Remembering Nariman papa – part 2

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Roj Marespand Mah Dae, 1381 Yz.

Today, 12th June is the English death anniversary of Nariman Vaghchhipawala.

Sometime later the rented house had to be vacated. There was no way Nariman could afford a new house. By a stroke of luck, a plot of land at the end of Parsiwad, with a thatched hut belonging to one of his regular clients was spotted. After some discussions, the plot was taken and the family shifted to the small thatched hut, with no flooring or brick walls, merely wooden beams held together with cow dung. Slowly but steadily, somebody gave away tin sheets, somebody donated material and in this manner the house began to take a proper and livable shape. But money was always hard to come by. To supplement their meagre income, the kids would go the Mota Shapur Daremeher and the house of the main priest of Valsad to work during the Muktad days. Work started at 2 am in the morning, emptying the vases, drawing fresh water from the well by hand, washing and cleaning the vases and getting everything ready before 5 am. Thereafter the Stum preparations and cleaning of the prayer thalis, then on to the afternoon Stums… At the end of ten days, a few meagre rupees were gratefully stored.

At the same time papa used his cooking skills to begin catering for Gahambars, weddings and other occasions in Valsad and nearby areas. His Gahambar dal attained near cult status and no Gahambar could be complete without Nariman’s dal and spicy kachumber. But unlike the caterers of today, who charge per patra, papa hardly earned any money. He would take money only for his labour and that of his workers. All the material would be got by the organizers. Thus even after doing many such functions, at the end of the day, very little money came into the house.

Understanding the need for a proper education, my mother was packed off to the Dhunmai Cawasji Parsi girls boarding school at Khandala. The other siblings studied in Valsad. My masi Mehru was interested in medicine and started studying for the hard jump from vernacular to medical school. Books were borrowed from elder students and libraries, but there was a new problem. The entire house had one dim electric bulb, which Nariman would switch off by 8, to conserve money. Undeterred, Mehru would take her books and sit under the single street light outside the house and near the common well in the street. There, her studies continued.

Meanwhile my mother finished school with flying colours and then took the brave jump to Mumbai, entering Sydenham College and staying at the Parsi girls hostel at Worli. Simultaneously, she joined the State Bank of India in the clerical cadre and thus attained some financial security. Here she came into contact with and decided to marry my father. A big wedding was out of the question. But there was a bigger problem. Nariman papa had a great hatred for Mumbai. He would refuse to come there at all, forget staying there for the wedding. After much discussions and negotiations, it was decided that the wedding would take place in Valsad, at the large Bejon Baug in 1968. Special bogeys were reserved on the train for the relatives from the Hathiram side to come to Valsad. Rooms were taken on hire from known persons to house the guests. A large colorful contingent arrived from Mumbai, including the first live Parsi band to perform in Valsad! In all these festivities, Nariman still wore his khaki clothes and busied himself in the kitchen, cooking for all the four days.

Determined to make a special gift for his eldest daughter’s wedding, Nariman served chicken – for the first time in Valsad at the wedding. Till then the rule had been to stick to mutton. Over the four days, guests were treated to an amazing variety of Parsi dishes, all cooked by Nariman himself and his few helpers. The house in Parsiwad was also specially repaired and painted for the occasion. The wedding was a grand success and everyone left happily to resume their lives.

On another front, the results for the all-India medical entrance exam were released and Mehru scored good marks and was admitted to the Lady Hardinge Medical college in New Delhi. Some ‘advisors’, who always spring up at such times, warned Nariman that allowing his young daughter to travel alone to New Delhi was fraught with danger. ‘Who knows what would happen there…’ Papa was of course, made of sterner stuff. His replies to these over-smart advisors in his choicest Gujarati had them running for cover. Amidst much tears between mother and daughter, a tin trunk was obtained, the few clothes and many books were packed, and preparations were made for the departure.

But as had been the case in his life, after a little success, a setback was certain. Shortly after the wedding, torrential rains hit the areas of Gujarat near Surat. The Tapi river overflowed, setting off floods in many parts of the state. Due to this, the Auranga river – normally a peaceful, slow-moving 50 meter wide waterway, situated about 2 kms from the house, became a raging torrent. She burst her banks and the huge tidal water rushed into Mota Parsiwad. The newly repaired and painted house was soon under six feet of water. The family was forced to flee with whatever they could salvage to the first floor, and sit there, watching everything so carefully collected over the years being swept away by the water. Thankfully, the horses and carriages survived.

In all this, the date of departure for Delhi was drawing near. But how to reach Delhi with the water all around? Finally, after much struggle, Mehru was sent to Mumbai, from where my mother and father then escorted her to Delhi. After all these years of struggle, Nariman papa’s promise made while carrying the body of Dr. Khorshed to the Dakhma was finally fulfilled. He would often tell his children – ‘I have nothing to give to you, but I will make sure that you get a proper education. It is my only gift to you. Take it and study well. Money, land, riches – all this can be taken away, but no one can take away what you have learnt. Study hard, work hard and you shall prosper.’

