The early days

My father, Navroji K. Bhujwalla, was born and raised in Bhuj, Kutch State, to Parsi Zarathushti (Zoroastrian) parents in the early 1900s. He was, tragically, an orphan by his fifth birthday. After his mother passed away, my father was raised by his paternal grandparents, as well as one of his paternal uncles and his wife. At the time, his grandfather, Pestonji, was the personal assistant of the Rajput Maharaja Khengarji Rao of Kutch State, who inaugurated the Parsi temple he had built in Bhuj. Our family members, the Bhujwallas, also had a business of providing supplies to the British army camp at Bhuj.

After graduating from Alfred High School in Bhuj, my father moved to Bombay (now Mumbai) and studied banking at Davar’s College, before joining the Bank of India, where he worked until his mandatory retirement. He met and married my mother, Meherbai, who had grown up in Porbandar and moved to Bombay with her mother. Together, my parents had three children, all of whom were educated at private schools and colleges, at personal sacrifice on my father’s relatively modest bank salary.

A faithful follower

My father followed the over 5000-year-old monotheistic religion of the Eastern Iranian Prophet Zarathushtra (called Zoroaster by Greek philosophers such as Plato and Socrates), who studied his philosophy and incorporated some of it into their ideas regarding rational thought, instead of blind faith or superstitions. He performed his daily prayers at home, and at our local temple every Sunday. I fondly remember my trips to the temple with my father. Often, on our way to the local train station, we would stop and visit an Irani café to enjoy a delicious cup of tea with Brun Masca (a crusty sourdough bread served with Polson brand butter).

From my parents, I also developed a habit of daily and Sunday prayers. I continued this practice when I moved to the United States. Here, I created my own family with my (late) wife and daughter and helped to co-found two Zarathushti (Zoroastrian) Associations in Northern and Southern California, while working as a professional in engineering. When I noticed a growing shortage of hereditary priests in our community in the early 2000s, it was my father’s sense of attachment to our religion that influenced and propelled me to undergo training as an adult to serve the community as a non-hereditary priest.

Memories of food

Growing up in our South Mumbai flat, a favorite family tradition was a delicious lunch of Dhansak (a spiced, warming lentil dal with meat and potatoes, atop spiced rice) and salad lovingly cooked by my mother and maternal grandmother. Then we would listen to my father recite verses from the Gujarati version of the legendary story of the pre-Islamic Persian hero Rustom and his son Sohrab.

I also fondly recall that, on Saturdays, when banks closed early, my dad would bring home some snacks. We would enjoy freshly made potato chips and/or Bhajias (Pakoras) with homemade Parsi-style tea (Choi). I still enjoy this leisurely weekend tradition with my wife and daughter in the U.S.

A Persian backstory

I was influenced by my father’s readings. I enjoyed reading about ancient Persia (before the 7th-century Arab invasion and religious persecution of Zoroastrians). It’s preserved in the Shahnameh (Book of Kings), a Persian language epic of over 60,000 couplets.

Another tradition my dad followed was taking our family on a pilgrimage to the coastal village of Udvada in Gujarat. It’s where our ancestors first established their sacred fire after migrating to India. We enjoyed staying in a Parsi-owned hotel, walking along the beach, and returning after sunset with kerosene-burning lanterns. Even after moving to America, we kept up the tradition of making a pilgrimage to the temple in Udvada on trips to India.

Respect for all religion

In our apartment in Mumbai, my parents had pictures of other religious founders, saints, or deities on the wall. My father would often play 45 RPM records of Hindu, Christian or Muslim religious songs. Sometimes we would visit places of worship of other religions to pay our respects.

I was influenced by that upbringing to respect all religions. In the US, I continue to actively participate in interfaith organizations, including the Parliament of World Religions.

My dad, the animal lover

My memories of my father include his great love for animals. Growing up, we enjoyed the companionship and love of our pet dogs and pet parrots. My father’s photo album is replete with photographs he took of our beloved pets. I inherited that love for animals. My own family in the US has enjoyed the companionship of our beloved golden retriever and cats. This great affection for pets has been passed down to my daughter.

Photography was my father’s hobby. He photographed family in Bhuj, Karachi, Porbandar, and Bombay with his prized German-made Zeiss Ikon camera. I believe that my father’s interest in photography seeded my own enjoyment of capturing images with photography.

My dad was charitable and generous to everyone – someone seeking alms, a shoe repairer, or a barber. He embodied the charitable Parsi spirit praised by Mahatma Gandhi, who remarked that Parsis were beyond compare in their contributions. My father’s generosity inspired me to carry forward his charitable practices with my own modest contributions to worthy causes.

I thank God for having given me such a noble and caring father.

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