Captivating thriller with immense history lessons about Parsis

Ashwin Sanghi’s book is worth reading as it will enrich us with the history and philosophy of a great community on the brink of extinction but worth living long for the sake of humanity

Zoroastrian temple in Bombay. Image courtesy of Pablo Ares Gastesi/Wikimedia Commons

Ashwin Sanghi has an extraordinary talent for bringing ancient wisdom to life through his extensive research, then concocting a fast-paced thriller by blending fact and fiction. In his latest offer too, he does not disappoint.

Most interesting and surprising is his choice of the Zoroastrian religion and its followers as the central theme of this thriller. If it had been written by a Parsi, it would have been easier. But, for a Sanatani, taking on this challenge is a tribute to his willingness to dive into uncharted waters. We come to know one of the oldest religions in the world and its followers who have suffered the worst persecutions, genocides and atrocities. After reading the book, one wonders if they suffered more than many other races and communities. There are only a few Parsis left to tell their story.

There are hardly any Parsi left in their country of origin, Persia or Iran as it is known today. Not much is known about this great religion due to its antiquity and the nature of the Parsis who treat their religion as an intensely private matter. Like the Hindus, they did not care to tell the world their story of persecution and holocaust. They have been with us for centuries and have contributed immensely to the progress of this nation far beyond their numbers. We adore them but we don’t know them in any real sense.

Ashwin Sanghi fills this huge gap in our knowledge and helps us understand their legacy. Being a total outsider, one marvels at the tremendous and honest effort he put in. I could say it is an Indian’s tribute to his brothers who have come all the way to escape their persecution. They become one with their adopted land but also enrich it.

The Magicians of Mazda A captivating thriller with immense history lessons about Parsis

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It’s not a good idea to reveal the plot of a thriller. But, to give you a bare idea; the main protagonist is the guardian of a relic as old as the Zoroastrian religion itself since he belongs to a priestly class of the community. He does not know his importance until the intelligence networks of various countries come after him. He’s a prodigious scientist who has created a wonder drug, so a multinational pharmaceutical company is after him to get the details. Soon, others are chasing him because they too can smell the trail. So, for him, it’s a double whammy. He is going through a nightmarish situation, aided by his devoted non-Parsi scholar wife who is a history researcher. In this book, the storyline shifts to Ayatollah’s Iran, with strings being pulled around the world until the hero is finally kicked out of hell with the help of Mossad and RAW. Along the way there are masters of espionage, unpredictable twists and double crosses – a feature of Sanghi’s writings.

For a change, this thriller flows a little easier compared to the wild roller coaster of The Rosabell line Where The Vishnu’s vault. He deepens here the philosophical and historical side of the narration. The preparation to understand the importance of Zoroastrian teachings, the horror faced by the Parsi community, the exodus of a small number of Parsis to Bharat, the repetition of the horrors they faced in their homeland due to another attack by an Islamist fanatic on them in Gujarat until the peaceful settlement, their hard-earned success, the hell faced by their brothers in Iran for centuries after ruling a huge empire for almost 400 years – all this is vividly brought out by the master storyteller.

Every page you turn is worth learning more about them. One cannot help but note that just as the Kashmiri Hindus enjoyed a brief 140-year peace under Raja rulers Ranjit Singh and Dogra in Jammu and Kashmir after centuries of persecution, Parsis also enjoyed the spring of Pahlavi rule in Iran for a few decades. But, alas, both thought the spring would last; This is not the case.

The piece de resistance comes in the final section as the author harnesses his key strength of finding the common threads between the Zorastrian and Vedic texts and challenges us with his conclusions. The similarity between the ancient Avestan language and Sanskrit is brought to life by the skillful pen of the author, and one is amazed.

In one place, a character notes: “It is fashionable today to ignore history in order to preserve peace between religions. And I’m all for peace and interfaith understanding. But this process must start with acknowledging what happened. Forced conversions occurred and the destruction of Zoroastrian places of worship occurred. The redeployment of fire temples as mosques has occurred. The identification of Zoroastrians as a polluted being, najiz, happened…. The obligatory humiliation of those who pay the jizya has occurred.

It sounds oddly familiar. The lessons of history must be learned by all civil societies, otherwise they risk being crushed by uncivil brute forces, as happened in medieval times.

American historian Will Durant aptly said: “The Islamic conquest of India is probably the bloodiest story in history. It is a disheartening tale, for its obvious moral is that civilization is a precious commodity, whose delicate complex of order and freedom, culture and peace, can at any time be overthrown by invading barbarians from the outdoor or multiplying indoors. He might as well have been talking about the Zoroastrian nation of Parsis.

This book is worth reading because it will enrich us with the history and philosophy of a great community on the verge of extinction but which deserves to live long for the good of humanity. It’s a gripping thriller that also has lessons for the current generation. Because history repeats itself if we don’t learn from it.

The reviewer is a well-known author and writer. The opinions expressed are personal.

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Brian L. Hartfield