Book Review
 

Parsis. The Zoroastrians of India. A Photographic Journey.
By Sooni Taraporevala

By Boman Desai | FEZANA Journal [publication of the Federation of Zoroastrian Associations of North America] | Summer 2005

 

As a writer I don't like hearing a picture is worth a thousand words. It makes a difference who is writing the words and who is taking the pictures. Fortunately, Sooni Taraporevala's photographic pilgrimage Parsis provides the best of both worlds.

The cover of Parsis is breathtaking, at once humble and grand, delicate as a watercolor bathed in the pale blue of cloud and sea and sky. A man stands in the foreground, his back to the camera, sockless in khaki jacket and sola topi, frayed white pants and black shoes, a furled umbrella hooked over his elbow. Before him a parapet stretches from east to west, blue pools caught in the rocky crevices of its surface reflecting the sky. Beyond the parapet lies the sea, a ship dotting the horizon, a finger of the mainland creeping from the east. The sea is met by a sky of clouds and two birds distinguishable only by their wingspans. The horizontal lines of sky, sea, and parapet are beautifully contrasted with the solitary vertical line of the standing man.

It is a gorgeous photograph, worth the price of entry alone. It could also be symbolic: a Bombay Zarathushti gazing at his Irani homeland across the sea. The photographs between the covers are no less enthralling, exhibiting different strands of the Zarathushti fabric in no less splendid detail, incorporating the Parsi panorama from Udvada villagers to Bombay socialites.

The photographs are interwoven with text (ranging from Parsi origins to current debates about conversions) and interviews with contemporary and less contemporary Parsis, including a priest born in 1917, a Municipal Commissioner of Bombay, the owner of an Irani restaurant, and an MTV director, allowing for a fine diversity of opinion.

This is THE book for emigrant Zarathushtis wishing to acquaint their foreign-born children with their heritage, not to mention Americans interested in the subject. Taraporevala never lectures, but uses her experience to enlarge the dialogue from the personal to the universal. The experience of being teased for a bawaji (a colloquialism for a Parsi) provides a springboard into the history of bawajis, and when her son learns about Dadaji (a child's referrent for Zoroaster) she discourses briefly on the prophet. I could say more, but in the few words I have left let me just suggest that you get the book.

Boman Desai, author of The Memory of Elephants, Asylum USA, A Woman Madly in Love, and Trio, was born and raised in Bombay, but has spent most of his life in Chicago.

 

FEZANA Journal | Summer 2005

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