By Aban Daboo
On a recent trip to Mumbai a friend asked me "When are you going to the
Udvada Atash Bahram?" and I replied, "I can't make it this time
because I've come for a short while and have to make preparations for my son's
wedding." At that moment I
wondered why I did not feel a need or a calling to visit Udvada this time, and
the answer was very simple. In
Chicago we have a beautiful Darbe Mehr comparable in spirituality, surroundings,
purity and simplicity to many places of worship I've visited.
Add to that a loyal and dedicated band of voluntary mobeds.
We are so fortunate to have a group of 10 to 15 voluntary mobeds in
Chicago - some of whom (first generation Americans) were initiated in the early
1990's. We are blessed with a
thriving vibrant community of Iranian and Parsi Zarathushtis who have shared
their religion and cultural backgrounds to foster better understanding amongst
themselves and, more importantly, amongst their children.
Over the years we have become family and like all families we have our
differences and arguments, but we can always come together and bond in our joys,
our trials and tribulations. It is
a super support group and most of us do not get homesick because of the lasting
relationships we have built over the years.
Darbe Mehr was born as a glimmer of hope in a few Zarathushti hearts with a dash
of pure 'Zarathushti Jusso'. With
generous donations from the Arbab Rustom Guiv Foundation and a few members of
the community, a lot of hope, hard work and dedication, the project achieved
fruition. On a beautiful day in
September 1983 hope turned to reality when the Darbe Mehr was declared open with
a grand Jashan and two days of continuous festivities.
had just moved to the area in late 1982 and from day one we got involved with
the Zarathushti community. We were
welcomed with open arms and were never made to feel like outsiders, but were
encouraged to participate in all the activities including the inauguration
ceremonies and celebrations. In the
summer of 1983 (prior to the inaugu- ration), we were involved in finishing and
painting the Darbe Mehr and this has given us a sense of ownership and
commitment to our Darbe Mehr.
is an imposing structure with a large hall which can accommodate 250 people
comfortably for all religious and social events. At one end of the hall is a stage with a back drop of a
beautiful oxidized silver Farohar. A
well furnished prayer hall, library, kitchen and children's room were part of
the original building which are now undergoing changes under the Expansion Plans.
Our band of
active mobeds include our head priest, Kersey Antia and his two sons Mazda and
Jimmy, Neville Karanjia and his son Zervan, Pesi Vazifdar and his two sons Hoshi
and Neville, Jamshed Antia, my son Behram Daboo, Keikhosrow Mobed, Ardaviraf
Minocherhomjee, Jimmy Ravji, Yazad Godiwalla and Rohinton Dadina.
Each and every priest offers voluntary services and it is a sheer joy to
see the younger generation of mobeds exhibit such pride and dignity while
carrying out their religious duties - whether it is a jashan, navjote, or muktad
On the second
Sunday of each month we have our monthly meeting for the entire community.
The day starts with a Board meeting, followed by prayers and a guest
speaker. Then we have the much
awaited dhansakh-kavab lunch prepared by two host families each month.
It is very comforting to see our young children and teenagers come
together for Sunday prayers. All
the tiny tots and kids put on caps, remove their shoes, get a prayer book and
stand to attention while the mobed is reciting the Atash Niyaishe and Tandarosti. Anyone who has witnessed this scene will tell you it is one
of the most emotional experiences to see these traditions followed by our young
ones and we know the ancient religion of Zarathustra is safe in their hands!
The Jewel in
the Crown of our community is the monthly prayer class.
On the third Sunday of each month there are prayer classes for different
age groups. The kids are divided into two main groups - under-teens and
over-teens. The Saturday night
before classes, the children go over to two host families for an evening of
social activities - skating, movies, circus, bowling, etc. - followed by dinner.
They stay overnight with the host families - almost like indoor camping
with their sleeping bags and toilet kits. The
following morning they go over to
the Center for religious classes. The
kudos for organizing and conducting the classes should go to Kayomarsh Mehta who
has devoted endless hours of personal time, and spent tons of energy in making
this activity the success it has achieved.
He is assisted by a band of loyal volunteers: Pesi Vazifdar, Jimmy Ravji,
Hootoxi Minocherhomji, Jer Udvadia (who has recently moved to New Jersey),
Dilshad Antia, Bakhtawar Press and Dinaz Weber.
After the classes the highlight of the day is going to the McDonald's
down the road for Big Macs and fries. This
activity has now been conducted continuously for the last 15 to 20 years. We have seen a whole generation of kids grow up into mature
adults and in the process they have fostered lasting friendships amongst
themselves. The children and their
dedication and enthusiasm for the sleepovers and prayer classes is something to
be seen to be believed.
Every year we
celebrate Jashan-e-Sadeh, Navruz, Gahambars, Shenshahi New Year,
Zarthost-no-Diso and Mehrangan in the traditional way with traditional foods and
festivities. We also have our fun
and games at picnics, youth camps, camping trips, fun fairs, senior citizens
outings, Halloween and Christmas. We
have a New Year's Eve party on December 31, welcoming the first day of the year
with our families and friends. Young
and old join together in singing Auld Lang Syne. After midnight (during the first few minutes of the New Year)
we all go into the prayer hall to join the priests in saying Tandarosti for the
Yazad Parab brings the ladies together for a bake-a-thon. They prepare dar-ni-pori jointly at the Center.
Approximately 50 to 60 moms, grandmas and kids, and some gents (who can
stand the noise level) prepare sweet dar filling, mix and roll the dough, shape
the poris and bake them at our center. This
has now become an annual ritual and we raise anywhere from $800 to $1000 for the
Youth Fund. The poris are purchased by the local Zarathushtis and some
are even mailed out to other towns in the US.
