Parsis: The Zoroastrians of India Pakistan and The World

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 ?