Shahpur Framroze Captain – The man who envisaged WZO and put it on the world map
A Tribute to Shahpur Framroze Captain (1st November 1929 – 1st December 2020)
Dear Shahpurji, we will remember you forever
Our beloved past – Chairman, Shahpur F Captain passed away peacefully at his home in Wilmington, Kent on Tuesday, 1st December 2020, Mah Tir, Roj Rashne. The Geh Samu (Funeral Prayers) of Shahpurji were held on Thursday 17th December, 2020 at World Zoroastrian House, Feltham followed by the Ceremony at Mortlake Crematorium.
As we look back on the last 40 years of WZO’s existence we at The World Zoroastrian Organisation feel humbled and satisfied that from nothing the WZO has now grown to maturity and is generally recognised as an organisation that has changed the definition of charity, intent on reaching out to the needs of the community in every sphere of necessity.
Dr Farang Mehr induced Shahpur Captain to form the WZO and that is how Shahpurji sowed the seed from where WZO’s journey started. WZO as a Zoroastrian organisation sowed the seed that recognised that non-Zoroastrian spouses and their off spring were an integral part of our community, to be treated as equals, without the hideous sanctions heaped on them in the past. This was indeed a milestone and we can proudly say, since then most of the Zoroastrian Associations in North America, Australia, New Zealand and elsewhere have gone on to recognise the contribution made by non-Zoroastrian spouses in our religious, social and cultural life and the creation of a more balanced Zoroastrian society.
Let us take you through the journey of our very dear beloved WZO past Chairman Shahpur Captain – The man who envisaged WZO and put it on the world map.
Shahpur Captain was born in Karachi on 1st November 1929 the youngest son of Khorshed Limbuwala and Framroze Captain. He attended the BVS Parsi school (built by Soparivala and Limbuwala families ) in Karachi and upon matriculation his father Framroze who was an accountant in the famous Sindh Club in Karachi decided to send him to boarding college in Poona where he obtained his B.COM degree.
His father used to accumulate 3 years of his holidays for 3 months travel with his whole family – older siblings Savak and Nergis. They travelled all over India and Kashmir in locked train compartments for safety during those hazardous times where they used to sometimes stay in Gilgit with Framroze’s brother in law – Kavas Limbuwala. Shahpurji recalled that Kavas uncle used to teach him and his siblings how to use cutlery and have good table manners which Kavas uncle instilled into his visiting nephews and niece. In Karachi the Captain and Limbuwala families lived in a large bungalow in the Cantonment area where cousins Jamshed and sister Noreen also lived and Shahpurji often recalled Jamshed cleaning his motorcycle in return for American chewing gum and high speed rides on his motor bike. Also his cousin Jamshed says he was like a big brother to him and sister Noreen – always helpful and caring and charming to one and all. After returning from college in Poona Shahpurji and his siblings were regular members of KPI (Karachi Parsi Institute) where Shahpurji excelled in Badminton Swimming and Tennis and accumulated a large number of trophies which are still at his home in Wilmington. Shahpurji on returning from Poona had commenced work back in Karachi with Arthur Anderson & company who encouraged him to go to UK to further his career and qualifications. So Shahpurji came to Glasgow in 1955 and obtained LLB, RA and CA degrees finally settling down with his first wife Jilloo in Harlow new town in Essex. Since then they had both been active members of the Zarathustrian Community.
Apart from Shahpur’s flawless education, his self-taught religious training greatly influenced his life and the path he chose in the future. It was common practice to light a diva (an oil lamp) at home for prayers each day and he was surrounded by such influences as a young man.
It did not take long before Shahpur had to face up to prejudice and racial discrimination in pursuit of his vocation. Here was a young man, a double graduate, highly articulate, yet was judged by the colour of his skin when he went for job interviews. But he also experienced kindness and generosity from others and eventually he did find employment as an accountant.
WZO Chairman Rumi Sethna gave a sterling speech at the Felicitation and Honouring of Shahpurji at the Inauguration of the World Zoroastrian House on 10th August 2019.
“Ladies and gentlemen
There are very few people who do not retire and carry on expanding their businesses and enjoy working to the end of their lives and some who enjoy working for their community forever. It therefore gives me great pleasure to talk to you about my dear friend who I have known since 1961 and to honour him today for all that he has done and achieved since 1961 to date. This person has worked tirelessly for the community in the United Kingdom. He has achieved so much and has never asked for anything in return. Of course, the youngsters in the community have no knowledge and have never even thought of acknowledging the service that this person has given to the community. We, in WZO have decided to correct this wrong doing, and are today going to tell you about what his achievements have been and to acknowledge his work and tenacity.
