Parsi Memories: Chom-e-shvaa

By Rusi Sorabjee

In our scriptures there is a mention that ‘it was obligatory, as thanks-giving’ to save a bit of the meal at the end for the dog – during Sassanian times, it was called the "Chom e shvaa". Those who did not have a pet dog , used to carry the saved food to the back door ‘paachhloo baannu’ to give it to the stray dog.

My parents, did the same in Delhi. Besides the dogs of which he had many, my father had a handsome pet Rhode Island Red cock who would walk in at breakfast time to peck at the piece of omelette on toast, or "charveloo eedo with rotli".

My wife carries on the tradition here in California. Before she has a bite at breakfast, she offers our dog a piece of toast that is held out on a fork, you should see the dog gently walk up to her, sits down and then delicately slips the bread off the fork with the side of his mouth, without ever touching the fork. Then with an expression that conveys a silent "thank you’, without waiting for a second helping he softly tip-toes away to the entrance room where he sits at the window as the self-appointed guardian. We sometimes wonder if this four year old did come to us from a "finishing school".

Breakfast time is when we have several winged visitor at our back door waiting for the
daily hand out of bird feed. Sometimes on weekends when we are late for breakfast, the inquisitive squirrels would come scratching on the dinning room door to remind us that we have delayed their mid-morning hand out.

Some readers may frown on such acts, but this daily ritual with our pet, this insignificant act of kindness passed down to us, gives us a tremendous sense of joy, a great lift-off to a beautiful day.

My late octogenarian father-in-law Dinshaw Burjorji Karbhary in Valsad used to feed
crows and "mynah" birds after breakfast. They would fly into the first floor balcony in
time to see if the old man was at the table. Dinshaw and his wife Gool had given each
bird from the group, an identifying Parsi name. It was really wonderful seeing the birds
assemble in a row on the parapet awaiting their piece of "malhai-nay-rotli’ or just "rotli"
from the old man’s hand. When making the ROTLI my mother-in-law Gool, would
always say," Ah-ay chalia-o-nay-varey chai".i.e. this is for the birds. The birds would
share the "nastoe" and fly away. Sometimes a bird or two would linger on, the old man
would tell his wife , "Gool, Muncherji nay Cawasji nay varey please rotli laoso kay? Aaje A’ logono hisso koi beejo khai gee-yo"? ( Translated: Gool. Will you please bring bread for Muncherji & Cawasji; today someone else ate their share.)

It was so wonderful watching the old folks happily excited and delighted hosting this
daily Rotli parties for the birds. The dogs had their day at night time from the ‘Kutra nay
varey Bhonu" that was saved from dinner to be equally divided amongst the dogs that
would be waiting.

Talking of "PAACHCHLOO BAANNU", and dogs, takes me back some sixty years or
more in Delhi (1940s), when I was still wearing short pants. After the dogs were fed the left-overs from dinner ( like your "FOOi" used to), we remembered that we should give some hot milk to the six pups that were about a month old. I gave four annas ( a quarter of a rupee) to the servant to get hot milk from the nearby "Halwai" ( that is a
meethaiwalla nee dukaan). Those days 4 annas would get you one SEER of milk, that’s about one litre. Hot milk is better than hot chocolate for the North Indians especially on a cold Delhi night. So when the servant brought the milk and went to feed the pups,

I wanted to make sure the man did not gulp down half of it before feeding the pups, so in the darkness flanking myself with the PAACHCHLOO BAANNU I was peeping out to
watch. It was then I noticed what appeared to be a long line of black ants carrying their
white eggs along the corner of the BAANNU. Ants do that when the seasons change.
Looking closer I was petrified, when I realised I was starring into the beady eyes of a
snake when his forked tongue shot out, trying to get a taste of this young Parsi. Quickly
backing off, I called the cook, who would not do anything as it was against his religion to offend the snake, I called my father who came and sent the snake to his heavenly abode.

I wonder if future generations of Z’s will have any knowledge of these beautiful little
rituals like "Chom e-shvaa" or have time or inclination to follow them with the same love and reverence as our forefathers did. Will they ever experience the transcendental joys inherent in these little Zoroastrian acts ?

  • rustom jamasji

    The above article thru a beautifull practise takes a reader thru vibrant passages of time. It realisticly stops at honestly introspecting wheather our practises are going to be disbanded or forgotten( according to me espcially since what is not liked is termed dogmatic and taken recourse in the ‘Change’)or passed on to the younger generations..

    The link pasted below is a recent finding by a journalist and goes hand in Hand with the above article n Chom E shvaa’s-islamic-culture-of-hate/

  • rustom jamasji

    If the above link fails to can go thru an article ‘Perpetuating Iran’s Islamic Culture of Hate’
    June 22nd, 2009 by Andrew Bostom.

