Dinaz entered the main hall with her mother. There were women beating their chests and wailing their hearts out. Did they miss something? Maybe it was best that they did! It was only a few days ago that Dinaz attended her first funeral. She didn´t understand what the great fuss was all about. What can one do when somebody dies? What is the point of endless grieving and mourning? Can it bring the dead back to life? This was the third memorial in the deceased´s honour.
Dinaz was relieved that they were late for the customary prayers for the deceased’s soul. Prayers followed by speeches followed by endless tears and consoling hugs. She´d been witness to all that tamasha the last few days. She wanted to scream and tell the whole group: “Enough is enough! Move on in life now, will ya!”. But she did nothing of that sort. She merged with the herd and greeted the crying host “Assalamualaikum!”. She hugged the hostess and her family tight and as long as eternity before breaking away them embraces. She took the safe spot in a far off corner in the room and squatted on the floor.
The women were dressed in soft, flowy salwar-kameez with never-ending trailing dupattas that concealed the curves of their tempestuous bosoms and swaying hips. There was not a single male in sight – animal, human or ET. As is the norm in all Islamic gatherings, the men and women socialised in separate rooms. Yet, these women were covered from head to toe, as if to protect themselves from the curious glances of little children and fellow women. Their dressing screamed: “You rapists!”. She saw girls her age and younger to her, similarly dressed like the adults in attires that could give the burkha a stiff competition.
The clock was moving slowly adding to the melancholic mood with every ticking second. Dinaz searched for her mother in the midst of the other women in the room. Maureen, her mother tuned up her modesty levels by several inches and was barely recognisable to her own daughter. It was a drastic change from her Parsi household. Yes! They were the kinky Parsis from Amchi cool Mumbai! Where all the ladies were progressive and could wear whatever the hell they wanted to. Flaunting cleavage and thighs were their birthright, whether in the privacy of their homes or outside in the big, bad world. The women in their family rubbed shoulders with the men in the same room, having a good drink and joining them in all their merry-making.
Thinking of drinking and merry-making brought a hopeful smile on Dinaz´s face. She knew that it was dinner time. 8.00pm – still early by the host´s standards, but close-by. She was relieved when her mother spoke the magic words – “Ready for dinner?”. All the mothers lined up in queue with their respective children in front of the dining table kept outside in the balcony. There was Dil Naan, Keema Kaleji, Bagara Baingan and Khatti Dal served with Peas Pulav. Dinaz´s mouth was watering but she was in the middle of the line.
Dinaz was drooling by the time it was her turn to help and serve herself. Her happiness was short-lived. The men walked into the dining area around the same time to get the lion´s share. Immediately, the hostess took charge and apologised to the male guests for starting before them. She stopped Dinaz and started serving the male guests instead. Dinaz gave an angry, piercing look to her mother –
“Are the men being served first because women are supposed to only cook, clean and do all the work?”
Maureen hushed her angry daughter and asked her to have a little more patience. Dinaz looked behind her to find younger girls standing in line behind her. She rolled her eyes and couldn´t digest the fact that she was sidelined by the hostess herself owing to her gender. Couldn´t these men be chivalrous and learn to wait for their turn? Didn´t they ever hear of the terms ´first come, first serve´ or ´ladies first´?
The hostess patiently served close to nine male guests greeting each one of them with a warm smile and covered, bowed head. When it was Dinaz´s turn, the hostess returned to the living room. Dinaz served herself and waited for her mother to do the same before joining the rest of the womenfolk in the living hall. She looked around at all these subservient women and wondered if they ever protested the differential treatment meted out to them within their homes.
She fumed at the shameless show of gender disparity at the serving table. She watched as the women ate to their heart´s content. Were they happy lurking in the dark shadows and being given the short end of the stick? Sure, their men loved and took good care of them. But, what about respect? Isn´t respect meant to be a two-way street?
Thank God, she was Parsi! Suddenly, her face looked crest-fallen. All of sixteen, Dinaz was an intelligent and well-read child. She knew that she was thanking her stars too soon. Sure, the women in her community enjoyed freedom in the way they dressed. But, was that enough?
The deceased´s name was Sharon Mustafa. Her mother is Protestant and her father is Muslim. Sharon was Maureen´s best friend. Sharon´s entire family including her husband followed Christianity while maintaining amiable familial relations with her father´s side of the family. This family memorial gathering was a true reflection of India´s secular soul where Muslims, Christians, Hindus, Parsis and people from several other faiths came together, prayed together, mourned together and dined together.
Could she boast of the same kind of inclusivity in her community? Damn it! She didn´t even know if she would able to see her mother´s dead body in the final rites. Here she was, taking jibes at the elaborate mourning sessions for the dead when the reality was she wasn´t even privileged to afford the same luxury of grieving in all fairness and dignity.
Dinaz had light brown hair, light eyes and a light complexion indicative of her Persian roots and Parsi lineage. Her looks were a dead giveaway yet she was not considered a ´Parsi´ by the community. Her mother, a true blue Parsi made the grave mistake of marrying a Jain man. This meant that her children would never be considered Parsi or enjoy the perks of being one.
Dinaz took great pride in her mother and her roots. She wanted to be just like her. She would spend lazy afternoons ransacking her mother´s wardrobe and draping those luxurious Gera satin silk sarees adorned with pearl necklaces. She was witness to the heated debates between her mother and the Parsi association who were hell-bent on maintaining their exclusivity and guarding their ´Parsipanu´ like it were virginity.
Maureen was at the forefront of fighting for the dignity and rights of the Parsi women. This emancipated outlook of the Parsi woman was a big farce. Their representation in the various decision-making boards were strictly pretty wallflower adornment. They didn´t have any voting rights or voice. The laws were shamelessly skewed in the favour of the men. A Parsi man could be fucking prostitutes and the wife could never divorce him on those grounds solely. The Parsi men could marry outside their community and their offsprings would be warmly welcomed into the community. No questions asked. But the offsprings of Parsi women were pariah. Forget the offsprings, Parsi women who married outside the community had to fight hard to buried at the Dakhmas or the Tower of Silence. Dinaz laughed at the irony of fighting for the privilege of being eaten by vultures after one´s time. Of course, it was no laughing matter and a vital part of the spiritual belief system of the Parsi community. But, she couldn´t deny that the Parsis were maniacal about their bloodlines and deceptively patriarchal.
Dinaz knew her mother was fighting not just for her rights to a proper funeral but also the inclusion of her children as participants in the ceremony. She knew that the Zoroastrian scriptures were on her side but the high priests were not. Even though the new SC ruling allowed daughters to claim their rightful Parsi baug inheritance or permitted women who marry outside the community to enter the Fire Temple, Maureen was slapped with death threats from the elite community members.
Dinaz took her first bite of the Naan and choked. She couldn´t go through any further and left the rest of the food on the plate before giving it away to the servant. She wasn´t going to settle for the crumbs, now or ever! Little did they know that she was a lioness who demanded her equal pound of flesh.
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