SHERNAAZ ENGINEER peers into the minutiae of life in the Parsi colonies (or our baugs bustling with busybodies) and dishes up some delightfully saucy details. Forget ‘Life in a Metro’. ‘Life in a Parsi Colony’ should be made into a movie!
In Mumbai, you will unarguably find the largest concentration of Parsis in the community’s many ‘baugs’, or exclusive residential areas where despite the illusionary calm there is, very often, simmering strife, racy rumours are perennially rife, and there is many a shrieking wife…
Parsi women of a certain vintage are blessed with a booming voice box that often entertains an entire block with its blasting blah-blah, and it is not unusual for family quibbles and complaints to be broadcast aloud – not so much by design as by default because, ‘dikra’, what do you do when manic ‘mumma’ loses volume control?
Then, in the ‘baugs’, you also have any number of aunties in their nightgowns, regally rechristened as ‘gowns’, and worn throughout the day, often even on errands in and around the baug, expanding their ample lungs and expending admirable vocal energy not just within their homes but beyond as well. It is not unusual to see them standing at their windows, which, incidentally, in the ‘baugs’, is a revered tradition, engaging in loud words with one another ("kem chey, soo karech, aaje su randhiyu" – a sort of standard polite talk that centres around what each one is doing/cooking), as well as hollering at sundry hawkers and summoning them at their beckoning.
The hawkers who populate the Parsi ‘baugs’ make for an interesting exhibit in themselves – and should Madame Tussaud’s ever decide to cast them in wax, they would be infinitely more interesting than Shah Rukh Khan in a ‘Dilwale Dulhaniya Le Jayenge’ jacket or Amitabh Bachchan in his latest toupee.
Parsi colonies are home to some really eccentric and exotic types, and we don’t just mean the folk who live there but those humble minions who bring them their daily sustenance right to their doorstep. The ‘baugs’ have a great network of hawkers of all hue, right from the early morning milkman (in the days before the Parsi Dairy Farm family fallout and lockout, their ‘bhaiyyas’ in blue were a hallmark). Then, there is the ubiquitous ‘pauwalla’ or bread man, who brings warm bakery ‘paus’ in a wooden trunk strapped on to a cycle, and goes from flat to flat slicing up one little round mound after another, based on personal preference: thick slice, thin slice, ‘karak pau’, ‘naram pau’.
Parsis love their ‘pau’, and seldom eat the more wholesome/wholegrain ‘chappati’. The ‘pauwalla’ is, hence, not just a very welcome visitor but almost an extension of the family, winding up as he does on the doorstep every day, sometimes morning and evening, and although generally from Uttar Pradesh or Bihar, like the ‘doodhwalla’, he invariably speaks perfect ‘Parsi Gujarati’, perhaps even down to all the colloquial cusswords if you cared to find out.
Once a year, he unfailingly disappears on an extended visit to his hometown in some interior hinterland, leaving behind a nephew, who, rather quickly, becomes as familiar with the families he helps feed.
The Parsis may not be many things, but they are a friendly lot who almost immediately and instantly appropriate virtually every stranger as "aapro" something-or-the-other – and this is a particularly baug thing. So there’s "aapro doodhwallo", "aapro pauwallo" "aapro goswallo"…
Ah! The goswallo is, perhaps, the most wanted of them all. For a true-blue Parsi non-vegetarianism is a virtue that cannot be eschewed, and, indeed, must be diligently chewed (bones and all) meal upon meal. So the meat and fish vendors are pounced upon by hasty housewives keen to complete their culinary chores.
Not surprisingly, then, in most ‘baugs’ the smells that assail you upon arrival will be overpoweringly fishy and fleshy, especially in the forenoon, as kitchens emanate the odours of fish, fowl or four-legged beast being basted and broiled.
With younger wives working and having no time to cook, the ‘dabbawallas’ come in handy. Or, else, there’s RTI that sends in the tiffin, with its printed menus circulated at the start of every month.
Other than food, fun is on most people’s minds. Friendly football/volleyball/throwball matches are routinely played, as are tricks of all kinds – generally in good humour, although not always so!
Life in the ‘baugs’ is not entirely without controversy and cacophony.
But, overall, it’s a blessed existence. Where else in Mumbai will you get airy environs enhanced by the genteel grace that the Parsi colonies emanate, and for many non-Parsis these are much-envied havens of solitude and seclusion. For most Parsis they are a way of life, as, for the better part, no matter where they roam, at the end of the day, one or another ‘baug’ is invariably home.
* The ‘Maijees’
They wear ‘gowns’ (nightgowns) through the day, both in and out of the house, sometimes changing them as often as three times before finally going to sleep in them. They virtually live their lives on their windowsills, vicariously watching what goes on, with whom, where, and what-have-you!
* The ‘Bawajis’
They wear their ‘lehgas’ (loose and flapping above the ankles), with their ‘sudreh-kusti’ on top, and if someone arrives at the door, or they need to step out, a hasty shirt is slipped on. They generally took voluntary retirement eons ago and take an avid interest in world affairs, such as oomphy Hollywood actresses (old and new) and female tennis stars (Maria Sharapova, Anna Kournikova, but with the exception of Martina Navratilova!).
* The ‘Cutlets’
They range in age from 16 to 60 and generally ride aimlessly on motorbikes around the baugs. They check out women all the time, greet each other affectionately with a volley of abuses, and are about as bright as dead meat. Hence, the nickname: "Cutlets"’!
* The ‘Fatakrees’
Parsi colony girls are, by and large, comely and rather coveted. Making the most of their slinky youth, they strut around in strappy tops, too-tight jeans and preen over their own peaches-and-cream perfection. These fetching firecrackers (‘Fatakrees’) sizzle briefly (till they catch the eye of some ‘Cutlet’ and coyly become his side-dish), after which they fizzle into oblivion and their grandmothers’ nightgowns.
Every ‘baug’ has a few over-smart sorts who manage to make it big, or, at any rate, pretend that they have. They flaunt, flash and fling in everyone’s face the symbols of their come-too-quick success. From their swollen-headed swagger to their several cars that mess up everybody else’s parking space, to the lavish money-burning ‘navjote’ ceremonies of their children, these showoffs (‘Chuckoos’) reinvent one-upmanship all the time.