Introduction

When I was a child, growing up in an extended family, I had a peculiar bedtime ritual with my grandmother. I went through a phase when every night, after our goodnight kisses, I would ask her, "When I wake up in the morning, will you be there?" In essence, I was asking her to reassure me that she wouldn't die in the night and leave me to wake up grannyless. But to talk openly about my fears was embarrassing, it might also tempt fate; so I'd say to her that the reason I was asking was maybe she'd be gone before I woke up, to Chowpatty with Dhun Mai, to pray and throw coconuts into the sea.

My grandmother and her friend Dhun Mai would make their pilgrimage to the sea, carrying their coconuts, walking from Gowalia Tank, down Babulnath, to Chowpatty, only on one day of the year, Ava Mahino, Ava Roj (the day and the month of the water spirit, Ava.) The other three hundred and sixty five days of the year she had no reason to be out of the house by seven in the morning. She knew it. I knew it. But she'd still patiently play along. Sometimes she would pretend to be exasperated, "Where am I going to go so early in the

morning?" But most times she would just smile and say for the hundredth time, "Yes I'll be at home when you wake up."

This book has its genesis in that childhood desire to hold tight what is precious, not allow it to change or disappear. For me photography has always been a form of magic. Photographs freeze time and survive death. My grandmother did die, so did my grandfather and granduncle and a host of aunts and uncles who took with them an entire world. But not before I had captured them on celluloid. Their photographs still give me some measure of, perhaps, childish comfort.

In 1982 I met the photographer Raghubir Singh who saw in my eclectic collection of photographs, the subject that had been staring me in the face but that had to be pointed out to me: a photographic study of the community I belong to-Parsis. What had begun nostalgically and personally, grew into a more objective project that encompassed a world larger than my immediate family.

 
   
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Chapter 1: Young Priests
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