Tuesday, March 24, 2009

A Breed Apart : The Parsis

I wrote this four years ago. But seems that it holds true for an eternity. I know I promised a series... time to write Part Two... but till then here's my post on the Parsis.


My first contact with the Parsi community was in fact not really a contact at all. It was with Adi Marzban, his plays with his troupe of extremely talented actors. As a family who laughed together, my parents always made it a point to take us for Adi Marzban’s hilarious comedies in Parsi Gujarati. As children, my siblings and I looked forward to these shows. It meant an evening of endless laughter. But we knew that when we came home it would be even more fun as we imitated some of the punch lines and collapsed laughing. I think the term ROTFL in the internet parlance must have struck someone who had just witnessed an Adi Marzban play. The humour was priceless, the actors meticulous in their timing, the plots as interwoven as a Shakespeare’s comedy of errors.

Over time, my contact with the community grew with history and historical figures.
In school one of my favourite teachers in English was a Parsi. My love and respect for the language grew with my love and respect for her. Thanks Mrs. Ginwalla.

In college, studying literature in my final year, Shakespeare’s plays went on to quite another level, thanks again to Ms. Patel, our professor of English. She was as English as… as the Queen, as I was to later discover. She believed one assimilated literature at its best in the midst of nature. So off we would go to the lawns for the 8 am class, sit in the dewy grass in the gentle early morning sun. When I looked around there was one student for her class besides me, but that did not seem to deter Ms. Patel. She taught with as much fervor and passion as if she had an entire audience of a concert hall. With her teaching, everything came alive. Spenser and Chaucer even with their antiquated English became less mysterious, and Shakespeare grew in stature not just as a playwright but as someone whose wisdom would last us a lifetime. (So far it has lasted me!)

As we neared our graduation, we were invited for English High Tea at Ms. Patel’s house, an annual ritual for her graduating students. It was wonderful to see her without her book in hand as we gaped in awe in her typical Parsi home. The High Tea was as English as you got, bite-sized cucumber sandwiches and mild English service tea served in the finest of china. But what took the cake (literally) was a beautifully framed photograph of the Queen on her mantelpiece. I looked closer, and gasped. It was Ms. Patel herself, replete with crown and bejeweled collar and an expression no less royal than the Queen’s!

Ms. Patel took on a regal stature for all of us that day. To this day, if I do see a Shakespeare performance, I silently thank Ms. Patel for inculcating that love for fine literature in me with her unmatched passion for the English and their literature. Once again, Ms. Patel, thank you!

Then I entered my first job and, (you guessed it,) my boss was a Parsi. To this date, I attribute my not having ulcers, in spite of being so long in the advertising industry, to him. Thanks, Bahadur. Bahadur was your quintessential Parsi. Fun, fun-loving, but righteous, creative but rooted to the ground, a boss and a wonderful friend at the same time. Every time you were tense, he had something light hearted to say to ease the tension. And when the servicing team came attacking, he had something funny to say to defuse the tension. One group laugh later, everything was in its place. Bahadur regaled us with stories of his mother, his family and his quintessential Parsi-ness! He started every explanation with, “See, we Parsis….”

His positive attitude to life, took a lighthearted look at pain, even at death. Once he was hospitalized for a barium enema test. Very painful would have been anyone else’s verdict. But Bahadur came back with an unmistakably graphic version, “Basket!” (that was Bahadur’s version of Bas_ _ _ _ !) “The pain was so much, I could see the vultures circling above!”

As time wore on and I went on to meet more and more Parsis, I grew to appreciate some characteristics that they were born with. Righteousness was one. If you see a street fight, and a Parsi involved, you can take it with your eyes closed that he is not part of the warring faction but is justly on the side of the right, no matter who that is.

Parsis have a fierce sense of fairness, and coupled with their outspoken attitude it almost seems rude to a point. But to date, I still have to find a rude Parsi! Chances are you’ve not met one either.
Then there’s the Parsi love for food. It’s almost infectious, so much so that, even as a vegetarian, you start appreciating patra ni machchi and marghi na farcha! Time permitting, a Parsi will go to any lengths for good food, like from Goregaon to Britannia (Ballard Estate) for the famous Berry Pulao!
And bringing all these and more qualities together was a colleague and art partner who I worked extensively with. Thank you, Nilufer. Nilufer was so lovably Parsi, in her passionate love for her work, her fierce attention to detail, her innate sense of right and wrong, her fair sense of justice, and her soft heartedness for anyone or any creature who was suffering. But combine all these qualities, and she got on to the wrong side of someone or the other in a working day. Either it was the studio operator who had to redo a paragraph about 13 times because it was not up to the mark. (No chalta hai for Nilufer). Or it was the production person who had not managed the right shade of colour. (Nai Nai Kulkarni, yeh unnis bees nahin chalega) But no one could argue with her. Mainly because she was right.

