Parsi Biceps on View


October 1, 2010

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The Parsis in Mumbai are known for their gusto in everything — be it their food or their festivals. This closely-guarded community which calls Mumbai its home is assumed to be in its decline.

By Priyanka Borpujari / Mumbai Mirror

However, in reality, this community looks far from being in a decline when it celebrates the human body every February, when all the Parsis gather at Rustom Baug in Mumbai, for the Annual Zoroastrian Power-Lifting and Bodybuilding Championship.

aparna Unfortunately for the rest of us, this competition is open only to Parsi musclemen (and women) from all over the country. Now, however, a glimpse of this unique championship has become possible, thanks to the photographs taken by Aparna Jayakumar. Aptly, the exhibition ‘Flex, Feroze!’ has been on display at the Kala Ghoda Cafe, run by a young Parsi Farhad Bomanjee

These photographs were taken this year, at the ninth edition of the competition, which I had heard about through a friend. All of the photographs were shot during the course of the evening. It was interesting to see that people from eight to eighty were so engrossed in the championship," says Aparna, 26, who admits that she has a special fondness for the Parsi community. She has been the still photographer for films like Little Zizou and Kaminey, and is currently working on a book on the Padmini taxis of Mumbai.

But what was the general aura of the evening of the championship? "It was wonderful to see men and women very seriously checking out the participants. The very fact that the opening act was by a 72-year-old man hung upside-down from the crowbar exemplified how the body is also celebrated by the Parsis," explains Aparna. There is the photograph of an extremely old woman among the audience who is watching something in rapt attention. Contextualising that image of the woman to the reality that she is witnessing the championship further explains that this too is yet another enjoyable ritual for the community.

But the exhibition, which has been extended to September 28, is not merely about flexed and well-oiled muscles. It documents the spectrum of a community evening. The venue of the championship also has a club where people play cards and gather. One old lady with a walking stick was walking down the steps to the ground, and Aparna says that it was most humbling to see the participants of the championship make way for her. The photographs also capture the intimacy within the community, as well as the drama that obviously builds up, through the evening of the championship.

And it was quite fitting that the exhibition would be displayed at a venue which is equally light-hearted and thronged by Parsis and other bakery and coffee enthusiasts alike. "Farhad is also a photographer and that’s how I know him. When I showed him the photographs, he suggested that the Kala Ghoda Cafe would be the most appropriate venue for the photographs to be displayed. It has surely drawn in an overwhelming response," says Aparna, who feels that there is not much encouragement for people in the arts to do their work and exhibit them.

But for now, Aparna is basking in the sun that is so loved by the feisty Parsis, young and old. Perhaps her photographs will compel a senior Parsi man to pick those dumbbells up again; perhaps, it would make one more crumbling Freny feel young when she looks at a bicep-flexing Feroze.