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On the occasion of Parsi New Year (20 August), CHANGE gives you something to laugh about.

Are Parsis Sane or Insane?


have often heard it said that Bawajis (Parsis) are mad or crazy, half cracked or fully cracked, or some such permutation and combination. I used to get offended by these pronouncements, and still do to a certain extent, because they are unjustified.

We all have preconceived notions about those around us: “all” Sindhis are sly, “all” Christians have a fondness for backbiting and cheap booze, “all” Sardarjis are the butt of jokes and so on.

For Parsis to be referred to as mad sounds too mild a term. As someone observed: “Our madness is a gentle, harmless, twittering kind of madness. The kind that makes other people smile and twirl their index finger at forehead level indulgently.” And although we are categorised as mad, we mean no harm to our fellow human beings. Hey, what the heck, we all have our eccentricities! That’s what makes us more interesting and fun to be with! I am a Bawa/Bawi. Let me quickly clarify this before some militant secessionist Parsi fighting for Parsi-stan reads my headline and lands up at my door with a borrowed AK-47!

I have often wondered: are Bawas really crazy? Of course my doubts last only for a fraction of a microsecond because even a cursory glance at some of my brethren is enough to convince me of the answer. I mean what else would you call someone who parks his beloved motorcycle in his third-floor living room? Or someone who has three-tier armrests on his commode so that he can read his morning newspaper more comfortably? Or someone who makes a large loop of his pyjama string and slips it over his head every time he has a bout of diarrhoea … for quick release in emergencies? Of course we’re mad! (In fact we inspired the famous Jack Nicholson movie: it was originally going to be titled One Flew Over Khushroo Baug.)

What remains to be understood is why we are like this. This is a question that has bothered me on many hot summer afternoons when I feel the insanity bubbling up inside me like slowly fermenting dhansak. After all, I too have felt the urge on occasion: to donate umbrellas to all the Parsi statues in Bombay so that their dignified phetas (traditional Parsi headgear) are not exposed to the callousness of pigeon droppings. To run around Dhobi Talao trying to change as many double-decker bus numbers to 66 as is humanly possible in one entertaining hour. To convince my poor friend Firdaus (name changed to protect his insanity) that they were going to ask him to recite the entire Bombay Telephone Directory in his English Poetry Oral Exam.

Most of the time I can put this predisposition towards madness down to “having a slightly different sense of humour”. But, when I delve deeper, I find that there are other dimensions to our madness as well. Like my granduncle who would only wear a shirt once and then give it away to the poor (the Madness of Charity). Or the man who returned a gold brick during the harbour explosion at Bombay Docks (the Madness of Honesty). Or the aunt who thought the television repairman was trying to throw rays at her (the Madness of Paranoia).

I also wonder about other dimensions to our oddness. Like why are there so many grown Parsi men who live with their mothers? And why are there so many grown Parsi women who prefer not to live with grown Parsi men who live with their mothers? Like why are we so obsessive about cleaning our cars and motorcycles? And where on earth did we get our accent from? And why do we cover our fish in banana leaves? Is it to protect their modesty? Or is it to prevent them from hearing the scandalous gossip at our traditional Parsi lagans (weddings)?

Whatever the dimension, there is no doubting one thing: our madness is a gentle, harmless, twittering kind of madness. The kind that makes other people smile and twirl their index finger at forehead level indulgently. But, after years of introspection and self-analysis, I find that I am still unable to answer that essential question. Why are we mad? Perhaps it is simply to entertain ourselves? After all, we haven’t got Parsi TV… yet!

A scientist friend of mine thinks we are mad because of inbreeding. He could be right. But sometimes I think that this answer is almost too boring for the Parsis. I prefer my more romantic friend who claims: “We are mad because if we were not, we would truly be mad. I think we are mad to protect us from the sane.”

So the next time you feel like throwing a brick at your boss or a shop window, don’t. Try the Parsis’ method. Try a little productive madness and insanity!

Author Unknown, Via e-mail