LOL with the Parsis

How did this unique project take shape? How long did it take from idea to final print?
Sooni Taraporevala: An email I wrote to my friend Mira Nair using one of the phrases coupled with an entirely unconnected email from Zarir Cama (former CEO of HSBC) saying how somebody should compile these phrases was the dual trigger that made me message Meher and suggest we embark on a book as co-publishers using the Internet and crowd sourcing to make it a collective effort. As a writer I marvelled at the imagistic inventiveness of the Parsi imagination and wanted to put it down on paper before it was too late. Meher unbeknownst to me was undertaking the same journey — so it was destiny that brought this about.

One of Meher’s favourites is “Rajajee nee juga ma derkajee” (a frog sits on the king’s throne) sent in by her mum. She’d use it when her kids would sit too long on her rocking chair, thereby usurping it. Illustration/ Farzana Cooper

Meher Marfatia: We started in February 2012, so that’s almost two years. Sooni sent me a message as I was putting finishing touches to another fun book, on Parsi theatre: Laughter in the House, which she encouraged and guided me to self-publish in 2011. Let’s do a quirky Parsi Gujarati phrase book, she said. Both of us by then with our own publishing labels, went ahead as collaborators on the project. Before that, my friend Pervin Dadachanji had got me going, suggesting that it’d be a shame not to pin down our community’s priceless phrases in book form, and so we’d started jotting down some in alphabetical order.

Meher Marfatia. Pic Courtesy/ Kamal M Doctor (Right) Sooni Taraporevala.  PIC COURTESY/ Farrokh Chothia

What was going through your mind as you came to the end of this first-of-its-kind book?

ST: Relief and joy! And profound appreciation of Cyrus Guzder — may his tribe increase.
MM: Super relief and pride! And yet again, the thought that this would have stayed a non-starter without Cyrus Guzder’s generous sponsorship.

Which section(s) proved most challenging to compile?

ST: The whole book was challenging. Though it looks easy!
MM: Our big battle was won for us by Rutty Manekshaw who painstakingly translated each phrase (and many more — only after the meaning of several other lines was explained that Sooni and I could decide if those were worth including). Dolly Mistry helped as the second eye. What was also tedious was standardising the Roman script and Gujarati spellings. It all appears simpler than it really was. But the result has been pure joy.

 ILLUSTRATION/ Hemant Morparia

How important was it to give visual appeal to Parsi Bol?
ST: Very important, otherwise it would have been a dry account of a lively subject. Hemant (Morparia) and Farzana (Cooper) have distinctive styles that complement each other. We didn’t want 4-colour printing, which is how, along with Priya, we zeroed in on two colours — red and black. Priya Pereira‘s vision for this book helped.
MM: Yes, what would a cold printing of even imaginatively twisted phrases have done? It’s a visual winner thanks to Priya, Hemant and Farzana. The vibrancy and elegance comes from Priya’s design, the zaniness from our illustrators.

Your favourite phrases in it...
ST: I have many but the two I love are the one my father Rumi contributed “Face like an advertisement for Castor Oil” and “Show your bum but don’t show your teeth”, especially how Hemant illustrated it because my husband, Dr Firdaus Bativala is a dentist.
MM: Certain lines bring back great memories of growing up... With a born optimist for a mother who, in cheerful contrast to her worry-wart daughter, would say fun things to me and my brother Phiroze, like “sugun no gathio” (a spoilsport even in happy times). Or “Rajajee nee juga ma derkajee” (a frog sits on the king’s throne) to say we sat too long in mum’s favourite rocking chair!

Parsi Bol, Sooni Taraporevala & Meher Marfatia, Good Books & 49/50 Books, R500. The book will be released today, 5.30 pm to 7.30 pm, at Kitab Khana, Somaiya Bhavan, Fort.

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