A play that imagines a world with no Parsis reminds us why we need them more than ever
There are people outside of Mumbai, who think Parsis are a figment of our imagination. “You can’t blame them,” says theatre director Meherzad Patel. “Sixty thousand is literally the crowd in this area. But, we are so loud and boisterous that one Parsi sounds like 50 Parsis. We look at swear words as punctuation.
Article by Ekta Mohta | Mid-Day
The way we treat our car, our bike, our food, our drinking habits: we don’t consider it as alcohol. I have a one-year-old, and at weddings, they’ll dip their finger [in a drink] and give to the baby. That’s the initiation into the Parsi culture.” Who in their right mind could make this up?
Meherzad Patel, theatre director, 30
Twice a year, during Nowruz in March and Parsi New Year in August, Patel finds new ways of taking the mickey out of his community. In 2014, he cooked up The Buckingham Secret, in which the inmates of the Buckingham Palace were actually Parsis in crown jewels. In Amar Akbar Akoori (2017), a Gujarati, a Bohri and a Parsi live as PGs in an old Parsi dame’s house, all pretending to be Parsis.
This Nowruz, he’s created Geedra of Thrones, a Gujarati play in which the throne room is the trustees’ office of the Bombay Parsi Punchayet (BPP). “The premise is that the government sends a letter, saying that your community is about to shut down, because you are too few to be called a religion. Pick another religion or pack your bags and get out. The trustees have been given the task of informing the Parsi public.” While this is no laughing matter, Patel says, “On Nowruz, if it’s not funny, it’s not going to work. It’s a fictitious story because we don’t want to make fun of the trustees. But, yes, if you’re holding a public post, we will make fun of your office.”
The BPP trustees have opened themselves to ridicule because they regularly make headlines for their catfights. “As a tiny community, you get to know everything instantly. And yet, if you ask any Parsi of the seven trustees’ names, nobody will have a proper answer. Initially, there was no election. Seven honourable people were nominated by the people in charge of these funds.” And then, the powers-that-be decided to set up a ballot. “The minute it goes from a nomination to an election, you become a politician.”
The play addresses the thorn in the flesh of every Mumbaikar. While we fight for breathing room in Nallasopara, the Parsis dispose of their dead on Malabar Hill. “Any Parsi will tell you that there’s enough funds to support every Parsi alive, for a couple of generations easily. But, it’s not the job of the seven trustees to come up with these formulas. They’re not politicians – they behave like that – but they’re not. They’re not allowed to come up with principles, laws and agendas. They’ve been given a set of guidelines: ‘This is what you need to do with this money. That’s all.’ It’s like a trust fund that’s handled by somebody.”
In the play, the youngest trustee, played by Shazneen Acharia, is 32, and the oldest, played by Moti Antia, is 84. The age difference doesn’t matter because, “They all behave like 20-year-olds.” For instance, Antia tells us later, as a matter of great pride, that she nurses a whisky a day. Patel and his cast have woven the play with oddities like this.
“In our play, there’s a lady, who’s very particular about a set of 12 handwoven embroidered napkins her husband gave her. The husband’s dead, but she’s held on to it. Parsis are big hoarders. My wife loves collecting plastic bags. Today, she says, ‘I knew this day would come. He’s banned it, but I have it.’ I had an uncle, who passed away recently, who had 35 years of newspapers in his house. Why? What are you doing with it? That’s very normal. An expiry date [on a can] means nothing. These are funny things that work. We’re not making fun of the way someone believes in god or religion, but the communal aspects are epic.”
Where: Tata Theatre, NCPA, NCPA Marg, Nariman Point When: March 21, 5 PM and 7.30 PM
Entry: Rs 300 to Rs 1,500
To book: bookmyshow.com