The whole day has a picnic-like atmosphere. We start early in the morning, take a lunch break for
masoor-pau, then a tea break which turns into a pori tasting session!
By evening we are exhausted but happy.
The participants range from 6 and 7 year olds to grandmas who are veteran
pori makers and dough inspectors (like Freny Aunty and Tehmi Aunty)!
This activity is the brainchild of ZAC's very own senior citizen, Freny
Mehta, who trained all of us into expert pori makers!
calendar is filled with graduations, wedding showers, baby showers, navjotes,
weddings and Bar-B-Qs. The whole
community shares in celebrations - be it cooking food, decorating the hall,
choir singing, or accommodating out-of-towners at our houses.
With the help and advice from our senior citizens we continue our
traditional practices from Iran and India.
And again, it is fun to watch the kids helping with the chalk, toran,
decorating and cooking. Navjotes
and weddings become family affairs for all and we jump right in and celebrate
together. This I can relate from my personal experience when my
daughter Shireen got married four years ago.
The groom, Firoz Ghandhi, and his family and friends came from Detroit.
All our friends opened their homes and hearts for our guests, took part
in the four days of fun activities, and made it a joyous occasion for us to
cherish for the rest of our lives.
been instances when the community has helped Zarathushtis who are total
strangers celebrate their weddings and navjotes. Often there are families who are in neighboring states like
Michigan, Indiana, Wisconsin, Iowa where there are no other Zarathushti families
to celebrate these occasions with them. Without hesitation, the community gets into the celebration
mode, combines their talents and expertise, and assists such families to have a
special day. Very often we've had
people come up and say "I remember you very well - you made sev for my
wedding!" or "I remember you guys helped me put the wedding together
because my parents couldn't come from Mumbai". And even though we may have forgotten these little details,
we feel good for having made someone's special day a joyous one so they can
remember the little things and take time to say "thank you" again and
The five days
of the Gathas in mid-August are celebrated with such spirituality and dignity
that I always say "our ancestors must surely be smiling down on us and
blessing us to go forward with our faith and prosper in health, wealth and
happiness." We have joint
prayers for our dear departed ones. It
is a community prayer and the list of names runs into approximately 5 to 6
computer pages. All our mobeds make
special efforts to participate in the prayers each day. The prayer hall has three white marble tables where everyone
arranges their vases with home-grown roses and beautiful flowers of varying
scents and colors. The prayers are
recited outside in the main hall witnessed by at least 50 to 60 people each day,
going up to more than 100 people on weekends. The Satum is recited in the prayer room by junior mobeds.
After everyone has offered loban, we get together for humbandagi where
old and young offer their prayers with utter dedication and unison.
This is followed by a short lecture on the meaning of the specific Gatha
being celebrated that day. Dinner
follows and the evening ends with a feeling of community and unity that defies
description. You have to experience
it to feel it! Those of us who take
part in these five days know what I'm talking about.
numbers have grown! We have new
additions to our community by way of new immigrant families, new babies, new
brides and new bridegrooms. This
has brought forth the necessity to expand our facilities which get crowded on
many occasions. For the last two
years we have been working on the Expansion Plans for our Darbe Mehr and the
first phase of Kushti rooms and pani-nu-parab is completed. Rohinton Rivetna and his band of dedicated volunteers meet
every month to assess the progress and designate action items for coming months.
With the first phase complete, there are plans for providing adequate
space for the children's room and facilities, expanding the existing kitchen and
washrooms as a part of second phase. We
are actively soliciting donations and pledges for the expansion.
to the regular ZAC activities, our Center was the birthplace of FEZANA - the
Constitution Committee's meeting was held here. ZAC has hosted the Second North American Zoroastrian
Congress, North American Zoroastrian Youth Congresses, North American Mobeds
Council meetings, invited learned speakers from India and taken active part in
inter-faith religious discourses. A
few summers ago we were enthralled by a lecture series given by the late
Dasturji Minocherhomji. This year
we have the good fortune of hosting Dasturji Dr. Firoz Kotwal for a lecture
series on Zarathushti Rituals and the Life of Asho Zarathushtra.
hosted a lunch and variety entertainment program for Maestro Zubin Mehta, and
his wife Nancy. Due to time
constraints we had just a little under three hours to wine and dine him.
Due to the well organized band of volunteers we achieved outstanding
results which brought forth a generous donation from Zubin and Nancy for our
We have grown
from a handful of Zarathushtis who dreamed in the early 1960's to a sizable
congregation that today overflows the prayer room at the Darbe Mehr.
Our Center is a testimony to the hopes of the first immigrant families
from India and Iran, a testimony to the dedication of our priests and their
families, a testimony to the hard-working crew who completed the Darbe Mehr in
1983, and a testimony to our children who have celebrated their navjotes,
graduations, showers and weddings here.
We would challenge the proponents of doom and gloom to visit our Center,
then look us in the eye and tell us that Zarathushtis are a dying race!
Arbab Rustom Guiv Darbe Mehr is the nucleus of all Zarathushti activities in the
Midwest. It has given a sense of
belonging not only to the first generation of immigrants but to our children,
and hopefully will kindle the same spirit for our children's children and all
future generations of Zarathushtis who have the good fortune to be a part of the
Carter has said: "There are
only two lasting bequests we can hope to give our children. One of these is
roots; and the other, wings." The
Zarathushti community has established strong roots in the Midwest.
Future generations will know they have wings to fly away and practice
Good Thoughts, Good Words and Good Deeds and will always have a safe nest to
return to their roots - the Arbab Rustam Guiv Darbe Mehr - Zoroastrian
Center of Chicago!