Talk like a Parsi by Chintan Girish Modi

Did you know that a baira master is a casanova, tumboo ma saheb means that someone is pregnant, andsuhrah chhuh noh kato is a euphemism for impotence? The news of a person’s death is announced aswicket puree guyee , an expert in cock-and-bull tales is termed a fekology master , and a never-ending story is sarcastically called dastaan-e-dilrooba .

This is a tiny sampling from 1,058 phrases crowd-sourced from 308 contributors and compiled by photographer-screenwriter Sooni Taraporevala and writer-editor Meher Marfatia in Parsi Bol 2 , a book that released in March 2016. The success of the book will be celebrated, quite fittingly at SodaBottleOpenerWala, this evening. The new edition, an expansion of Parsi Bol , which was published in December 2013, features a large new collection of phrases, and an audio CD with the phrases recorded by Boman Irani, and Dolly and Bomi Dotiwala.

While the text is enjoyable in itself, the audio CD is a significant value addition for visually-challenged readers, younger Parsis who are unsure of the pronunciation, and for people not familiar with Gujarati. It places emphasis on preserving the cultural legacy of the Parsis through their rich linguistic repertoire. It’s a thought that resonates with Irani, who got roped into the book project by Taraporevala after she directed him in Little Zizou (2008), a film about the adventures of two Parsi families.

“We, Parsis, have our own special vernacular,” says Irani, “which is unabashed and metaphorical in a twisted sort of way. Young people hardly use these phrases now, but what is rare becomes more cherished by oldies like myself. I hope there never comes the day when we lose this Parsi Gujarati language. It would be like losing our identity, like losing the recipe for dhansak or patra ni machchhi.”

Taraporevala says the book celebrates how Parsis have subverted the Gujarati language and made it their own. “What we have now is a language full of imagery and funny associations, wild juxtapositions and inventiveness,” she says. The contributions to this book “were received orally, via email, handwritten letters. People sent them from Gujarat and other parts of India, New Zealand, Canada, the U.S., and other places. We also collected phrases on a visit to an old people’s home.”

Marfatia, who wrote and self-published Laughter in the House: 20th Century Parsi Theatre (2011) says, “Language is such a vital part of one’s culture, so I used to regret the fact that my kids hesitated to speak Gujarati. After Parsi Bol 1 and 2 , I find that my daughter has got more interested in using some of the phrases. She finds them cool. I think a large part of the appeal of the book lies in the illustrations. They bring in a level of humour that people find endearing.”

The art for the tomes has been done by Hemant Morparia and Farzana Cooper. “Being a Parsi, I enjoyed this project very much,” says Cooper. “It was effortless. For example, we call each other kagra khaobecause our bodies are traditionally feasted on by the crows after we die. We also refer to Queen Elizabeth as aapni rani . Working on this book gave me a chance to celebrate and also laugh at my own community.”

Morparia, whose illustration features on the cover of Parsi Bol 2 , says, “Since I am a Gujarati, many of the phrases were familiar to me. Of course, the naughty ones were more fun to illustrate. I have been living in South Mumbai for several years and there are many Parsis here. Therefore, this book was great fun to work on.”

Irani and a lot of people hope that Taraporevala and Marfatia will consider compiling a collection of Parsi gaalis or swear words. However, “I am afraid it will be an expensive volume. It is bound to run into several pages,” says the actor. We hope not; that book will definitely be a knee-slapper.

Book Review: The Great Departu Mass Migration from Eastern Europe and the Making of the Free World. By Tara Zahra

EASTERN Europe is in the midst of a migration panic. Milos Zeman, the
Czech Republich’s president, has called the influx of refugees to the
continent an “organised invasion”; Jaroslaw Kaczynski, chairman of
Poland’s ruling Law and Justice party, warns that they may be carrying
“very dangerous diseases”. But anxieties about migration in the region
are nothing new. In 1890 a lawyer in Galicia described it as “one of
the most important, burning problems of the day”. Yet as Tara Zahra
recounts in “The Great Departure”, a perceptive history of migration
and eastern Europe, until very recently that problem was not
immigration but emigration.

considered a “fever”, that could empty villages. For most, the
destination was America: 300,000 made the journey from Austria-Hungary
in 1907, the highest number to arrive from one country in a single
year. The story of their arrival there has been told many times; Ms
Zahra, of the University of Chicago, describes the impact that leaving
had on their homelands and the debates it provoked. The departure of
so many men of working age, for example, created new opportunities: in
one Hungarian town women reportedly took over most of the positions in
local government. But it alarmed local elites. Polish nobles were
deprived of cheap agricultural labour, Austrian and Hungarian military
officials of conscripts.

The authorities quickly found a convenient scapegoat. They fined and
arrested Austria-Hungary’s travel agents, accusing them of duping
gullible peasants into leaving the country. This was part of a wider
propaganda battle, in which newspapers ran lurid items about violence
and exploitation in America. After the first world war, scare stories
no longer sufficed. Populations had been devastated, first by the
fighting and then by the Spanish flu. The region’s new nation-states
quickly deemed emigration an existential threat. In 1920 Poland
introduced stricter passport controls; Czechoslovakia sought to lure
back expatriates to boost the national stock.

Emigration did have its uses for some, though. Politicians realised
they could exploit migration policy to remove unwanted minorities.
Despite the passport restrictions, in Poland Jews were encouraged to
emigrate. By the mid-1930s many politicians in the region were in
favour of mass Jewish emigration. Seeking a solution to what was
widely referred to as the “Jewish problem”, Western officials
fruitlessly considered places—Madagascar, British Guyana—where eastern
European Jews could be resettled. As Ms Zahra points out, these
efforts blurred the lines between “rescue and removal…emigration and
expulsion”, while doing little to save Jews from the horrors that
awaited them. Even before the Holocaust, removing Jews from eastern
Europe had become politically acceptable.

For the author the Iron Curtain was the “culmination” of eastern
Europe’s struggle against emigration. Communist regimes had long
warned of the misery that awaited emigrants to the West; now, however,
the political stakes were far higher. Embarrassed by defections to the
West, eastern-European governments sought to woo back other �©migr�©s,
offering them financial incentives even as they denounced the greed of
capitalist societies. But still they were willing to let certain
citizens leave. Dissidents and unwelcome minorities could be sold to
West Germany or Israel in exchange for substantial ransoms: in the
1970s, Nicolae Ceausescu said that Romania’s best export commodities
were “Jews, Germans and oil”.

Eastern Europeans now enjoy the freedom of movement that so many
longed for under communism. The expansion of the EU in 2004 gave
Poles, Hungarians and Czechs, among others, the right to live anywhere
in the union, stimulating the biggest wave of east-west migration in a
century. Migration today is never one-way. Some people spend just a
couple of years in the West before returning. Others never leave at
all. Now that east Europeans can move as they please, for many true
freedom is the “freedom to stay home”.