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Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Truth or Fiction? Fictionwala?

While most surnames in India reflect caste and lineage, the Parsis had a
delightfully modern streak - 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 uncles Poonawala, Coorlawala and Colabawala.
Very soon they had rechristened my father
Pindiwala, though he is a Sardar. 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 Parsi surname I have come

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 -
who was invariably being hounded by Mr Kotwal. But he never left home
without his friends 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 conservative moneylenders when short of money, but
borrowed it from his Parsi friend Mr. Readymoney.

Our neighbour and family physician was Dr. Adi Doctor - 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. Doctor’s sister’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.

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