Beliefnet
Project Conversion

I thought I’d do something different for today’s post. Yesterday I featured the account of an American convert to the Zarathushti Faith. As you know, conversion is a hot topic within the faith and most traditionalist and even moderates consider the practice inappropriate. In an effort to offer a balanced dialogue regarding this matter, I invited several traditional Zarathushtis to give us their side of the story. None replied. This puts me in an awkward position because even though I purposed not to get involved in the nuance of sectarian dispute, I find myself supporting the reformist movement.

But the fact remains that the traditionalist side must be presented. Instead of throwing down a scholarly summation of history, I thought I’d use the medium of the short story to illustrate the views of the traditional Parsi. Keep in mind, these are broad strokes made only so that you get an idea of the rational behind why traditional Parsis feel as they do.

“Purity in the Market”

Daitya stalked my daughter, Jaleh, in the market for months. She said she didn’t notice; every time her cheeks blushed and a smile tickled her lips as she veiled her face with the sari, I know that she did. Daitya was a good, hard-working boy from a descent merchant family. My wife bought spices from his shop every week.

When their eyes met in a fleeting glance from across the market, I made my way in front of Jaleh and folded my arms. The smile melted from Daitya’s face and he returned to work. The time had come to speak with the boy.

I approached his father in the market the next day and asked if I could use Daitya’s help with some repairs. Daitya followed me back to my shop. I directed him to the cart where I sold pottery and linen. He looked around for Jaleh when he thought I wasn’t paying attention.

“I need you to hoist these poles while I re-fasten the canvas. The last storm loosened the rope.”

“Yes sir,” he said and lifted the pole. His face flushed as he strained. Sweat beaded along his forehead. He grunted and dropped the pole. A customer asked about one of my pots so I left Daitya to his task.

I took my time and chatted with the customer—a white-clad Brahmin—as Daitya struggled to lift the pole and balance it in place. The Brahmin made his purchase and left. I took the other end of the pole just as Daitya lost his balance. He looked at me, short of breath, and sighed.

“Thank you. I thought I would fall under the weight.”

Daitya held the pole in place as I fastened the rope and tethered the canvas. His body trembled as he pushed up against the pole. I smirked and tied the first knot.

“My wife and daughter will stop by your father’s cart for spices today. In two day’s time we will celebrate my people’s landing here over 400 years ago.”

He grunted and looked back at his father’s spice cart. There were a few customers, but none were Jaleh. He returned his gaze to the ground as his toes dug into the dusty floor.

“Living alongside my people, surely you’ve heard our story…”

“A little, sir.”

I tied the second knot. The weight of the poll eased upon Daitya’s arms.

“They sailed across the sea from Persia to escape the armies of Islam. Our temples and people were being exterminated and forced to convert. We escaped to save our religion, the good religion taught by Zarathushtra.”

Daitya freed one hand and wiped his brow with his forearm. “My father said your ancestors met the ruler here, Jadi Rana, and he granted them asylum.”

I smiled. “Hindus have always enjoyed the epics.” I pulled the third knot tight and moved to the last. “Though I’ve never been at sea, I always imagine the ships my people sailed upon like the poles and canvas of my shop. When I think about their journey and the hardships they endured just to save our culture and religion, I give thanks to Ahura Mazda for giving us this home.”

“Your people are brave and honorable, sir,” he said as he released the pole.

I threaded the last knot and looked down at Daitya. He stared out into the market toward his father’s shop. I peeked beneath the canvas. My wife and daughter approached Daitya’s spice stand. I brought my head back beneath the canvas.

“In many ways, my shop is like one of those ships…could you brace that corner pole for me?”

“What? Yes, sorry.” Daitya grabbed the corner post, glanced back at Jaleh, and then looked up at me.

“These polls are like the courage and strength of my ancestors and made up the planks of the ships. The canvas is similar to the sails used on the ships. They represent their faith as they spread open their hearts and minds, ready to receive the wisdom and Good Mind of God to carry them like the wind to their new home.”

Daitya’s face slowly turned down from mine. His grip loosened from the post.

I tightened the last knot. “These ropes—the knots—are like my people today. We hold the traditions and the memories of my ancestors together.” Daitya stepped back as I set my hands on my waist and inspected the canvas, posts, and knots. “Notice how you struggled with that pole. It isn’t because you aren’t strong, but because that pole isn’t yours to bear.”

He looked back at Jaleh. She smiled at first, but the smile faded as Daitya slouched and walked away from my shop toward the river. Her eyes trembled with tears as she met my gaze. She covered her face with the sari and looked away. They never saw each other again.