The Fun of Being a Parsee


October 21, 2006

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Bombay | Opinion

[received via email. Author Unknown]

It lies in many things …. It’s like belonging to an exclusive Club worldwide. Birth, the only credential and consideration; nothing, but nothing else works, no sirree ! No waiting lists, no entrance fees, no other eligibilities !

A minuscule community, incurably diasporic, but which nonetheless has woven its way into virtually every corner of the world.

A cousin of mine has a job that entails considerable travel. On one of his trips, he met another well-travelled professional, an American who, on learning my cousin was a Parsee commented, “I can’t believe Parsees are so few in number, worldwide ! … wherever I go in the world, I meet a Parsee !”

Once in Sydney, travelling by bus to the Opera House, I met two elderly ladies who inquired where I was from. “From India,” I responded. “Oh! Are you a Parsee?” pat came the counter query. On noticing my astonished look, the lady explained that she had come to know a few Parsees, from India, in Sydney, and hence the inspired guesswork. But of course, these stray anecdotes can be misleading.

When my first novel, The Turning was published, I received a letter from a reader in Cuttack, Orissa, who wrote, among other things, that in his ‘part of the world’, there were no Parsees, but that he came to know something about the community from The Turning !

The fact does remain, however, that one may come across a Parsee almost anywhere in the world; and the fun of it is, that there is generally an instant bonding of sorts, when you come across a humdin in other parts of the world. As I said, being a Parsee is, in a sense, being part of an International Club !

Being a Parsee also gives you an entrée into another coveted world: the world of the Parsee Baugs! I once took a Swedish friend, a visiting journalist, into Cusrow Baug for a dekko. Normally a rather reticent chap, he couldn’t stop waxing lyrical about the Baug.

“I wouldn’t have believed such a place could exist in Bombay,” he enthused. “So clean, so green, so quiet, well ordered!” Indeed ! Most of our baugs / colonies are indeed green, clean, relatively quiet and well ordered. More importantly, they’re miniature worlds in themselves! make the Dadar Parsee Colony, Cusrow Baug, Rustom Baug, Tata Blocks, Bandra and so many others, across the length and breadth of Bombay.

You step into a different world, a fairly self-contained world, still quite gracious and genteel, where Dinamai will inquire kindly after Dolly’s mother’s health, even while gossiping with mild malice about

peli flighty Farida now flirting with pelo muo no-good Noshir! And yet, if that very same Farida needs help or advice from Dinamai, it will be gladly given. Just as Dinamai herself knows that Noshir, for all his

cocky, care-for-nobody ways, would come running to Dinamai’s aid, should she ever really need it.

Neighbours tend to become extended family, the whole baug itself becomes a close-knit community, where youngsters gather to play, flirt or gossip, leading sometimes to more lasting ties; young matrons gather

for gossip and exchange of news and views on everything under the sun, from children, tuitions, servants and mothers-in-law to the newest fashions, best bargains and yummiest recipes; to politics, films, books

and holiday destinations; young men (married and otherwise) gather to eye and discuss young women, young women, young women; (Okay, okay, I’m being mean to the men!) and elderly folk gather to pronounce judgements and lay down the law on everyone and everything they can think of !

The most blessed are the children and the elderly; they have an environment, right on their doorstep, where they can take in a gentle airing or a leisurely walk in a sheltered atmosphere, surrounded by known faces ready to lend a helping hand should some mishap occur.

Children have other children they can play with, and the senior residents form their own groups and cliques, to happily pass the evening in the open air, should they be so inclined, instead of being cooped up alone in the house.

Of course, there is also the Pillanmai who peeps behind the purdah to keep tabs on everyone, and the Bapaimai who’s always borrowing things, forgetting to return or replenish, and the Kookamai who’s always fighting about someone spoiling her chowk; or there’s the Dhunjishaw who doesn’t like children or the Shavaksha who’s always abusing servants or the Ardeshir who fights with all his neighbours; but these too, one takes in one’s stride, after all, they add more colour to the colony.

There is, of course, the fly in the ointment, especially in the newer baugs: the size of the flats: ‘chipla jetla gher’, as a disgusted elder commented. And the younger ones protest indignantly: “The Punchayet wants us to produce more children. How can we, when they allot us flats into which we cannot even fit in a decent-sized bed?” (No, I am not joking — perhaps exaggerating just a little!)

Seriously, a flat today in any of the so-called ‘premier’ baugs is beyond the reach of most young couples starting out in life — and I do not intend to enter into the debate as regards the present policy of selling trust flats at virtually market rates in this, ‘saro saporvo’ Pateti issue, as my grandmother would have said ! — however, I’d like to state just this: if new flats are being built to encourage and help young Parsee couples wishing to marry and start a family, surely flats of at least reasonably decent size should be offered, not poky one-room flats where it’s difficult for two people even to just move around, once the flat is fully furnished !

The fun of being a Parsee lies also in the celebratory nature of our festivals, the richness of our cuisine, the serene simplicity of our basic religious tenets: good thoughts, good words, good deeds … and the awesome sight of priests in pristine, flowing white, (often with a white beard to match!), appealing to the Powers-that-be in rich reverberating tones, in an atmosphere redolent with the aroma of incense and sandalwood, the flickering of the divas and the fragrance of lilies and tuberoses; and the dark, cool interior of Agiary, the perfect foil to the eternal fire that flames within !

It lies also in that insouciant irreverence that marks the true Parsee,who takes nothing too seriously, least of all himself ! Who waltzes through life with sometimes boisterous bonhomie, with a fund of good will and generosity for all humankind ?

The fun of being a Parsee is being able to look forward to celebrating yet another NEW YEAR, maybe with the sagan-ni-dahi-sev in the morning, followed by the dhaan-dar-patio, ending up with the sali-marghi, the

three high points of the day, in between greeting friends, exchanging gifts and, of course, thanking Ahura Mazda for all the blessings so bountifully endowed on us.

So let’s count our blessings and curb our cribs; problems exist so we can think out solutions … and there is, indeed, a solution for every one of the problems facing the community. (Though of course, Parsees

being Parsees, will also differ on just what actually is the problem !)

But on that, another time ….


  1. Siloo Kapadia

    An excellent article. However I disagree with the statement that to be a Parsee is to be born one, and nothing else. What rubbish! Anyone should be able to join the community, and to say otherwise is racism.

  2. Siloo Kapadia

    An excellent article. However I disagree with the statement that to be a Parsee is to be born one, and nothing else. What rubbish! Anyone should be able to join the community, and to say otherwise is racism.