How do you escape the non-stop movement of a metropolis like Mumbai, while living in it?
Well, finish that Sunday brunch of yours and head out to Dadar’s verdant Parsi colony area for a countryside-like experience, ironically, in the centre of Mumbai city. Dotted with tree-lined pavements, the colony is more than a hundred years old, and is seen as a “paradise” of the endangered Parsi community; a fading remnant of its glorious past.
In 2015, the colony made it to the news as its residents protested an official onslaught on their heritage, which would have cluttered this pristine area with hawkers and street stalls. The plan was soon withdrawn.
The exclusivity of this enclave, where around 10,000 Parsis live, has remained intact. In 2009, its residents won a six-year-long lawsuit that restrained a builder from selling flats to non-Parsis.
When compared to the rest of an over-crowded and polluted city, the Dadar Parsi colony appears unreal and suspended in time; its old-world charm fragile in its existence. The threat of hawkers and an urban redevelopment is part of the existential crisis confronting Indian Parsis today.
“Locally, this central urban enclave is everything that this great Indian city [Mumbai] is not: low-rise, languorous, its 25 acres embracing 14 gardens, its roads lined with pavements and 30 species of trees including the rare mahogany and ebony. Bird-call triumphs over traffic-honk. Most exceptionally, it is untouched by Mumbai’s signature slums…but for how long can this urban idyll remain?” wrote Bachi Karkaria, a Parsi, in The Guardian.
The Indian Parsis owe their ancestry to Zoroastrian refugees, who fled Iran due to the Islamic persecution and arrived on the western coast of Gujarat around 8th century. The Indian census of 2011 put their number to less than 60,000, from more than 100,000 before the independence. Mumbai has the largest concentration of Parsis in India, and according to some estimates they are numbered around 45,000 in the city. Parsi colonies are located in different parts of the “Town”, as it is popularly called; some enclaves are also situated in suburban areas such as Andheri and Goregaon.
A culturally refined and entrepreneurial race, this close-knit community’s contribution to the making of colonial Bombay has been often documented. However, a “combination of racial pride and fear…of being appropriated by half castes” has blocked the ethnic community’s expansion.