“My community. ….In a lighter vein
(Sharing my memory 😄😄😄😄)”
(Comments by Dinshaw: The Author of this piece is unknown to me. I do not take credit for it. While it is written by an Indian Parsi, it’s a lovely, warm and, I believe, a very true-characteristic of our Parsi Community worldwide – and very well representative of us Parsis in Pakistan 😄. If the original author comes across this blog, please do let me know and I will happily place your name in the credits 😄).
I have often wondered: Are Bawas really mad? Of course this question only lasts for a nanosecond. Because even a cursory glance at some of my brethren is enough to convince me of the answer.
I mean, what else would you call someone who parks his beloved motorcycle in his third floor living room? Or someone who has three-tier armrests on his commode so that he can read his morning newspaper more comfortably? Or someone who makes a large loop of his pajama string and slips it over his head every time he has a bout of diarrhea, for quick release, in emergencies?
Of course we’re mad! In fact we inspired the famous Jack Nicholson movie. It was originally going to be titled: One Flew over Cusrow Baug. What remains to be understood is why exactly are we like this?
This is a question that has bothered me on many hot summer afternoons when I feel the insanity bubbling up inside me like some slowly fermenting Dhansak.
After all, I too have felt the urge on occasion: To donate umbrellas to all the Parsi statues in Bombay so that their dignified phetas (traditional Parsi head-gear) are not exposed to the callousness of pigeon.
To run around Dhobi Talao trying to change as many double-Decker bus numbers to 66 (or whatever your most used bus number) as is humanly possible in one entertaining hour.
To convince my poor friend Rustom (name changed to protect his insanity) that they were going to ask him to recite the entire Bombay Telephone Directory in his English Poetry Oral Exam.
Most of the time I can put this predisposition towards madness down to “having a slightly different sense of humor.” But when I delve deeper, I find that there are other dimensions to our madness as well. Like my granduncle who would only wear a shirt once and then give it away to the poor (The Madness of Charity).Or the man who returned a gold brick during the harbor explosion at Bombay Docks (The Madness of Honesty). Or the aunty who thought the TV repairman was trying to throw rays at her (The Madness of Paranoia). I also wonder about other dimensions to our oddness.
Like why are there so many grown Parsi men who live with their Mothers and why are there so many grown Parsi women who prefer not to live with grown Parsi men who live with their mothers? Like why are we so obsessed about cleaning our cars and motor cycles? And where on earth did we get our accent? And why do we cover our fish in banana leaves? Is it to protect their modesty? Or is it to prevent them from hearing the scandalous gossip at our traditional Parsi lagans (weddings)?
Whatever the dimension, there is no doubting one thing. Our madness is a gentle, harmless, twittering kind of madness. The kind that makes other people smile and twirl their index finger at forehead level indulgently.
But after years of introspection and self-analysis I find I am still unable to answer that essential question. “Why are Bawas mad.” Perhaps it is simply to entertain ourselves? After all, we haven’t got Parsi TV yet.
A scientific friend of mine thinks we are mad because of inter-breeding. He could be right, but sometimes I think the answer is too boring for the Parsis. I prefer my more romantic friend who claims “we are mad because if we were not, we would be truly insane, I think we are mad to protect us from the sane.
The word ‘Parsi’ is derived from the word Pars or Persia. Hence, Parsi literally means ‘people who have come from Persia’. And what progress we have made since then! From coming as humble refugees from Iran , to building great empires like Tatas and Wadias; from being persecuted in our own motherland, to carving a niche for ourselves in other’s hearts in a completely foreign country, Parsis have truly come a very long way.
Today, Parsis are one of the most loved communities in the world. Every Hindu, Muslim or Christian is bound to have at least one Parsi friend. And boy! Do the good times roll when Parsis are around! Right from their long noses and fair complexion, to their unique Hindi and witty wisecracks, Parsis are a pleasure to have around you, and are the life of any party.
And oh! Do we have our own unique identity! A Parsi can be easily spotted even in a crowded place. All you have to do is find someone whose petticoat is longer than the dress, who has a scarf on her head and a smile on her face. And trust me, it is so heartening to bump into one of them and hear them ask ‘Arre dikra, kem che? Baccha kem che?’
And while others may turn a deaf ear, the Parsi ‘maaiji’ is ever ready to dole out advice on the common cold, cough and backache, and hand you generations-passed-down, home-made recipes to cure them, which, though awful smelling and tasting, are twice as effective as any medicine in the market. On the other hand, her Parsi husband will come and declare all the ‘drama’ is unnecessary; stating that ‘ek peg Brandy’ will cure all your illnesses!
Parsis by nature are very inquisitive. Visit any Parsi ‘baug’ and you will know what I mean. Scores of Parsi ‘maaijis’ will be sitting in the garden, gossiping about how ‘Framroze in dikri pela Jehangir na dikra saathe fari raheech.’ or ‘Mare, aaje Veera NE toh moti toran che. Kai lagan che su?’
And who can ignore the early morning bargaining with the ‘goshwallo’ and ‘macchiwalli’, old Parsi ‘maaijis’ in their nightgowns and ‘bawajis’ in their ‘Sudreh-Legha’, arguing in their half-broken Hindi, loud enough to wake up the entire colony – ‘Arre kaiko itna bhav bolech, jara kami kar. Lootva bethach.’ or ‘Surmai taazi che ke? Jara barabar dev. Chori mat kar.’
Another distinguishing feature of Parsis is a clean, well-kept house… Because for Parsis, Cleanliness is not next to Godliness. It is as important as Godliness itself. And the doorstep will always have ‘chalk’ and ‘toran’. The bigger and more colourful the ‘chalk’ and heavier the ‘toran’, the bigger the occasion.
And speaking of occasions, no one can celebrate weddings and Navjotes with more fervour and gusto than Parsis, who believe in making merry and living life King-Size! Attend a Parsi wedding, and I am sure you will not leave until you have eaten to your heart’s content, had the traditional ‘chaato paani’, danced like there is no tomorrow, and made friends with every invitee – be it women resplendent in ‘garas’ or men in spotless ‘daglis’. A common sight at these functions are ladies trying to put their match-making abilities to the test by finding out if there is any ‘kuwari chokri’ in the family who cannot find a better boy than ‘aapro Jamshed’!
Another thing Parsis are known for is their cuisine… Ask any non-Parsi what the first thing is that comes their mind when they hear the word Parsi, and pat comes the reply ‘Dhansak and Patra in Macchi’.. ‘Akuri’ is a favourite among many of my non-Parsi friends, and the ‘Lagan nu Custard’ is a delicious end to any sumptuous meal.
Parsis are the only community who are traditional, as well as modern. Only in Parsi households will you know who Elvis Presley is, and also hear old ‘monajats’ and ‘garbas’. Only in a Parsi household will you know that Tulsi was thrown out of the house in ‘Kyunki Saas Bhi Kabhi Bahu Thi’, at the same time knowing about Adi Marazban’s Gujrati ‘nataks’.
Yes, we do have our share of problems and controversies (more than enough actually!) but at the end of the day, we all belong to one religion. We all believe in Zarathushtra and Ahura Mazda. We all believe in the power of … our prayers. And that’s what finally matters. Being proud of our glorious past, living in the difficult present times, and believing in the bright future awaiting our community.
On a lighter note – yes, we are eccentric, yes, we are loud and yes, we will voice our opinion on everything under the sun (whether it concerns us or not). But finally, it’s the warm, loving nature that we all have that sets us apart.
Love us, or hate us, you just CAN’T ignore us! And all said and done, I’m very proud to be a Parsi.
(If you are a Parsi reading this, Aren’t you too?)