Photo Essay: Hi, darling!

Portraits of ageing Parsis living in Navsari, Gujarat—‘dhaakad’ men and women

battling loneliness with a ready smile and zest for life
Shuchi Kapoor, ePaper, Livemint, Bombay, Saturday, May 9, 2015
Photo Essay: Hi, darling!

At 93, ‘Mumma’, as everyone calls her, is one of the oldest members at the old-age home she stays in. She loves to give feedback on the day’s menu and suggest changes. Photo: Shuchi Kapoor
“Let me comb my hair first. Should I change my dress? I keep myself busy by making this thread. It’s enough to take care of my expenses. My husband died and daughters are married off. This Parsi baug is good and everyone takes care of each other. Thank you for taking my photograph.”
These are snatches of a typical conversation at a baug (Parsi colony) or an old-age home in Navsari, Gujarat. There are two-three old-age homes and roughly 10-15 Parsi societies here.
In January, I visited some Parsi family friends living there and came across these old-age homes. The idea of working on a series of portraits took root—most of the work on this community has been done by Parsis themselves.
I thought an outsider’s perspective would be interesting.
Parsis from cities across Gujarat and Mumbai are choosing to settle in Navsari, Surat’s twin city, in the company of new-found friends, some bedridden, some just elderly. Even though almost each one of them nurses the sadness of loneliness, their voices light up in loud, crisp and cheerful greeting, “Hi, Darling!”, at the chance of a conversation with a stranger.
After visiting two old-age homes and one baug, and making a firm promise not to reveal details (including names) at the behest of those who run these homes, I found that the 100 or so people I met came to Navsari because the cost of living there is low. Many indicated that Navsari offers better care, a personal touch and a more closely-knit community than anywhere else, especially Mumbai.
The Irani Zoroastrian community, or Parsis, represent a 3,000-year-old religion from the days of the Persian empire. Yet they are said to be an alarming and dismal 0.007% of the population in India today. While the Parsis have integrated well into Indian society, they remain strict about their ethnicity, preferring to maintain their Persian roots by avoiding inter-caste marriages.
Perhaps this is why many ageing Parsis have no extended families or relatives to take care of them. Some have been abandoned by their families and some chose to live the last phase of their lives away from their children, so that they don’t become the cause of marital discord in their children’s lives. Even some of the younger people who have no one to turn to are shifting in.
“My knees hurt now, but I am healthy otherwise. And very single. Help me find a girlfriend, no…the ones here are too old for me,” requests one of the elderly men I met.
The spirit of the dhaakad (fearless) Parsi lives on.

Photo Essay: A slice of life

 
Text and photographs by Shuchi Kapoor.
 


His knees may hurt, but he is young at heart.

Barely able to hold his cup of tea steadily, this gentleman does not like to engage 
in conversation.

This lady makes some money by weaving the ‘kusti’, a sacred cord

Restless but cheerful, this Parsi lady enjoys being able to live with so many friends 
in one home.

It’s not just the very old who live in old-age homes in Navsari. Some of the younger 
people who have no one to turn to are also shifting in.

Glad to have found each other at the old-age home, they call themselves ‘The Three Stooges’.
  • Text and photographs by Shuchi Kapoor. 

2 comments

  • Sunny a. Karanjawala

    Excellent work? Being a blind person i would like to congrulates you on being finding a new cause?

  • Avan N. Cooverji

    Very touching. Good to know that these senior persons have found new friends in their old age. If these homes are compassionately run, it is a blessing to live there in a safe and comfortable environment, with all their needs taken care of by sympathetic workers/ volunteers. Those who administer these homes can know that there is no greater deed than offering support , help and understanding to the needy.

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