“Flex, Feroze !”

A Parsi tradition is back in the spotlight

Alittle-known fact about the Parsi community is that they are also great connoisseurs of the body. One winter’s evening every year, hundreds of them throng a dusty mid-town baug in Mumbai to celebrate the community’s most able, muscular bodies at the Annual Zoroastrian Powerlifting and Bodybuilding Championship. In 2010, I stumbled upon this curious scene, only to find a vibrant, unselfconscious and very alive celebration of the Parsi life-force.

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While the Championship is a fun-filled spectacle, it is underpinned by the dark irony of the community’s supposed decline. “Bodybuilding within the Parsi community is dying a natural death. And it is not considered to be a competitive sport in India. The community is small, making it that much more difficult to find young boys enthusiastic about the sport,” says Mickey Mehta, a Parsi fitness guru. The organisers have had to cancel the event in the last three years because there were too few entries. But in February this year, Parsi brawn trumped all odds and flexed its muscles again at the Dadar Parsee Colony Gymkhana.

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(Aparna Jayakumar is a Mumbai-based photographer)