Kindling A Flame: Aapro App Aims To Connect Every Parsi
It’s arguable that no minority community in India is the target of such strenuous efforts at conservation as the country’s 69,000 Parsis. Not even certain tribes so miniscule they could be wiped out in a landslide. The government is earnestly trying to save Zoroastrians with the Jiyo Parsi scheme, which funds an IVF programme for community members. The Bombay Parsi Punchayet (BPP) doles out monthly stipends to couples having a second and third child. It also has a youth group, Zoroastrian Youth for the Next Generation (ZYNG), which organises get-togethers for singles. Last year, an ad campaign funded by Jiyo Parsi tried to use humour (that some found in bad taste) to get Parsis to procreate.
Aapro App will soon join this list of Parsi proliferation efforts. Aapro, the Gujarati word for ‘our’, is often used lightheartedly by Parsis to claim ownership of a luminary. For example, aapro Freddie (Mercury, who’s always fondly recalled even though he did not really acknowledge India as his homeland). The founder of Aapro App, television actor Viraf Phiroz Patel, calls it a “Tinder cum Linkedin kinda app” that’s in equal parts a dating tool, social network and directory for Parsis. He was inspired to create it by a Parsi friend, who “unfailingly comes to India twice a year because he wants to hang out with Parsi girls and marry one”. Patel introduced him to a friend of a friend. “The guy has to rely on people like me, but I can only do so much.” It thus occurred to him that the community needed a “connectivity app”.
The app is currently being developed by Umeed Kothavala, the CEO of Pune-based tech company Extentia, and will be launched in time for Parsi New Year in August. It was announced in December 2015 at the Iranshah Udvada Utsav, a major gathering of the community. The announcement was accompanied by this promo featuring aapro Cyrus (Broacha, the comedian, who has a non-Parsi mother and wife).
Currently Kothavala and Patel, who is personally funding the project and is considering crowdsourcing in case it becomes a costly affair, are soliciting suggestions from the community. The features they’re planning to include, aside from matchmaking, are directories for housing, jobs and services such as restaurants and sari making. Say you’re a Parsi who’s new to a place and are looking to make friends with others from the community living and working there. The app, which will be available across the world, could point you in the direction of the nearest Parsis. “We want to make it exciting to use and age-appropriate,” Kothavala said. The app makers are aware they’re dealing with an aging group of people and that some users might be technologically challenged. So they’ve even explained what an app is on the Aapro App Facebook page. “There might be a Parsi lady who is not using a smartphone as much as me,” said Patel.
While the app is more than a matchmaking tool, that’s the feature most Parsis aware of Aapro App are concerned about. Patel said he’s often told to speedily release the app by community elders worried about their receding population. “Jaldi karoni dikra (Hurry up, son,” they tell them. But do Parsis really need another matchmaking initiative? Mahafreed Irani, 30, said the app might work only if “it’s technically good”, that is, on par with other sophisticated dating apps. Most importantly, she said, the app should show pictures of members and list their educational qualifications and details about their profession. “The main problem in the community is that boys are not as qualified as girls,” she said. “Girls don’t want to go out with anyone who earns less.”
Irani checked out Parsi Irani Matrimonials, a popular matchmaking Facebook group, but was disappointed because many men on the group do not publish their photographs. She also feels an app is more in keeping with the times. She once attended a speed-dating event organised by the Bombay Parsi Punchayet and found it quaint. Boys and girls were made to play ‘musical arms’ as a way of breaking the ice (boys stood with arms akimbo, girls ran around them and locked arms when the music stopped). “It was a little weird,” she said.