The levity and longevity of mealy-mouthed Parsis


April 5, 2014

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There’s almost nothing on earth I enjoy more than a disgruntled Parsi. Or, well, a Parsi in a good mood. Or a Parsi celebrating his/her 95th birthday. Or a Parsi after his/her fourth whisky, at a funeral. Because through all of life’s many celebrations and disappointments, through life’s many moods, theirs is just the same.

Article by scan473-300_1393492501RAVINA RAWAL | The Sunday Guardian

I don’t know if it’s the effect of some ancestral, evolution-affecting drug that’s still making future generations trip hard, or if it’s what happens to your genetic makeup when you only marry and procreate within the same 20,000-odd people. Either way, never have I met a people bursting with more enthusiasm, applause and outrageous sarcasm than this curious species of happy maniacs. (And I’m Punjabi.)

They will tell you proudly, “Mummo chuchcho vugur ‘seerpa’ nahin.” (If you don’t swear, you are not a Parsi.) And they’ll be right. While the rest of the world is busy getting offended at everything that comes out of everyone’s mouth, the Parsis are having an absolute riot, roaring with laughter at the wicked names they’re calling each other (and their mothers and fathers and aunts and grandparents and house pets). They don’t care how insulting or politically incorrect it is, their brains work relentlessly to conjure up the most imaginative insults the rest of us have ever heard.

“Chumnajheva pug” (feet like pomfrets), they’ll remark of a person with large feet. “Who? Boman? Evun toh photo frame thai guya (he became a photo frame)!” they’ll tell you casually about someone who just died, a phrase also often substituted with “Kolmee thai guya” (he’s become a prawn). And somehow it isn’t disturbing at all that you’ll often hear a mother squeal, “Tuhree kulejee khau!”(I’ll eat your liver!) to her child — because it comes with a generous side of love, laughter and kissy-koti.

“Oont nee gaan ma jeera no vughar” literally means “a sprinkling of jeera in the bum of a camel”, used when referring to a big eater who’s been given too little food. “Tumboo ma sahib,” they’ll say without a second thought to a pregnant lady, referring to the “boss in the tent”. Which reminds me of a famous Parsi actor, who once spoke to the baby in my cousin’s belly for well over two hours over the course of a single evening. Not a word to my cousin, just a very fascinating conversation with (at) her stomach.


One of my closest friends not so long ago was Parsi, and I’ve spent endless hours grinning from ear to ear at her house at the dinner table where every dish was topped (or bottomed) with eedu (egg), and every bite punctuated with a quick bitch and moan about relatives (or friends who are really relatives because, Parsis). I may also have been the most enthusiastic of all her friends about accompanying her to family gatherings she herself so reluctantly showed up at, because I am acutely aware that 150 Parsis all at once is the sort of party you’re never going to forget, or otherwise get invited to.


These guys also all seem to live for…ever? A near 100-year-old Parsi man or woman isn’t the mado murgho (sick hen/sickly person) you’d expect them to be. And there’s a tiny seed of senility that seems to set into them at a fairly young age (if I had to hazard a guess, I’d say age 10?), so the full-blown happy madness that stares back at you from the eyes of a 98-year-old, for instance, isn’t new or unsettling in any way.

Despite their ridiculous life-span, there are so few of them around in the first place — and some of them are even getting crazy enough to start marrying outside the community — that somewhere they’re all worried that their wildly evocative, sometimes bizarre and always funny vernacular will get lost forever. So photographer-filmmaker Sooni Taraporevala and writer Meher Marfatia took up the cause, rounding up everyone they knew in the community for their contributions to what has resulted in a delightful archive of Parsi Gujarati. Parsi Bol is a little handbook of over 700 “insults, endearments and other Parsi Gujarati phrases”; its pages peppered with lovely little illustrations by cartoonists Hemant Morparia and Farzana Cooper, bringing to life some of their choice picks.

Split into chapters that include picture phrases, sarcasms, insults, endearments, food, twin words, character traits, anatomy and advice, it’s a great book for everyone who’s ever been curious about the Parsis. I guarantee it will make you laugh out loud and share the things you read with whoever else is in the room.

If you don’t find your favourite phrases in this book, the authors ask that you e-mail them to to add to a possible sequel.

book-cover-70_1393492434 Parsi Bol

Sooni Taraporevala and Meher Marfatia

Good Books

Pages: 158 Rs. 500

1 Comment

  1. Sohrab Kamdin

    What about “FOWRA JHEVA PAG”