The Indian city desperately needs its new metro, but Zoroastrian priests are warning of a ‘backlash from nature’ – and they’re not the only detr

In early October, a petition was sent to the Indian prime minister, Narendra Modi, about the latest phase of the Mumbai metro – a 33.5km stretch that is currently under construction.

The petition claimed that the metro, if built, would “breach the magnetic circuits” of two Zoroastrian fire temples, thus “diminishing their spiritual powers” and unleashing “dark forces”. Signed by 11,000 people, the petition concluded that, the temples being “living, vibrant ... intermediaries between God and mankind” as they are, if these “holy fires are defiled, the backlash from nature will not spare those responsible”. 

The third phase of Mumbai’s metro network will pass under some of the oldest, swankiest and most built up enclaves of south Mumbai – and will indeed tunnel close to two sacred Zoroastrian fire temples and a well invested with boon-granting powers. The dwindling Zoroastrian or Parsi community might number fewer than 45,000 in Mumbai (and just 56,000 in all of India) of the city’s roughly 18 million residents. But they are a high-profile group – and many of them have begun to see Ashwini Bhide, managing director of the Mumbai Metro Railway Corporation (MMRC), as an unlikely fifth horsewoman of the apocalypse. 

Nor is it just Parsi priests fighting the metro. The project faces the ire of environmentalists, heritage activists – and, perhaps most vocal of all in this most Indian of cities, cricketers.