Parsi Manners


by Aban Bana

There was a time when Parsis were praised by all other communities in Mumbai for their genteel ways and impeccable manners. The Parsis were synonymous with good breeding and fine etiquette. But the times, they are a changing. Yes they are, and I can give you a few examples to support my statement. Please read on…

Let us begin with our places of worship, our Agiaries and Atash Behrams. You are in a Fire Temple, waiting to bow down and put your head on the “Kebla” in front of the Holy Fire and offer your sandalwood. The person in front of you is taking at least fifteen minutes for the entire procedure, but that is alright, you don’t mind, after all we all have our prayers to offer. What is surprising is that once that person has finished with the bowing and has stood up again, he/she does not budge from the doorway! So either you creep into a small space that is still open and squeeze your forehead onto the kebla, or you gently request that person to please move aside, if only just a little bit, please? But that means breaking your prayers. What a dilemma!

Still worse, after the fifteen minutes taken by that person in front of you, now when your turn finally comes because you are officially “next in line”, someone from the side, who is obviously much smarter than you are, manages to slip in before you and prostrates. Not fair, you would very much like to protest, but THAT wouldn’t be right, would it? So you turn your eyes heavenwards and smile benevolently. You don’t have much choice, do you?

In Thailand and other Buddhist countries, sitting in a Buddhist temple with one’s toes pointing towards the statue of the Buddha is considered a sacrilege. But in a fire temple ever so many people sit on chairs and benches with one leg crossed over the other, toes pointing, or sit on the floor, legs stretched out in front, soles pointing to the Holy Fire. No, of course we are not Buddhist Thais or Japanese, but basic religious etiquette is universal.

If I am now beginning to sound like the moral police of the Parsi kind, please excuse. That is not my intention, certainly not. But some things need to be said. And someone has to say them. And that too in Jam-e-Jamshed! You’re welcome to say them too, next week.

Next scenario: You have gone to a nice little Parsi shop which sells yummy packed food and just as you are preparing to order your packet of papri and popato, being a Parsi vegetarian, a voice booms from behind, “Ek marghi nu farchu, ne jaldi kar!” (“A piece of chicken, and make it snappy!”) The poor shopkeeper doesn’t have a choice. He would ignore the boom at his own peril. So the farchu flies before the papri. Now it would all end there if Mr. Farchu would simply pay and be gone, but no, he will ask many, many existential questions like, “What is the origin of this marghi?” and “If I don’t like it, where can I find the cook?”, to which the salesman will reply in great detail. So finally you pluck up courage to ask in your small, vegetarian voice, “Excuse me, but what’s happened to my Papri?” and all at the shop are shocked at your impossible behaviour; how dare you interrupt this Parsi and ask for PAPRI? That is the limit!

Gahambars are very jolly meeting places for Parsis of all kinds, but especially the Gahambar kind, and they are in keeping with our religious traditions and spirit. So go we must, and that too in large numbers (large being a relative term for a community of 50,000 in a land of 1,200,000,000). Among other things, the Gahambars include eating (main activity), jostling, standing behind chairs of those still at the rotli-achar-saaria stage, and then rocking the chair at the kulfi-custard stage. Anyone from the par-kom (OTHER communities) would think we have had a famine in our land. Yet all this above mentioned behaviour pales at the sight of someone approaching you menacingly with…with…khaddaila hath! (hands soiled for not having used – shock horror – cutlery!) So you dart off as fast as your sapats can carry you.

Yes, dear reader, these are hard facts and if you don’t believe me, you will not be called a “Doubting Thomas” but rather a “Doubting Faredun” or whatever else your Parsi name might be. So the next time you are at a Parsi gathering where people display such amazing behaviour, remember me. And also remember, you read it here first!

Your old aunt, Aban Bana.

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