Parsi swearing is sweet
During the membership interview at the Ripon Club some 30 years ago we were asked if we were joining for the mutton dhansak on Wednesdays. We smiled sheepishly and said we were vegetarian. A general look of disgust was evident. Do you enjoy a tipple? was the next question. Not really, we said. What kind of a Parsi are you? an old gentleman blurted, vegetarian and teetotaller, do you at least abuse? Not wanting to be blackballed, we gently nodded.
Not having had the fortune of residing in one of our baugs, our childhood knowledge of swear words was poor, despite studying at the Bharda New High School. At eight, we had innocently asked our grandmother the meaning of the M-word (incestuous relations with one’s mother). In the mayhem that followed, we were made to gargle with salt water and recite the Yatha Ahu Vairyo seven times to sanitize our tongue. However, we made rapid progress a year later, during our navar sojourn at Navsari. We remember an elderly mobed reciting a limerick, with a pronounced lisp, peppered with badaam daraakh (Parsi colloquial for swear words). What impressed us was the original abuse unleashed by another mobed at the navar candidates alleging incestuous relations with their maternal grandmothers and how the learned priest would like to make aléti paléti out of some severed body parts. This time we had the wisdom not to recount our learning to our visiting grandmother. Priestly endorsement gives confidence to the community to swear.
Parsis seldom indulge in abusive swearing. Our swearing is more idiomatic. In this department, none can better the Dadar Parsis to whom swearing is nothing but lubricating a conversation. In the Watergate scandal, the American nation was shocked at the extensive abuse by US President Richard Nixon and his men. Those were the early seventies and the F-word was still unprintable. The transcripts of the Nixon tapes were, therefore, replete with “(expletive deleted).” If ever the transcripts of the recorded conversations of Dadar Parsis at the railing are published, they will also be full of (expletive deleted). A typical conversation goes something like this: “Good morning (expletive deleted). Has the (expletive deleted) newspaper arrived? Why does the (expletive deleted) ganga (cleaning woman) come so late these days? Has (expletive deleted) nallo (child) left for school?” Swear words are mere fillers in a sentence and rarely intended to be abusive. On the contrary, the greatest affection is expressed by the most colorful abuse. Devoid of bitterness, rancor or anger, Parsi swearing sounds sweet. Very often, it is used to express love and affection: “M…. I missed you!”
Its political incorrectness is so delicious. Our fellow communities love it, as an integral part of our idiosyncratic culture. When it comes to swearing, there is hardly a class divide. Baug Parsis, bungalow Parsis, masoor paav Parsis and NCPA (National Centre for the Performing Arts) Parsis; they all enjoy it. Some ladies too. When a lady crusader for reforming Doongerwadi received an anonymous call at midnight threatening her with dire consequences, she let off the most appropriate response in a language so colorful that the goon at the other end instantly disconnected.
When Parsis swear, it seldom sounds vulgar or filthy. So much bonhomie and camaraderie flows from their manner of abusing that it does not offend the sensibilities of even the prig and the prude. Parsis do not regard swearing as sinful or objectionable. We knew of a well known Parsi solicitor, deeply religious, who would enter his cabin every morning, fervently pray before the photo frames of the Prophet, Mushkil Aasan, Dastur Kookadaru and other saints; and in the same breath instruct his old peon to summon the M… waiting for him in the reception.
Parsis can lay legitimate claim to have invented at least two original swear words — ghelsappo (mad) and ghelchodio (mad fornicator). Even the mild mannered, who spurn the M-word and the B-word (incestuous relations with one’s sister), think it kosher to use these swear words along with the ever popular chutio (ars__). Parsi Bol, that fascinating collection of Parsi sayings and idioms, may well invite someone enterprising to publish a book called ‘Parsi Gaar,’ a collection of select Parsi swear words.
We recall settlement talks in an acrimonious Parsi family dispute, with several prominent senior Parsi solicitors present, in the chambers of a very grim faced Parsi advocate who appeared humorless. Before the gathered gentlemen could get down to serious business, the grim one asked his peon to fetch the Concise Oxford Dictionary. He flipped to the section containing vernacular slang and drew the attention of his fellow Parsi brethren to the B-word therein. He then whipped out a letter addressed to the editors of the Dictionary, which he requested all of us to sign. The letter sought to express the deep anguish of the Bombay Parsis at the exclusion of the M-word from the Dictionary, and their great surprise at the decision of the learned editors to prefer the lesser swear word over the greater and the most popular Parsi swear word. The only non-Parsi present had a totally confused look of unbelonging as all the Parsi solicitors happily signed this letter of protest.
Our late friend Navroji Gamadia, who was as aristocratic as they come, was very fond of reciting a couplet extolling the happy-go-lucky nature of our community, and which appropriately sums up this fortnight’s column. Husta rumta daharo jaiy; ruré téni bén (may the day pass happily; the one who cries sees his sister…) (expletive deleted). We will not translate this.
by Berjis M. Desai, managing partner of J. Sagar Associates, advocates and solicitors, is a writer and community activist.
Courtesy : Parsiana – 21 May 2015