Roshan Rivetna is a Zoroastrian matchmaker and former editor of FEZANA Journal, the official publication of the Federation of Zoroastrian Associations of North America.
Why did you choose to study physics?
Ever since I was a little child I have dreamed of doing new and exciting things. Growing up in the 1950s and 1960s, the most exciting discoveries around me were taking place in the field of physics and atomic science. When I went to the Royal Institute of Science in Bombay, India, I was inspired by my nuclear-physics professor, who encouraged me even though I was a girl (one of only two in the class of more than 50 students). My role model was an uncle, Homi Bhabha, who spearheaded India's move into the atomic/nuclear age, and founded two of India's major scientific research institutions – the Bhabha Atomic Research Centre (BARC) and the Tata Institute of Fundamental Research (TIFR). I was in awe of Dr Bhabha, who, besides being a world-renowned scientist, was also an artist, musician, connoisseur and a beautiful human being.
What did you do after you graduated?
After my Bachelor's degree, I was thrilled to get a job as a scientific assistant at BARC, which was building India's first nuclear reactor. After a couple of years there, I went on to the University of Pittsburgh in Pennsylvania for a Master's in nuclear physics, and returned to a "dream job" as a research associate at the TIFR. Then, in 1966, I met and married my husband, Rohinton Rivetna, and moved with him to Chicago, Illinois.
Why did you go to the US?
In those days, in my circle of young, highly educated Indians, the US was the shining beacon on the top of the hill, the land of limitless opportunity. My husband, an engineer, initially came on a two-year training visa, but as we gradually settled in, and enjoyed the largesse of the country, we decided to stay on, and later became citizens. We bought a small home in suburban Chicago, started raising a family, and enjoyed our respective jobs. I worked in the high-energy-physics division of the Argonne National Laboratory, doing data analysis with boxes of punched cards on a huge IBM 360 computer. Later, in the early 1980s, I was lured by the exciting new frontiers in the information-technology field, and I moved to a job at AT&T (which later became Lucent Technologies), where I designed telephone switching systems.
How did you become involved with the Federation of Zoroastrian Associations of North America (FEZANA)?
Although my husband and I were truly living the American Dream, I also felt there was a facet of our lives that we missed – our extended family and community that we had left behind. I grew up in Bombay as a Parsi, a follower of the ancient Persian prophet Zarathushtra (or Zoroaster). The Parsis are those Zoroastrians who fled Persia (now Iran) in the 8th century, after the advent of Islam, and lived and prospered in India. Then, after 1000 years of separation, the Zoroastrians of Iran and those of the Indian diaspora started coming together in a second "Western diaspora" in North America in the mid-1900s. My husband and I took up the challenge of keeping newly arrived Zoroastrians connected and ensuring the perpetuation of the Zoroastrian religion, customs and traditions. We were deeply involved in the formation of the Zoroastrian Association of Chicago, building the first Zoroastrian temple in the Midwest, and in forming FEZANA.
I understand you also act as a matchmaker for young Zoroastrians. Can you tell us more about that?
I served as editor of FEZANA's flagship magazine, FEZANA Journal, for 15 years. Being very concerned about the future of our small community here, one of the things I did as editor was to write a quarterly "matrimonial" column, offering descriptions and contact details for Zoroastrians all over the world. Now that I am retired, one of my favourite pastimes is to introduce Zoroastrian singles to each other. I am proud to claim maybe 50 or so matches over the years!
How do you feel your training as a scientist has affected your religious work?
My training as a scientist has prepared me to analyse any situation carefully and take appropriate action. This, surprisingly, fits well with the 3700-year-old Zoroastrian religion, which endows man with the "good mind" to think for himself, the freedom to choose between the good and evil paths, and the responsibility to reap the consequences.
This article originally appeared in the January 2011 issue of Physics World.
last edited: January 30, 2014