No Parsi worth his ‘papeta-ma-murghi’ or her ‘patra-ni-machhi’ will ever put anything before food! Food must necessarily always come first. And last. For Parsis, everything (including life) happens somewhere between many large and lusty meals. This is more so on New Year.
The day, report several passionate Parsis, generally begins with the traditional celebratory breakfast that would include ‘ravo’ (made in full fat milk, with cream) and garnished with lashings of fried almonds and raisins. Or it could be a caramalised brown ‘sev’, also topped with fried cashews and almonds. Some serve boiled eggs on the side and add a bowl of sweetened curd.
You would think that with this rich repast there would be no further calorie intake for two days at least. But come lunchtime and it is a big feast that everybody partakes of hungrily.
If the lady of the house is not inclined to cook, which is most often, the spread is ordered from one or another popular Parsi caterer. Their menus are boasted in advertisements much before New Year arrives and include such delicacies as Achar, Saria, Rotli, Patra-ni-Kolmi, Kid Gosht, Chicken Pulao Dal and Chocolate and Cappuccino Dacquoise for dessert (yes, all this at one meal, offered by the innovative Farrokh Khambatta, with many other caterers matching such gastronomic excess).
Most other people would, by this point, be utterly exhausted with eating and decide to eschew and certainly not chew anything further. Not the redoubtable Parsis. Such spunk, such spirit, such an appetite! The evening could well see a snack of the popular ‘patrel’ or ‘daar ni pori’, or at the very least a mug of ‘foodna choi’ and assorted ‘batasas’ and ‘biscoots’ on the side.
And then, comes dinner. Reservations are made well in advance at restaurants. Or, yet again, it’s a lavish feast at home with family and friends. Everybody is in good spirits, because the evening is incomplete without swigs and snacks! Of course, countless sweets and cakes and chocolates are circulated through the day and everybody ends up with enough sugary stuff to set off a Diabetes alarm.
But blessed are the Parsis who, despite this all, continue to live well into their nineties, feasting with fervour. One would need to thank the Gods for this!
It’s a fact that piety is on the decline. Who has the time to pray, even though stress and strain cause us to fray? But Parsi New Year is that one occasion for the community to flock together. Agiaries are festooned with ‘torans’ of fresh flowers and the otherwise hushed and haloed interiors are suddenly buzzing and blazing with the resplendent fire of the faith.
Young and old, with heads reverentially covered, seek solace in the sanctified space of their favourite Agiary, alight with hope and a hundred oil glasses all lovingly lit.
There is no formal emphasis on religion within the Parsi community, so the observance of the faith is floundering. Left largely to a Do-It-Yourself (DIY) latitude, people are casual about prayer and other religious observances. This has led to some religious alienation and the inevitable fallout of this is that several people have appointed themselves as interpreters of the faith, based on their personal preferences.
This is what is causing much confusion and controversy within the community.
However, while most Parsis may not be excessively religious or ritualistic, they do endeavour to enshrine the philosophical triumvirate of Good Thoughts, Good Words and Good Deeds in their day-to-day lives. The honoured values of integrity, a sound work ethic and philanthropy, while not religious diktats, are part of the ethical and idealistic code of the community – a way of observing religious precincts in these tumultuous times.
It is said that Zoroastrianism was the world’s first revealed religion. It is certainly one of the oldest and the Parsis in India are committed to preserving its precepts. The New Year is preceded by the ten days of ‘Muktad” (although some observe 18) and these are traditionally days meant to revere the dead. Most families will pay obeisance to their ancestors through some form of prayer and those perhaps who don’t will at least make their whistle-stop for the faith on New Year. Well begun is half done – and with some spiritual reinforcement, surely a New Year doth start inspired!
The Parsis are generally amiable and amenable, except when they are quibbling amongst themselves! However, with the world at large, they are the sort who are classically the “Sugar in the Milk”, as the mythical tale of their entry into India records.
Compassionate towards those unfortunate, Parsis have demonstrated their empathy for all manner of causes as a luminescent legacy of their love for all mankind. No community has contributed so much and so consistently to everything from public health to education, libraries, arts centres and development work in various spheres. Great animal lovers, they have also contributed towards animal shelters.
The legendary Parsi sense of humour is famed and they are among the few who can laugh at themselves with such grace. Loving and exuberant, they are equally well loved by one and all.
So our prescription for the Parsis community (marginally modified) this New Year would be: Love, Pray, Eat – Fall in love with fellow Parsis (both romantically and otherwise); Pray for guidance, protection and prosperity; and Eat (but a little less, please)!