Kurush Umrigar is a Mumbai-based photographer who is attempting to photograph and document the elderly faces of the Parsi community in India - currently, it is believed that less than 60,000 Parsis are left in the country. While the Parsi Punchayet, the community’s governing body, and the government have come together to introduce various initiatives and benefits to help further the Parsi population, like the Jiyo Parsi campaign, it hasn’t really worked as well as they’d hoped.
There are many reasons behind the dropping numbers. Parsis, unlike other communities, don’t put such a great emphasis on marriage. Many Parsis remain bachelors and spinsters till they die. If they do marry, a lot of them decide to marry late—in their 30s and even 40s, when conceiving children becomes difficult. Additionally, their duality is well known. Outwardly, they are incredibly westernised and modern. Internally, they wrestle with many demons, the most vicious of which is a mania for blood purity—inter-caste marriages are heavily frowned upon. Moreover, it lays bare the community’s skewed gender rules, as a woman who marries outside is no longer considered a Parsi, and neither are her children. The same does not apply if the man is Parsi—his kids may still be initiated into the Zoroastrian faith.
Meanwhile, the community’s contribution towards the development of India is immeasurable. From industry to the arts, philanthropy to economics, the legacy of the Parsis may very well outlive the community at this rate—the birth to death ratio stands somewhere around 1:3.
When I spoke to Umrigar about his project, he told me that he feels as though he is racing against time to document and photograph old Parsis. “You never know how much longer they’re going to be around,” he says. At the end, he hopes to turn this project into a coffee table book.
Umrigar is currently photographing faces all over India and hopes to take this project international. He is always looking for interesting faces to photograph. If you think you can help, scroll down the bottom of the article for details.
I. Amy Guard (Kolah) | 100-years-old
She died earlier this year. She worked at Tata, where she headed the Department of Commercial Art
II. Khorshed Bharucha | 86-years-old
A die-hard cricket fan, she still follows every match and is up-to-date with all cricket news
III. Mr. Wadia | 94-years-old
A former Parsi taxi driver in Mumbai, he drove a taxi for nearly 40 years until he retired
IV. Zubin Mehta | 80-years-old