Category Archives: Humor

Book decoding Parsi-Gujarati lingo gets second edition

Book decoding Parsi-Gujarati lingo gets second edition

By Mitali Parekh |Posted 06-Mar-2016


Sometimes expression needs more than one language. Want to try Parsi-Gujarati? Help is at hand with the second part of Parsi Bol


Two years and 1,058 crowd funded phrases later, the Parsi Bol team of Sooni Taraporevala, Meher Marfatia, Farzana Cooper and Hemant Morparia are back with the second edition of the book this time with an audio CD. While the first edition of the book has the voices of Dolly and Bomi Dotiwala, veteran singing starts of Parsi theatre, the second edition has the voice of actor Boman Irani.


Pic/Satej Shinde


The intention of the book was to document the unique Gujarati-Persian-Urdu mix of phrases and words used by the Zoroastrian community that settled in India. They expected it to be picked up by the community and minorities who spoke Gujarati, like the Dawoodi Bohras. That a Tamilian Brahmin and Sindhi family stuck in Coonor on New Year’s used it to play Dumb Charades is a happy and unexpected result.


“We were accused of being too sanitised and goody-goody in our first book,” says author and journalist Marfatia, when we meet at Taraporevala’s Gowalia Tank home. “Yes, too sanitised. We were asked to let loose,” she adds. “So, this book is more masti. We included only the fun and imaginative phrases. People said we should do a book about Parsi gaar (abuse and insults)…”

“I’ve left that to my father,” says Taraporevala. “Nobody will go after an 85-year-old man [if offended]…”


The book is supported by the trusts of businessman Cyrus Guzder and Dinshaw Tamboly of The World Zoroastrian Organisation Trust. “We wanted to do an audio book,” says Taraporevala, a scriptwriter, photographer and filmmaker. But for many reasons, that did not work out. We wanted Parsi kids in America to know how to pronounce the words.”


“Parsi-Gujarati pronunciation is very unique,” adds Marfatia, who is also a columnist for this paper. “So instead of printing the old book again, we decided to bring out an expanded book with a CD so that book lovers could have two for the price of one.”


The duo has now stopped taking contributions on their parsibol email ID. “We’re all bol-d out!” says Marfatia, though Taraporevala hints that she could revisit the project after a breather. Their phrase, pronunciation checker and archivist is Taraporevala’s 90-plus aunt Rutty Maneckshaw. “She is the keeper of family histories, has a vast knowledge of the language and an impeccable memory,” says Taraporevala. The phrases are divided into 16 categories and the ones to especially look out for are the picture phrases and twin words. “We found that words with connected meaning were clubbed together with alliteration and rhyming, which is quite clever,” says Marfatia, “They are not nonsense words, like say milk-shilk. It’s more like eski-meski which means someone who is well turned out. It’s opposite would be sapote-dapote; someone who is casually dressed or in house clothes.”


The hard work was in the details, where they had to write the word or phrase in Gujarati, transliterate it in Roman script, give a literal translation in English and then convey what it essentially means. Taraporevala knew she had reached some measure of success when her then 10-year-old nephew treasured his copy and read it in secrecy like some forbidden book.

Boom Burada means yelling, or creating a ruckus. Illustrations courtesy/Farzana Cooper
Boom Burada means yelling, or creating a ruckus. Illustrations courtesy/Farzana Cooper

Some words we could bring back
Boss: Bossie
Loser: MBBS (Member of Baitha-Bekaar Society)
You do you: TTFL (Tameh tumaaroo foree lev)
Bro, what’s wrong with you? Tu manus ke fanus? (Are you a man or a lantern?)
Go get ’em = Futteh kuroh (Be victorious)


The book launches on March 15th at Kitab Khana 5.30-7 pm. 


Gall in the family!

We fight our relatives with vigor and venom – If we may he pardoned an unscientific New Doc 260_11generalization, Parsis fight with their relatives—spouses and siblings, parents and progeny, aunts, uncles and cousins — more than members of other communities. While money and marriage are the major reasons, allergy, eccentricity and simple dislike also lead to courts and police stations. The orphan Mako, who lost both his parents when the state transport bus to Valsad overturned, was brought up by his spinster maasi (maternal aunt) who doted on her rather healthy ward. Maasi was secretly overjoyed at his resolve never to contemplate matrimony until she discovered him with the maid in their tiny bathroom. His decent wages, as a booking clerk with Air India those days, bankrolled maasi’s house and put him in a commanding position. Mako did not permit maasi to terminate the domestic’s services thereby threatening maasi’s dominance.

