Red hot Navsari

Berjis Desai

Before World War II started, Muncherji had established his credentials as an authentic nudist. Coomie, a young widow, made love to her tabla master. Dina could have written Fifty Shades of Grey in 1970. Katy and Moti, who fantasized about their bridal nights daily for a decade after puberty, had their collective hopes dashed in half a minute. The octogenarian Jamshedji was proud to produce an heir, even though half of Navsari knew the identity of the biological father. And Freny sacrificed her modesty attempting to save the life of her married lover. All of this happened more than 40 years ago in allegedly staid and stuffy Navsari.
Couples seldom divorced in Navsari though a few separated and lived apart. Love marriages, as distinguished from arranged ones, were rare. During the 1930s and 1940s, there were a large number of migrations to Mumbai (Navsari referred to Bombay as Mumbai much before Bal Thackeray) and other Indian cities. Those, even with a little spark, left Navsari. For those who were left behind in an increasingly cosmopolitan environment, the only entertainment was food, cinema and sex. There were no restaurants (even today there is no half decent restaurant!) and therefore the six-day wedding feasts or the gahanbars provided opportunities to indulge the palate (returnees from Mumbai brought the much desired brun bread and potato wafers; and carried back Surat butter biscuits and nan khatai). There were two cinema halls with wooden seats bristling with bedbugs, and most sat cross legged to avoid their toes being painlessly nibbled at by rats. Sex, therefore, was the only thing both pleasurable and free.
About the nudist and his daily trips to Surat to have his shoes polished, we have written many times, so we shall not repeat it here. He was a gentleman ahead of his times who believed in asserting his right not to wear clothes in the privacy of his home; he was not an exhibitionist. Navsari, unfortunately, did not discern this difference.

  Illustration by Farzana Cooper


Coomie celebrated her liberation from an alcoholic husband who had fortuitously tumbled into the well in the backyard (though the uncharitable implied he had been thrown in) by learning the lay (no pun intended) and taal from a young tabla master during sultry May afternoons. Both would descend from the second floor of Coomie’s home looking ecstatic after making music. She would subsequently become the principal disciple of a handsome bearded professor of philosophy from Jaipur called Chandra Mohan Jain, during the latter’s visits to Navsari. Jain later became known to the world as Osho. Coomie was therefore authentic stuff.
Dina took many lovers and was a pioneer of both pre- and extra-marital sex in Navsari. Her escapades were spoken about with awe and envy by the frustrated housewives of Parsi Navsari, who called her a chhamakchhalloo (untranslatable). Her second cousin, Freny, though, created history of sorts. Her middle-aged lover, possibly then the town’s richest man, suffered a massive cardiac attack post a mid- afternoon amorous bout (the legendary baporiyu). Freny could have slunk away from the paachloon baar (rear entrance) but instead ran through the moholla shouting for help for her distressed lover. Her lithe figure resembled that of Lady Godiva riding a horse in the streets of Coventry wearing only her long hair. Discretion is commonplace; valor is never forgotten. Unfortunately, the gentleman perished; happily of course.
As for Jamshedji, rich, widowed and with a glad eye, his venture into matrimony yielded instant results when his young wife delivered a bonny boy, a few shades darker than his parents, which made gossipy tongues wag maliciously. The old father was too proud of his prowess to harbor any suspicion and bequeathed his estate to the son. Many years later, Adi Marzban staged a skit loosely based on the above episode, with a slight twist. When the child was born, an astrologer predicted that the boy’s father would die within the hour. The cook collapsed on the stage.
Navsari surprisingly had a vibrant club culture in the 1960s which provided opportunities for interaction with other communities. However, dalliances with juddins were virtually unknown. Deviate you might, but not outside the fold. For the overwhelming majority though, sex was for procreation and not recreation. Limitless children were welcome. Fornication was a routine daily task, barring the days of mandatory seclusion on that ubiquitous iron bed. Had we continued to emulate our robust and rambunctious ancestors, we would not be in such dire demographic straits today.

Berjis Desai, author of Oh! Those Parsis and The Bawaji, occasionally practices law.