The year was 1977. I was a student at Harvard, desperately homesick for Bombay. Having grown up in a family of keen amateur photographers I borrowed $200 from my roommate Cathy Dement, bought my first camera a Nikkormat, took a leave of absence for a semester and returned ostensibly to use my new camera, but really because I missed home so much. The only good image from that trip was this one of the Gateway of India seen from the Sea Lounge of the Taj Mahal Hotel. For me it symbolizes a vanished era - decades later bombs went off at the Gateway and the hotel was under seige in the 2008 Mumbai attacks. But in 1977 there was no security,and the windows were left wide open to let in the light.
The red of Bombay's 'BEST" buses always popped vividly with Kodachrome film. My neighbour waits for his bus, a Nepali and a Parsi rub shoulders in another, each with their umbrellas and distinctive hats, and Wait Until Dark screens at Eros theater while the statue of the Parsi freedom fighter Dinshaw Vaccha looks out at the monsoon rains.
My friend Rashid Irani at the counter of his Brabourne Restaurant. I photographed him in 1984 and then again in 2008. The Coca Cola lady was still there though the shelves were empty of produce.
Situated in a Catholic and Parsi neighborhood, Brabourne was special because of the mirrors with Christ and Zarathustra painted on them.
Sadly Irani Restaurants like Rashid's, once a ubiquitous part of Bombay city are now dying out and his was shut and sold, but not before I had photographed every beloved nook, cranny and corner.
Duke's and Roger's cold drinks, both Parsi companies were the Coca Cola and Pepsi Cola of our generation. A family enjoys a snack at Naaz restaurant at the top of Malabar Hill, the location for many a film shoot and a popular tourist destination thanks to the spectacular city views and its affordable pricing.
Naaz is no more but B. Merwan still exists, a brave survivor of another age whose Mawa cakes still make many a mouth water.
Headgear has always been a marker in Indian society especially in cosmopolitan Bombay where all India's communities can be found. Waiting to cross the road is a Hindu wearing sunglasses and a Nehru cap and a Parsi wearing a sola hat. In the vegetable market a Parsi in his prayer cap has his hands full and in the playground Mickey Mouse boy makes a funny face.
From the time I bought my first camera I have always photographed my family. I grew up in an extended family with my parents, grandparents, two unmarried uncles and a granduncle who came home for tea and conversation every evening.
After my children were born I photographed their every waking moment.
Passing Time and Eating the Air are two uniquely Indian phrases.
An employee at the now defunct Godrej typewriter factory passes time by making fun of his hardworking Parsi colleague and families eat the air by the ever-present sea.
All photographs © Sooni Taraporevala from her exhibition THROUGH A LENS, BY A MIRROR : THE PARSIS (1977 -2013) at the National Gallery of Modern Art, (NGMA) New Delhi, 2013. —