Great affection was soon replaced by great hostility as aunt and nephew declared war. The dining table was agreed to be divided into two equal parts demarcated by a rope. Maasi would send Mako’s doodh ni tapeli (utensil holding milk) flying off the table if it dared to trespass upon her section. In retaliation, the nephew would lock her in the bathroom, the original battle ground, and leave the house. They routinely filed criminal complaints against each other, and one Friday night the harassed sub inspector locked both up for two nights until Mako, who had a phobia about lizards, fainted in the lock-up.

In the very early days of our impoverished legal practice we foolishly agreed to mediate between two middle-aged sisters staying together in Cusrow Baug, both spinsters of course, and both working for the same bank. Their exotically wild allegations and counter allegations would have made Harold Robbins blush, and even 35 years later, publication of the charges would be deemed obscene. Neither would let us recuse from the mediation and taught us the virtue of infinite patience. Years later, one of them sent us half-a-dozen Lookrnanji’s malai na khaja (a fresh cream filled philo sweetmeat), with a note saying that our services as the mediator were no longer required as her sister had died the previous evening!

Like Westerners, Parsis believe that divorce at any age is acceptable. After decades of unpeaceful coexistence, Parsis sue their spouses for divorce before the matrimonial division of the Bombay High Court aided by the so-called delegates of the “jury system.” Most of these geriatric delegates cut a sorry picture before an audience of regulars who come armed with a Bhona-no-dabbo (tiffin box) to be devoured iri recess after enjoying the salacious details of matrimonial lives made public. The Parsi Marriage and Divorce Act does not recognize irretrievable breakdown as a ground for divorce. Many cussedly do not agree to divorce by mutual consent to prevent the spouse from remarrying, which results in contested cases lasting for years. Those who have been married long, take longer to divorce. Often the non-Parsi judge hides his exasperation with the litigants, exacerbated by inane comments from the delegates, behind a polite countenance, out of deference to the collective goodwill for our eccentric community.

Shapurji, a gentleman at large, who spent his life between the courts and Ripon Club, refused to settle a dispute with his cousins regarding some old furniture worth Rs 17,000, and thought it very unsporting of his cousins who refused to appear in court, thereby denying Shapurji the pleasure of a contest. He gladly paid his solicitor’s bill for Rs 70,000. We recall his quaint little solicitor, in his late 1980s, taking a goodly 30 minutes to finish the arduous journey from his easy chair at the Ripon to the washroom, and ambling back.

We were also privy to an acrimonious dispute between three Parsi Irani brothers in the bakery business. Every morning, they baked fresh bread and also fresh disputes, mostly banal. The eldest, who suffered from Parkinson’s disease, insisted that we reduce our fees and that he would soon “please” us. Our doorbell rang at 5.30 in the morning, and there was our client with a huge walnut cake, for our gustatory pleasure. His middle brother, who had an uncanny resemblance to the hero of Taras Bulba, would apply ginger paste on his sweating bald pate to keep it cool and saunter into the High Court, setting a hundred noses twitching. The youngest brother complained to us that our client’s wife was so jealous of his wife that when the latter had her hysterectomy performed by a noted obstetrician the former too went to the good doctor with a request that he do her hysterectomy.

In the Parsi DNA, there is an as yet unidentified litigation gene which is transmitted from one generation to the next. For these families, filing a suit is as common as having breakfast. Consent terms are for cowards; settlements are for sissies. Parsi ladies and gentlemen of leisure litigate for sheer pleasure. In their unending quest for justice they care not if their opponents are of their own blood. Mako died prematurely before his maasi who honored her errant nephew’s memory by refusing to untie the rope which divided their dining table.

