Roj Dae-pa-Meher Mah Ardibehesht, 1382 Yz.
It was in these idyllic surroundings that all my childhood school vacations were passed. Our schedule for the day was simple. We would be woken up at dawn by the chirping of the birds in the trees. As I did the morning wash routine, Papa would make tea. Alongside, he would begin to heat the rotli left over from the previous night’s meal on the open flame, after applying a bit of ghee on it. As he would keep on turning the rotli from one side to the other, he would keep slathering little bits of ghee on it, making it stiff and crunchy. Two such crisp rotlis would be then crushed into a large bowl, over which he would pour the hot tea. He would top that with a large heap of fresh cream. This was his morning tea cum breakfast. Along with the tea, Papa would swallow a handful of methi (fenugreek) seeds which had been soaked in water the previous evening, as a cure for his high diabetes, and also two dark black round capsules of guggul, an Ayurvedic wonder. I would stick to the normal tea.
Soon we would set off on our respective cycles, in near darkness, towards Valsad. It would be bitterly cold in the winter months and Papa would cover himself with a large sweater over his khaki clothes and also protect his ears with a large muffler, making a most funny sight. As we cycled slowly on the empty roads, Papa would keep up a chattering of small talk to ensure that I would not stray away too far ahead. As we would pass by the large empty houses, Papa would often tell wonderful tales of their inhabitants who had since passed away. Soon we would reach the Valsad town center, called ‘Tower’, after a small memorial erected to honour those brave men and women who had died in the two Great Wars. From there we would cycle to the butcher’s market to give the day’s order to the still sleepy butcher who would be herding the goats to take them away for the final destination. From there we would cycle to Mota Parsiwad and reach our home where Dinamai would have already begun her day, getting ready our meals to take back to Tithal.
As I would go for my bath and change of clothes, Papa would put his feet up in a large easy chair and speak to Dinamai or my uncle Dhunjisha about the day’s affairs and catch up on the news. Dinamai would prepare my standard two-egg breakfast and a cup of tea, along with some sweet or savoury pastry or biscuit. As breakfast was being taken, Dinamai would pack up a large round box with Lapsi – broken wheat gruel used by papa as a substitute for rice, which he could not have because of his diabetes. Another smaller box was filled with rice – for me. Then a small, long tea-kettle type box with a tight fitting lid would be filled up with one of four things – mori dal, masala dal, curry or a ras with drumsticks and potatoes. This was our lunch. Another box contained rotlis for supper. The boxes were put safely in a special bag and hung on papa’s cycle.
We would then be off to the butcher’s to collect the day’s order. As papa would see that the weights were correct and he got the best pieces of the goat, he would wait till the scales were heavier on the mutton side. Then he would tell the butcher: ‘put a little something for the boy – Mumbai thi aayoch maaro porio!’ The butcher would put in a small bit of liver or a nice piece of mutton and we would be off for vegetable shopping. He would carefully select the freshest vegetables along with sprigs of coriander and the normal onions and potatoes. With the load on our cycles increasing, we would then pedal to the Vipul Dairy – where my other uncle Peston was the manager. Here I would get a bottle of the special sweet flavoured milk, while Papa would sit and chat with his son and buy the milk to take to Tithal. The day’s shopping over, we would cycle back to Tithal and arrive by around 9:30 am. After handing over the shopping to the passengers of the holiday home, papa would set about to spice up our own plain meal.
A quick walk through the wadi would yield a small fallen mango, or a coconut or some mulberries. If nothing papa would dig out a piece of ginger or Amba Halad from the ground where they were grown carefully.
A few more items would be procured – a few chilies, a handful of fresh coriander, a squeeze of lemon, some spices and I would be given the job of pounding all these into a smooth chutney. Then from his large tin peti, papa would carefully pry out a couple of papads or a few small dried Bombay duck to fry or roast on the open flame. As the clock struck 10:30, we would sit down for our lunch of rice (Lapsi for papa) and dal or curry along with the chutney and papads or the fried fish. On special days papa would open a large porcelain container, nearly three foot high, where he would store the small mangoes in brine (pani nu achar), and pull out a couple of the beautifully salty, small shriveled mangoes and cut them up to eat along with the food.
