And so I’m sitting in Albless Baug at a Navjote — (for the unintiated, that’s the Parsi thread ceremony to initiate little Perizaads and Khushrus into Zoroastrianism). In this case, my hearty, sonically over-challenged neighbour Tempton’s grand daughter is entering the faith.
Albless Baug, nestled in the heart of Charni Road, is bordered by ganne ka juice carts and Central Plaza cinema. The holy prayers are always playbacked with the surround sound of the Churchgate to Virar-bound trains clattering down the tracks. As in all Parsi institutions, regular Mumbai life carries on busily around these tiny islands of isolated religion.
But like in all great communities, once the religious rituals are over, the revelry and recreation begins. And so it is with the Parsis and Navjotes.
A live band, called The Hijackers, comprising five old codgers are churning out ’60s hits such as the The Birdie Dance and Achy Breaky Heart and even Yeh Shaam Mastani in pakka Bawa accents.
Many dagli-clad gents and Navsari sari-clad ladies jive vociferously to the music, a visual straight out of a Mario
Tempton, several Parsi pegs down and quite ‘tight’ by now, informs me that his daughter has three kids and three are ‘on the way’.
“Tempton, you telling me that Khushnuma is pregnant with triplets?”
“No Bossie, she is partaking in the Jiyo Parsi campaign. Her hubby Kayoze has taken one lakh from the government and promised that he will produce three kids.”
“So is Khushnuma ‘expecting’?”, I enquire, as the band play their unique version of Ati Kya Khandala?
“No, no dikra, he is putting most of the money into fixed deposits in our Byculla branch of Zoroastrian Cooperative Bank Private Limited.”
“But that’s criminal, Tempton. Here the Parsi Punchayet and the Indian government are trying to save you guys from extinction and Kayoze is engaging in malpractice.”
“Arre baba, we are Indians, anything to cheat the government. But seriously, Tempton and Khushi have fulfilled their debt to the community. Three daughters is more than most Bawas in their Malcolm Baug colony have produced.”
Late marriages and a lackadaisical approach to reproduction and progeny have caused numbers to dwindle alarmingly to Gir Lion and Blue Whale figures. There is much panic in the ranks as a mere 69,000 Parsis remain in India.
The Jiyo Parsi campaign has the more liberal folk, pissed off. “How dare we be told to have more children!” they say.
All I know as a Bombay guy sitting among my favourite community, is that I have broken bread and window panes with Parsis all through my life. I have shared the stage, and partaken of dhansak and Freddy Mercury and have spent quality time with buddies on occasions, both sad and happy — anniversaries, and navjotes and ‘lagans’ at Saher Agiary, funerals at the Tower of Silence, and we have mourned the death of the vulture.
I am shaken out of my nostalgic reverie by Tempton who says ‘Hey dikra feel like some ‘bhonu’? I’m going for some IVF.”
“What IVF? In Vitro Fertilsation…? Here? And you?”
“Nahin dikra, not that IVF”, he explained, “Intake of Very Fine Food.”
Rahul da Cunha is an adman, theatre director/playwright, photographer and traveller. Reach him at rahuldacunha62 @gmail.com
The views expressed in this column are the individual’s and don’t represent those of the paper.