Chronicle of a Corpse-Bearer : Life Beyond the Tower of Silence

I came across this book on the Kindle Store on Amazon. I picked it up as the name of the author really compelled me to buy it. Chronicle of a corpse-bearer is the story of Phiroze, a son of a respected Parsi priest from Mumbai who falls in love with Sepidah, daughter of an old ageing corpse-bearer.

This novel has given me an insight into the Parsi community in India. Their migration from greater Iran to Gujarat, India. I read about how they revere and worship fire, and I absolutely loved reading about their rituals, traditions and customs, especially the one in which requires the disposing of the dead on the towers of silence. It is a really intriguing custom.

Towers of silence are the buildings which are circular in shape where Zoroastrians perform the funeral customs for the deceased. In Zoroastrianism the body of the deceased is considered impure and hence not to violate the sacredness of land, they refuse to bury or cremate the body. Instead of this, they place the body on top of towers of silence wherein the vultures come and eat the meat.

As of today, the last tower of silence is located in Mumbai, India. But the lack of vultures and urbanisation makes it difficult to maintain and continue operation. Tower of Silence is mentioned a couple of times in the book and the cremation place has been the central area around which  Chronicle of a corpse-bearer 

One aspect of the book I absolutely come to have loved is the way in which parts of Bombay has been described beautifully. Especially the South Bombay area which has the maximum number of Parsi’s staying.

This novel has been written by an Indian Author and a playwright, Cyrus Mistry. He has been involved with playwrighting and worked with short film scripts as well as documentaries. A Zoroastrian himself,  he has recently been awarded the DSC Prize for South Asian Literature for his novel ‘Chronicle of a Corpse-Bearer’. Cyrus Mistry has written a couple of other books like The radiance of Ashes, and , Passion Flower : Seven Stories of Derangement of which The Chronicles of the corpse has been widely read and acknowledged.

The book rather starts on a very dull note and the writing is very monotonous. But a few pages later the story becomes gripping and interesting and Cyrus’s style improves here dramatically. The story becomes a little fast paced in the middle and again towards the end the writing style deteriorates. His writing is very complex, though vivid but very confusing at times. There were parts which were not required and the inclusion of too many characters was not necessary.  They didn’t fit in the plot  and hence were just brought in to increase the length of the novel. The novel was a bit of a drag but I kept on reading until then end, just to complete it.

The book is inspired by a true story as mentioned by the author. But the author could have done justice and written it in a better way. On the other hand, I loved the characters especially the protagonist Phiroze. This novel talks about selfless love and the undying spirit of commitment.

This novel by Cyrus Mistry is a long and arduous read but still I thought of giving it a shot. The author has written a lot about the Parsi Community in this book. Parsi’s are a small but a well-known community in India. Since I have been writing about India based on the books I read, I think this one community is absolutely worth a mention here.

One can read this book at their own discretion. Not a highly recommended read, but one should get it if fiction interests them.


Sources & References:

Chronicles of a Corpse-Bearer by Cyrus Mistry
Read more about Tower of Silence,  here.

Queer Quotient in Hindu Mythology

‘Vikruti evam Prakruti’

Vikruti evam Prakruti. This term in Sanskrit literally translates to ‘ What seems unnatural is also natural’. This is stated in the Rigveda, one of the four Vedas which form the basis of the Hindu Philosophy.

Some believe this particular term supports the homosexual behavior of human beings and deems it as as natural as anything else in this universe, else it would not have been created and included in these texts in the first place.

Hindu Mythology makes constant references to queerness, the idea that questions notions of maleness and femaleness. A lot of queer stories are related to Hindu Mythology where in Gods and mortals often change genders, indulge in homosexual activities as well as heterosexual activities as different reincarnated genders. Transgenders have also been mentioned in quite a few Hindu Mythological tales. All these various references just points out to the fact that queerness has been there since centuries in our culture, existing for more than about 2000 years now.

imagesShiva is at times referred to as Ardhanarisvara, who has a dual nature of femininity as well as masculinity. The male form represents the mind and the female form represents the nature, and they are interdependent on each other. This story comes from the Shaiva Agamas.

In the karmic worldview,one is queer because of karma, and it may turn out to be a boon or a curse.

Queer stories are not restricted to Hindu Mythology only. Most of the Queer tales are restricted to men, but a few exceptions are there, one of which were the Greek Poems of love and passion of a women for another women , by Sappho , which were written on the island of Lesbos, giving rise to the term ‘Lesbian’

Intrigued by the whole idea of the intersection queerness and mythology I looked up for a few books, and  Shikhandi and other tales they don’t tell you by Devdutt Pattanaik didn’t fail to impress me.

