Sooni Taraporevala and Meher Marfartia: The ladies who archive Parsi humour

After reading Parsi Bol, it was shocking to realise that nobody had thought of doing this before. It’s as scary as losing the recipe for dhansak and lagan nu custard…” reads the blurb by actor Boman Irani on the back cover of Parsi Bol 2 by screenwriter-photographer Sooni Taraporevala of Mississippi Masala and The Namesake fame, and journalist and author Meher Marfatia.

Parsi Bol 2 continues the jovial tone of Parsi Bol 1 to resurrect juicy and lesser-known Parsi-Gujarati idioms. For those who missed out on the bestselling Parsi Bol 1, part two is an amalgamation of Bol 1 with 50 additional pages of new idioms. Like its predecessor, Bol 2 dissects each idiom into a first line in Gujarati, with the second, third and fourth line transliterating, translating and lastly, giving the meaning of the idiom. The new phrases range from being risqué (Suhrah chhuh noh kato, meaning ‘Hands of the clock at 6.30’ or ‘impotent’) and nonsensical (Hormusjee Batla nakh kan kapla or ‘Hormusjee Batla cut his nose and ears’) to mocking (Jehvooda choo – ‘Face like a cow-catcher’) and revolving around money (Birla nehapyoo, Tata nehapyoo, muhnehnahiapyoo or ‘Gave the Birlas, gave the Tatas, not to me’).

The book’s Gujarati lines and their English meanings are by Rutty Manekshaw, with cartoons by Hemant Morparia and Farzana Cooper. An embedded CD with Dolly and Bomi Dotiwala (Bomi played Pappa in Munnabhai MBBS) and Boman Irani reciting the idioms is a bonus for those who want to get the pronunciations right.

The format of Bol 1 was repeated for Bol 2, where fellow Parsis were urged to email idioms to The only difference is that the second book has a yellow cover instead of the earlier red.

“The sequel was harder to compile,” reveals Marfatia. “We felt like killing a few people!” quips Taraporevala. “Nobody was concerned about details. We cross-checked every word three-four times because there were errors while keying on page to typesetting.” Adds Marfatia: “It looks deceptively simple, just six phrases to a page. But the amount of tedious detail was maddening. We also had to think of how to duct-tape the two editions.”

But such grouses are typical of the publishing business. What’s ensured a successful collaboration is the authors’ long-standing friendship. “Years ago, our daughters did a Shiamak Davar dance class together, and I remember being thrilled to just say ‘Hello’ to Sooni.” gushes Marfatia.

A mutual passion for documenting dying Parsi traditions led to their first collaboration. Taraporevala, who through her imprint, Good Books, published Parsis: A Photographic Journey, took photographs for Marfatia’s book, Laughter in the House: 20th-Century Parsi Theatre, published through her imprint 49/50 in 2011.

49/50 was Marfatia’s Bandra home where she grew up. She accounts her knowledge on theatre, music and films to the joint family she was part of. But it was Taraporevala who encouraged her to set up the publishing label. “Self-publishing looked so intimidating, but she demystified it for me. We are first friends, then collaborators. We know each other’s families well,” says Marfatia.

It’s also the appreciative nature of this partnership that’s worked for them. “Sooni’s had fantastic ideas, such as a red ribbon marker to go with this yellow book,” says Marfatia. “Meher gets right into details, something I hate doing! I admire her enthusiasm, because I often get tired of this book,” adds Taraporevala.

So, have the ladies’ attempts at safeguarding Parsi humour, wit and oral heritage rubbed off on their offspring? “My kids are quite cosmopolitan, though I grew up in a Parsi colony and my parents still do Parsi rituals on birthdays,” admits Taraporevala. While Marfatia’s children understand Gujarati, they don’t speak it. “But after Parsi Bol 1, my daughter has been speaking Gujarati a bit more.” Serves the purpose of the book, we say.

Published on DNAIndia

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