'Zoroastrian Youth for the Next Generation will survive without Bombay Parsi Punchayet'
Seven years on, the youth wing of the Bombay Parsi Punchayet, Zoroastrian Youth for the Next Generation, gets a break-up text. But, it remains a much-needed platform
Murad and Nilofer Currawalla, met at a ZYNG event in 2011 and got married in March 2015. The two are now proud parents to five-month-old son Tushad. Pic/Bipin Kokate
Dilkhush Ravtewala recalls the day she met Adil Ravtewala, now her husband. It was a rainy monsoon evening in July 2011 and Adil, an executive service manager with a bank, had arrived for one of Zyng's (short for Zoroastrian Youth for the Next Generation) speed dating sessions, then just in its second year.
"Since it was raining heavily, there were several empty tables as participants hadn't turned up," says Dilkhush, a television actor who you'll remember from Tarak Mehta Ka Ulta Chashma. "Adil was one of many."
Dilkhush and Adil Ravtewala are among the eight couples who met at one of the speed dating sessions held by ZYNG
A ZYNG speed dating session typically involves 20 male and 20 female participants. The venue, preferably a spacious room, would be furnished with comfortable table-seating arrangement. Each participant would be given a paper with the list of the participants of the opposite sex. One gender would be required to rotate around the room, sitting and interacting with those on the table for three minutes each.
Think of it as a sort of medieval tinder: at the end of the session, men and women would tick or cross their preferences on the list, and hand it back to the organisers. Matching 'ticks' would then be put in touch, and contact details would be exchanged.
The core group for ZYNG. The group is open to membership for any Mumbai resident in the 16-40 age group
That day, Dilkhush along with other organisers decided to sit in on the session so as not to disappoint the participants. "I happened to go to his table — that was the first time we met. But because I had so much running around to do being the organiser, we hardly spent any time together that day. However, we kept bumping into each other over the next few months at various other Zyng events, and finally decided to go out on a date after five months," says Dilkhush.
Though marriage wasn't on her mind at the time — she wanted a casual date which started off at McDonald's — she eventually did ask Adil out to a proper chat over coffee. The chat went well. Within 11 months, they were married. This December they complete almost three and a half years.
Not just dating nights, ZYNG serves as a platform for the community's youth to meet. The BPP provided R10 lakh annually to the youth wing, but ZYNG members say they never used the entire fund
It's the kind of success story that Zyng is proud to discuss. With a core committee of 25 — Pearl and Darius Tirandaz, Viraf Hansotia, Bazyan Mistry and Berjis Vannia are some of the founding members — the organisation took birth to connect the Parsi Irani Zoroastrian youth of Mumbai and provide the community's youth with a voice. "During the 2007 [Parsi Punchayet] elections we saw that a lot of youth were not involved. They did not know what was happening in the community. That's when few of us came together to get the youth more involved as well as form a common platform where young Parsis could intermingle," says one member.
But, trouble is brewing. Last week, the Bombay Parsi Punchayet (BPP), the apex administrative body for the Parsi Zoroastrian community, which had taken Zyng under its wing, announced that it had broken ties with the youth wing. It was a message, a core ZYNG member says, that the organisation sent over text messages.
"The BPP's primary function is to look after the poor and provide housing to the needy," says Kersi Randeria, chairman of the BPP. "We are going to continue being well connected with the community youngsters. In the last one year, there has been zero communication between BPP and ZYNG. Once the new board took over, we had asked to meet with ZYNG committee in November 2015, and on more than a couple occasions. But, messages were not communicated and the meeting(s) did not happen."
Among the members of the ZYNGâÂÂis Viraf Mehta, the son of former BPP chairman Dinshaw Mehta who has been involved in controversies with Randeria.
Randeria adds, "Some youngsters who come from slightly more deprived backgrounds feel uncomfortable at ZYNG gatherings… this is what we have heard. Their (ZYNG's) attitude was not right."
