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.

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Shantaram : Of love, fear and hope!

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Four years ago I came to Mumbai for my higher studies and I felt like a tiny needle in this huge haystack. Little did I know it then that I would fall in love with this beautiful city,it’s by lanes, the buildings, the wonderful promenades, beaches and mostly the warm loving people.

It’s blue skin smell of the sea, no matter where you are in the island curry and the blood metal smell of the machines. Mumbai smells of stir and sleep and waste of sixty million animals, more than half of them humans and rats.  It smells of heartbreak and the struggle to live and of crucial failures and loves that produce out courage.

It smells of ten thousand restaurants five thousand temples and of a hundred bazaars. And there are more smiles in the eyes on those crowded streets than in any other place I have ever known.

Mumbai has taught me a lot, and helped me live independently on my own terms as and when I have liked it. This eventually led to publishing a blog on Mumbai in the successive years, which ran for the next two years until I stopped it. I had read it earlier somewhere that Mumbai is a city and Bombay is an emotion. And Shantaram doesn’t fail to express this emotion.

Bombay has been described beautifully in each chapter, and I have come to love Mumbai more after it. It makes you fall in love with Mumbai all over again. That’s the beauty of this book. With its detailed descriptions on each and every nook and corner of the city right from the Léopold Café, to the queen’s necklace and the slums of Dharavi  which gives the reader a sense of belonging to the city.

The highlight of the book is of-course how Gregory David Roberts manages to capture the emotions and the psyche of Mumbaikars and has portrayed it effectively though different characters in his novel. The author has definitely put in a lot of thought process in each and every characters soul, especially the protagonist Lindsay aka Shantaram.

It took the author thirteen years to finish Shantaram this explains the sheer size of the novel. This 900 odd paged mammoth book is rather an experience, more of a memoir of the protagonist, something sort of a diary which is ineffable and just too magical. What I particularly like about the authors style of writing is his use of metaphors. Every moment in this book has been something really gripping. It says in India sometimes you have to surrender, before you win, and from there begins the tales of Shantaram’s surrender to the people of India.

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This novel is about the rise and fall of Shantaram in the Mumbai mafia, his escape from the prison back in Australia and his spiritual transformation to a man he always wanted to be and loving the women he adored the most. Shantaram is about love and the courage to embrace that love.

One of the central characters Karla has some really profound dialogues.  She’s someone like Dominique Francon from fountain head. Karla is dark and shady yet charming and lovable. “Love is opposite of power. That’s why we fear it so much”- that’s what Karla used to say. Her dialogues are sharp and witty. I would rather read her dialogues twice to appreciate the sheer beauty of it.

Apart from Karla my favourite characters were Prabhakar, Abdullah and Abdel Khader Khan. Shantaram found a friend in his guide, Prabhakar, a brother in Abdullah and in Abdel Khader Khan, a father.  It revolves around these relationships and how they weave eventually. I somehow could connect to this novel deeply. As they say it’s more about the journey than the destination itself, and with this book it’s similar. It has been more about the conversations and whole bunch of valuable advice which profoundly gripped me rather than the story on the whole.

Shantaram is a highly recommended read for anyone who loves fiction and philosophy and dreams of hope and love. Sometimes we love with nothing more than hope. Sometimes we cry with everything except tears. In the end that’s all there is: love and its duty, sorrow and its truth. In the end that’s all we have- to hold on tight until the dawn. For so long as fate keeps us waiting, we live on.


 

Sources
Shantaram by Gregory David Roberts