Sooni Taraporevalas's loving
portrayal of her community titled Parsis: The Zoroastrians of India,
a Photographic Journey, has just gone into a second edition. It's an
endearing visual record of a group that the latest census says has only
69,601 members left. With many more older people than younger ones,
demographers warn that the community- which doesn't accept converts
or children of mixed marriages as members- is on its way to extinction.
Your book was published
just after the census reported a steep decline in the Parsi population.
What did you make of that juxtaposition?
The timing is ironic. I really get fed up when things like that happen
because it's the only time Parsis get written about in the media. As
soon as I get a phone call from a journalist, I immediately know that
its about vultures dying or its about the census. I have strong feelings
about what's going on in the community, but I deliberately keep my personal
opinion out of the book because I wanted to present all kinds of Parsi
opinion: orthodox, the liberal, the outrageous, all of them.
What is your personal
I think it's crazy that we don't allow kids whose mothers are Parsis
to enter the faith. We should throw it open. I think we confuse race
and religion - that's my view and I think it's the view of many other
You advocate conversation?
Yes. If we say that ours is a universal religion, then it should be
open for anybody. I do believe that Zarathushtra's message was for everybody,
not just for ethnic Iranians. It's not a popular opinion. The last time
I said this in an interview, someone sent a copy of my book back to
me. Her point of view was, " How dare you hold such opinions and
do a book like this?" It came in an envelope, with a letter, as
I was having tea in the morning. The book had sold out in the stores
then, so I was quite happy to have another copy.
When did you start doing
I started making them when I was in college in America. It's only when
I went away that I realized how minuscule and marginal we were. I would
come home on holidays and take pictures of my grandparents' generation
and people I was close to. In 1982, Raghubir Singh saw the pictures
and suggested that I start working towards a book. I think photographs
are the only medium that allow you to freeze memories and time. Perhaps
the book was a childish attempt to hang onto something that was fading.
What's the foundation
for being Parsi?
The orthodox keep talking about Parsi panno- Parsiness. This is am old
debate about whether it's nature or its nurture. I feel that anybody
who has been brought up in a certain way will have the Parsi panno.
It doesn't come in the blood, it doesn't come in the genes. It depends
how you're brought up.
What does the community
need to do now?
What will make a huge difference is if people could sit around a table
and talk and come to some kind of understanding of the opposite position.
If we don't want to split we'll have to come to an agreement.
What does India lose
with the decline of the community?
I'm not good at blowing our own trumpet. But it's pretty remarkable
that such a small community has made its mark in so many fields. I think
the fact that it's a simple ethical religion has filtered down. I'm
sure that it's the religion that teaches people to do things the right