The charge of elitism is one that core members refute. Not wishing to be identified for the story, one said, "Our aim was to offer youngsters who don't live in baugs [gated community living for Parsis] the opportunity to participate in community events because Baug residents tend to be in touch with community developments anyway." While there are charges for the venue, ZYNG also provides a discount for those who don't live in the gated communities. For instance, if the entry fee for a certain event is R200, half of the entry of those living outside is footed by ZYNG. "Most of us on the committee are still middle class. In fact, we don't have the very privileged lot attending our dos because they think it's cliched to attend an only-Parsi event," he insists.
One for the community
That the Parsis in India are a community struggling against a serious challenge of dwindling numbers is a fact that even the government of India has taken notice of, launching the much controversial Jiyo Parsi campaign in 2013. Which is why, perhaps a platform like ZYNG might have been a more organic route.
President of Rustom Baug, Anosh Munshi, says, "Values and morals are ingrained in them through various social and charity activities conducted by ZYNG; there are entrepreneurial workshops which teach youngsters a lot, and the mixing and matching of young people also leads to marriage." The 44-year-old adds, "Earlier, ZYNG was a BPP child. Now it's like it's the child of a divorced couple. ZYNG are on their own, and I think they are capable of standing on their own two feet."
Twenty-two-year-old Kaizad Kuka, a BCom graduate from Lala Lajpat Rai College, lives in Dadar Parsi Colony. Kaizad has been a member of ZYNG ever since he turned 15 years old. "The platform brings together youngsters who don't necessarily live in Baugs, and gives them a chance to mingle and interact."
Having started off with over 700 members, today ZYNG has over 4,000 from across the city. It conducts anywhere between 10-60 events a year. Events could range from river rafting trips to attending a community play, with ZYNG members getting a 20 per cent discount.
It was at one such event in 2011 held at Bandra's Taj Lands End Hotel that Murad and Nilofer Currawalla bumped into each other. "I met him at the registration counter. There was a mad rush, and he was one of the organisers who worked on the registration team," says Nilofer. "I'm a little wary of crowds so I was standing on the side and Murad walked up to me and asked if he could help. I said I needed my registration ID as without it, Taj would not give me my room keys. He then went and fished it out for me."
The youth events, says Nilofer, 32, who was at the time studying at a Bangalore college to be an orthodontist, provided an escape. "I had come for the meet just to sleep for three days. But the event turned out to be so good that I went for all the functions and had amazing fun where I got to know a lot of different people from the community." Nilofer and Murad didn't spend much time together at the event, but later when both had shown an interest in each other on the feedback forms, they were put in touch. The two got married in March 2015 at Colaba's Jeejeebhoi Agiari, and recently turned parents.
Association with the BPP also brought ZYNG an annual budget allocation of R10 lakhs. "But, we rarely utilised it completely. We still raise nearly 70 per cent of funds from our own well-wishers," says Bazyan Mistry (34), ZYNG's treasurer and one of the founder members. "ZYNG will survive and we will continue working with it. The overall structure of the organisation will not change. We will release a press release about future plans. BPP is the community's apex body and they have assured us help if we should need it."
Berjis Vania, another of the group's core members, adds, "Today, ZYNG has 4,000 members, and more than 8-10 couples have got married through this platform. We are fulfilling the aim, which was to see more Parsis get married within the community."
But, the split may not be all that bad. Several of the community's controversies in the last few years can be traced back to the conflicts within the BPP. Take, for instance, the case of the sale of a tenancy at Dadi house, a commercial property in Bora Bazaar. Two of the trustees Kersi Randeria and Yazdi Desai accused another trustee Dinshaw Mehta (former chairman and Viraf's father) of misappropriating R20 lakhs from the sale.
At a hearing regarding the case in the magistrate court in September this year, the Randeria and Mehta's elder son Hormuz (who is also on the ZYNG committee) came to blows. The matter is still in court. Some say that BPP's decision to snap ties with ZYNG also stems from Randeria's attempt to keep the Mehta camp's influence in check.
Dilkhush says it will now be easier for ZYNG to function. "New age politics of the BPP could have seeped into ZYNG. Where their political agenda is headed and what benefit it will bring (or not), will be known in the future," she adds. "The internal politics of the BPP is leaving a bad taste," says Adil, "and issues that deserve attention are being side tracked."
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