Parsis have a comical way of describing their unfettered zest for life using an unusual mix of sarcasm and wit. Having adopted Gujarati as their mother tongue on their arrival to India in 1384 AC, the community created its own unique version of the language and Parsi Bol: Insults, Endearments and other Parsi Gujarati Phrases is a testament to that.
The book is compiled by award-winning screenwriter and photographer Sooni Taraporevala and journalist Meher Marfatia who put out a call for contributions which came flooding in by email and snail mail from all over the world.
Two hundred and sixty contributors shared 716 phrases which were painstakingly translated by Taraporevala’s octogenarian aunt Rutty Maneckshaw.
The phrases are written in Gujarati and Roman scripts, followed by their literal meaning in English and the idiomatic connotation. The idioms are divided in over 15 themes and include everything from insults, endearments to anatomy and advice on money, wives and even death. Along with being a linguistic guide, the book is also a visual treat as Hemant Morparia and Farzana Cooper have illustrated several bols or sayings, thereby taking the reader on a theatrical journey.
For those who have grown up in a Parsi household, familiar phrases such as Evun toh photo frame thai guya (the person died and is now in a photo frame) which shows the signature Parsi humour when it comes to death or Mummo chuchcho vugar seerpa nahi which means if you don’t swear you are not a Parsi, are bound to take one down memory lane. “This book has brought so much laughter in our house. In spite of the fact [that] our children were born and brought up here in Canada, it amazes [me] how we connect with our heritage and manage to find laughter even in death,” says Armaity Anandasagar whose children are of mixed Parsi and Hindu lineage. “It’s shocking to realise that nobody had thought of doing this before. It’s as scary as losing the recipe for dhansak and lagan-noo custard,” said Bollywood actor Boman Irani. ”We would have lost forever what is unique to us — our humour, our wisdom and our heritage.”
However, to make the book equally relatable and entertaining for non-Parsis, the authors have taken great pains in putting out English translations and transliterations which are as clear and close in meaning to the original phrases as possible. Hence, if you want to learn more about the small community that has made a significant contribution to Karachi, Parsi Bol would be a great and funny place to start.
While the first print run of Parsi Bol was released last year, it has sold out already and a wonderful e-book version with an embedded audio element is expected to be released soon. The authors are looking to create a sequel as well and have invited contributors to email them to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Teenaz Javat writes headlines, news alerts, tickers and tweets for a living. She tweets @TeenazFromTo
Published in The Express Tribune, Sunday Magazine, January 11th, 2015.