2014

Vanishing World of Parsis 

National Gallery of Modern Art

THROUGH A LENS, BY A MIRROR: THE PARSIS (1977 -2013)
National Gallery of Modern Art, Delhi, India
Mr Tata's Taj Mahal Hotel and Gateway of India | Bombay | 1977

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.

 Mr Ratnagar | Bombay | 1985
Cosmopolitan Bombay | Bombay |1985
Wait Until Dark | Bombay | 1985

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.

Passing time | Bombay | 1985
Rashid irani | Bombay | 1984
Rashid Irani | Bombay | 2008

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.

Christ and Zarathustra at the Brabourne | Bombay | 1984
Beer bar at the Brabourne | Bombay | 2008
Eggs dream at the Brabourne | Bombay | 2008
Ice-cream at Naaz Cafe | Bombay | 1986

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.

B. Merwan & Co. | Bombay | 1984

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.

Bombay crossing | 1985
Buying fruit at Bhaji Gully | Bombay | 1986
Mickey Mouse boy | Bombay | 1984

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.

Evenings at Cozy Building | Bombay | 1982
My grandmother who always loved a good laugh, hiding her face from my lens | Bombay | 1980
My grandfather, hard of hearing, on his favorite errand - to get his pens repaired. He always left a tip | Bombay | 1985
Farhad Banaji our neighbor in my grandmother's bedroom | Bombay | 1980
My grandmother Aloo prays while the TV blasts an old b&w serial | Bombay | 1984
My parents Freny and Rumi bring in Parsi New Year | Bombay | 2012
My kids Iyanah & Jahan Bativala | Aksa | 1998

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.

Godrej typewriter factory | Bombay | 1984
Monsoon evening  | Bombay| 1984
Monsoon drive | Bombay 1986
Man in the sola hat | Bombay | 1985
Credits: Story

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. —

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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