Parsi Surnames


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While most surnames in India reflect caste and lineage, the Parsis had a delightfully modern streak — having landed without caste, history and context, theyy created identities through professions and urban streets.

Our family moved to Bombay (now Mumbai) from Rawalpindi in 1947. We came as refugees but the family soon settled and by 1953 my father had restarted playing golf at the Willingdon Club. I was eight years old and would walk 18 holes with him every Saturday and Sunday. The three Parsi gentlemen who made up his regular four-ball were uncles Poonawala, Coorlawala and Colabawala. Very soon they had rechristened my father Pindiwala.

Uncle Colabawala did not live in Colaba but in a penthouse on Malabar Hill. May be his ancestors had lived in Colaba. I used to spend hours searching the telephone directory to find Parsi surnames and building up stories around their families.

There was prohibition in Bombay those days. So to get liquor you had to find Mr Dalal, who would introduce you
to Mr Daruwala, who in turn would get bottles delivered to your home by Mr Batliwala who would be accompanied by
Mr Sodawaterbottleopenerwalla (the longest Parsi surname I have come across).

Other surnames whose ancestors were in the beverages trade were Mr Fountainwala, Mr Ginwala, Mr Rumwala, Mr Sodawala and Mr Jhunjhunwala.

We used to have two delightful Siamese kittens in our flat and these were gifted to my mother by her friend Mrs Billimoria. My mother spent hours knitting cardigans for them, with wool she bought from the Unwala family.

My uncle ran the air force canteen in Cotton Green and his partner, yes you guessed it, was Mr Canteenwala. They had this fantastic cook, Mr Bhajiwala. Their mild and meek manager, Mr Jeejeebhoy, nodded his head and agreed with everything everybody said.

My grandfather was the Sheriff of Bombay. I think the first and only Sikh to hold this position. Being Sheriff it was only natural that he had Mr Bandookwala and Mr Golimarwala as his constant companions.

Grandfather had many Parsi friends who were in politics. There was this squeaky clean khadi-clad Mr Ghandy, and the not so clean Mr Kalaghandy — <who was invariably being hounded by Mr Kotwal. But he never left home without his friends
Mr Barrister, Mr Vakil, Mr Lawyer and their munshi Mr Mehnty.

My grandfather built Hotel Waldorf on Arthur Bunder Road in Colaba. So for this he naturally used the services of
Mr Contactor and Mr Mistry. He never went to the conservative moneylenders when short of money, but borrowed it from his Parsi friend Mr Readymoney.

Our neighbour and family physician was Dr Adi Doctor — he was only half a doctor. He lived withh his in laws Mr and Mrs Pochkhanawala. My sister swears they ate only poached eggs for breakfast.

I remember going to Dr Doctor’s sister’s wedding. She married Mr Screwala. What he did for a living, I do not know to this day. If you are in Mumbai maybe you can track him down in the yellow or pink pages.

Jokes apart, there is a lesson for all of us here: imagine if we could christen our politicians through democratic vote: Jinnahwalla, Nikarwalla, Icequeen, Motawalla! It would really be able to keep everyone in check, where individuals and media didn’t only control your public profile but also your public identity.

The Parsis have taught us that if you take serious interest in satire, you can change the world!
Comedyman

My name today is Comedymanifestowalla!
Courtesy : Cyrus Bulsara

18 comments

  • what does the surname Pochkhanawala mean and where did it come from?

    • Hi! I have compiled an extant list of Parsi Irani surnames, about 2473 & counting. Now also Group wise, with their Origins as far as possible. Click on the link below. .).
      https://zoroastrians.net/category/names-surnames-more/

      There in the last in scrolling down you will find:
      “A very interesting collection by Burjor Minocher Daboo of Ahmedabad.”
      “Click here for the full list and some interesting, some amusing meanings. ”
      Click on it & you will find the List of Surnames groupwise with the origiins.
      Happy reading!

  • Anneke (Mudhooks)

    Would you know anything about the Dubash and the Shroff (or Schroff) families of Bombay? My step-father was Soli Dadabhoy Dubash, son of Dadi or Dadabhoy Dubash and Alamai Shroff.

    We know very little of the family history.

  • Interesting subject taken very lightly

  • Havovi Zubin Pastakia

    interesting article

  • syed atif hussain

    i am searching for one Mr. shapporji bairamji Jalnawala. he went to study in St. George college Agra in the 60 s with my father and then they lost touch. anybody who knows about him please contact me at 9821299003. or at catharsis_you@hotmail.com they were great friends. i will be thankfull if someone can help.
    Syed Atif Hussain

  • Would you be ok if I used the article (with due credits, of course) for our Institute’s Annual “Knowledgiate” It would form a Great Reading. I will send the hard copy to you by post, if you can send me your address on my e-mail.
    And yes, your sense of humor is great

  • Pingback: Iranians in India - the Model Minority - Page 7

  • God bless the Parsis. They are the crown jewels of humanity.

  • Really very interesting and well written n rhymed.

  • When I started my career with Railways. there were many Parsis working with me and became close friends, a few of them were Ilaviya, Sinor, Daruvala, Pastakia, Jarivala, Cooper etc. and since then my interest continues for Parsis.

  • what does the surname ‘jhunjhunwala’ mean?

  • i want to know a family who was residing at ankleshwar ,dist. bharuch, gujarat i.e. ANKLESHARIA KAVASJI ADLJI , BHIKHAIJI , ASPANDIYA , KUVARBAI , ARMAITY, MANI , KHORSHED , KYOMARZ ,JEHANGIR VACHHA, YARMAN VACHHA ETC…..

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