That’s what Farzana Khan’s father told her daughter, determined to tie the nuptials with a Parsi 30 years older than her. The result: ‘Busybee’ got a face and a name — Behram Contractor
I am not sure about the Mumbaites but there is not a Bombayite who is not familiar with the name ‘Busybee’. The erstwhile Evening News of The Times of India group, the Mid–Day, and now the Afternoon were never complete without reading Busybee. No one knew his real name. And everyone was familiar with his wife, his love for the bottle, his friend on the twenty first floor, his dog Bolshoi, the boxer, and his sons — Darryl and Derrick— through his columns.
Then, suddenly he surprised even close friends by taking a real–life wife at the age of fifty–four — Farzana Khan, thirty years his junior, a 5’7” tall hockey player representing the Indian Railways. And the social scene changed in Bombay’s Malabar Hill. ‘Busybee’ became a face and a name — Behram Cont-ractor. We got invited to his home for the first time.
The Contractor dinners became a must with their khichdas and chic-ken do piyaazas. This June–Dec-ember marriage between a Parsi and a Muslim, that had sent shock waves through Mohammad Ali Road, symbolises the true spirit of Bombay.
Behram is really like his columns: irreverent and humorous and totally unpretentious. Farzana began working as an assistant in the PR department of Mid–Day when Behram was at the helm of that tabloid. Within four months of their being introduced they were married.
It was Farzana who proposed to Behram: “I’d like to marry you”. “If you like”, was Behram’s reply. There was certainly opposition — more because of the difference in age than community.
‘Isn’t it sad? Bombay used to be so neutral. It is very disheartening what is happening now,’ concluded Farzana.
Dwelling on age, Farzana refers to Behram as the great socializer. He wants to go out every night while Farzana wants to eat at home and listen to music. She is older at heart. She wants to listen to Connie Francis while Behram wants Meatloaf.
Farzana told her parents three days before the actual date that she was getting married. Pandemonium broke loose. “Father philosophically said: ‘Marry who you want, just want you to be happy’. Mother became rigid, but I am very obstinate and usually get what I want. My elder brother tried to deter Behram from marrying me. He was genuinely concerned about Behram’s genius. He told Behram, “Her obstinacy will cramp your creativity”.
They asked them to wait. But Farzana packed her 24” x 18” red suitcase and left home, in a white kurta and chudidar to get married. Her sister gave her a red dupatta saying she couldn’t get married so colourless. And that was all the ‘dowry’ she came to Behram with.
Farzana recalls that the first time she felt as a Muslim was during the riots. Her Muslim neighbour and friends ring up to find out if all was well. “If I have to evaluate the success of our marriage,” said Farzana, “I would confess that Behram has been such a sobering effect on me. He is so a– communal, honest, good, allows me so much growth. His only problem is he does not speak and communicate. Says he’ll write, but that hasn’t happened yet!”
Behram says: “I never thought of her as a Muslim. There would never have been any objection from my family. Both my brothers have married non– Parsis, and live abroad. They were just happy I was getting married, and my Muslim friends were very happy”.
“The Paris are so refined, gentle and kind,” says Farzana, “and Behram is the coolest guy. A perfect balance for me. He thinks we Muslims eat biryani all the time, and that it has to be salty and oily”. Deep down he loves Muslim food. “I rarely ate Parsi food even earlier because I was living alone and eating out every day”, admits Behram’s.
“He makes fun of Muslims all the time, and takes gibes at them all the time. He finds it very funny when I refer to my sister as ‘aapa’ or my brother as ‘bhaijan’. When I wear a kurta, shalwar to visit my parents, he never fails to remark, ‘How Muslim you are looking’. It’s the same if I put kajal in my eyes. He has a very stereotyped image of Muslims. But neither of us is religious. My brother and I never got the hang of Arabic, so used to chase away the maulvis when they would come to teach us the Koran.
“I have always been totally non-religious. And certainly not the five-time–praying Muslim. The only concession is that on Bakri Id we do Qurbani, and eat kheer. I don’t fast during Ramzan or Moharram. In fact Behram fasts since he never eats in the afternoon. But I don’t know which dish goes with which festivals.
“I have tried to see that Behram goes to the fire temple at list twice a year — Patete and Jamashedji Navroj I drive him to the Khushru Bagh Fire Temple, and wait in the car since I am not allowed in. He has become Parsi only since I married him.”
“Opposition from his family? There was a great welcome from his cousins. She even gave me the pearl necklace that his mother had given her at the time of the wedding. And even a ghara and diamond earrings that belonged to his mother.”
“My father would have been very happy to see me married. But he died in 1981, and we married in 1985. Perhaps, it happened at the right time of my life, earlier I was more independent,” said Behram. And Farzana volunteered, “What is that saying: better to be an old man’s darling than a young man’s fool? But Behram doesn’t treat me like a child or a darling. He is quite tough.”
“We had no money when we married, and lived as Paying Guests in five different places. At that time there was no problem about getting accommodation for Muslims. This has only started after the riots. And even now, I think, for inter–communal marriages this is not such a problem. Isn’t it sad? Bombay used to be so neutral. It is very disheartening what is happening now,” concluded Farzana.
As told to Dolly Thakore
(Dolly Thakore is a columnist and a TV personality).