Navsari lingo

Berjis Desai

Neighboring Surat was known for its colorful abuse. A noted Parsi solicitor, a Surat boy, in a fit of anger, often swore at his assistants in a highly original manner ["Tamari mai né kutraa lai jai (may your mother be carried off by dogs)” was his favorite; the rest of the sentence would get this publication and author scurrying for anticipatory bail under a rather draconian legislation]. Navsari, on the other hand, was a bit staid. Navsari Parsi Gujarati though had some memorable turns of phrase and several nearly untranslatable expressions. The ladies, in particular, excelled themselves.
If someone spoke rubbish, he was ticked off by a matron exclaiming, "Ai su gadhéra né taav aavé évi vaat karéch (even a donkey would feel feverish upon hearing what you are saying).” When someone predicted something good, he was told, "Taré mohné ghee sakar (may your mouth be filled with sugar and ghee)” while the fellow who made pessimistic predictions was castigated as "Taddan sagan no gaanthyo chhé (a spoilsport casting the evil eye on a happy occasion).” One who seldom smiled was classified as "Ai chandraaté bhi hasé nahin (won’t smile even once a month during a new moon).” In those days, all Parsis spoke and wrote Gujarati; but the third generation migrants to Bombay could not comprehend these complex phrases.
     Translation of blurb Man: "If you cast your evil eye on my beautiful Aloo, I will make akuri out of your brain."
     Woman: "He is a total imbecile."

The Parsi dialect bastardized Gujarati phrases and those who spoke chaste or shoodh (shuddha, pure) were looked down upon. After Independence when "Mr and Mrs” were replaced in official correspondence by "Shri and Shrimati,” Navsari Parsis used the designation to mock a pretentious Parsi who spoke pristine Gujarati. In Seervai Vad, there was a rather pompous teacher called Adarji who taught English to the higher classes and always spoke the chaste version. When his back was turned to write on the blackboard, the boisterous boys would shout, "This tailor! (in pure Gujarati, Aa Darji)” which greatly incensed him. He shocked Navsari by having a live-in relationship with his principal named Aloo. "This sunstroke (Aa Loo)!” the boys would shout when spotting the matrimony spurning couple, who were looked down upon as taddan haath thi gayach (having crossed all limits) by their shocked neighbors.
Adarji and Aloo’s immediate neighbor was one Cowasji who fancied himself  an accomplished poet. His verses were nothing but banal doggerel. A sample was:
"Aajé vaar chhé Ravi
Mari kavita taddan navi
Navsari aankhoon bolé
Wah Wah, O Cowbhai Kavi!”
(Today is Sunday/ My poem is brand new/ The whole of Navsari/ Extols Cowbhai the poet!)
Adarji stumbled upon his neighbor staring at his Aloo; incensed, he recited:
"Mari sunder Aloo pur, jo naakhshé tu najar boori
Adarji jaroor banavsé, tara bhéja ni akuri
Bairaao né jovaani, tari aadat joié javi
Sadantar ghelsappo chhé, Cowbhai kavi!”
(If you cast your evil eye on my beautiful Aloo/ Adarji will surely make akuri out of your brain/ Your habit of staring at women must be forsaken/ You total imbecile, Cowbhai poet!)
The slang for the posterior was gaan. A man who often changed sides was called a gaan vagar no loto (a brass pot without a base); a sourpuss was dubbed ghoovar ni gaan jévoon mohnoo banavéch (face like an owl’s arse); and a guest who overstayed was gaan gothvi né besee gayo (one who has settled his rear comfortably to stay)! If a man of sparse means did charity, he was told: "Potaani gaan tau dhovaati nathi né bijane madad karva nikalyoch (unable to wipe his own arse but sets out to help others)”! The politer substitute for gaan was, for some strange reason, behram.
Several words from the dialect of Saurashtra Gujarati (SG) found their way into the Navsari lingo. A large towel was called dilloosnu, the bastardized version of dil (body) and loochnoo (to clean). The four-poster bed was called dholiyo, as in SG. In Saurashtra, a floor mat was called chatai. A bawdy play by a Navsari playwright, Jehangirji, titled Chatai par sutéli Najai (Najai lying on a mat), was never performed due to fear of his censorious wife Najamai. In Saurashtra, baby showers called shimant were celebrated with gusto and traditionally a large laddoo filled with dry fruits was distributed; Navsari called it agharni no laarvo (Adi Marzban spoofed it as pregnancy balls), a ubiquitous conical shaped sweet, the consumption of its tip virtually guaranteed a pregnancy for wannabe mothers. Lastly, uncharitable Navsari matrons, aghast to find a dark complexioned man marrying a very fair girl, often remarked that kaagro dahitroon lai gayo (a crow snatched away a milky sweetmeat), an expression found in SG novels like Maanvi ni Bhavai.
At the condolence meeting for a famous Parsi caterer who whipped up mouth-watering delicacies like khurchan (mixed offal) and bhoojan (grilled meat), the chairman remarked that "Marhoom ni chamach bahu vakhnayeli hutee (the long handled spoon of the deceased was much appreciated)” which led to suppressed laughter, since the caterer had fathered an entire cricket team of 11 with the umpire thrown in.
Anyone who rested at dusk was scolded severely: "Diva batti né vakhaté soovéch; nehesh chhé! (it’s inauspicious to sleep when lights come on”); and those who came late for a function were rudely asked "Kém Ushen Geh ma aaya! (why have you arrived so late, Ushen Gah being the last and fifth period of the Zoroastrian 24 hours, which commences at 12:39 a.m.).”
However, this columnist’s all-time favorite was a phrase used to describe a situation where a person was ready to go to any lengths to injure his opponent: "Hoon maroon, pun tuné raand karoon (I will die, but I will ensure that I make you a widow)!”
The origins of some popular phrases were inexplicable. If a dish tasted awful or a fruit was overripe, even the otherwise reverential Navsari ladies would remark: "Dasturji jévo taste chhé (tastes like a priest),” as if their behdin tongues had tasted a priest.

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