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In preparation for the post

With the controversy over the appointment to the National Commission for Minorities (NCM) having subsided, we thought for the next three years we could take a break from the subject and concentrate on any upcoming Bombay Parsi Punchayet (BPP) trusteeship elections which are as exciting. But then the trio of Alamai Ortho accompanied by Aflatoon Dheelo and Letap Khotihushyari stormed into the editorial department as per their habit, disregarding the metal detectors, the armed security men, our guard dog, a host of receptionists, the "No admission without permission" signboard, shuttered doors and the closed circuit television cameras recording all their antics. "You nominated a high priest to the NCM despite a Parsi sage on Facebook stating ‘Vada dasturs are imposed to stay in seclusion from commoners, especially juddins,’" they groused.

"We never nominated any candidate," we countered. "We were as surprised as anyone else when the appointment was made. We didn’t even know the BPP chairman had supported the prior candidate. It was only at The Federation of the Parsi Zoroastrian Anjumans of India meet that we came to know. The BPP is a closed book. We have to rely on leaks and internal wrangling to procure information. The day the trustees get together — Ahura forbid — all our sources of information will dry up. But why are you so upset? The NCM does not deal in religious matters."

"We’re not worried about religious matters. We want Alamai to be nominated for the position next time."

We were aghast. We had thought of nominating the editor for the prestigious post but with Alamai in the race, he would stand no chance. We blurted out, "In our community women are never given positions of authority. Their presence is only symbolic. In Vendidoubt 420 the question is posed, ‘Of all the places where should a woman be?/ Which place is best, on land or sea?’ To which the reply is given, ‘Where she can neither be heard or seen/as prescribed in our holy deen.’ Hence giving women a position of importance is irreligious, it goes against the great Parsi religion. Once you start down that road there will be no turning back. They will demand equality and even — heavens forbid — full membership to the Ripon Club. Right now they are allowed to only sit and eat. They have no say in the running of this hoary institution."

The trio immediately realized that promoting women’s rights in any manner would go against the traditionalist grain. Parsis are after all a patrilineal society. Letap pulled out his copy of The Great Parsi Religion by Prof (Dr) F. Dafasmaster and cited Vendidoubt 421 where to the query, "Can there be an exception to 420 sometimes?" the reply is, "Only if the woman is traditionally sublime." We doubted the veracity of Letap’s source (much controversy surrounds Dafas’ translations) but past experience had adequately demonstrated that Alamai was not a person you wanted to cross sudrehs with.

So we cautioned her: "Delhi isn’t safe for women. You can’t go around alone and after sunset you have to remain indoors." "I thought of all that," she replied. "I’ll take the morning flight and return by the evening flight every Wednesday, unless it’s Bahram roz. With my firm grasp of affairs I don’t have to go to their office every day like the other members. Traditionalist Parsi women have a wonderful understanding of how things work. Plus, I’ll have an official car and an armed guard so I don’t think anyone will try and get fresh with me."

"But it’s not only Delhi you have to go to," we countered. "There are other places where there may not be any agiaries or dakhmas from which you can derive strength and solace. For example the panel was to meet in Saharanpur in the wilds of Uttar Pradesh ‘to gather firsthand information on the repeated instances of caste clashes in the area,’ according to news reports. The Commission members will have to tour the town."

"When it comes to clashes, Parsi women are always in the forefront," volunteered Aflatoon. "Alamai specializes in fisticuffs. When her neighbors have a dispute with each other on any matter such as whether malido can be served with or without papri or whether chalk can be put on the doorsteps by a menstruating woman, she threatens to wield her chappals and the dispute is resolved. She’s a problem solver. Like Donald Trump."

"But this goes beyond differences of who has to clean the common landing or whether one can eat chicken and fish during Bahman mahino," we countered. "These are highly sensitive, explosive issues such as who can eat beef, which team you must support in international cricket matches to avoid charges of sedition and should there be any limit to the number of Muslims and Dalits mobs are permitted to kill without facing any retribution?"

"Don’t worry," the trio countered. "Alamai has availed of the commando training offered by the BPP to anyone who contests trusteeship elections. The situations are all real life. She knows how to deflect a pencil if it is flung at her, and, leave aside a chair, she can even lift a table to assault someone if required. As for wrestling outside courtrooms and election venues, she once considered a future in the World Wrestling Entertainment, Inc (WWE). She was a natural. But it’s only when she insisted on wearing her sudreh and kusti in the ring, they rejected her application."

"One-to-one combat is okay for the BPP or WWE," we explained. "But in the NCM you’ll have to learn how to cope with marauding crowds, trishul wielding fanatics, AK47 toting fundamentalists. How is Alamai going to cope with all that mayhem?" we inquired.

"Have you ever attended a gahanbar where in the middle of the first paat (sitting) some mischief maker spreads word that supplies of sali (potato sticks) served along with the margi (chicken) gravy has run out?" inquired Letap. "Have you ever faced a mob of hungry, angry Parsi women and men? Alamai has. At a large community dinner recently, the organizers rushed to her saying a rumor was being spread that the pistachio in the much touted malai-pista kulfi had been substituted by the lowly sing (peanuts). Without batting an eyelid or asking for her customary payment, she positioned herself before the unruly, shrieking crowd, grabbed a ladle from the dar ni tapéli (vessel) and flung its contents on the protestors. Instantaneously there were shrieks of ‘Mai ré, maro garo (oh dear, my gara sari)!’ followed by an exodus of women for the nearest dry cleaners. Without the women in the forefront, the men sullenly retreated."

With these credentials, even we skeptic, hardened journalists were moved. Perhaps it is time to give some Parsi women (right now, only one) some due.

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Hilariously serious! Thank you Jehangir Patel for the depth of this satire!
- Yezdyar Kaoosji
- 08-Jul-2017


Villoo Poonawalla