Saturday, February 3, 2024


It was “Open Interview Week” and the university campus was filled with excitement as industry leaders sought outstanding talent with promising offers. Though the final exams were two months away, clearing them was deemed a mere formality for this prestigious institution attracted the brightest minds.

Anand Raj exuded confidence that he would secure a significant opportunity. Armed with an engineering degree and two years of work experience in a major Indian industrial conglomerate, he believed an MBA would provide him with a comprehensive view of company operations.

A week earlier, as upcoming interviews and group discussions loomed ahead, the students busily prepared with guidance from the university's placement cell. Upgrading wardrobes became a priority, considering their casual attire over the past sixteen months.

As anticipated, Anand aced the interviews with the two companies of his choice among the seven visiting the  university. One of the companies was a snack and beverage MNC whilst the other was a consulting and transaction services firm. Both were impressed, offering him lucrative positions with substantial pay and jaw-dropping joining bonuses. Anand preferred the consulting and transaction services firm, envisioning it as a stepping stone to understanding diverse businesses for his future venture.

After informing the HR manager of his decision, Anand was surprised to learn about a final interview with senior management before formal induction. He had assumed the selection process was complete, but the HR manager assured him it was a mere formality.

Anand excelled in his final semester and, after a brief farewell getaway with classmates, returned home to prepare for the last interview. Confident of leaving a lasting impression, he entered the President's cabin with self-assurance. The President, accompanied by the HR Head, the head of the department he was to join, and a lady in charge of the Corporate Social Responsibility, conducted the interview.

The interview proceeded as anticipated, with the department head seeking Anand's insights on his team’s current project. The President maintained a more relaxed tone during their interaction. However, it was during the HR Head's inquiry into Anand's family background that he opened up about the challenges he faced in his formative years.

Anand shared the poignant story of losing his father at the tender age of three, leaving his mother, with their limited savings, to take up employment. Despite exhaustion from her work, she tirelessly managed all household responsibilities to ensure Anand's education remained unaffected. Additionally, she often took on extra assignments to supplement her income, covering the rising costs of Anand's tuition and extracurricular activities. Hoping to convey his determination to overcome adversity, Anand provided this detailed response, with the President's expression seemingly reflecting an understanding of his resilience.

As Anand perceived it, the interview concluded when the President, turning his gaze towards the others, silently inquired if anyone had additional remarks. At that moment, the lady, who had quietly observed the proceedings, posed an unexpected question: "Throughout all those years when your mother laboured tirelessly every day to ensure you lacked nothing in your upbringing, did you regularly assist her with the daily household chores?" Anand felt a sudden jolt as her inquiry hit him like a surprise revelation sending a hushed stillness through the room.

Initially, he stared at the lady, his gaze eventually shifting to a distant, contemplative look. A stiffness set in, and his demeanour underwent a noticeable change. Words eluded him as he sat in silence, flooded with memories of his mother's tireless efforts. The late-night work, early morning preparations of proper meals, bedtime stories, and assistance with homework flashed before him. His mother never flinched when he requested new clothes or obliged without hesitation to fund school trips. It dawned on him that he rarely witnessed his mother buying a new dress or socializing with friends. The only times she indulged in movies were at his insistence.

Overwhelmed with guilt, Anand, who had planned to accept the job, stood up, expressing his gratitude but requesting time for reflection. He needed a few days before giving his final response, as he felt compelled to return home and be with his mother.

As he prepared to leave, the President understanding Anand's predicament, expressed that they would be happy to have him on board whilst acknowledging his need to be with his mother for the time being.

Tuesday, January 23, 2024

Laughing Through Surnames: A Parsi Comedy of Suffixes

As Bombayites, or now Mumbaikars, we live amongst the largest congregation of Parsis anywhere in the world. And, most of us must have noticed, with some amusement, the funny surnames some of them bear. Probably, the first such surname that comes to mind is Sodawaterwalla. Well, it is a no-brainer that it was given to a Parsi gent in the carbonated water business. Much before colas were invented, we had Raspberry, Orange, Lemon and Pineapple flavoured carbonated drinks. This surname was fictionally elongated to Sodawaterbottleopenerwalla by Adi Marzban in his popularly funny Parsi Nataks.

The next one sounds a bit embarrassing – Boywalla. Whilst in today’s lingo it sounds quite Gay, it has nothing to do with one’s sexual preferences. This surname comes from the Boi ritual which involves feeding the sacred fire in a fire temple with fragrance and fuel. And the persons who performed it were referred to as Boiwala or Boywalla.

A Ginwalla would probably be the lucky bloke dealing in liquor. Sadly, no. On the contrary, those who were referred to as such were textile mill employees in charge of the Ginning machines. Similarly, the highly erotic-sounding Screwalla surname was suffixed to those whose job was quite boring – overseeing loads of fluffy cotton pressed tightly into bales by a screw-operated mechanism. And, while Daruwalla indicates liquor trade, the word Daru was also used to refer to gunpowder.

Fanibanda may tickle your funny bone but it refers to Parsis from a place in Hubli (Karnataka) called Faniband. Similarly, Dhondys were residents of Daund near Pune. While Parsis are known anglophiles and have anglicised surnames like Cooper, Nicholson, Driver, Doctor, Engineer, etc., a few even had European-sounding surnames like Petit, Sinor and Italia. Not that they have any connection to France, Spain or Italy. Petit is the French equivalent of the Parsi-Gujarati Nalla meaning short or small, whilst Sinor and Itala are villages in Gujarat! Another village that has given a rather unpleasant-sounding surname is Gharda, meaning old in Gujarati.

A lot of Parsis made their money in the 18th,  19th and early 20th centuries due to their business links with the British in India, though this association was not confined to cities like Bombay, Calcutta, Surat and Madras. Many Parsis travelled to, and later settled in, military cantonments at Deolali, Nagar (Ahmednagar), Belguam, Poona and called themselves Deolaliwalla, Nagarwalla, Belgaumwalla and the most famous of all since Covid, Poonawalla. And from one such cantonment in Karachi comes the story of a particularly derogatory but laughable surname. A Parsi contractor desperate to win a contract for military supplies adopted such patronising behaviour towards a particular British officer in charge of procurement, that the hassled official told the contractor that he would consider his proposal if he changed his surname and the name of his company to Bumsuckerwalla! Evidently, the Parsi complied!!

The Bumsuckerwalla family of Karachi

And finally, when it comes to the most famous Parsi surname of all, TATA, which is associated with their fair treatment of employees, their commitment to the nation, and winning the trust of its customers in India and abroad, one would be surprised to know that it is a corruption of the word Tartar, meaning hot as in hot-tempered, referring to an ancestor of Jamsetji who, so it seems, was quite irritable!

PS: I was inspired to write this piece after attending a talk on Parsi surnames by Kaevan Umrigar at Khaki Labs in Fort, Mumbai. Burjor Daboo’s compilation of Parsi surnames on has also been a point of reference. The image is from









It was “Open Interview Week” and the university campus was filled with excitement as industry leaders sought outstanding talent with promisi...