I am of course speaking about our dear Chairman Shahpur Captain.
[Image: WZO Chairman Rumi Sethna Felicitating Shahpurji at the Inauguration of the World Zoroastrian House on 10th August 2019]
To some of you Shahpur comes across as a stern person but deep down he is a kind and a very jovial person. I can vouch for this as Hilda and I went on a holiday with him which we thoroughly enjoyed. From 1991 Shahpur, Hilda and I travelled annually to India to witness that the funds sent there were being used appropriately. Despite the difficulties of the travel conditions he was great fun to be with. My wife was 5’6″ in height and after 13 years of travelling she’s now 4′ 10″.
He joined the existing local association (now known as ZTFE) in 1961. I too became a member at that time.
He stood for election to the committee in 1962 but did not succeed, yet he continued to prepare their accounts and looked after the investments. At that time all the funds were invested in gilt edged stocks which realised a very low income. The constitution of the Association needed to be looked at as these were based on the Companies Act 1862 to 1907. He managed to alter these in accordance with the 1948 Act.
He was then invited to join the committee in 1963. On 10th November he was elected to the committee which I did not attend as I was abroad. He would have received one extra vote had I been there. The investments made by the then committee were not yielding much and there was no capital appreciation. Shahpur suggested that the investment policy of the association should be given to one person and at a later meeting Shahpur was put in charge of all investments. Slowly but surely all the old investments were sold off and new shares were purchased which gave the association capital appreciation and more income. During his term at the ZTFE from 1963 to 17th May 1986 Shahpur held more than one Office on the committee. He resigned as a President due to a change of opinion in the committee as to who is allowed to attend certain prayers. Shahpur believed that the religion is a matter of choice and anybody who believed in Zarathustra had a right to attend the prayers. Of course, the orthodox won the day and took over the Association.
During his tenure as a committee member it was decided to buy a larger house as the one in Russell Road South Kensington was too small. We needed a larger house in order that a prayer room could be accommodated. The committee started looking for alternative premises and on 29th November 1967, 88 Compayne Gardens was brought to the attention of the committee. This property was a school run by Catholic Nuns. The property was much bigger than Russell Road but was in a poor state. The property needed complete redecoration and renovation. On 4th January 1968 a price was agreed at £32500. An SGM was called on 3rd March 1968 to approve the purchase and this was passed by all present. A presentation was made as to how the Association would fund the property.
A great deal of effort was put in by all parties to raise the funds required. A great number of people donated for the new house and in appreciation Shahpur had a board put up to acknowledge the donors and the amounts they had donated put against their names. Sadly, after we left Compayne Gardens these boards have gone missing considering that when Compayne Gardens was sold it achieved a price of £2.3m pounds, and no acknowledgement is given to the original donors who worked hard to make this happen. Soon it became obvious that the new place was too small as a lot of Iranians had left Iran and were settling in UK. Funds were raised for extending Compayne Gardens and as I recall this cost around £200,000.
There was another board put up in the extension acknowledging the receipts from all the donors. Sadly, this too has gone missing. Every time I asked the then President of the ZTFE he promised me that he would look into it. After a while I realised that he had no intention of ever acknowledging the past donors.
In 1970 the ownership of Brookwood Cemetery had changed and the new owners were demanding a considerable amount of money for another plot plus they wanted extra money for burials. The committee wanted Shahpur to cave in. Shahpur insisted that we had a very strong case and that we should not give in to blackmail. The case went to court on 3rd April 1981, and during the lunch break the solicitor acting for the the cemetery asked to meet Shahpur and the Associations lawyers. At this time, Shahpur, after 10 years of hard work demanded the following:
- The Association buys the cemetery and an additional plot for £1
- Brookwood Cemetery repays all the excess amounts paid to them for burials from the beginning of the dispute
- Brookwood to reimburse all our legal fees
- Brookwood to provide services for an agreed amount
The lawyers for the Cemetery agreed to all the demands and a deal was signed and sealed by the court.
A new constitution was prepared, and on 3rd September 1978 an SGM passed all the Resolutions and Zoroastrian Trust Funds of Europe (Incorporated) came into being. This enabled us to reclaim all the taxes on dividends and the capital profits were exempt from taxes.
