HOME IS WHERE THE HEART WAS
           
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By Akbar Notezai in Quetta | 7/22/2016 12:00:00 AM
SITUATED in the heart of the city, surrounded by beautiful mountains, Quetta`s Parsi Colony is picture-perfect.

The lush green trees sway in the calming breeze. The locale portrays a rare sense of trust; as opposed to elevated walls demarcating boundaries of houses, there are flimsy grills and open doors.

To the unsuspecting eye, this welcoming scene may not look like one from a metropolis in Pakistan, let alone from the troubled province of Balochistan.

Despite the oft-reported turmoil in the region, Parsis have peacefully lived here since before Partition; it was during the British Raj that the community was allotted this colony.

Today, of the many Parsiswho once resided here, only between two to four families remain. Others have either died of natural causes, or have migrated out of Quetta.

The presence of Parsis in the provincial capital has not been documented by the mainstream media like that of their counterparts in Karachi. This is understandable; Parsis, after all, migrated from Iran to Sindh as far back as the eighth century. Furthermore, the community is relatively large in Karachi.

Yet, there are Parsis who prefer Quetta to the concrete jungle that is Karachi. Khurshid Minocher is an 85-year-old resident of the Parsi Colony who was born in Allahabad, India. She moved to Karachi as a young woman. In 1949, she started working at the prestigious Mama Parsi School, but quit her job soon after. The educationist did not like how, `Parsi teachers, the Christian ones and the other teachers who belonged to different religions, would sit on different tables`.

After marrying her late husband, Ardeshir Minocher from Quetta, she moved to Balochistan where she found a sense of camaraderie at Quetta`s St Joseph`s Convent School, a feeling that was missing in Karachi.

She gets wide-eyed as she talks about Quetta`s not-so-distant past; a time when foreigners would come to the city and stay at a hotel owned by another Parsi, Feroze Mehta.

She complains that now the city has becometoo noisy and crowded. But to her it is still home.

Quetta`s Zoroastrian community has always been special to Parsis around South Asia, Ms Minocher tells Dawn. She recalls how in 1935 during a catastrophic earthquake when 300 Parsis (including her father-in-law) died, Parsis from all over South Asia donated money to help out. It was through these donations that the colony was rebuilt.

Houses in the Parsi Colony are owned by the Parsi Punchayat. The general secretary of the body is another respected Parsi woman, former senator Roshan Khursheed Bharucha.

Parsis, she says, have contributed greatly to the province`s education, health and, perhaps most notably, journalism sectors.

In March 1888, Nawsarwaan Jee Manchar Jee set up the Victoria Press. The press published the Monthly Balochistan Advertiser, Border Weekly News, The Balochistan Gazette and The Daily Bulletin. It can successfully in pre-Partition India until 1935, when the same earthquake destroyed the press offices.

Another Parsi-owned English-languagepress, Albert Press, had similar beginnings.

Dadabhai Golwala, a man who moved to Quetta after World War 11, started this press in 1891. The administration of the press remained within the founder`s family for generations. It was finally sold in 1990 when the then caretakers moved abroad.

They are not alone; scores of Parsis from Quetta, and indeed all of Pakistan, have moved away. In the recent past, freedom of expression has been perennially under threat in the city. Journalists frequently come under attack in Balochistan. Similarly, in the current political landscape, the region has also become unsafe for minorities.

Parsis are still better off than other minorities in Quetta, maintains Ms Bharucha.

She does, however, point to a problem faced by influential members of the community kidnapping.

A prominent kidnapping case within the community is that of Abadan Faridoun Abadan, a former minister and affluent Parsi in Balochistan. When Mr Abadan was kidnapped in 2002, his wife Niloufar Abadan vowed not to stay silent. In the hope of recovering herhusband, she met Balochistan`s chief minister and the country`s prime minister at the time.

Her efforts were futile. In 2011, on International Women`s Day, Ms Abadan met a similar fate.

She was released after paying a hefty ransom to her kidnappers; her husband`s whereabouts are still unknown. Leaving remnants of a trying life in Quetta, Ms Abadan has reportedly moved to Karachi.

The wide streets of Parsi Colony, which were once filled with the laughter of children playing, are now mostly quiet. While a lot of community elders have opted to stay back, they are sending their younger family members abroad, in search for greener pastures.

Many from the community are relatively affluent and can afford to move away. Thus increasingly, Parsis in Quetta, and indeed Pakistan, are availing this option.

While maintaining her optimistic view of how Parsis are treated in Balochistan, Ms Bharucha shares that even her own children have moved abroad in search of a better life. `I have three children who are abroad; they are doing jobs there.
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