So it would all come to me, being her copy partner. “Why don’t you explain to her?” they would plead with me urgently. And for that I had a ready answer, which no one ever debated. I’d simply shake my head, smile angelically and say, “I can’t. You see, she’s a Parsi.


SD said...

There's a lot of truth in that "Goregaon to Ballard Estate" line, you know.

Gelem Gelem said...

Remember the 100 year old Parsi cookbook we found in our house in A'bad? It was absolutely wonderful.

Take It To The Next Level said...

It's a lovely start but it could go to the next level with some visuals or rather some Bahadur-Visualizations!

Ypsilon said...

Since a sequel is being planned, you could start visualising!

JATINDER said...

I came to Breed Apart-Parsis- thanks to BMERWANS email 9which I normally open very reluctantly--and at night only).Even this Breed Apart seemed dicy-coming thro merwan, but then I saw the name of the original sender, a decent lady,so I opened it and decided to put few comments(to revive old memories).
I agree, first of all ,that I have never come accross a rude Parsi--naughty,weird sense of humour,laugh at their own expense--but never a rude one.I remember an olr OBM hand Parsi--Mr. Balsara(God rest his soul)With whome ,sometime I used to take lift from Bandra to office, which was taking a big risk of being beaten up by some of the other drivers.One:- Balsara,instead of looking inthe rear view mirror to see the traffic behind his Ambassador, he would take his head out of the drivers window ,look back at car bery close behind,and he would shout(still continue to drive ahead withou looking where he was going) and shout"You bloody idiot"- and just manage to break before hitting the car ahead!/He was a loveable quarter mad Parsi to me.
In fact i remember my first contact with Parsis, after joining OBM, was with two of the most decent Parsis. One was Feroze Shraff, Marketing Director of Tata Oil Mills Company(TOMCO-now defunct--no fault of Feroze) Feroze was model client, spoke chaste Urdu(he was from Indore), and always got our Punjabi radio spots(written by Vinod Sherma) for Jai,501, and Tata Chakki soap, passed from Darbari Seth( The trick given to us by Feroze was to play the Punjabi tape first--because Darbari sahib loved punjabi.
Ferozw used to live in the Parsi Colony,Goregaon. And the second most decent Parsi also lived in the same colony. Whereas Feroze was tall very fare, the other Parsi was also fare but very short,fare and perfect gentleman. He happened to be also a client of OBM-a product Manager at Cadbury(classmate of Roda dear),now the owner ofone of the leading Media agencies(part of O&M?) .Yes, I am talking about SAM BALSARA. You couldnt find a bett specimen of a Parsi. I remember, after I left OBM, and Sam became big and very busy, yet he would spare time,always, and come and have lunch of Beer, Fish & Bun at the Wayside Inn ,with me.We are stll in touch with each other,Humble,jovial, back-slapping,all-in-all a great Parsi.Since I relocated in Gurgaon,I have nothing but Punjs and local Jats-friendly people, but notParsis. What I also miss a the Parsi Wedding Dinner at Collaba!. One other Parsi I rember is Deena Jeejeebhai(junior to a tough Parsi lady-Roda Mehta).When Maruti 800 came out Deena flew to Delhi to pick up her Red Maruti and brought to Bombay by air. I wonder if she would be first one to dive NANO on the Marine Drive. Bless another grear Parsi=RATAN TATA. .
(if you want to read my posts on travel go to www.ghumakkar.com and see under Jatinder Sethi.

Ypsilon said...

Mr. Sethi
Thanks for your enthusiastic comment. Yes, I know Bahadur's mails can be a trifle 'scary' but i am glad you were brave enough to open this one. And this post has jogged many a memory so already a sequel has been planned for the august Parsis who have not been featured in this one!
Cheers and thanks again for your comments.