace. If anyone has any information on this issue we would love to hear from you.
Some Early Photos of Jhansi
The church was erected in free India, but this residence is typically British of the earlier times. We would like to know who & what the original building was erected for?
The Parsis & the British population, the Anglo Indians & local Christians had a very close community bon homie and participated keenly in social activities together. The evening parties would have common friends and as they all worked together in the Railways, the children also were close friends not just being neighbours but also sharing similar schools.
The living residences, i.e. Bungalows were all close by and easy reach within a walk or cycle way. In later days the American fashions of the 1960s did influence the teens and a bit rebelliously, as in all parts of the world then, with tight pants, long hair & the influence of Elvis Priestley & the Beatles.
A lot of the families of Parsees were indirectly also affected by the second world war & the returning soldiers had seen a part of the world which they would talk about to the local Parsees. One such was Tehmuras Bhagat, a quiet soldier gentleman, who used to wear his army beret and award badges at times for functions, but I was too young, around 9 years old, to realize any significance. Alas.
Railway Officer’s Bungalow – Railway Colony
This structure is typically the old Railway Officers & Engine Driver’s/Guard’s, bungalow, with huge rooms, large verandas, high ceilings to keep the Indian summer heat out, on the hot
days, large open areas in front and back of the house. In a house like this, three generations of Pestonjis lived and very many fond memories are still treasured by all cousins. Note the chimney on top for the fire-place, as winters again are extremely cold in Jhansi. Most houses had nice laid-out gardens in front and poultry and farm animals in the rear and separate servant’s quarters. Most families had vegetable gardens, reared goats, geese, even cows, pets like dogs and cats, horses, etc.
The Tonga – Horse & Carriage
This is a Tonga, a horse-driven cart which probably is a modern version of the ancient chariots of the kings and warriors. During the time from around 1900 to
almost 1970, it was the main mode of transport in Jhansi. Normally seats 3 people comfortably, but more can be squeezed in as per the Tongawalas economic condition and whims and the horses physical condition.
This photo shows a very basic tonga, there used to be others normally very fancily decorated and with more comfortable seats. Tongas are a very rare sight in major urban metropolis’s now and this one probably is a rarity also. In their heyday, they were in great demand; most rich locals would have their own, like we have motor cars now, with foot board men, horseman etc.
Our Jai aunty had one too and stories are told of the Boyce family kids and elders riding out each day, all dressed up, for an evening outing through the streets of Jhansi, pre-independence days. Most tonga owners were Afghan Muslims who used to have fleets of these plying for trade.
RANDOM PHOTOS OF THE EARLY PARSIS
Jehangir Olia and family group photos
Dali later joined the railways as a fireman & rose to be a senior, very highly respected and loved person. Every one but his family called him “Dolly Pestonji”.
He was always ready to assist anyone anytime, however, he was quite a disciplinarian also & his nephews especially used to be in awe of him. A large-hearted lion of Jhansi.