“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.