It is said that when the British left India, they gifted their mannerism to the Parsis. I do not know the authenticity of such whimsical statements, although I have never seen any community with such great degree of clear-cut decorum. Parsi is a Persian Zoroastrian ethnic community; a minority in the Indian sub-continent. In a religion conscious environment Parsis are the most –mild-mannered and according to my adolescent psyche aromatic individuals. As a child my pleasant memories of experiencing Parsi culture were those pleasant Sundays spent with an elderly neighbor. Dhun Aunty, as we would address her, would serve our hungry mouths with the most delectable savory dishes of meat and eggs. The spicy curries and rice with caramelized onions were devoured amid the lingering aroma of sandalwood and eau de cologne. Bowls of warm bread pudding with afternoon tea while laughing your guts outs to the antics of Laurel and Hardy would see an end to a wonderful soiree. It is where I learned to differentiate between Mozart’s Symphony. 40 and ‘The Blue Danube’ (although I’m still a novice to ‘C’ major or ‘G Minor identification) and browsed Wren & Martin before it became mandatory in school. Things have drastically changed now with increase in western urbanization and vast immigration to foreign lands, yet the authenticity of the culture can be experienced in certain residential colonies strictly built for the respected community.
Firoza Baag is one such residential colony adorned by a three apartment buildings and filled with the quirkiest and amusing occupants one can come across. The 11 short stories brim with incidents that flatter the humdrum lives of its occupants or events taking place at a lazy hour that either might be life-changing or may just fade away into a speck of wistfulness. The stories trickle from hilarity to seriousness of bigotry and communalism that become a major part of a sub-culture. Subtle racism, cultural labeling and the insecurities prevailing over other influential communities can be seen throughout the book. This is quite a norm here in India where preference for “fair” skin tones and understated prejudices seep into daily life. The multifarious patterns of Bombay and its people through the lives of one community are comparable to listening to ‘Moonlight Sonata’ at a crowded train station. The concluding story “Swimming Lessons” sums up the entirety of this book as it juxtaposes facts and fictions and illuminates the brilliance of a writer called Rohinton Mistry.
Words fail me when it comes to Mistry’s scintillating mosaic of inconsequential lives that seem to get lost in the crowd. He captures the nitty-gritty of one of the strictest religious community in Bombay through an array of lucid emotions and gentle compassion. Through his books I breathe the sweet air of my nostalgia and observe the frowning faces of strangers wondering the tale behind the wrinkle of their middling life. Rohinton Mistry, which is why I love your words so very much.