The book is “a thrilling 492-page adventure that illuminates its path through America, Iran, Afghanistan and Kashmir. It has always been my view that the greatest virtue of a storyteller is to let the reader turn the page. I worked hard and tried to do just that.” He told us earlier about his new novel.
‘The Magicians of Mazda’ was published on May 21, 2022. Here is an exclusive quote from the new book ‘The Magicians of Mazda’ published with the permission of HarperCollins India.
Ashwin Sanghi’s ‘The Magicians of Mazda’
Navsari, a town less than forty kilometers by road from Surat, is an integral part of the Persian history of India. The Persians are descendants of Zoroastrians who fled Iran to escape Muslim persecution and finally settled in Gujarat around 720 AD. Although many places are involved in this incident, Navsari is the place which sheltered the Persians for centuries after their expulsion from Sanjan, where they first landed in Gujarat. Located just thirteen kilometers from Navsari Dandi where Mahatma Gandhi ended his famous Dandi March, in protest of the British government’s tax on salt in India.
An elderly visitor to Navsari, Pestonji Unwala, overlooked the city’s star attractions, the Zoroastrian Fire Temple, and made his way through the predominantly Persian enclave of Tarota Bazaar. The first Dastur Meherji Rana Library is located in Tarota Bazar. Founded in 1872, the library has more than 45,000 printed books on various subjects, but is famous for its collection of about 630 rare manuscripts written in Avesta, Gujarati, Pahlavi, Pajand, Persian, Sanskrit and Urdu. The library is named after Meherji Runner, a Zoroastrian priest who went to Akbar’s court at the behest of the Mughal emperor, to learn the basic tenets of Zoroastrianism.
The white-bearded Octavarian entered the royal blue and off-white structure and walked a little harder along the stairs leading to the main reading room. It was afternoon; The room was covered in a quiet silence with only the old ceiling fan and occasionally paused by the cries of a peddler down the street. The air was thick with the gentle scent of the old leather-bound cover, and portraits of the library’s patrons hung from the iron grill around the mezzanine enclosure. The old man ignored the other patrons, who were dropping pages through newspapers and magazines in the reading room and climbed an iron spiral staircase straight into one corner.
With a sigh of relief, he arrived at a place filled with cupboards full of books. He then began the slow and arduous process of searching for the Tom he wanted. Thirsty after his ascent, he licked his lips in anticipation of the thick Gulkanda ice cream which he would treat himself after he finished his work.
The sheer scale of the collection would be terrifying to most people, but Pestonji Unwala had a secret intention. His search was for the books listed in the 1923 catalog by Ervad Bamanji Nasarwanji Dhabar. From that catalog, Unwala was able to remove the husk and make a short list of potential candidates. He worked efficiently, scanned his list, searched for each book, walked through its pages, and then religiously returned it. One by one his list kept getting smaller. He painted nineteenth-century illustrations and scanned lithographs of Shahnameh, Firdausi’s Persian epic. No luck. Outline of Zend grammar in Avestan. No. When he saw a 400-year-old copy of Khordeh Avesta, his heart was briefly aroused when he gave in to it, but it turned out to be more of a false lead.
He saw it and went to another cupboard. Kalila wa Dimna by Abdullah Ibnul Muqafa. He picked it up and took it to a reading table. Carefully flipping through the fine, tissue-thin pages, he saw the handwritten scribble এবং and couldn’t believe that he had found what he had found. It was only six lines, written in Avestan language using pagan script. It is strange to find Pazend jottings in an Arabic book. Unwala quickly took a picture using his mobile phone. Could it be number 27? He looked at the words again and mentally translated the text. She couldn’t be sure, but her instincts told her she had found what she was looking for. He eagerly took more pictures.
Unwalla had not yet visited the town of Diu on the coast of the island of the same name. Undoubtedly, there were archeological treasures in the remains of two dakhmas and a fiery temple at Diu, which is now protected by the Archaeological Survey of India. But the Persians were abandoned within nineteen years of Diu’s arrival. Unwala was not sure if there would be any valuable records or archives. He wisely realized that Navsari would be his best bet. And he knew now that his idea was good. Maybe another day on Diu’s tour.
If he were right, it would mean that centuries of history and tradition would be destroyed. It is possible that the parents themselves were not aware of what lies beneath religious symbolism. An integral part of their heritage was devoted to the protection of an internal group, but it was something that included Zoroastrians everywhere, not just in India.
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