How was WZO formed:
In 1978 the late Farhang Mehr asked to meet Shahpur at the Grosvenor House Hotel and asked him in the presence of Mr. Naderi to go ahead and form The World Zoroastrian Organisation in London. He stated that Tehran and Mumbai had wasted several years and had not done anything. The entire burden was dropped on to Shahpur’s lap to form the organization ASAP, due to the political situation in Iran. (How right Farhang was)
At the committee meeting held on 4th June 1978 it was decided to form WZO properly constituted and financed. At this time Mehraban Farangi came to WZO and offered to donate £150,000 to a new charity which would be known as WZTF to fund WZO to carry out its duties. Today this fund after making several bequests and funding WZO, is still in operation. WZO was formed in 1980.
When the political situation got worse in Iran, Shahpur wrote several letters to the government of Iran and to Ayatollah Khomeni and Dr. Bazargan the prime minister of Iran, on WZO paper requesting them to safe guard the loyal Zoroastrian population of Iran. Shahpur attended several tribunal cases in London, testifying the reasons why Iranian Zoroastrians should be allowed to stay in UK. He also wrote to all the western governments and to USA to allow Iranian Zoroastrians to stay in their respective countries.
WZO was operating from the ZTFE premises and after the AGM of WZO on 8th October 1989 the then committee wrote a letter to WZO that we could not use the ZTFE premises and all WZO files and cabinets were removed from the office and placed on the landing on the second floor. With the help of Shahpur’s brother and myself we loaded up 2 cars and took the filing cabinets to my house which eventually became our place of work for 10 years. Looking back, I feel that had we not been kicked out we would have never raised the funds to have our own headquarters. I therefore take this opportunity of thanking the then committee for making us an independent body.
We worked from my family home holding monthly committee meetings for several years and later found a small office in Tennison Road, Croydon which we acquired and used as our headquarters for several years.
In 2001 when I was in the chair Mr. Farhang Mehr asked me to come to Paris and meet Abtin Sassanfar. Abtin wanted to know more about WZO and what it did. He put Hilda and I up in a flat which was adjoining his office. We talked for 2 days about WZO and about the future of WZO. Our view was that WZO should be represented in UNESCO and United Nations. This of course was a long shot as the local association here convinced the BPP that we should not be supported. Had we joined the 2 bodies we would have had a strong case to represent all the Zoroastrians all over the world and it would have helped any Zoroastrian in difficulty.
It was an Iranian Zarathusti namely the late Mr. Abtin Sassanfar who visited us and offered a donation of £500,000 for new premises. This obviously motivated Shahpur to seek additional funds. With his persuasive powers we were offered a further £Im by the Trustees of the Firuz Madon Foundation. The rest is history.
If it wasn’t for Shahpur the local community and the World Body would not be where it is now.
I will now request Shahpur to come to the podium and call Ursula Bhiwandiwalla to present a small gift from the committee to Shahpur.
[Image: Ursula presenting a gift to Shahpurji on behalf of the Committee]
I will now ask my wife Hilda to unveil the portrait of Shahpur Captain which I can assure you will never be removed from these premises.
[Image: Hilda Sethna unveiling the portrait of Shahpurji]
Ladies and gentleman I would now like you all to stand and propose a toast to Shahpur and wish him good health and happiness with his family”.
(WZO Chairman Rumi Sethna’s speech ends)
All religions, we hope, exist for the betterment of mankind. The religious tenants of Zoroastrianism are “Good Thoughts, Good Words and Good Deeds”.
This is the moral and ethical framework within which we are expected to live our lives.
Somehow over time our religion became overrun with absurdities which was destroying the very fabric of our society. Injunctions were placed on some women because they choose to marry out of the community. These women were deprived of their religious rights and their children were not accepted into the faith if they wished to follow the faith of their mother.
Another practice was to debar non-Zoroastrians from even attending events like today. Family and friends could not perform the last rites for loved ones who they had lived and worked with all their lives because priests were debarred from performing the last rites in the presence of non-Zoroastrians.
Shahpurji was the first person, in fact the only person at one time, who would courageously offer prayers, solace and comfort to those families who faced these injunctions. Shahpurji’s courageous stand, combined with a true understanding of his own religion enabled WZO to fully embrace the principle of acceptance. He was a truly wonderful man, an inspiration, and a fountain of knowledge and we will miss him.
Perhaps the most telling influence in Shahpurji’s life was the presence of Dasturji Dhalla in Karachi, a much loved and adored High Priest of the time whose progressive thinking, though not in consonance with other High Priests of the Parsis, greatly influenced the receptive minds and hearts of many in the community.
Shahpurji joins all his outspoken compatriots, who have gone before him in their heavenly abode and to name a few – Prof KD Irani, Dr Farhang Meher, Noshirwan Cowasjee and Dr. Ali Jafarey.