Portrait of a life less known

At the cusp of Old and New Delhi stands Delhi Parsi Anjuman, complete with North India’s only fire temple, a canteen that offers Parsi food by Dhun Bugli, one of the 750 Parsis in the city, writes Sangeeta Barooah Pisharoty

Updated - May 19, 2016 07:22 am IST

Published - March 09, 2014 06:42 pm IST - New Delhi

Dhun Daraius Bugli with food cooked by her. Photo: Sangeeta Barooah Pisharoty

Dhun Daraius Bugli with food cooked by her. Photo: Sangeeta Barooah Pisharoty

Down the Bahadur Shah Zafar Marg, towards Dilli Gate, having just passed the Maulana Azad Medical College, my eyes switch on its ‘search’ mode. To locate a signboard that says Delhi Parsi Anjuman. The ongoing Delhi Metro construction doesn’t make navigating smooth.

The signboard I am looking for soon leads me to a weathered gate. A few steps later, I am in front of another board, which says, “Entry only for Zoroastrians”. Beyond the board is the entrance to a fire temple, sacred to the Parsi community, the only one in North India.

I find more boards. Fixed to the temple walls, made of marble, have names of Parsis who must have financially contributed to the building of the temple. A man in a robe and a skull cap goes staring past me. A stranger’s stare. The guard tells me to meet ‘madam.’

An aisle in the adjacent building leads me to her. From behind a desk, she smiles. We soon chat up. I notice her ‘very Parsi’ way of wearing a sari complete with a high neck blouse, the kind you typically spot in Hindi films. “I run this place, stay in a room here,” she says, the ‘place’ meaning the Mengusi Parsi Dharamshala, a guest house with 44 rooms, meant for people of her community and those recommended by it.

I am yet to ask her name but learn that she is from Mumbai, began living in Delhi since 1958, soon after her marriage to the then head priest of the fire temple here. Pointing at a black and white photo in a showcase, running a finger through her grey hair, she says, “I lost him in 1979 but I never left this place. My son was doing his priesthood then. Today, he is the head priest of the temple.” He and his wife are in Mumbai on a visit. “He is also a wildlife photographer,” she reveals.

Being in the Anjuman, she naturally doesn’t quite feel that she is a part of a miniscule community in a city whose population otherwise is fast escalating. “We are 750 people in total, 25 families,” she says. They don’t meet often. “Four days of a year are important for us, Jamshedji Navroz, the Foundation Day of the temple, the Parsi New Year and the anniversary of the temple. That’s when we try to meet,” she says.

Parsis are said to have arrived in Delhi during the time of Emperor Akbar. The earliest physical evidence of the community being here lies at the Parsi cemetery in Khan Market which bears an inscription dating 1869. The Anjuman was founded in 1925. In 2011, the fire temple celebrated its 50th anniversary.

I am keen to visit the fire temple. Only Parsis are allowed. Not even those who are married to them. “Their children can, only after they go through the Navjote (sacred thread) ceremony.”

To talk about Delhi Parsis, she gives me names of people — some are trustees of the temple — who turn out to be on visit to their home State Maharashtra.

I enquire about Dhun Daraius Bugli, a name that I have heard of when foodie friends talk about who makes the most authentic Parsi food in Delhi. She laughs, says, “I am Dhun Bugli.” Well, before I know it, I book myself for a meal next day from her kitchen at the dharamshala.

At 9 p.m. next evening, I find myself eagerly waiting for the fare to arrive at a table in the dinning hall of the dharamshala. It has a pretty, lacy cloth over it. A sideboard with bone china serve-ware comes to my notice. There is a fireplace too with black and white photographs of people I don’t know. On the walls are photos of tigers, clicked by Dhun Bugli’s son Cawas Bugli. A display box has books on Zoroastrianism, their gathas, etc. for sale. Their pale covers certainly say that they have been waiting for long to go off the shelf.

A smiling, stocky man begins bringing the food. No, he is not a Parsi. “I am Mahesh, I have been working here for the last 25 years,” he says. First comes a finely chopped vegetable salad, then dhansak dal, saali chicken, patri nu fish, et al. The vegetarian and the eggetarian stuff look impressive too.

Like a perfect hostess, Bugli ensures I am comfortable. A little window to the community through food is attractive.

Time to pay for the meal but she insists, “Next time.” I clearly fail to overrule her. We soon part ways.

As I head home, the lingering taste of the Parsi halwa (with which I wrap my meal) in my mouth certainly gets mixed with the thoughts in my head — about the hospitality of Bugli towards a stranger, something that you now can’t even take for granted even in a small town perhaps.

The image of silence surrounding the fire temple at that nightly hour when I walk past it, with a ring at its tip forever revolving — indicating that the fire inside is on — is also what I bring back with me, a small snatch of the city that I never knew before.

To have a meal at the Parsi Dharamshala, pre-book at 011-23238615, 23231228

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