The Bhuj House was built in 1894 by Pestonji Sorabji Bhujwala, in 'Camp' - an area located beyond the walled city of Bhuj and directly beneath the fortified Bhujia hill. The area became known as Camp when the British established suzerainty over Kutch (then a princely state) in 1819, and made it their base. Camp was shared with approximately 20 Parsi families, who they favourably engaged with on a social and economic level. There, Pestonji Sorabji also constructed Kutch's only Parsi Agiary (place of worship), which was inaugarated in 1905, and patronised by the Parsi families who resided throughout the state.
Parsis are the Indian community of the ancient Zoroastrian faith, who fled Iran (then Persia) by boat between the 8th and 10th centuries and arrived at the shores of Gujarat. They pledged to "sweeten the milk" of their new homeland and adopted the regional language and dress code. They also promised to be highly private about their faith, keeping religious rituals between sunset and sunrise, and not allowing others to convert. As a community, the Parsis have made an enormous contribution to India's economic and cultural status, and are noted as some of the most respected, philantrophic and tolerant members of the country. However with faith tied so inextricably to ethnicity, the population is in steady decline. These juxtaposed characteristics were observed by Mahatma Gandhi who fondly stated "in numbers Parsis are beneath contempt; but in contribution, beyond compare".
Sorabji Dadabhoy was our first ancestor to arrive in Bhuj. However it was Pestonji Sorabji, his son, who adopted the family name 'Bhujwala' and cemented the legacy that we still enjoy today: A close aide of both the royal court of Kutch and the British Raj, he was ultimately bestowed the honorific title, 'Khan Bahadur', in recognition of his loyalty and services to the State and its citizens. His achievements included capturing Mohar Sindhwani, the notorious and dreaded dacoit from Wagarh district in Kutch; and his organisational talent during the eradication of plague in Mandvi.
The family founded and developed the family business as distillers and importers of liquor (Sorabji Dadabhoy & Son), until 1957, when Kutch was merged with the bilingual state of Maharashtra & Gujarat which were declared 'dry'. Family members began relocating to Mumbai, Pune and the US, which were already well established as the major strongholds of the wider Parsi community. By the 1970's there were literally a handful left in the town. Finally, in 2010, Bhuj lost its last permanant Parsi resident, our aunt, Roda Boatwala, aged 78.
Three buildings - with their photographs and memorabilia - are all that remain of a community that once thrived here in Bhuj: Roda Auntie's house, our house - which was being used occasionally, and the Parsi agiary. We had to ask ourselves questions about the future of them all. That's when we decided to take on our house in full, repair the structural damage caused by the 2001 earthquake and breathe new life into its sturdy foundations, transforming it in to a destination for the diverse but niche group of visitors that find themselves in this interesting little desert town called Bhuj. Work commenced in February 2012 and in October 2015 we received our first guests.
How is it that our house survived while all the remaining Parsi houses (except Roda Auntie's) disappeared from Bhuj? That's thanks to Pestonji Ardeshir Bhujwala, Pestonji Sorabji's Great-Grandson. Pestonji the II spent the first 11 years of his life growing up in this house before attending boarding school in Pune. At the age of 16, Pestonji's parents shifted to Mumbai and his life gravitated away from Bhuj, but his love, joy and sentimentality for the house and the town never diminished. With the unwavering support of his wife, Pervine, they passionately held on to the legacy of his fore-fathers, bringing their children, Jehan and Priya, to the house for regular vacations and providing continuous support to the families who have worked in the house over as many generations as those who lived here. Roda Auntie's house was taken over by a local resident who has preserved the house in its original form.
The Agiary, just 200 meteres down the road, is protected by a trust and maintained by the Bhujwala family. As with Parsi tradition it is essentially a simple, unembellished building which housed the sacred fire. Although the eternal fire no longer burns, a diva is kept alight around the clock, offering a warm glow to the ancestral portraits that adorn its walls. Visiting Parsis enjoy the tranquility of the homely Bhuj agiary on their journeys to Kutch where they are able to light a flame and reflect in the inner sanctorum.