After lunch, papa would settle down to read the day’s newspaper and I would listen to the BBC service on an old radio which he had. On Sundays, papa would insist on listening to the cricket program of Vijay Merchant. Then we would doze off to sleep in the open, with the cool breeze from the sea as our air conditioner. At around 1:30 pm the two maalis (gardeners) who took care of the wadi would arrive, with news of the sightings of a small rabbit or any other animal which could be trapped and eaten, or often just village gossip. As they would sit down on their haunches and chat, papa would make tea for all of us which we would have with maybe a couple of biscuits from Valsad’s famous Novelty or KK Bakery. Around 4:30 I would prepare to go to the beach with other boys of the village and we would enjoy ourselves making sand castles, hunting for shells or drift wood, or collecting unique pieces of stone which had been worked smooth by the action of the sea waves. As the sun made its way down the horizon we would walk back to the wadi, full of sand.
A small tap and stone had been set aside to wash off all the sand before entering the house. This would also be the time when the Mangela women – the traditional koli fisherwomen would run pass our house with baskets of the fresh catch to sell at the main market at Valsad. It was amazing to see them run at a steady but fast pace, expertly balancing the basket on their heads, their small and thin frames clothed in a sari, beads of perspiration dripping from their foreheads. As they would go past, they would wish papa ‘Kem cho, ba’aji? (the shortened form of Bawaji.) Papa had his own favourites and to those he would call out: ‘Kai che ke poria vare?’ Some of them would come in and display the fresh catch. Papa would choose the freshet fish – a small pomfret, slim long Bombay duck, a handful of Mandeli, or some prawns or anything else that caught his fancy and pay her off.
We would then sit down and papa would show me how to clean and gut the fish, washing it with plenty of water and then marinating it in a simple medley of spices. Sometimes he would fry the fish, other times he would make a beautiful gravy with a minimum of onions and tomatoes. On the days the there was no fish, papa would rustle up any dish with the barest of fuss, minimum spices but beautiful taste. Even his scrambled eggs were just outstanding. Dinner would be had by 6:30 latest. As the sun went down and darkness enveloped the wadi (most days there was no electricity) we would sit down and papa would begin telling some wondrous story or incident of his life, relating it in such a way that it would really come to life. In these stories, papa would make special efforts to tell me about the priestly life, and his interactions (good and bad) with priests. At all times he would emphasize that I was lucky to be borne in a family of the priestly line and that it was now up to me to take forward the priestly tradition in my family.
These stories and interactions with papa left a lasting influence in my mind. As soon as I came to Valsad, papa would also hand me a primer of Gujarati characters and words and encourage me to study the language, reminding me that it would prove useful in my priestly duties. He would often make me read the newspaper aloud to him, correcting me gently and getting me up to speed with Gujarati. This gentle persuasion, along with the constant and not so subtle persuasion of my mother, finally goaded me to begin my studies for the priesthood. Every day, after coming from school, I would be sent to the house of Er. Nariman Panthaky (now Panthaky of the Aslaji Agiary) who lived two street away from us at Tardeo. There I began my study of the scriptures, slowly learning the relevant parts of the Avesta by heart. Whenever I visited Valsad, papa would gently ask as to how far I had come and how much longer it would take. He was very anxious to see me qualify as soon as possible.
As things progressed, the preparations gathered steam. Er. Keki Panthaky, elder brother of Er. Nariman and a colleague of my parents at the State Bank, was given charge of putting me through the ceremony. The clothes were stitched, finishing lessons given and everything put into place. Finally in December 1983, I sat down for the Bareshnum Nahn that precedes the Navar ceremony, at the Banaji Atash Behram in Mumbai. Before the ceremony, I had of course made clear to papa and everyone else that I expected him to be there for the main ceremony. As the first Nahn got over and the second started, I kept on asking my mother when papa was going to come. Of course Nariman thought he could get away by not coming. He could not decide – did he hate Mumbai more or did he love his grandson more… Finally some dramatic phone calls were made by my mom to him, saying that I would not go through the ceremony if he did not come. Of course, then he had to come…
The day dawned and I was all dressed up and made ready. For the first time in my life, I saw papa in non-khaki clothes. My granny had somehow managed to convince him to wear white clothes in the Atash Behram. We also convinced him to stand for photographs. Here are a few of the photos from that day.
Here is a photograph of me with my paternal grandfather, Dinshawji Merwanji Hathiram, who deserves a special article for himself.
That day in January 1984, the first Navar ceremony in the Hathiram family in four generations took place. A few days later, my brother’s Navjote was also performed, with me sitting for my first ceremony post Navar.
[to be continued…]
Ervad Marzban J. Hathiram