Woman in Mumbai by S. Hormusji

I had hoped to identify the dignified woman who sat for this portrait at the Bombay Photographic Company in the late 1880s or 1890s, but so far I haven’t had any luck.  The photographer, S. Hormusji, is also a bit of a mystery, at least as far as online sources go.  Some examples of his work were included in an exhibit in 2010 at the Alkazi Foundation for the Arts in New Delhi, titled The Artful Pose: Early Studio Photography in Mumbai (c. 1855-1940).  An illustrated catalog of the show was produced, but only an excerpt is available online.  Other online sources refer to Hormusji simply as a Parsi photographer.

The back of the cabinet card has handwritten notations in the upper right which were probably made by Hormusji or an assistant, including “6×8 oval medallion,” “6×8 oblong” and “sepia colour plain in both“:

Woman in Mumbai by S. Hormusji 3


Just below those notations is a name, written by hand in the same ink but more faded, which looks like it might be Dr. E.S. Bharucha.  I’m not sure if Dr. is correct.  See what you think:

Woman in Mumbai by S. Hormusji 5

(You can see a larger scan of the back of the photo in a separate tab here.)

We can’t know if the name refers to the sitter, a family member such as her husband, or someone completely unrelated to her.  I did a little searching, including on Ancestry, but didn’t find any good leads under the name Bharucha.  The photo came to me from a dealer in Kettering, England.  If the sitter was a doctor, she might well have visited the United Kingdom for professional reasons.  If her husband was a doctor, she might have traveled with him.  Of course, the photo could have made its way to England more recently.  I’d love to know who she was and something about her life.

Woman in Mumbai by S. Hormusji 2


26 thoughts on “Woman in Mumbai by S. Hormusji

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  1. I feel like a veritable Sherlock Holmes! Before I read your text carefully, I really examined the photo and thought, “That woman looks like she’s Parsi.” Her facial features caught me first; then it occurred to me that she was wearing her sari in a way associated with Parsi women. There’s a post here that shows some women with similar features. It also has some information about their saris. Beyond the drape, the sari of the woman in your photo has the ribbon-like trim associated with Parsi styles. Given the location — Mumbai/Bombay — and the fact that the photographer was Parsi, I’d bet anything this is a Parsi woman: upper class, well-educated, and probably professional.

    Liked by 5 people

    1. Good for you, Linda! I’m genuinely impressed! The ribbon-like trim of the woman’s sari is so pretty, with those delicate little flowers. You’d never call her sari flashy, yet our eyes are drawn to those bright spots on the dark fabric. They could be white or a light shade of another color. It’s hard to tell.

      When I first saw this photo, I thought, “She looks like a teacher.”


    1. In my first draft of this post, I had a paragraph about her demeanor and how it communicated professionalism. I took it out because I was curious whether others would respond to the photo in the same way. And you did! 🙂 I think she was accustomed to being in the public eye, either as a doctor or a teacher or in some other capacity.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. How interesting! Both the photographer (or the studio owner) and the photographed belong to Parsi community. This post tempts one to be an investigator! Thanks for the information that Hormusji was one of the pioneers in studio photography in Bombay.
    I could read 1 6×8 Oval and 1 6×8 Oblong & Sepia colour plain in both.
    While searching, chanced upon some photographs from Hormusji’s and a couple of ladies have resemblance to the one in this photo!!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hi Rethy! I also saw the word “oblong,” but wasn’t sure. Now I am! As far as “in both,” why couldn’t I see that? It seems obvious now, but my brain couldn’t see it before. I’ll add those to the post. Thank you for your nice comments and help!!

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Glad to hear you’re OK. I understand about losing motivation to blog–I’ve also lost it at times during the pandemic. I think your inspiration will return. The world is going through something unprecedented, and there’s a lot to be said for living in the moment right now, or focusing on the present, as you did in your series on life in lockdown. Take care and stay well!

        Liked by 1 person

  3. It looks like Dr. to me too. She looks like a very gentle and professional woman. I think she would have made a good Dr. The lines of her form and sari are very beautiful, sturdy and comforting. The photographer was as talented at his profession as she must have surely been at hers. Wonderful Brad!

    Liked by 1 person

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