Some years ago, at a literary festival in Mumbai, I agreed to take two of my fellow speakers, Deborah Mogach and Sam Leith, to a Parsi restaurant. We went to the only one I knew of in the area. It was late afternoon and the proprietor was pulling the shutters down as the last customers dodged the corrugated blinds and left.
Farrukh Dhondy in Hindustan Times. Here“Closed,” he said in English.
“Sahebji, my friends have come all the way from England,” I said in Parsi Gujarati with just the right amount of entreaty.
“Not me,” he replied. “The cook is about to clock off.”
“Can I speak to him?” I asked.
He shrugged and let me in. I went to the open plan counter dividing the kitchen from the tables where the cook was pottering.“Will R200 persuade you to serve one more table. We’ll eat whatever’s going.”
“Wonderful to see you,” he said in a Parsi idiom. “Can you make it 250?”
“Done,” I said.
We were served dhan sakh and plenty more and as we ate the old Parsi gentleman, the proprietor’s grand-dad, his thick trouser-belt embracing his thin chest, came down the stairs and up to us.
“Are you English?” he asked.
Deborah and Sam indicated that they were.
“Do you know Elizabeth?” the old man asked.
“Which Elizabeth?” Deborah asked, thinking he was enquiring after an Englishwoman of his acquaintance.
“This present one. The queen.”
“Well, not personally,” Sam said.
“When you go back,” the old man said, “tell her the British have to return and rule this place. These bloody politicians say democracy, democracy and only loot money.”