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 that can certainly be branded a ‘melting point’ and which is filled with undiscovered gems in every corner, there’s a lot that you can discover every single 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, who’s written the 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
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 which could be seen as one of the greatest contributors to shaping the typical ‘Bombay culture’.
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 tells 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 in Mumbai’s Fort area.
The bakery was started by Meherwan Zend in 1953, even though the property had been around for much longer. One of the three brothers running the bakery, Parvez Zend had told Gupta that he had come across a few Japanese tourists many years ago, who had astonished him with the fact that the bakery used to be a Japanese bank during the time of the First World War.
The bakery was passed on to the three brothers by their father Meherwan and un-phased by the rapid industrialisation of the Fort region over the years, the brothers made a decision to keep intact the architectural design of their Parsi heritage, to the best of their ability.
The Fire Temple
Gupta confessed that her curiosity to know what took place inside the Parsi Fire Temple, also located in Fort, was what motivated her to pursue more leads into the life and culture of the community. Common knowledge asserts that 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’s 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 tells The Quint
As part of the Parsi project, Gupta teamed up with San-Francisco based photographer, Alpana Aras, for one of her stories although she takes most of the pictures herself usually.
The duo visited one of the houses in the area, which is inhabited by two Parsi ladies, Rhoda and her daughter, Hootakshi. Hootakshi 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 tells The Quint
Being a Smaller Community in India Today
While the Parsis have always been one of the most well-known communities in India, despite being a fairly small community, one often wonders if the current communal tension in India’s political landscape could have any serious implications for their ‘inclusion’ in the society.
However, as Gupta reiterates, she didn’t feel any sense of trepidation or forbearing from anyone in the community who opened up to her for the project.
They are happy to be living in Mumbai and do not feel any form of seclusion from the rest of the city or the country, as it is.Anushka Gupta tells The Quint
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 the concept was blur-lined at best, they can still rely on the dominance of the Iranian café-culture in the city today. 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.
Another one on poetry and prose, is to be published in March, 2018.
“I want to place these culturally rich stories within the scope of my book,” adds Gupta.
Other than the Parsi community, Gupta is also concentrating on British-Indian history and architecture, the latter narrating a fusion of both cultures.
To check out more of Anushka Gupta’s work, visit her instagram: @anushkagupta5.
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