Apro bawaji Zubin …

I remembered him when I saw his felicitation on US national TV, a few weeks ago. The picture is interesting, Zubin (and the great Andrew L Weber) does not honor the pledge with his hand over his heart…..I don’t blame him, after all he is the guy who whips out a packet of crushed dried chillies (grown in his own LA backyard) from the small silver box out of his pocket and adds them to bland western dishes doled out to him during ceremonial dinners. (Like my friend Alka who carries a bit of crushed ginger for her tea, wherever she goes….) On further checking I read that Zubin still carries an Indian passport!!!

Zubin Mehta, the maestro who has spent his adult life in the U.S., Canada and Europe, writes in his autobiography, “I have never really left India, you know. It is still today the only place where my dreams take me to. Of course in my dreams there are my wife, my children, my friends, but always they are in Bombay. Every morning of my life I wake up in Bombay.”

To a certain extent Zubin’s spicy palate surprises me; he must be a rare breed of Parsi to like spicy food. Normally Parsi’s and Gujarati’s like medium spicy food with coconut in it and fish. I remember Parsi food - ate it for 3 years as I used to get food daily from a Parsi caterer in Tardeo while at Bombay and I recall the various trips to Bawaji tea shops in Colaba…nice homely tea kada’s with fine wooden chairs and round tables to sit on. The tastiest omelets & buttered ‘pav’ bread were served there!

I liked this guy for so many reasons, but mainly for his Indian’ness even at this western summit he is on…and I
admire him for his hatred for Indian bureaucracy found in our various embassies, something that I myself have been through…"Whenever I return to India, I know that I belong there," the lively 70-year-old conductor says. Since his 18th birthday, Mehta has visited the land of his birth only every couple of years, usually to put on concerts with an orchestra. Like every Indian, he follows Cricket ‘like crazy’ you know, and buys the UK paper ‘Times’ wherever he goes, just to follow the cricket scores

We have heard about the Tata’s, we have heard about other great Parsi’s who did and still do so much for India like Homi Baba, Farook Engineer, Polly Umrigar, Nari Contractor, D Naroji, Nusli Wadia, Godrej’s, Persis Khambatta, Freddie Mercury.…but today there exist only a 100,000 Parsi’s…most of them who only gave to India and who sweetened it, never taking anything away – as the raja had stipulated many years ago when he granted asylum to the group who came from Persia.

Located between Mumbai and Surat,
Sanjan is a legendary place in the history of the Parsi community. When the Parsi’s first landed on the port of Sanjan, it was the kingdom of Jadi Rana. The King, apprehensive of tall, fair and warrior like foreigners sent a bowl full of milk, implying that there was no place for the Parsis in his kingdom. The leader and High Priest of Parsi community, Dastoor Neryosang Dhaval added sugar to the milk and sent the bowl back to the king. This action implied that just as sugar mixed with milk added taste and flavor to it, Parsi’s will mix with the local people and be an asset to the kingdom – Some say he dropped his Gold ring in the milk instead of sugar signifying that they will only add to the wealth of the kingdom, and never take them away..

Warning: Do not try this at the US border post - Try dropping sugar or your ring in the milk of the US immigration officers coffee (Also, I have never seen one drinking milk) and see what happens, he or she will bawl ‘security’ and you will be counting bars and answering FBI, CIA, DHS etc before being bundled in the next flight back…

Zubin Mehta was another such Parsi – our own Zubin bawa - Apra bawaji Zubin in Gujarati, from Colaba Bombay. The genius went on to conduct orchestras and charm millions in Austria, Germany, USA and Israel, not to mention the scores of other major cities he conducted at… Zubin Mehta, a chap who should have ended up a doctor in Mumbai if he had completed his studies in India. Instead he studied music in Vienna and blossomed rapidly to go on and conduct the Vienna Philharmonic orchestra when he was 23. He left India in the 60’s. Born on the day the Bombay orchestra, India’s first orchestra completed its first anniversary in 1936, an orchestra founded by Zubin’s father Mehli Mehta. An amazing, energetic, flamboyant conductor whose biography first got written at the age of 30!!! But he can be quirky too, it is rumored that he once walked out of his concert because someone coughed!! And that he and his group walked out of Ashok hotel N Delhi after seeing a cockroach! There is so much more written about his musical exploits, but Google will provide you all of that with a click..

I have always wondered the meaning of those sharp flicks of the cane with the wrist performed by both orchestra conductors as well as band conductors. While a band conductor’s actions are I guess, mostly for show on a parade ground, the conductor’s baton dictates the scores of an orchestra. Then I wondered, have the orchestra not practiced precisely what to do and when? Why should it be conducted? Because a major orchestra like this has over 80-100 members who have to work in total unison!! I decided to check up – Here is what
Wikipedia has to say and anybody who wants to follow Zubin’s footsteps can perhaps start here.

Conducting is a means of communicating real-time information to performers. There are no absolute rules on how to conduct correctly, and a wide variety of different conducting styles exist. The primary responsibilities of the conductor are to set the tempo, execute clear preparations and beats, and to listen and shape the sound of the ensemble

He lives not far from us in Temecula, somewhere in Irvine or Aliso Viejo…in close by Orange County. Maybe I will run into him someday…and we will talk about Cricket and food and Bombay and Embassies and NRI’s….


Did you know that LP Laksmikant Pyaralal’s Pyarelal used to train with Mehli Mehta in the Bombay chamber orchestra??

Zubin made a
movie – ‘On the wings of fire’ about Parsi’s in the late 80’s

A lovely article on Parsi’s

A majority of the people, who left the shores of Persia, were from the province of Fars, or Pars, hence the name Parsi.

We have a fire temple in Calicut, next to the Bata on SM Street!!! I have always wanted to see it, but it remains locked.
Once home for 300 families, only one Parsi family, the Marshall’s live in Calicut today.

Zubin due to his awe for her, was reluctant to take the stage after an MS
Subalakshmi concert in Moscow!

He loved his visit to Kerala, but 5 days together with his wife was strenuous – A very nice interview….


Reshmi said…
Hi Maddy,
Back reading blogs after quite sometime. My life quite on the move and in a fast track too. Hope that I can blog about it soon.

Another fine piece from you and as always itz all new to my ears. Feels like enriching myself with a lot that I ought to know. You have wonderful skills of research and presentation.

Maddy said…
hi reshmi,
looking forward to those 'interesting' blogs from ur side...

there are many of these interesting chaps out there, the press cover only their reel life most of the time, not the real life...sometimes good to find out that they are not always plastic...
I'm all that said…
"Zubin due to his awe for her, was reluctant to take the stage after an MS Subalakshmi concert in Moscow!"

Not surprising. M.S was a lady whose music transcended regional, linguistic and cultural barriers. There are very few people who do that. Edith Piaf is another person in that small category.
Maddy said…
Thanks for popping by - since i have not listened to much french music, edith is a relative stranger, i have to check her out...
PN Subramanian said…
Very informative. I was aware of the story about Jadi Rana sending a bowl of milk which the high priest returned adding some sugar. Some how this escaped my mind. May be the brain was foggy at the time of writing. A big thank you sir.