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A Shy Parsi Hamlet in Busy Mumbai

 
 

The Parsi community, as descendants of the Zoroastrians (from Iran), are called in India, are a strange coming together of the overly publicized and the fiercely guarded. There are illustrious names and unchallenged legacies, such as that of the industrialist family of the Tatas, a name that Mumbai cannot do without. A cancer hospital, a performing arts center, an institute for social sciences, a hotel by the sea – many such landmarks have a Parsi surname attached.

Yet there are also gated colonies that non-Parsis cannot enter, places of worship that are not for all, teachings that must pass down only from one Parsi to another, and a bloodline that “must be preserved.” The Parsis, celebrated for their wealth and philanthropy, are equally known for their exclusive ways and lifestyles.

A group of three — a writer, a film curator and a journalist — wanted more than a stand-apart, from-a-distance view of the Parsi life. We wanted to get up close and enjoy the diversity of this small community, which constitutes 0.006 percent of India’s population. So we let the lens lead the way one morning as we walked around the Dadar Parsi colony, an enclave that’s home to the world’s largest concentration of Parsis with only about 8,000 people of the community staying here.

Follow our journey below.

Photos by Joyce William, Abhra Das and Vishal Arora from the Mumbai Photo Expedition.

A Shy Parsi Hamlet in Busy Mumbai
The colony was built by Muncherji Joshi, a civil engineer with the Bombay Improvement Trust. His bust still looks on as the Parsi haven he founded in the 1920s holds its own in the ever-growing chaos of Mumbai.  
A Shy Parsi Hamlet in Busy Mumbai
Dadar Parsi colony was designed to be a roomy, airy enclave where structures would remain three stories or less, never competing with the towering trees. Though redevelopment is becoming a more commonly used term here too, its signs are not eagerly showing yet.
A Shy Parsi Hamlet in Busy Mumbai
Unlike common perception of crammed Mumbai flats, Parsi homes here have relaxed balconies and many windows, a probable reflection of their approach to life.
A Shy Parsi Hamlet in Busy Mumbai
Strolling through the colony, often the eye would catch interesting detailing amidst the ordinary, such as stained glass panes.
A Shy Parsi Hamlet in Busy Mumbai
For Mumbai, which wakes up to life on the fast lane, this colony offers the unusual experience of unhurried calm.
A Shy Parsi Hamlet in Busy Mumbai
Dadar in Mumbai is another word for rush. But the Parsi enclave is not looking to keep pace. Here there’s time to sit by the door and read the newspaper or to watch the goings-on of the street below.
A Shy Parsi Hamlet in Busy Mumbai
The sudreh, a sacred garment that a Parsi ought to wear at all times as an armor, can be spotted drying on several balconies as the religious-minded make sure they keep the undershirt spotlessly clean.
A Shy Parsi Hamlet in Busy Mumbai
It’s not that you don’t see many Parsis on the streets, but they shy away from having any eye contact with “strangers,” as we glaringly were in this locality. 
A Shy Parsi Hamlet in Busy Mumbai
We chanced upon a rare invitation into a Parsi home to share lemon grass-flavored “Parsi tea” and conversation about life, beliefs, and history. The gentleman and his wife opened up about their convictions on keeping the Parsi identity exclusive and intact.
A Shy Parsi Hamlet in Busy Mumbai
Between getting dal ready for lunch, the lady welcomed a look into her kitchen where they burn coals to light in the ceremonial urn along with with the fragrant sandal wood.
A Shy Parsi Hamlet in Busy Mumbai
Many Parsis have historically been wealthy. This home in the neighborhood exuded opulence and offered an intriguing look at Mesopotamian art. 
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