Position ma puncture — If you have any doubt about what this phrase could possibly mean, think like your favourite Parsi. If that doesn’t work, wait for Sooni Taraporevala and Meher Marfatia’s Parsi Bol to hit the stands next month. Averil Nunes presents a preview.
Review by Averil Nunes | DNA India
Book: Parsi Bol
Author: Sooni Taraporevala & Meher Marfatia
Publisher: Good Books, 49/ 50 Books
Price: Rs 500
How many Parsis does it take to make you laugh? If you know some Parsis, you will realise that sometimes even one is just too much. So when two Parsi women decide to work on a book that captures the community’s most used, misused and abused idioms for posterity, you know you’re guaranteed a belly-full of laughs. Add to this, illustrations by Hemant Morparia and Farzana Cooper; the involvement of book artist Priya Pereira in the design; and Parsi Bol is starting to sound like a collector’s edition. But we’re getting ahead of ourselves.
Let’s acquaint you with the authors first. If you’ve watched Salaam Bombay!, Mississippi Masala, Such A Long Journey or The Namesake, you’ll know how Sooni Taraporevala’s scriptwriting translates on the big screen. And if you’ve watched Little Zizou you’ve already had a glimpse of her film-making abilities. What you may not be aware of is that Taraporevala started off as a photographer and her images have been exhibited the world over.
Even if you don’t receive the Gujarati newspaper Jam-e-Jamshed, chances are you’ve read one of Meher’s columns in the Sunday papers. A writer and editor since 1985, Meher Marfatia has worked with The Illustrated Weekly of India, Marg Publications, The Art India Magazine and Verve.
The two women first collaborated a few years ago, when Taraporevala photographed yesteryear actors and technicians (who were still around) for Marfatia’s book Laughter In The House: 20th-Century Parsi Theatre and encouraged her to self-publish. Parsi Bol, self-published by Taraporevala’s Good Books and Marfatia’s 49/50 Books, was fortunate to find “a kind and generous sponsor in Cyrus Guzdar”.
With firstname.lastname@example.org set up and publications like Parsiana, Jam-e-Jamshed and Hamazor spreading the word, the Parsi community contributed to this book with generosity and gusto over wi-fi, through hand-written notes and of course word of mouth. Some contributions placed things in a situational or geographic context; others were just memories of things said or overheard.
“Most of the contributions are from older people, because the younger generation is more Hindi-speaking than Gujarati-speaking. Of course, we did get contributions from the younger lot, things they had heard their parents or grandparents say,” mentions Taraporevala.
Imagism, alliteration, wit and of course the predictable (or is it unpredictable) Parsi humour run through the book that they have been working on since February 2012, though Taraporevala can’t remember which person or incident triggered her message to Meher that they should work on this book. Husta gher vusta (laughter makes the home) — every good Parsi knows this. Marfatia points out how Parsis tend to not have much of an appetite for tragedy, and even when theatre greats like Adi Marzban strayed from the path of humour, the audience was not too appreciative.
“My father gets very irritated when he has to go to the movies and is expected to cry,” says Taraporevala. “Humour has a large part to play in the community and that’s reflected in the way the language has evolved.” Insults, anatomy, animals, money…in Parsi conversations as in this book, nothing is off limits. Putting together this crowd-sourced affair (which sometimes generated different interpretations of the same idiom), could have been tedious, if it weren’t for the sheer hilarity of some of the phrases that were unearthed. Rutty Manekshaw, Taraporevala’s octogenarian aunt, was the “pivot” of this book, serving as the authority when it came to translation, clarification and verification.
What has the book added to Taraporevala’s and Marfatia’s lives? “Lots of fun and a little, no, a lot, of learning. We grew up with the language but the picturesque way it can be twisted is fresh.” says Marfatia. “And also the satisfaction of having done it despite the tedium,” adds Taraporevala. “At the end of the day it’s a good thing to have archived it, before it vanishes from people’s memories.”
Is this a book of, by and for the Parsis? “Anybody, who is a native Gujarati speaker will enjoy this book, that includes, Boris, Khojas and Hindu Gujaratis,” says Taraporevala. Of course, Gujarati speakers may relate to it better than the rest; however some of the phrases sound familiar, making us wonder if the language has evolved through osmosis and if other non-Parsis will find parallels too.
What’s their next project? “Nothing to do with Parsis,” quips Marfatia. “We don’t want to be slotted.”
Parsi Bol will be released in time for the 10th World Zoroastrian Congress in Mumbai next month.
Parsiisms — Imagine ’em, taste ’em, say ’em
PICTURE PHRASE: Chumna jheva pug, Feet like pomfrets, Large feet
SARCASM: Julebee jhevo seeddho, Straight as a jalebi, Very crooked
INSULT: Tel leva ja, Go get oil, Go to hell
FOOD: Kolmee thai guya, Became a prawn, Died
MEN & WOMEN: Raja ne gumee ranee ne chhaana thapti ani, The king chose for his queen the woman who made dung cakes, Love knows no barriers
MONEY: Lakshmi chandlo kurva aveh tareh mohnoo dhova nahi juvanoo, When the goddess of wealth Lakshmi comes to greet, don’t go to wash your face, Make the most of an opportune time