India Uncut

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Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Indira Toddywallah?

In his excellent book, "In Spite of the Gods," Edward Luce attaches a footnote to the first mention of "the Nehru-Gandhi dynasty." The footnote says:
Indira married Feroze Gandhi, a philandering journalist from north India who was no relation to the Mahatma. Feroze, who died young from a heart attack, belonged to the Parsi community of Persian Zoroastrians. A more common Parsi surname is Toddywallah (seller of alcohol). One can but speculate whether a Nehru-Toddywallah dynasty would have been quite so successful.
Indeed one can, though I fancy that Indira Toddywallah would then have reverted to her maiden name and come to power as Indira Nehru. And do consider that Sonia Gandhi benefits from having an apt name in more than just the resonance of her surname. 'Sonia' happens be a common Indian name, so she doesn't sound like a foreigner. Had her name been, say, Angelina, would she have been quite so easily accepted among the Indian people?

I'm not saying, of course, that names or dynasties should matter when it comes to the leaders we choose. But what should matter is irrelevant, they do matter. And that's that (instead of this).

Update (September 28): Readers Karthik Shashidhar and Sugata Banerji point out, via separate emails, that 'Sonia' became popular as an Indian name after Rajiv hooked up with Sonia. Indeed, Karthik writes, "If Rajiv had married someone called "Angelina", Angelina would've been an indian name by now, and Sonia wouldn't."

I must call Angelina Faleiro and tell her about this.

Also, Arzan Sam Wadia writes in to say that Luce made a factual error in his footnote. Arzan writes:
Toddywallah is not a very common surname in Parsis. I am one, and I know of only two other Todiwallas.

Secondly, Todiwallas are not sellers of alcohol. Those would be Daruwalla -- a very common surname.

Toddywallahs collected the toddy from the toddy plant and sold it in the market. Toddy is even today a very popular drink had by Parsis especially when they go to Udwada and Devka. The toddy is also the fermenting agent in the delicacy “bhakhra,” which, I might add, I miss the most here in NYC.
I'm a huge fan of Parsis.
amit varma, 11:58 PM| write to me | permalink | homepage

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