I WAS INSPIRED TO WRITE THIS POST BY NONE OTHER THAN A PARSI HIMSELF: BAHADUR MERWAN. AND AS I WROTE IT I REALISED THAT ONE POST IS NOT ENOUGH. SO HERE’S TO A SERIES DEDICATED TO A WONDERFUL RACE, A BREED APART, THE PARSI COMMUNITY IN INDIA. THERE’S MORE TO FOLLOW.
BAHADUR, I DEDICATE THIS POST TO YOU. THANK YOU FOR EVERYTHING!
My first contact with the Parsi community was in fact not really a contact at all. It was with Adi Marzban, his plays with his troupe of extremely talented actors. As a family who laughed together, my parents always made it a point to take us for Adi Marzban’s hilarious comedies in Parsi Gujarati. As children, my siblings and I looked forward to these shows. It meant an evening of endless laughter. But we knew that when we came home it would be even more fun as we imitated some of the punch lines and collapsed laughing. I think the term ROTFL in the internet parlance must have struck someone who had just witnessed an Adi Marzban play. The humour was priceless, the actors meticulous in their timing, the plots as interwoven as a Shakespeare’s comedy of errors.
Over time, my contact with the community grew with history and historical figures.
In school one of my favourite teachers in English was a Parsi. My love and respect for the language grew with my love and respect for her. Thanks Mrs. Ginwalla.
In college, studying literature in my final year, Shakespeare’s plays went on to quite another level, thanks again to Ms. Patel, our professor of English. She was as English as… as the Queen, as I was to later discover. She believed one assimilated literature at its best in the midst of nature. So off we would go to the lawns for the 8 am class, sit in the dewy grass in the gentle early morning sun. When I looked around there was one student for her class besides me, but that did not seem to deter Ms. Patel. She taught with as much fervor and passion as if she had an entire audience of a concert hall. With her teaching, everything came alive. Spenser and Chaucer even with their antiquated English became less mysterious, and Shakespeare grew in stature not just as a playwright but as someone whose wisdom would last us a lifetime. (So far it has lasted me!)
As we neared our graduation, we were invited for English High Tea at Ms. Patel’s house, an annual ritual for her graduating students. It was wonderful to see her without her book in hand as we gaped in awe in her typical Parsi home. The High Tea was as English as you got, bite-sized cucumber sandwiches and mild English service tea served in the finest of china. But what took the cake (literally) was a beautifully framed photograph of the Queen on her mantelpiece. I looked closer, and gasped. It was Ms. Patel herself, replete with crown and bejeweled collar and an expression no less royal than the Queen’s!
Ms. Patel took on a regal stature for all of us that day. To this day, if I do see a Shakespeare performance, I silently thank Ms. Patel for inculcating that love for fine literature in me with her unmatched passion for the English and their literature. Once again, Ms. Patel, thank you!
Then I entered my first job and, (you guessed it,) my boss was a Parsi. To this date, I attribute my not having ulcers, in spite of being so long in the advertising industry, to him. Thanks, Bahadur. Bahadur was your quintessential Parsi. Fun, fun-loving, but righteous, creative but rooted to the ground, a boss and a wonderful friend at the same time. Every time you were tense, he had something light hearted to say to ease the tension. And when the servicing team came attacking, he had something funny to say to defuse the tension. One group laugh later, everything was in its place. Bahadur regaled us with stories of his mother, his family and his quintessential Parsi-ness! He started every explanation with, “See, we Parsis….”
His positive attitude to life, took a lighthearted look at pain, even at death. Once he was hospitalized for a barium enema test. Very painful would have been anyone else’s verdict. But Bahadur came back with an unmistakably graphic version, “Basket!” (that was Bahadur’s version of Bas_ _ _ _ !) “The pain was so much, I could see the vultures circling above!”
As time wore on and I went on to meet more and more Parsis, I grew to appreciate some characteristics that they were born with. Righteousness was one. If you see a street fight, and a Parsi involved, you can take it with your eyes closed that he is not part of the warring faction but is justly on the side of the right, no matter who that is.
Parsis have a fierce sense of fairness, and coupled with their outspoken attitude it almost seems rude to a point. But to date, I still have to find a rude Parsi! Chances are you’ve not met one either.
Then there’s the Parsi love for food. It’s almost infectious, so much so that, even as a vegetarian, you start appreciating patra ni machchi and marghi na farcha! Time permitting, a Parsi will go to any lengths for good food, like from Goregaon to Britannia (Ballard Estate) for the famous Berry Pulao!
And bringing all these and more qualities together was a colleague and art partner who I worked extensively with. Thank you, Nilufer. Nilufer was so lovably Parsi, in her passionate love for her work, her fierce attention to detail, her innate sense of right and wrong, her fair sense of justice, and her soft heartedness for anyone or any creature who was suffering. But combine all these qualities, and she got on to the wrong side of someone or the other in a working day. Either it was the studio operator who had to redo a paragraph about 13 times because it was not up to the mark. (No chalta hai for Nilufer). Or it was the production person who had not managed the right shade of colour. (Nai Nai Kulkarni, yeh unnis bees nahin chalega) But no one could argue with her. Mainly because she was right.
So it would all come to me, being her copy partner. “Why don’t you explain to her?” they would plead with me urgently. And for that I had a ready answer, which no one ever debated. I’d simply shake my head, smile angelically and say, “I can’t. You see, she’s a Parsi.”