Are You A ‘KOYLA’ Parsee?

Nothing adds more to the gist of ‘Parsipanu’ than our Parsi nataks. We all love our Parsi dramas and it’s a ritual during our Navu Varas to go for one with our families and friends. And though we end up calling some nataks ‘koyla’ for their mind-numbing levels of ridiculous slapstick, the truth is, we all look forward to our ‘koyla-fix’ all the same! So, “Are You A ‘KOYLA’ Parsi?” asks aapro Meherzad Patel, the foremost name in Parsi theater today; Writer and Director of several English plays and original Parsee-Gujarati nataks, including ‘BOMBAY BAWA’ on Parsee New Year this year.

Meherzad Patel copySo the editor calls me up and says – “Meherzad, I want an article from you for our paper, highlighting – ‘Parsipanu’ … So I respond, “in general or just in my field of theatre and performing arts?” –“BOTH”, she says. Ok, sure. And I hang up. But wait. Parsipanu? What is that? I don’t know if that is an insult or an expression! Did you just belittle my field? For those of you who don’t follow Parsi phrases often enough or meticulously, PARSIPANU, is, for the lack of a better word to explain, the typical behavioral traits that stereotypically allow one to identify directly and instantaneously with one’s kind and culture and creed and capabilities and … stop me whenever! Ok – let’s simplify it – BAWAS are koyla! BAWAS are eccentric!! BAWAS are mad, loud, neat freaks, who love to wash their car, have a drink, eat their meat, sleep after dhansak and whenever possible, punctuate with ^%$#%@#%@!$!^#@$%^ (fyi, if you’ve just read a lot of random symbols, then the editor has decided to censor my article, and rightly so I guess, don’t want printed proof of MY Parsipanu!!)

So yes, I guess there is a bawa in all of us. I don’t drink, I don’t wash my car, I’m a vegetarian and dhansak isn’t made in my house. Or as my wife puts it – dhansak without mutton is not dhansak at all! (Yeah sure … guess who’s not getting a well-cooked meal by their husband anytime soon!?) There is a bit of Parsipanu in all of us. The traits we portray spill over into our professional life and personal. The unfortunate truth is that we’re embarrassed of our culture and heritage. We don’t like it when our non-Parsi friends make fun of our swag (that’s another word for style), so we wear a shirt and a tie and shine our shoes and put on a smile.

In my profession, the ‘Koyla Parsipanu’ is surely still there with regards to Parsi Theatre – Nataks. Gujarati plays. Koyla Natak. Skits. Time Pass. Drama. It’s referred to by numerous names. Theatre in Mumbai has four wings – the serious isolated Prithvi Theatre actors in Juhu; the Gujarati theatre actors who do 45 shows a month for an overflowing population of Gujjus; the aristocrats drinking cold coffee and watching an English play at NCPA, Nariman Point; and a handful of 4000 Parsees who will watch a play only on 2 days in the year – 21st March, Navroze and 18th August, Parsi New Year!

And God forbid if you have a houseful show, the old Parsi aunties will shout at you, “how can you be houseful?”

“Aunty, we will have a repeat show in a couple of weeks, why don’t you come then?”

“Who cares about that?! That is not on New Year’s day! What good is that?”

That’s the typical Parsipanu outline on New Year’s Day! This is how the regular day in the life of a Parsi will be on 17 August. Wake up, have a shower, go the Atash Behram, pretend to know your kusti prayers in front of the serious Parsi aunties, go home, spend an hour correcting and educating all your non-Parsi friends who’ve ignorantly wished you “HAPPY PATETI” – that Pateti is the last day of the previous year, and it surely isn’t considered a ‘happy’ day, so don’t wish me that! This, followed by a heavy lunch, preferably some place you get a buffet. All those people poking fun at our dwindling populations need to try going for lunch somewhere on Parsi New Year, good luck getting a table anywhere! All 50,000 of us are in some restaurant or the other!

This is followed by a nice nap. Then we wake up, get dressed. NEW CLOTHES. Don’t forget to wear your new clothes on the New Year day! And then go for a PARSI NATAK. Doesn’t matter how good or bad it is. That is the beauty of a performance on this day. The audience is in such a festive and good mood, that they’ll watch anything with a positive attitude. They come dressed in their best outfits, smiles on their faces, and dinner reservations made. Yes, that is most important – dinner reservations made. No two ways about it!

When people call the box office to find out details about the play – it is never – who is the director? What is the play about? Who are the actors? What time does it start? Where is it? Is it even a play? They only ask one question – what time will the show end? Since we’ve got to make dinner reservations! Food!!! Food is so important to our community that theatre, education, professional responsibilities, et al take a backseat where food is concerned.

Yet, there is more Parsipanu on stage than I’d like. I urge my actors, don’t behave koyla please. That phase has passed. And invariably my actors end up doing just the opposite. The audience does the same thing … I get those yearly calls – “what are you doing this New Year? … Hope nothing koylu!”

I deduced what the scenario was. It wasn’t the play, or the restaurant’s lavish buffet, it wasn’t the quality of the natak … what we’re looking for is that feeling of being amongst our people on this auspicious and festive day. People don’t care what they watch or eat or pray, as long as it is together. With each other. To me, that is true Parsipanu. Being with your fellow bawas … then you can go for a natak, or a movie, or just for dinner … even just sit at home … but … a true Parsi will do so in the presence of other Parsees … that’s Parsipanu to me … Happy New Year … and to my Non-Parsee friends … Happy Pateti!

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