In around 1969, the Union Bank of India bought a large, 16 acre plot of verdant land at Tithal, a seaside village about 6 kms from Valsad, and built a holiday home for its employees. They advertised for a caretaker-cum-cook to look after the guest house and cook for  the visiting employees. Nariman papa made of the few trips in his life to Mumbai, staying at our house in Tardeo and was interviewed for the job. He got it and soon thereafter, papa moved in to the large estate at Tithal. My grandmother Dinamai remained at Valsad, looking after the house and the other children.

Every day, Nariman papa would board his trusted Hero cycle, early in the morning and pedal to Valsad. He would then go shopping for all the ingredients required to make lunch and dinner for the guests at the holiday home. Then arriving at his house in Valsad, papa would have breakfast, while mama would pack his own lunch for him. He would then be off by 8 am, cycling back to Tithal, where he would begin cooking and serving the guests. Tithal was a totally isolated area in those days, large wadis of rich Parsi Sethias residing in Mumbai were all around. A few tribal locals lived here and there. There was no proper electricity, roads, or any shop. Even if salt was over, you would have to go to Valsad to get it! In these punishing conditions, papa started cooking for and looking after the guests (mostly Parsi employees of the Union Bank) who would come during the summer and winter vacations. His tasty food, genial and helpful manner became famous amongst the employees, and pretty soon, the holiday home was constantly booked, especially in the holidays. As he busied himself at Tithal, the family carriage business was looked after by the trusted Man Friday, a large hearted and loyal Muslim called Jani.

But even in this employment, papa was cheated. The Parsi General Manager of that time created the caretaker job as a contractual employment, not a permanent post. The watchman, at the other end of the estate was, of course, a permanent post. In effect, papa got a small lump sum amount as pay, but no benefits like Provident Fund, Pension, leave or other perks. It was a hilarious situation – the watchman earned more than the caretaker. Over the years these Parsi managers would come very often to Tithal, with their families and friends, to enjoy the gracious hospitality of Nariman papa, who made extra efforts to ensure they had a good stay, sometimes even spending from his own pocket to feed them. But not one of them turned around to thank Nariman, or to ask whether they could do anything for him. Papa was a man with huge self-respect. He would never even think of asking these senior officers to make his life easier. Over a period of nearly 25 years that he worked there, papa remained a contractual employee with no benefits and left as empty handed as he had come.

[to be continued…]

Ervad Marzban J. Hathiram



  1. Nazneen  June 12, 2012

    Feel sad for such tough life led n so much struggle,, it’s so disheartening that a Parsi rarely stands up to help a fellow Parsi,, God Bless your papa’s soul !!!

  2. Karl Sahukar  June 13, 2012

    The current Parsis are a very pampered lot, compared to the hardships faced by our parents, grandparents and great-grandparents! Today’s generation should read these episodes to realize that despite all these hardships, the traditional ‘self-respectful’ Zoroastrian way of life was maintained and perpetuated! Amazing strength of character!

  3. Khushnood Viccaji  August 27, 2012

    Ervad saheb, will you be resuming (and completing) this series sometime in the future ?

    I found it very interesting to read about our forefathers and how they lived life amid extremely trying circumstances !

  4. Ervad Marzban J. Hathiram  August 28, 2012

    Yes, it is in progress.

  5. Pervez Peshotan Patel, New York, USA  September 15, 2012

    Dear Marzban:

    Many thanks for writing about Ervad Behramji Unvala of Udvada. As a young boy of seven, I remember Behramji sitting on his favorite chair placed between the entrances of Atash Behram and Dadgah and praying. He was a very kind and pious Mobed and the only priest who performed over 100 Nirangdins, mostly with his junior, late Ervad Behramshah Bharda. Being born in Udvada, and having performed Iranshah’s buoy ceremony twice, I had recollections of spending many days and nights with both Behramji and Behramshah. Clicking on the link of your Nariman papa and reading with great interest his life story, it seemed I lived through that period. Your excellent and lucid way of describing many incidents of his life, his struggles and firm determination not to give up on his life and living a true Zarthushti life of hard work and self-dependence, respect, spirit of giving, not filling self-pity, not asking favors or help despite his hard life, reminds me of Zarthushti spirit of our fore-fathers. God Bless Nariman papa’s soul. Looking forward to reading continuance of his life history.

  6. Aspy Minoo Khan  November 9, 2012

    Dear Ervad Marzban,
    Everything which I wanted to say has been precisely and concisely said by Mr. Pervez Patel – above.
    Your Nariman papa was truly a remarkable man; what touched me most was what, as you said, he would often tell his children –Quote- ‘I have nothing to give to you, but I will make sure that you get a proper education. It is my only gift to you. Take it and study well. Money, land, riches – all this can be taken away, but no one can take away what you have learnt. Study hard, work hard and you shall prosper.’–Unquote.
    Such wisdom combined with foresight is rare and paved the way for your maternal-side family… he said there is no substitiute for education.
    Also a special tribute to your ‘mamaiji’ who gave a new defination to the word love.
    To have left a life of total comfort to be by the side of her ‘chosen one’ thru’ thick and thin in the truest sense makes her an equally remarkable human being.

    Best Regards,