Quintessential Queen

Sixty years ago, on the 2nd of June 1953, two important events marked the international calendar. In London, Her Majesty the Queen of England was coroneted; back home in India, in a simple household, another queen was born. And no, we’re not talking about Freddy Mercury here.

The Parsi connection to the Royal Family of England goes back a long way. Aristocracy, gentility and nobility are still trademarks that we share with them. Some believe that the queen herself is Parsi; why would she marry her second cousin otherwise? Most others are almost certain that Prince Charles is Parsi – the nose, characteristically Parsi; the ears, of course Parsi; still living in his mother’s house at 64, definitely Parsi. On the prayer table of my London-based, unmarried grand fui were pictures of Princess Diana, Khodaiji and her family in that order. When Diana passed away, she was inconsolable for more than a month. Unfortunately, she too died before Diana’s photo frame could be replaced by Kate.

The adulation our previous generation had for the Royals was unconditional. Homes were furnished with English furniture, pianos and crystal chandeliers. Every household had porcelain souvenir plates with pictures of Elizabeth and Philip in their monarchical costumes placed next to bottles of Yardley talcum powder, so that the figures emitted an ethereal fragrance. All the toilets in the house had the entire range of pastel-coloured Imperial Leather soaps. A large bottle of 4711 Eau de Cologne was stocked on every dresser and happened to be the remedy for everything from fever to flatus; and even though it was German, most of us considered it to be English. And if that didn’t work, an ever larger bottle of Johnnie Walker did the trick.


The love for everything floral or fuliu, as we like to call it — floral curtains, bed sheets, sofa tapestries, panties and even crockery — comes to us from the British. My mother used to camp overnight outside Whiteley’s to be the first one to pick up discounted Royal Albert crockery when the store opened for its Christmas sale — the kind of thing the kids of today would do for their iPhone 5s. Any self-respecting Parsi woman’s wardrobe would be incomplete without at least one piece of the quintessential blossoming St. Michael’s bra and ‘petticoat’. My mother still holds on dearly to the 1995 Marks & Spencer spring botanic collection; the flowers seem to have an aroma around them even today!


Even our festivities have a British influence. We love large family get-togethers, although we hardly behave as stately when we’re having a good time. Our weddings have that regal grace and charm, even though we do not have two million viewing it, because we aren’t that many. Most of us still run the family business, and sometimes the business of other families. Every Saturday is spent playing cricket, pool or bridge, depending on the advancing decade of the family member. Every Sunday is spent in cultural enhancement, whether jogging the heart with Adi Marzban or Dinyar Contractor, or soothing the soul with local versions of western classical music. As Sooni Taraporewala puts it so aptly in her book, Parsis – The Zoroastrians of India, “It is not without reason that Zubin Mehta belongs collectively to every Parsi mother.”


A lot has been said about the bond that a Parsi son shares with his mother. While some argue that sons don’t marry since they have mothers to take care of and that a third person might disturb that equation, others believe that they were always ‘mamas’ boys’ to begin with. Sometimes, this notion arises when mothers can be a tad too indulgent in their sons’ lives. Let alone choosing his soul mate, she will insist on choosing his underwear also. Mothers want to make their little ones realize that mummy knows best — and in most cases, we understand it’s true. They have raised their sons, clothed them, bathed them, and fed them their favourite meals. They’ve always kept the fleshiest pieces of chicken and fish on our plates, while making do with the ones with bones for themselves. They’ve cut for us succulent mangoes and remained satisfied nibbling at the gotlas. They’ve shuttled us from one tuition to another, taken us to our drama, art and elocution classes, played our sport and loved our music. They’ve given us our roots and our wings. They’ve disciplined us with their stern looks and loved us with open arms.


My mother sangharo’d my brother and me at the drop of a hat. Whether it was an exam or a birthday, a visa application or a vacation, we were made to stand on the patlo and be garnished with the big tilo, coconuts and a sweet peraamni, with varying combinations of Mars, Toblerones, Kit Kats and Anton Bergs for mithu monu. Even when I had to go to hospital for my foot surgery, it was the same routine. She stood in long queues for our admissions, organised Farestas and Jashans for our welfare, and prayed diligently while we wrote our exams, undertook risky travels or were about to take one of life’s big leaps. And we foolishly believed that it was our own hard work and experience that brought us our rewards. Our safety and our wishes that seem to have been granted by the Almighty are actually due to my mother’s extensive correspondences with him!


Today, whether you are the mother of a six-year-old or a 60-year-old (in our community the latter is just as common as the former) the boy you have given birth to will always remain your little son. Parsi boys (and girls, lest I’m accused of being sexist!) have risen to the pinnacle of every profession, business or hobby they have dreamt to pursue. And when they are bestowed accolades in their field, they don’t shy to walk up to the stage holding their mother’s hand, proudly showing the world who the real winner of that trophy is.


So, on this second day of June as the world celebrates the 60th anniversary of the Queen’s coronation, I celebrate the life of a lady who’s lived it in the servitude of her family. For in the life of every Parsi boy, no matter who he marries or how many he daughters he has, there can only be one quintessential queen. Happy 60th birthday, mummy!