Berjis M. Desai, managing partner of J. Sagar Associates, advocates and solicitors, is a writer and community activist. This Article appeared in Parsiana dt. 7 December 2015

Vintage Busybee

In the history of Indian journalism, there will never be another humorist like Busybee; he was the Art Buchwald of India, the P.G. Wodehouse of our times and more, a writer with a brilliant sense of timing for satire and humour, but with a soft and sensitive pen. And with a flow of words that could have readers rolling in their living rooms, offices and suburban trains on their way home; or moisteyed with emotion and sepia-tinged nostalgia. That was Busybee.

And he conveyed all this through a cast of fictionary characters with himself in the lead, and ably supported by a spouse he simply named “the wife”, two sons who never grew up, Darryl and Derrek, a unimaginably rich but generous friend who lived in the 21st floor penthouse of one of Bombay’s highrises, and talking dog Bolshoi the Boxer. Busybee drew them all into his column ‘Round and About’, though which he told his reader that it was perfectly fine to be the Common Man. And that if they thought bad things happened to good people only, they were probably right! He wrote in this delightful, free-flowing fashion for 36 uninterrupted years every morning, beginning and latter onn Pentium III PC that he claimed did most of his thinking and half work. His writing did not reflect the tools, of him trade, they brought out his Bombay, and he was the champion of the city and its citizen, nobody could describe Bombay’s people, its places, markets, maidans, institutions transport systems, politicians, socialities, food and eating habits, sports, business, underworld, fashion and life as Busybee did. Terse and laconic, but with a rhythm that created the impression of deadpan comedy.

There will never be another humorist like Busybee also because, through his writings, lives forever.

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


Book review: Parsi Bol

Book review: Parsi Bol – saving a language, one word at a time

By Teenaz Javat

Published: January 11, 2015


Parsi Bol aims to protect the community’s heritage through a compilation of signature Parsi phrases.

Parsis have a comical way of describing their unfettered zest for life using an unusual mix of sarcasm and wit. Having adopted Gujarati as their mother tongue on their arrival to India in 1384 AC, the community created its own unique version of the language and Parsi Bol: Insults, Endearments and other Parsi Gujarati Phrases is a testament to that.

The book is compiled by award-winning screenwriter and photographer Sooni Taraporevala and journalist Meher Marfatia who put out a call for contributions which came flooding in by email and snail mail from all over the world.

Two hundred and sixty contributors shared 716 phrases which were painstakingly translated by Taraporevala’s octogenarian aunt Rutty Maneckshaw.

The phrases are written in Gujarati and Roman scripts, followed by their literal meaning in English and the idiomatic connotation. The idioms are divided in over 15 themes and include everything from insults, endearments to anatomy and advice on money, wives and even death. Along with being a linguistic guide, the book is also a visual treat as Hemant Morparia and Farzana Cooper have illustrated several bols or sayings, thereby taking the reader on a theatrical journey.

For those who have grown up in a Parsi household, familiar phrases such as Evun toh photo frame thai guya (the person died and is now in a photo frame) which shows the signature Parsi humour when it comes to death or Mummo chuchcho vugar seerpa nahi which means if you don’t swear you are not a Parsi, are bound to take one down memory lane. “This book has brought so much laughter in our house. In spite of the fact [that] our children were born and brought up here in Canada, it amazes [me] how we connect with our heritage and manage to find laughter even in death,” says Armaity Anandasagar whose children are of mixed Parsi and Hindu lineage. “It’s shocking to realise that nobody had thought of doing this before. It’s as scary as losing the recipe for dhansak and lagan-noo custard,” said Bollywood actor Boman Irani. ”We would have lost forever what is unique to us — our humour, our wisdom and our heritage.”

However, to make the book equally relatable and entertaining for non-Parsis, the authors have taken great pains in putting out English translations and transliterations which are as clear and close in meaning to the original phrases as possible. Hence, if you want to learn more about the small community that has made a significant contribution to Karachi, Parsi Bol would be a great and funny place to start.

While the first print run of Parsi Bol was released last year, it has sold out already and a wonderful e-book version with an embedded audio element is expected to be released soon. The authors are looking to create a sequel as well and have invited contributors to email them to

Teenaz Javat writes headlines, news alerts, tickers and tweets for a living. She tweets @TeenazFromTo

Published in The Express Tribune, Sunday Magazine, January 11th, 2015.



Courtesy : K F Keravala


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