Parsi high priests
The women traded more gossip until the kettle whistled. Bapsi prepared the tea. Two parts Darjeeling, one part earl grey and a touch of orange pekoe, and then filled the pot with boiling water. She placed the pot and teacups on a silver tray and sprinkled the tray with fresh rose petals. She carried the tray to the dining room, presenting it in front of Father. Goolrookh carried sugar cubes and biscuits, popping one of each into her mouth as she waddled, earning a critical look from both Auntie and Mother.
“Where are Jahan and Adar?” Goolrookh asked, her mouth full.
“Jahan took Adar to the zoo,” Bapsi said. She glanced at the clock as she poured the tea. “I expected them home before Father and Dastan Uncle.”
“The zoo!” Goolrookh wrinkled her nose. “They need to tear that smelly eyesore down. The animals were filthy and sick. It’s an embarrassment. People all over the world see that and think India is —.”
Auntie interrupted. “I know why they’re not home yet,” she said. “The Bakrid festival was today.” The Bakrid festival commemorated the faith of the Prophet Ibrahim when he sacrificed his only son to Allah. “Jahan must be inching his way home through the crowds.”
Bapsi’s face lit into a smile. “Of course,” she said, relieved. “That’s why they’re delayed. I should have told Jahan to take Adar to wait until after the festival.”
Auntie laughed. “Between the Hindus, Muslims, and Christians, someone’s always celebrating something in India. I just wish the Muslims wouldn’t kill all those poor little goats. By the way, what are we having for dinner?”
As if he knew Auntie’s question before she even asked, Cook popped out of the kitchen with more biscuits. “Lamb,” he said. “Prepared just the way you like it with tomatoes and tamarind.”
Everyone cheered except Mother. “A boy Adar’s age shouldn’t miss a meal with his family,” she fretted. “I hope Jahan doesn’t eat dinner there. Those vendors are filthy.”
Father winked at Dastan Uncle. “See what I mean,” he said. “I told you she hates street vendors.” He reached out to Mother. She waved away Father’s hand and enjoyed tea and biscuits as they waited for Cook to bring out the lamb, potatoes, naan, and dal. Savory aromas drifted from the kitchen. Father picked up the Mumbai Mirror newspaper to distract himself until the food arrived. He tilted his head so he could see through the bottom half of his bifocals. Dastan Uncle told them about his conversation he had with several of his young Parsi students. Dastan taught at the University of Mumbai and Father often lamented how all of the young Indians were embracing western style and culture.
“I told them ‘Zoroastrians do not believe in Karma’,” Dastan Uncle said, reaching for another biscuit. “Or reincarnation. Do they listen? Not twelve years past their Navjote and they think I’m nothing but a foolish old Baba.” Navjote was the Zoroastrian initiation ceremony, usually performed when a child is between six and nine years old. “Do you know what they said?”
Father lowered his newspaper and peered through the top half of his bifocals. “What did they say?”
Dastan Uncle took a deep breath. “I spoke to Zareen’s cousin-sister from Vadodara. She’s going to London next year to continue her studies. She’s studying sonnets, of all things. English sonnets.”
Everyone around the table shook their heads. Auntie waved her hands in frustration. “What can she do with that? She should become a doctor, like Bapsi.”
“Kindly let your husband speak,” Father insisted.
“Oof,” Auntie huffed dismissively. She gestured at Dastan Uncle. “How am I not letting him speak?” She turned to Mother. “Tell me, how am I not letting my husband speak?”
Soon everyone was in a row about whether Auntie let Uncle speak when Father finally raised his voice, trying to return to the original question. “WHAT did Zareen’s cousin SAY?” Father said, shouting over the hubbub.
“Oh, you won’t believe it,” Dastan Uncle said. “She said Hindus believe in reincarnation so we should too.” He pulled back from the table as if his words had a pungent aroma.
“What does that mean?” Father said. “’We should too’?”
“Since we are new to India,” Danstan Uncle exaggerated the word new to emphasize its absurdity. “We should behave like guests. Zareen’s cousin-sister said believing in reincarnation is the polite thing to do.”
“Rubbish,” Father said, putting aside the newspaper. He gestured to his feet. “A man takes off his shoes to be polite. Not his faith.”
He pushed his eyeglasses on top of his head, as he always did when he sipped hot tea, so the steam wouldn’t fog his glasses. “Zareen’s cousin-sister sounds like a nutter.”
Bapsi smiled. No need to worry about Father’s hair getting stuck in the hinges or nose piece of his glasses, as he had none. Bapsi shared her father’s smile but, fortunately, not his hairline. She’d inherited her mother’s thick black hair. Bapsi thought Father looked particularly charming with his glasses on top of his head. Father was a small, thin man with an impish smile. As the two families fussed about western styles and Parsi teenagers, Bapsi texted her husband: Where are you, she typed. She watched the screen, waiting for Jahan to reply.
Dastan Uncle picked up Father’s newspaper and turned to the local section. “Accha,” he said, motioning to a small article. “I found something about the woman we saw outside the temple. Listen to this!” Dastan Uncle read,
“Parsi high priests have resolved that they will consider as outside the Zoroastrian faith those children born with one non-Parsi parent. Readers only need to replace the word Parsi with Brahmin and Zoroastrian with Hindu to see how bigoted and regressive this opinion is.”
Dastan Uncle threw the newspaper on the floor and stamped his bare foot on it. “The Mirror has no respect for any religion on the face of this earth,” he fumed.
“The effrontery,” Mother echoed. “How could they allow such attacks on our venerable Zarathustra faith?”
Father stood up from the table. “The writer of these derogatory words must be one of those Westernized Indians.” He pointed his finger at Goolrookh, at her western shirt and jeans, and then waved his finger in Dastan Uncle’s face. “Akin to your students who disparage three thousand years of heritage and culture just so they can ‘fit in’.” Father pushed loudly away from the table and marched out of the room.
“Aban? Aban?” Mother frantically looked at the distraught faces of Dastan Uncle, Auntie, and Goolrookh. Bapsi was too busy texting Jahan to care about this latest upset. “Aban, dinner is almost ready,” Mother called. “What are you doing?” Father did not answer. Mother beseeched Dastan Uncle. “Go see what he is doing, Uncle. Please.”
Suddenly Father reappeared. “Done,” Father said, triumphantly.
“What?” Mother said. “What is done, Aban? What did you do?”
“I subscribed to the Mumbai Mirror,” Father said.
“What!” Mother said. “You subscribed?”
“You hate that newspaper!” Goolrookh said.
“Exactly,” Father said. “And I intend to write a stern letter telling them why I hate them but, you must admit, such a letter would have more meaning coming from a customer.”