A wide-span view of the Maximum City, clicked by Mumbai-based writer, Anushka Gupta. To Anushka Gupta, the thrill of re-telling history through art and architecture has always held a special kind of appeal. And when you live in a city like Mumbai, a ‘melting point’ that is filled with undiscovered gems in every corner, there’s a lot that you can discover every day. That is how ‘The Parsi Project’, an Instagram series by Gupta, which will later be incorporated into a cultural book about the city, took shape.
Gupta, whose book ‘Visual Words’ was published in 2016, says that she has big plans to take forth her literary journey – by simply telling the story of the maximum city.
I really believe in telling a story. I’m always curious to understand the backstory, the history for everything that already exists.Anushka Gupta to The Quint
Even the name of her company is ‘Story of the brand’.
The Parsi Project was Gupta’s way of understanding the everyday traditions, practices, and beliefs of a community that has significantly contributed to the culture of the Bombay we know today.
The fact that something like a ‘bun-muska’ which holds the Mumbai identity is actually a Parsi creation, just goes to show how their legacy lingers in every nook and cranny in different ways.Anushka Gupta to The Quint
Gupta has been documenting the unsung parts of the city for the past five years. Moving away from the prime tourist spots such as Gateway of India and Nariman Point, her aim is to discover, explore and present that which has been forgotten by those who forgot.
“I am trying to bring about a sense of awareness towards our city’s unknown culture and heritage,” she adds.
In her quest to chronicle the life of Parsis in Mumbai, Gupta stumbled upon the Yazdani Bakery, located in Kala Ghoda, Fort, Mumbai.
The bakery was started by Meherwan Zend in 1953, even though the property had been around for much longer.
One of the three brothers who run the bakery, Parvez Zend, told Gupta that years ago, he had met a few Japanese tourists, who astonished him with the fact that the bakery used to be a Japanese bank during the time of the First World War.
Un-phased by the rapid industrialisation of the Fort region over the years, the brothers decided to keep the architectural design of their Parsi heritage intact, to the best of their ability.
The Fire Temple
Gupta confesses that her curiosity about the Parsi Fire Temple, also located in Fort, motivated her to pursue more leads into the life and culture of the community. As is common knowledge, non-Parsis are not allowed inside the temple for religious reasons and that is possibly why a lot of their practices are still unknown to the larger general public.
For her project, Gupta documented the building from the outside.
But to Gupta, it is time the city understands the community who has played such an important role in its history.
The Parsi culture has become forgotten. By researching into their community and their lifestyle, I want to tell their story to the world.Anushka Gupta to The Quint
While she otherwise takes most of the pictures herself, Gupta teamed up with San-Francisco based photographer Alpana Aras for one of her stories.
The duo visited one of the houses in the area, inhabited by two Parsi ladies, Rhoda and her daughter Hootakshi. The latter worked as a hairstylist in Iran and insisted on doing their hair as mother and daughter reminisced about their heritage and culture.
Despite us being strangers, they opened up their homes and offered us warmth, stories and home-made Parsi delicacies. It was such a wonderful way to gain perspective into their lives and the lives of the community.Anushka Gupta to The Quint
Being a Smaller Community in India Today
The Parsi community may be dwindling in number in the country, but Gupta says that the community members she spoke to said they were "happy to be living in Mumbai and do not feel any form of seclusion from the rest of the city or the country”
In fact, she went on to add, they were proud of the fact that since their ancestors pursued the path of entrepreneurship at a time when it was still an abstract concept. Today, they can still rely on the dominance of the Iranian café-culture in the city. To them, they were the pioneers of this chain of business.
Gupta’s Parsi Project is part of her bigger plan to chronicle Mumbai’s cultural history and architecture into her upcoming book – ‘The Bombay Book’, set to be published in 2019. “I want to place these culturally rich stories within the scope of my book,” adds Gupta.
Another one on poetry and prose, is to be published in March 2018.
Besides the Parsi community, Gupta is also concentrating on British-Indian history and architecture, the latter narrating a fusion of both cultures.
For more of Anushka Gupta’s work, visit her instagram: @anushkagupta5.
(This article is from The Quint’s archives and was first published on 17 August 2017. It is now being republished to mark the Parsi New Year.)