    The lines ‘ “In Sharifabad the dogs distinguished clearly between Moslem and Zoroastrian, and were prepared to go…full of hope, into a crowded Zoroastrian assembly, or to fall asleep trustfully in a Zoroastrian lane, but would flee as before Satan from a group of Moslem boys…The evidence points…to Moslem hostility to these animals having been deliberately fostered in the first place in Iran, as a point of opposition to the old (pre-Islamic jihad conquest) faith (i.e., Zoroastrianism) there’…also shows how magnificiently practises in a way also highlight ones History!!

  • Delnavaz

    I really really liked this article. I love dogs & I am volunteer with an NGO who looks after street dogs. I got my love for dogs from my parents, who feed street dogs & birds. However, I had no idea that in ancient times “it was obligatory, as thanks-giving to save a bit of the meal at the end for the dog”. Thanks for that information. My niece who has barely learned how to walk plays with the street dogs & they give her so much love in return. Dogs are truly special.

  • hoshang havewala

    was it in valsad or in nargol (in valsad district)that your late father in law Dinshaw Burjorji Karbhary fed the birds???
    if you are talking about the same Dinshaw Burjorji Karbhary that i remember seeing as a young boy (he was my best friend gev palsetia’s maasaa)then it does bring back memories of maybe 50 years ago in nargol.

  • Look, now ‘Winners’ are SULKING.

    “wheather our practises are going to be disbanded or forgotten( according to me espcially since what is not liked is termed dogmatic and taken recourse in the ‘Change’)or passed on to the younger generations”

  • Firoz Mistry

    Thank you for your articles on loban and what we used to call “Kutra-no-buk” (literally a morsel for the dog or the dog’s share as you put it).

    It was a little ironic that your story ends withe the poor snake getting killed. In the west, it can be blamed on the Adam and Eve story, but how do we expalin it in Eastern cultures?

    These simple events define our Parsi culture, and it is a shame that they are dying out. Your stories may cause our nostalgia to revive these traditions. Thank you.

  • Farida

    My late mother who was from Navsari, used to follow this practice of “kutra-no-book.” In fact when she would make chapattis made from javar, she would make one small rotli and on that she would keep the gravy that was cooked for the day and feed it to any stray dogs that would come in our compound. If there was a pregnant bitch then she would make sure that only she got the food and no other dogs were allowed to come nearby.

  • Homiyar Bilimoria

    “Chom e-shvaa” by Rusi Sorabjee brought back my childhood memories. While we were born and brought up in Bombay (now Mumbai), since our parents were from Bilimora, our summer vacations were always spent there.

    The “Chom e-shvaa” tradition was followed in all the Zoroastrian homes in Bilimora and we as children were given an opportunity by our grand parents and aunties/uncles to feed the dogs (and sometimes even the bakris – goats were fed with the skins etc. of ‘bhanaili’ fruits).

    Today with apartments in the cities, there is no front door or back door of a house to caryy on with this tradition, which has long forgotten. May be, the tradition is still followed in the villages/towns of south Gujarat.

  • Neville Cawas Cyrus Bardoliwalla BSc ( Hons) , MCMI

    I hereby dedicate this to my beloved father ‘Cawas Jehangirji Bardoliwalla’ BEng DIC, CEng FIMechE – UK’s most prominant Zoroastrian in the field of Automotive and Aerospace Engineering and Design. He was appointed Senior Architect for The Illustrious Car Giant Rolls Royce and Bentley Motors UK Ltd.Three months prior to hisuntimely deat at the age of just 44 yeard he was promoted to Head Rolls Royce’s Aerospace Division in crew to oversee Civil and Defence Engineering Architectural Design. Sadly this was not to be. He is deeply missed for heachieved so much in such a short lifetime and has beem a great Ambassador for Parsis / Zoroastrians in the field of Archecture & Mechanical Engineering throughout the world. In Ernest his beloved son Neville Cawas Cyrus Bardoliwalla BSc (Hons), MCMI, ABPI.

  • My parents(May Ahura Mazda Bless their Souls) use to have a separate brass bowl at the “Gahanbar Jashan Sopra” where Dastoorji who performs the Jashan can put some samples of varieties of blessed foods after prayer ceremonies in the bowl for dogs( Chome e Sva in Zarathushty Daree language means Dog Food) and afterward feeding the dogs. Actually I have have heard some elders saying the Doggy Bag for taking home the left over from restaurants may have originated from this Zarathushty costom.

  • Dear Mr Bardoliwalla,

    I am a student of Mechanical Engineering at Harvard University and to hear your late fathers anecdote is both endearing and very much a source of personal encouragement to me to do well in my forthcoming exams.

    Thank you once again

    Farouk Doroliwalla