Shikhandi and other tales they don’t tell you
is short book with a few short tales from the Hindu Mythology which have an element of queerness. Men turning to women, Men loving men or individuals having unique sexual tastes , or stories even about cross dressers.

The book begins with a brief introduction on appreciating queerness and mentions how Hindu mythology has been defining the queer quotient since ages. It also gives an insight to the queer community in various other mythologies including the stories from the  Arctic and the  Vikings,  ranging to Egyptian, Chinese, Greek , Persian and biblical mythologies

The highlight of this book is this very historical acquaintance with the LGBTQ trends occurring in the pre Kali Yuga era. It’s fascinating to know what people condemn today was practiced long ago. And these are not the stories of ordinary people. The tales we are talking about,  largely revolves around Kings and God’s and people with quite some stature in the society. Seems like Indian history has been breaking barriers even before it was a barrier.

Tshikhandihe book has around thirty tales which revolve around various characters from the Hindu Mythology. Stories from Ramayana,  Mahabharata and tales from various Puranas have been roped in. This shows the diversity of the spread of queer culture back then.

The writing has been exemplary. I have now read almost half of Devdutt’s books, and it keeps on getting better every time. More than the stories I have loved his piece on discovery and invention of queerness, in which the historical existence has been discussed at length.

There have been a lot of similar stories in the book apart from, Shikhandi, who became a man to satisfy her wife.These includes the story of Arjuna, who became temporarily castrated for showing restraint, and other tales like that of Aravan , whose wife was the complete man and of course about Vishnu, who became a women to deliver his devotee’s child. So on and so forth, a few other stories have been explained in length and the list essentially is endless.

As always, Devdutt Pattanaik’s books have been filled with interesting illustrations. Apart from being a doctor, writer and a mythologist he is an impeccable illustrator. This book is worth a read if one wants to discover the roots of queer culture in Hindu Mythology and it is definitely a recommended book.

In 2009 , India was going through a social change. There was hope in the air. During that year Delhi High court decriminalised section 377, and everyone had the same freedom as anyone else. It was a renaissance period for people of this country. A change was happening, and people were quite vocal about it as well. In 2013 Delhi High court revoked the order. This back tracking of the judgement has had seen a lot of dialogue between regressive protectors of Indian Culture, pseudo progressive individuals as well as a few obnoxious punks and some open minded intellectuals.

Indian culture is all about being plural and being open to accepting. In the end its about loving another person. I have had the privilege of meeting quite a few notable people from the LGBTQ community at various conferences where they have been addressing the delegates. They have succeeded in impacting an audience confined in that auditorium but we are far from convincing the reality. Times are changing but one thing is certain, had Queerness been against our culture it would not have been expressed in our mythological texts explicitly.

Afterall,
‘What seems unnatural,is also natural’ – Rigveda

 


 

Quotes from Shikhandi and other tales they don’t tell you by Devdutt Pattanaik
Illustrations by Devdutt Pattanaik from devdutt.com
You can read more about the author on devdutt.com

Other Sources :

Blog, Times of India : Homosexuality in India – Progressive judiciary, regressive people

Speaking Tree : What do Vedas say about Homosexuality

 

First 100!

It brings me immense joy to know that my blog A year of reading India is now followed by more than 100 followers across various parts of the world with close to about 1000 readers and  viewers from about 24 countries. As a new blogger, this is really overwhelming! I am happy that the readers love the content and are interested in the books I blog about.

One thing which I really did not want was to convert it into a conventional Book Review Blog. As many of you might have noticed my reviews of the books I read weave around a particular story theme or concept , and I try to provide information, ideas and views not only related to the book but try to paint a picture on a wider canvas.

I have loved writing Mythology, Philosophy, Fiction, Non-Fiction by an array of Indian authors, and I still feel a lot more needs to be written about. Of my earlier posts I have written, my top five personal favourites are Jaya, which is a beautiful modern redering of the Mahabharata. Followed by Shantaram, which gives a vivid description of the Mumbai city, which now I call my home. I have loved Palace of Illusions, surely the fastest read I have undertaken in one sitting. Sita has been a very touching book for me personally and finally Gita which was very enlightening.

There are so many communities, cultures and vivid people all in this one small subcontinent in Asia. I am reading an array of books by Indian Authors and myself am intrigued by the variety of categories. Surely Indian writing is taking over subsequently, be it in a regional language or English.

I do have a few books lined up for upcoming posts, but I urge my readers to suggest books they would want me to write about pertaining to India or written by Indian Authors, and continue inspiring me in this journey of reading India.


Cover Photo by Vicky Roy