Elderly Parsis are contriving to make their 40-something singles fall in love, marry and hopefully procreate.Â Ketan TannaÂ follows their strategies
Kety Daruwala is unable to contain herself. After all, she is reminiscing the paper dance game that she and other members of the Ahmedabad Parsi Panchayat organised for the youth, during a get-together for marriageble boys and girls in January.
“The paper dance is a game where we let a boy and a girl stand together and move their feet on a spread newspaper accompanied by rhythmic music. The idea is that neither the girl nor the boy should move out of the paper. Slowly, we keep on folding the paper bit by bit, and often the girl or the boy has to balance their feet in the air. Finally, the girl is forced to keep her feet on the boy’s feet and naturally the boy will not allow the girl to fall. The boy often lifts the girl in the air and brings her closer to him. More often than not, they lose their shyness. The intimacy that follows is heartwarming. We keep this game for the last and often it is a deal-maker,” says the 58-year-old bank officer who moonlights as a matchmaker in Ahmedabad.
On January 26 and 27, Kety ‘aunty’ and members of the Ahmedabad Parsi Panchayat organised the get-together of Parsis in the age group of 25-plus (By Parsi marriage standards, even 40 is young). Around 75 ‘girls’ and 200 ‘boys’ landed up at the venue, the swanky Goyal Water World Resort near Ahmedabad.
All expenses were borne by the generous Panchayat.
“We spent over Rs 3 lakh for what I think was one of the biggest national meets of eligible Parsi youngsters. Gifts alone cost us over Rs 50,000 (Parsis are finicky about the gifts they get, informs Keki aunty, cheerfully) not to mention the cost of printing and advertisements in the papers. As the initial response was not too good, we resent the invites. This worked out well because 10 couples found their match because of the meet.”
Participants came from all over the country. Nearly two-thirds from Mumbai, a fair majority from Gujarat and a few from Jamshedpur and elsewhere. “Initially, we sent four-five boys’ biodata to each girl. But girls in the Parsi community are so choosy. Ten of them just sent the biodata back. We had to use all our persuasive skills to ask the girls and even boys not to have very high standards and compromise on some points,” says aunty, sagely.
It is these very exacting standards – qualified, good-looking, an independent home and a rising career graph, to name a few – that have nearly killed early marriages. Then there is the problem of numbers. According to the 2001 census – India’s Parsi population had fallen to 69,601 from 76,382 a decade earlier. Here too, there are persons who feel it cannot be called a decline as many Parsis have migrated. “But to me that is whisking away the problem. We need to be pragmatic and come up with solutions,” says Minu R Shroff, chairman, Bombay Parsi Punchayet (BPP).
Indeed, a sense of pragmatism, especially among the elders, is spurring them to play cupid and at times facilitators of the “go forth and multiply” maxim.
Two years ago, Minu Shroff casually suggested to fellow Parsi, Dr Anahita Pandole, a fertility expert, that free advice and treatment could be given to childless Parsi couples. “Initially, I was skeptical. But in the past two years, 90 Parsi couples have consulted us. We give free counselling, fertility drugs and even IVF treatment to deserving cases. Twenty-nine ladies have conceived so far and 11 have delivered. We have had a triplet and three pairs of twins as well. The feeling is fantastic,” says Pandole.
The triplet’s mother, 38-year-old Khorshed Bulsara, had been trying hard for babies. It was her chance meeting with Pandole that changed her life and that of her husband Khushro who works with the Bombay Stock Exchange. “The clinic was our last hope. What the elders are doing is magnificent. Parsi families are normally nuclear and the younger generation needs guidance,” says Bulsara.
Naturally, the birth of triplets and three sets of twins have evoked a feeling of elation.
“Even the birth of Parsi twins is like a national celebration for our community,” says Dr Shernaz Cama, honourary director at Parjor, a Unesco-assisted Parsi Zoroastrian Project.
The BPP meantime continues to do ‘its bit’ for the younger generation. As Shroff says, “Every Parsi baby at his or her birth gets Rs 500 and a certificate. Then we give educational grants or loans at highly subsidised rates for housing. Sometimes, we sponsor candidates for international youth congress meets, which gives them a chance to mingle. We also have various gatherings. You must understand that we are not in the primary business of getting eligible Parsis to marry. Local anjums take care of that. But at BPP, we try to address the larger issue of giving a shape and a vision to growth of a community that must now adapt to the changing circumstances.” TNN