Parsis at Chemould Prescott Road

A Portrait Of The Parsis
By Pronoti Datta | MUMBAI BOSS | March 5, 2013


A Portrait Of The ParsisWhile there’s no dearth of written and photographic material on the many luminaries in the Parsi community, there’s little documentation of ordinary Parsis. Photographer and scriptwriter Sooni Taraporevala has been filling this gap since 1977 by shooting characters most Bombaywallahs are familiar with: old ladies in floral, calf-length dresses and heads wrapped in scarves; old men in skull caps and untucked shirts over trousers; little kids with incipient Roman noses; and aging, hunch-backed priests in white turbans and daglis (traditional suits). Some of these images were published in her 2004 book Parsis The Zoroastrians of India: A Photographic Journey. A different set, titled Parsis, is on display at Chemould Prescott Road Gallery for a month from Wednesday,March 6.

“I used to wander a lot in areas like Gowalia Tank, Princess Street and Dhobi Talao,” said Taraporevala, who grew up in Gowalia Tank. “This show is really about my neighbourhood and friends.” As a result, there’s an intimacy in pictures like “Evenings at Cozy Building”, which captures Taraporevala’s family members lounging on their terrace; a portrait of Ayesha Billimoria, a pink-haired athlete who used to visit the photographer’s building riding pillion on her father’s scooter; images of men in sola topis, the most famous of which adorns the cover of Rohinton Mistry’s book Family Matters; and of religious ceremonies being carried out within fire temples that only Parsis can access.

Taraporevala began to seriously focus on Parsis in the early 1980s on the advice of photographer Raghubir Singh. Before that she had casually been photographing her family. “It hadn’t been done before and I had the access and a feeling for the community,” she said. A large chunk of the images were shot in the 1980s in Mumbai, Pune, Udvada and Navsari. Children of that decade will be delighted to spot streets filled with Fiats and Ambassadors and large Dukes Mangola and Rogers Orangeade signs.

As no project on the Parsis can ignore its stalwarts—a considerable number for such a small group of people—Taraporevala includes a smattering of images of prominent community members. Some, like J.R.D. Tata, Zubin Mehta, Sam Maneckshaw and Homai Vyarawala, are immediately recognisable. But younger generations might require the help of labels for others like the cricketing troika of Nari Contractor, Polly Umrigar and Rusi Surti, photographers Sam Tata and Ratan Mody, and Shireen Gandhy, the owner of Chemould, and her family.

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MUMBAI BOSS | March 5, 2013

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