Parsi ‘Colonies’, which dot the older parts of the city, are intrinsic to Mumbai.
Unlike the ‘stupid fellow’ (my mom in law’s words), from North India on Kaun Banega Crorepati who didn’t know that dhansak is a Parsi dish, most Mumbaikars would have had some exposure to the Parsi community. Some would have known Parsis, or worked in Parsi run companies, met their dates under statues of venerable Parsi gentlemen or lusted after the famous Parsi Laganu Bhonu (wedding feast) . But the Parsi Colonies, hidden behind steep walls, remain a mystery to many.
These colonies were set up by wealthy members of the community to provide charitable housing to fellow Parsis. Today I was at Nowroz Bag. This is Mumbai’s oldest Parsi Colonies. Set up by the Wadia Family who own Bombay Dyeing today.
The set up of the Nowroz Bag would be similar to most other colonies. High walls enclosing the apartment blocks. A play ground for football and other community organised sports. Blocks of buildings. Three to four story tall. Each floor honey sliced into individual flats. Each apartment opening onto common verandas. Each floor linked by stone staircases, ‘uneven’, as Jamshed Adrianvala told us today as he deciphered the plaque at the base of the building we were at. The plaque listed the name of the benefactors of the society.
The architecture is simple. Neat clean lines. A certain similarity to the look of each building. And yet a place which reeks of character. You looked around and you knew that there were a million stories all around you.
Stories of people who lived their entire lives over here. Breathing their last breath in the very room they were born. Ninety years back. Of fights over who bought the best fish from the fisher woman. Of elderly parents sitting at the veranda waiting for the postcards from New Zealand and Texas. Of husbands and wives who knew each other as toddlers. The young girl who crossed the little path to move to her new family in the building next door. Of young boys in sadras (traditional Parsi vests) and striped pyjamas learning how to learning how to dismantle a Yezdi bike from their uncles. Of children who married out of the community and never could come back to live there. Of celebrations where every family in the community came together to participate with equal vigour.
(As you can see I have discovered the colour adjust feature of MS Photo Editor)
Today’s post is about one such story.
Today’s post is not about the very tender mutton chops that I had for lunch. Nor is it about the home fried potato chips. Or about the fierce looking and yet delightfully subtle, light and well flavoured chicken curry. It is not about the alcohol soaked heady birthday cakes ordered from model Naheed Cyrusi’s mother. Or the baker’s confusion about whether the cake should say “Happy Birthday Rita” or “Happy Birthday Geeta” .
Today’s post is the story of a man with a big heart. A man who fed seven hungry college girls day in and day out. A man at whose house I had the privilege of eating a couple of times. A man who once would spray Hugo Boss on himself before he went in to fry fish. A man who sits on his stool today and still directs his trusted cooks to conjure some of the most amazing dishes. A man who believes in excess when it comes to hosting. A man who when hospitalised for heart problems calls for mutton curry and rice from home.
Today’s post is about the story of Dadu (Dadi Pastakia). It was his daughter Rita’s birthday on the 29th. The same day as my mother’s.
Dadu could not come up to the upstairs house where the lunch happened. But he oversaw the cooking, was satisfied that he had over-ordered and then let the party begin. Hoping that Rita’s fiancé, Farhad, would share some of his duties as a host. There is no photo of Dadi Pastakia in this post except one of one year old Dadu. He doesn’t look very different today, close to eighty years later.
This is a story that I won’t attempt to tell. I will leave that to Kainaz, one of the three of the gang of seven who made it back to ‘The Den’ today. So here goes. Keep your handkerchiefs ready boys as you read Kainaz talk about the one and only Dadu. A man she calls ‘The Original Knife’. An association I am proud of after reading this story.
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Who’s your Dady
“There’s only one man in this world who knows how to make prawn curry and his name is Dady Pastakia. (Editor’s note: ‘WTF’ 🙂 ) I was 18 when I met him. He’s Rita’s dad. Rita’s my friend and she deserves a post of her own. This one’s not about her.
This one’s about the only man in the world who knows how to make mutton chops and his name is Dady Pastakia.
Within half an hour of meeting him I was richer by a minimum of 2000 calories. Fried potatoes, prawn curry, ghee-laden chapatis, egg something or the other, Pepsi – not made by him, chocolate ice cream – totally made by him. In the next half an hour I learnt that he’s not Dady uncle or Dady ji or Mr Pastakia. He’s Dadu. To me and to all the other six girls who lunched at his home at least four times a week. We were seven of us and he was our Santa Claus of Spices.
We ran to him after exam results and he pacified us by frying fish till the skin crinkled. When fever had wiped out our taste buds he would resurrect them with hot chicken gravy. He knew when one of us had our hearts broken, because that’s when we wouldn’t take a second helping. That one got special attention and the leg piece.
Ham sandwiches that would end in screams of delight. Eggs only fried in too much butter. Not chocolate. Chocolates…. Cutlets and kebabs worth bunking lectures for. And if any of us got blacklisted for attendance he would come to college as our dad! He would get into character and fire us in front of the principal. Then take us home in his blue dome-shaped fiat and feed us scrambled eggs.
Many know how to cook, but Dadu knows how to feed. Who was allergic to rice, who couldn’t stand raw onions, who wanted gravy separately, was all noted by him and taken for granted by us. Some of the girls asked him for recipes but I only asked for stories.
If there is one thing Dadu can do as well as cook, it’s to tell a story. Actually make that two things. To tell a story and to love. Which brings me to talk about Meher, the love. The wife.
I would run out of English if I tried to tell you how much Dadu loved Meher. She was beautiful, warm and with a temper that would make a sizzler feel like an ice cream. They fought like children. Doors were banged and thousand-rupee worth prawns (in the nineties) were chucked out of the window – some neighbour must have felt very lucky that day. I wasn’t there to see any of this. By the time I met Dadu, Meher was gone. A prolonged illness took away from Dadu, the sugar and salt of his life.
He started cooking only after she died. Why? My guess is to feed and take care of what was left behind of Meher; their daughter Rita.
Meals would often be accompanied by stories of Meher. How she loved this and would have yelled at him for that. I remember once mid-meal Dadu got up and opened what was once her wardrobe. It was intact. Dresses on the hanger, ironed, not musty. Skirts and scarves where the belonged. Her exquisite sarees. Only the most expensive and best for her. She was not his wife. She was his queen. Listening to him talk about her would make me put my spoon down and let the fish get cold.
Today’s Rita’s birthday and we met. Dadu was lying down. Age can defeat a man, or at least try. He sat up with some support from the table, looked at me and said, ‘you can have the prawn curry with chapatis,’ He remembers I am allergic to rice. Even if he forgot that he had actually made chicken curry today.
I had the chicken curry with chapatis. It was one for the soul.” Kainaz Karmakar