An ode to India's Parsis


September 19, 2013

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Sooni Taraporevala is not a new name in the field of photography. She is widely known for documenting her community – the Parsis – through her photographs and has come out with several exhibitions worldwide and a coffee table book on the same.

Author: Baishali Adak | Source: Deccan Herald

Yet, when she comes up with a new show, you can surely expect some more recent gems as her photography project ‘Parsis’ has been on for the last 36 years and is still continuing.

Sooni is now showcasing no less than 125 photographs from her immense collection at the National Gallery of Modern Art, attracting the who’s who of Delhi and commoners alike – all keen to know about the Parsis.

In a moving introduction to her exhibit, Sooni says, “Whenever I hear the catchphrase, ‘Hindu, Muslim, Sikh, Isai,’ I want to shout out, ‘What about Parsis?’ I often think we are India’s best-kept secret. Outside Maharashtra and Gujarat, very few people seem to know about our existence. It didn’t strike me while growing up in Bombay – a Parsi bastion – but only after a classmate from Delhi in Harvard once asked me, ‘Aren’t Parsis some sort of Christians?’”

Sooni had always loved photographing her family and relatives with her father’s

Rolleicord camera, but on a chance encounter with Raghubir Singh during a college break, the photography legend advised her to prepare a book of photographs on Parsis alone. Thus began her journey to seek out Parsis – the young and the old, the rich and the poor, and the famous and the obscure, across Maharashtra and Gujarat.

Her latest exhibit has an impressive cross-section of Parsis across decades with a changing Bombay in the background. There is the iconic picture of the busy Godrej Typewriter Factory. An aged Parsi couple crosses the Princess Street with beautiful Persepolis pillars behind them. A Parsi man fishes for loose change in his pocket at the Bhaji gully and there are shots of Parsis chit-chatting at the Bombay crossing, Duke’s soda, Daji lane etc.

A chunk of the photographs are portraits of her own family. Her grandfather stoops to speak to a shopkeeper at a stationery store making for a remarkable photograph. Her grandmother lets out a carefree laugh covering her face with her hand at the same time. There are pictures of her extended family – children frolicking at home, and an endearing picture of one Rita Wadia titled: The best English teacher in the world.

With a measure of pride, she has put up pictures of ‘Parsi achievers and their contributions in nation building.’ So there is a shot of the Gateway of India through Ratan Tata’s Taj Mahal hotel and Zubin Mehta’s Grand Marshal at the India Day parade. Evocatively labelled ‘Gone but not forgotten,’ a section lists pics of Field Marshal Sam Manekshaw, Dr Homi Sethna, Nani Palkhiwala, Jehangir Sabavala, Homi Vyarawala, Ratan Mody and various others.   

Parsi festivals and traditions also figure in Sooni’s exhibition with the community celebrating Navjot, a father helping his son tie the pugdi, a Fareshta ceremony in progress as well as the last journey – to the towers of silence.

Sooni’s exhibition is a must visit for photography enthusiasts as well as those with an interest in this religio-cultural minority.