A tale of two tails

We are coming close to the end of another festive season, a season of joy, love, laughter, and an exceedingly false hope that this year is going to be merrier, even if microscopically, than the one that just went by. Everyone I meet exasperatingly tells me how many functions they have to jabardasti attend, the treacherous traffic they will need to navigate through, the over-eating they are forced to indulge in, and the under-clothing they revel in out of choice. I, on the other hand have no such grievances: first, I drive a Maruti 800 and traffic does not bother me; second, I enjoy overeating; and third, I can wear the same dagli to every function.

I attended three navjotes this winter (technically, that’s the name of the season even though there is no sign of it). Two were of my nieces and one, a dear friend. It’s not that I replied ‘regret we cannot attend’ to the others, it’s just that I didn’t receive any more invitations. The navjote ceremony is a beautiful one and less intimidating and nerve-wracking than its adulterated counterpart – the lagan. A child is charmingly ordained into the Zoroastrian faith wearing protective armour. I had mine in 1990, and, barring a few occasions that cannot be described on account of this being a family newspaper; I’ve always worn my sudreh and kusti.


The only problem with my kusti is that more often than not, it finds its way out from behind my shirt, and the two ends made their presence felt constantly. “Everyone knows you’re Parsi, put your kusti in!” my mother would snidely comment. Sometimes, elderly aunties used to grab me by the waist and tuck it in themselves, winding up the ritual with a pat on my butt in a self-fulfilling prophecy. Several years later do I realize this to be my #metoo moment.


For me, the most affectionate kusti stories have been with those who don’t know what’s hanging out of my pants and that too from behind. Most people don’t want to offend you by bringing your fashion faux pas to your attention, and hence will gently gesticulate. Initially it used to be confusing when people, especially men, nudged me, looked at my backside, and raised their eyebrows. Sometimes, they pointed at my rear with the pinkie and wiggled it up and down, which, with time and experience, I eventually realized was a signal for ‘something is coming out and needs to be put back in’.


Over the years, I became a kusti connoisseur. Whenever someone called out my name loudly and didn’t complete the sentence until I came really close, I knew that it was for my kusti: “Aap ka kuch dikh raha hai, peeche se.” At first, I wondered if it was an indication of my irritable bowel that they were referring to, but after a few of these whispered asides, I began tucking my kusti in automatically. To some, I bothered explaining that this was the same kind of thread worn by the Hindus across the torso; it’s just that we wear it around the waist. And when you give a religious explanation to anything in our country, suddenly everyone sounds apologetic as if they would be censured for taking cognizance. But we are Parsi – every single one of us at some point in our lives have had our caterpillar kusti pointed out to us – and I can guarantee that pride is the only emotion we feel, albeit with a little bit of embarrassment and some humour.


I work as an Honorary Professor at JJ Hospital, operating on the brain and spine. Recently, my head matron called out to me as I walked out from the surgeons’ changing room in my scrubs, heading toward a brain tumour surgery. “Sir!” she yelled loudly as I made my way briskly to the operating room. I turned around and she whispered, “Idhar aaye na,” and of course I knew what it was for. I smiled with my eyes and she smiled back. “Aapne pant ulta pehena hai, aapka nada peeeche hai.”Yeh pant ka nada nahii hai, yeh Parsi log ka nada hai,” I elucidated, as I lifted my shirt and established the difference between a nada and the best wool woven of 72 threads. “Sorry sir, ok sir,” she mumbled obscurely, slightly dejected at a failed attempt at finding a flaw, the forte of hospital matrons. “Yeh hospital ka founder bhi yehi pehenta tha, 200 saal pehle,” I said on a parting note.


Over the years, I have realised that the kusti is a great conversation starter, a fantastic icebreaker. To those unaware of the religion, it is a great opportunity to explain who we are, why we are, and what we do. Every conversation about being Parsi eventually revolves around how we dispose of our dead and the intricacies of this practice, but lately, chatting about the kusti has been a refreshing change. Surprisingly, when I was in North America for 2 years, not one person mentioned my dangling tail; there, everyone dresses oddly, and this little thing didn’t seem to pique anyone’s interest.


So, this New Year, be proud of who you are and what you believe in. Wear what you want, eat what you must, and attend as many festivities as you can. Fill your life with love, light, respect, and kindness. This may be the year to tell the world your tale.


Dr. Mazda K. Turel is a practising Neurosurgeon who specializes on surgical ailments of the Brain and Spine. He is a consultant at the NewAge Wockhardt Hospital, Mumbai Central and an Honorary at Sir JJ Hospital.  He can be emailed on mazdaturel@gmail.com or contacted on +91 993.017.4567.

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