Peas, Potatoes & Parsis

14 Oct

“Aye Mahnaz, ai joh, gilora!” came a voice wafting across the produce-lined aisles of my local Indian store, effortlessly conquering Kumar Sanu’s nostrils. The words crashed against my eardrums. My body continued to move on autopilot. An arm rose to open the door to the refrigerator case while the other grabbed a bunch of cilantro. Meanwhile, deep inside me, everything hushed and I strained to listen.

Gilora. The Parsi word for the vegetable the rest of the world calls “tindora”, among other names. That unmistakable accent that belongs only to my people. Here, in the sunny South Bay, thousands of miles away from our hub in South Bombay, were a full three Parsis of the 100,000 left in the world.

Being one of such a unique minority fosters a strong feeling of extended family. We are alarmingly identical (and near-uniformly mad as coots). It means that when there’s a Parsi in the vicinity, I will almost certainly feel the level of kinship the rest of the world feels for an aunt or cousin. As I turned to face the voices in question, my mental checklist fired through its boxes: short hair, cropped pants, hazel eyes. Check, check, and check. And the undeniable proof, the language we took from the well-meaning Gujaratis, mangled into a linguistic pretzel, and unleashed upon the world, sprinkled with the sugar we’re supposed to be.

There’s a solid reason why reality TV doesn’t cut it for me. Daily life offers infinitely better humor. Exclamations floated across the eggplants as the two merry women planned their menus, rechristened theplas “methi ni rotli“, sang along and thumped cucumbers to Bollywood songs from the ’60s, and yanked an entire roll of grocery bags off its holder, expressing loud surprise when bell peppers flew in four directions. As my body continued to pick out groceries independent of its brain, a smile broke out on my face, one I quickly hid amid the spinach leaves, whilst debating whether to let on that there was a clanswoman in their midst.

In the end, eyeing their increasingly amusing trot around the store and eavesdropping shamelessly on their conversation trumped any spirit of confession I may have harbored, and I remained content to spectate. Paying for my purchases, I turned back one last time, gave them a broad grin, and walked out to my car, chuckling all the way home.

My beloved community, may our foibles never stop and our capsicum always fly.

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12 Responses to “Peas, Potatoes & Parsis”

  1. Aunty G October 14, 2013 at 10:25 pm #

    Peas, potatoes, Parsis and peppers
    How she, with humor, non-fiction peppers
    Tinda, tindora, gilora, dondakai
    Incognito she remained, oh so shy
    ‘Linguistic pretzels’ take the cake — real high-steppers!

  2. Pallavi October 14, 2013 at 11:33 pm #

    What endearing folk you are! Why are you a minority? The world needs more of you!

  3. handwrittenonly October 15, 2013 at 1:12 pm #

    Hee hee! That was really Pink Pantherish! Parsee Sleuth of the Year! But how on earth did you not give in to the temptation of making yourself known (as a clan member)? I could not have held myself back! But I think you have the satisfaction of being successfully incognito.
    I know the sentiment, though, for I am one of the clan. When I arrived in Los Angeles many moons ago, I used to work at UCLA and shop at Bullocks across from it. Having been here only 2 months I got so elated at spotting a Parsee lady, elegantly dressed in a saree and looking very “Mottay Gherna” (socially elite). In my youthful naivete, I approached her eagerly and said “Are you a Parsee?” to which she replied affirmatively. She proceeded to say “My name is …… and you can look me up in the directory.”

    Years later, fate brought us together again, this time she leaning on me. She never remembered the incident.

    Anyway, back to your entertaining piece … you go girl! You made me feel I was in the desi
    store, smelling the pungent spices and fingering the strange vegetables we are so used to. The thought of Sheroo and Mehroo (just couldn’t resist) jabbering and getting ecstatic over giloras was hilarious. By the way, my mother called them giloras also and just the name turned me off … made me think of lizards which we Parsees call galoris! Close!!

  4. chaipakoraandgupshup October 15, 2013 at 4:25 pm #

    Have I told you, that Parsees invariably bring a smile to my face? The Jeroo aunty that was PA to my dad ran his department with an iron fist and the sweetest smile I have ever seen. The world does need more of you. Go forth and procreate dare I say 😉

  5. R October 16, 2013 at 11:35 pm #

    This is just the kind of writing that makes for delightful reading. I’ve noticed how much I love people gazing (and eavesdropping on said people’s conversation :p) when out in public. It’s never a deliberate thing – a snippet caught here, a certain turn of phrase and then I find myself, chuckling/ smiling/ cringing. Also, it’s always the supermarkets/ food aisles that have the most interesting conversations. I wonder why! 🙂

  6. i*Kan October 19, 2013 at 6:36 pm #

    Linguistic pretzel… sprinkled with sugar. What a gem 🙂

  7. dipali October 20, 2013 at 10:34 am #

    Utterly delightful! Now I’m missing my Parsee friends in Kolkata. I did learn to make a mean ravo before I left.

  8. Sumana October 21, 2013 at 8:22 am #

    I’ve recently started reading your blog and I’m really enjoying it! Just thought I’d stop being a lurker and say hello.

  9. Orange Jammies October 31, 2013 at 11:13 pm #

    Aunty G: Shy and me
    Oh Aunty G
    The thought is absurd
    I don’t know the word
    It doesn’t apply, you see!

    Pallavi: Then we wouldn’t be quite so endearing, my dear. 🙂 Have you ever heard the populace of UP being called that?

    handwrittenonly: How I love your comments! 🙂

    chaipakoraandgupshup: I think the Indian government heard you. Presenting….Jiyo Parsi! (My point, made to Pallavi above, stands though.)

    R: Thank you. You’ll be interested to know that I think the writing in this piece is all kinds of ugh and I’m still making faces at how it doesn’t quite flow. 😉

    i*Kan: I am so glad you’re not a lurker anymore. 🙂

    dipali: I’ve been meaning to share a ravo recipe forever!

    Sumana: Thanks, Sumana! I appreciate that. 😀

  10. R November 4, 2013 at 8:54 pm #

    Haha. OJ, I meant the story, not the writing. 🙂

  11. Orange Jammies November 5, 2013 at 2:37 pm #

    R: Ah, yes, I agree. 🙂

  12. faredoon December 22, 2013 at 3:26 pm #

    Tendli is another word for it. But, never mind.

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