While most surnames in India reflect caste and lineage, the Parsis had a delightfully modern streak АааТ╖ having landed without caste, history and context, they created identities through professions and urban streets.
Our family moved to Bombay (now Mumbai) from Rawalpindi in 1947. We came as refugees but the family soon settled and by 1953 my father had restarted playing golf at the Willingdon Club. I was eight years old and would walk 18 holes with him every Saturday and Sunday. The three Parsi gentlemen who made up his regular four-ball were АааТ│unclesАааТ┤ Poonawala, Coorlawala and Colabawala.
Very soon they had rechristened my father Pindiwala.
Uncle Colabawala did not live in Colaba but in a penthouse on Malabar Hill. May be his ancestors had lived in Colaba. I used to spend hours searching the telephone directory to find Parsi surnames and building up stories around their families.
There was prohibition in Bombay those days. So to get liquor you had to find Mr Dalal, who would introduce you to Mr Daruwala, who in turn would get bottles delivered to your home by Mr Batliwala who would be accompanied by Mr Sodawaterbottleopenerwalla (the longest and probably made-up for-a-joke Parsi surname – Sodawaterwala is a genuine name though).
Other surnames whose ancestors were in the beverages trade were Mr Fountainwala, Mr Ginwala, Mr Rumwala, Mr Sodawala and Mr Jhunjhunwala.
We used to have two delightful Siamese kittens in our flat and these were gifted to my mother by her friend Mrs Billimoria. My mother spent hours knitting cardigans for them, with wool she bought from the Unwala family.
My uncle ran the air force canteen in Cotton Green and his partner, yes you guessed it, was Mr Canteenwala. They had this fantastic cook, Mr Bhajiwala. Their mild and meek manager, Mr Jeejeebhoy, nodded his head and agreed with everything everybody said.
My grandfather was the Sheriff of Bombay. I think the first and only Sikh to hold this position. Being Sheriff it was only natural that he had Mr Bandookwala and Mr Golimarwala as his constant companions.
Grandfather had many Parsi friends who were in politics. There was this squeaky clean khadi-clad Mr Ghandy, and the not so clean Mr Kalaghandy АааТ╖ who was invariably being hounded by Mr Kotwal. But he never left home without his АааТ│friendsАааТ┤ Mr Barrister, Mr Vakil, Mr Lawyer and their munshi Mr Mehnty.
My grandfather built Hotel Waldorf on Arthur Bunder Road in Colaba. So for this he naturally used the services of Mr. Contactor and Mr Mistry.
He never went to the АааТ│nativeАааТ┤ moneylenders when short of money, but borrowed it from his Parsi friend Mr Readymoney.
Our neighbour and family physician was Dr Adi Doctor АааТ╖ he was only half a doctor. He lived with his in laws Mr and Mrs Pochkhanawala. My sister swears they ate only poached eggs for breakfast.
I remember going to Dr DoctorАааТ▓s sisterАааТ▓s wedding. She married Mr Screwala. What he did for a living, I do not know to this day. If you are in Mumbai maybe you can track him down in the yellow or pink pages.
Jokes apart, there is a lesson for all of us here: imagine if we could christen our politicians through democratic vote: Jinnahwalla, Nikarwalla, Icequeen, Motawalla! It would really be able to keep everyone in check, where individuals and media didnАааТ▓t only control your public profile but also your public identity.
The Parsis have taught us that if you take serious interest in satire, you can change the world!
My name today is Comedymanifestowalla!