Saying grace with the Sidis

Mar 22, 2013, 01:11 IST | Kanika Sharma

Today, Ketaki Sheth launches her photo book, A Certain Grace: The Sidi, Indians of African Descent bringing an insight into a scarcely researched and even photographed community that redefines the word diaspora

Ketaki Sheth is a widely acknowledged photographer by the likes of Raghubir Singh (mentor), Suketu Mehta and even Salman Rushdie.

Sukhi, Jambur, 2005.

In 1999, she published a photo-book — Twinspotting — on the Patel twins across India and the UK while she finally translated her work of two decades in Bombay Mix that contained street photographs of the city in 2007.

From Africa to India

This time, Ketaki Sheth tinges the Sidi world through her black-and-white palette bringing a book that will have 75 large and 13 small images urging the reader to explore this hardly-known community. Sidis are primarily Indians who came from Africa, some even a millennium ago. Sheth herself discovered them by chance; “I was on a family holiday to the Gir in Gujarat, in 2004, when we drove through a Sidi village, Sirwan, in the forest. It had been given to them by an erstwhile nawab in recognition of their services. I was intrigued and explored the subject.”

Sans the nostalgia

The community is as Indian as it gets as unlike other communities, it has “an immersion in the place” (photographer Rory Bester) and does not look at Africa with any kind of nostalgia. The most intriguing photographs in the book are about the portrayal of spiritual customs.

Boy With a Gun, Sirwan 2009. Sheth tells us, “The boy in Sirwan came to me with a gun as I went to him with a camera. I think it was his way of saying, look I can ‘shoot’ too!” Pics Courtesy/Ketaki Sheth-Photoink.

Sheth comments, “I soon realised how important worship at the dargahs was to the Sidis. Every Juma (Friday), they meet for Goma (dance) and offer prayers. Every year there is an annual Urs festival commemorating the saint Bawa Gor. They love their dance and music and worship.

The Goma dance is an element of their African ancestry as is the exorcism of spirits. The coconut smashing is something the Sidi are known for and the young boys are trained from an early age.” A community on similar lines is Africans of Indian descent known as Wahindis. One wishes that both had been photographed together.

About the cover

“Ashiyana was soon to marry Hirbaiben’s son Razzak. Razzak and I paid a surprise visit to his fiancé (four hours away from his home) in Jaffrabad. Shabana was the younger sister of the bride to be. When I asked her when it would be her turn for marriage she blushed and I took the image. It was my publisher that selected the cover image and I think it works. The pattern of the curtain which separated her from the room where the family slept provided the perfect backdrop, and I was able to catch a moment. The image, I feel, goes with my title.

A Certain Grace: The Sidi, Indians of African Descent, Photographs by Ketaki Sheth, Text by Mahmood Mamdani and Rory Bester, Photoink, New Delhi 2013, Rs 1,500

Related News

    Go to top