Gentleman at large — II

Berjis Desai

To be classified as a gentleman at large (a badge of honor, in a manner of speaking), one’s income had to be not from salary or business profits but investments and property transactions. Again, one should be able to enjoy a leisurely lunch every day at the club, with other gentlemen at large, without the slightest guilt or time pressure. You spent your evenings in vicious male gossip and general character assassination, punctuated by inane conversations interspersed with bawdy jokes. Our hero satisfied all the above criteria admirably.
Equal to his love for visiting law firms, Jamshedji was delighted to be a mourner at the "Doonger” as he endearingly termed the Towers of Silence ("post lunch paidasts and uthamnas are simply perfect; morning funerals upset my daily routine and give me acidity”). Once he sat in the front row, in the Hodiwala bungli, to attend the uthamna of his acquaintance, one Shapoor; only to find Shapoor himself sitting two rows behind ("a silly case of mistaken identity due to a common surname”)!
His day was thus spent between his clubs, his charities and his agiaries where he was a trustee. Though not at all personally generous, he passionately cared for Parsi charities. One such large Parsi charity, of which he was a trustee, was ill advised (deliberately or otherwise) by a then eminent non-Parsi solicitor to rent out a prime commercial property to a group of builders led by their solicitor, a sharp man with dubious credentials. The rent was mouth wateringly lucrative and the charity trustees including Jamshedji congratulated themselves for striking an exceptional deal. Within months the builders, through their solicitor, approached a Rent Court to reduce the rent drastically and outwitted the charity. When all his legal acumen to remedy the situation failed, Jamshedji barged into the cabin of the offending solicitor and cursed him that this ill gotten wealth would do him no good and that he would remain childless. Not only did the curse come true, decades later Jamshedji outwitted this solicitor and his group of builders in another much larger property transaction (the details are juicy and akin to a thriller, but alas cannot be disclosed for reasons which also cannot be disclosed). Thus, Jamshedji had much more than sweet revenge on the tormentors of his family charity.

 Illustration by Farzana Cooper

He was a practising Zoroastrian all right, but not too devout. Perhaps he could be classified as a traditionalist, though he never took sides in any community controversy. His wife, a gentle soul, far more urbane and sophisticated than her husband, tried her utmost to please Jamshedji but to no avail. He was almost feudal in his approach to this kind lady and scolded her constantly for minor indiscretions. Reduced to a bundle of nerves, she took refuge in Christian Science. She thus provided the perfect excuse for her husband to behave as if she was just another piece of furniture in his large living room. She was perhaps more blue blooded than he but bore her suffering in silence.
While our hero had more than a glad eye, he strangely preferred women who were not attractive in looks. He said that like Salvador Dali (the great surrealist painter) he was turned on by a "hint of the grotesque.” Many believed that he was a misogynist (he did have a very low opinion of the feminine gender); but that did not prevent him from being romantic. He expounded his bizarre theories to his club buddies every evening — "the less good looking a woman, the more proficient she is in love making” was his favorite sentence.
Once he made his Man Friday, Pestonji, wait in his car in the sweltering afternoon heat at Poona when Jamshedji ostensibly went to meet his old-time darji (tailor). When he returned, some 50 minutes later, Pestonji commented that it was rather unusual for a tailor to take measurements for so long, to which Jamshedji replied, with an impish grin, that the darji had died seven years ago leaving behind his only daughter. Pestonji gave a disapproving glance to his errant employer.
Sometime in his 60s, he applied for probate of a will of a Mangalorean nurse (who perished from cancer, at age 45). Under this will, Jamshedji was the sole executor and the sole legatee (beneficiary). The nurse had bequeathed her entire estate to her "beloved friend,” Jamshedji who, after her passing away, did not attend his club for a month to show that he was in mourning. When mocked by his friends, for once he appeared depressed, and admitted that "she was my true love.”
His love for visiting Velaat (London) in winter remained constant. Dressed in a long overcoat up to his ankles and a felt hat, he enjoyed fine dining at English restaurants boasting a couple of Michelin stars. Once, during a particularly harsh winter, on a Sunday evening which was bitterly cold, he could not locate the restaurant where he had booked a table; his bladder was giving way. Finally, he stood between two parked cars and relieved himself, without removing the overcoat; and proudly narrated this incident to his highly amused buddies. After all, his oft repeated profane limerick was "Hasta, rumta, daharo jay; Ruré teni ben … (expletive deleted) (the day goes well for the fellow who is jolly; for the one who is a cry baby, bad things happen to his sister).”
Unfortunately, bad things happened to this jolly fellow too. His robust health and active lifestyle was suddenly interrupted by a paralytic stroke. He made a quick recovery, but was felled by yet another attack. During a particularly bad fortnight, he nearly succumbed (since the doctor had advised that he should be kept mentally alert, his much ignored wife used to vigorously slap him on both his cheeks). Sadly for him, he recovered and was bedridden for a rather long time. Nevertheless, he did not lose his sense of humor. He wanted his will revised and shocked his solicitor by instructing that if his 94-year-old mother remarried, she would stand disinherited from his estate. The solicitor simply refused to insert such an absurd clause. He smiled and said, "Fine, delete it. However, I do want this clause for my wife.” She was 69 at that time.

Berjis M. Desai is a lawyer in private practice and a part-time writer. He considers himself an unsuccessful community activist.