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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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

Godan : Munshi’s Last Masterpiece

I have been hearing about this book, Godan, right from my school days. We had a couple of short stories by Munshi Premchand in our curriculum. But I never picked up any of his novels, until last week when I came across Godan on the Amazon Kindle store and thought of giving it a shot.

‘Godan’ literally translates to ‘Donation of a cow’. In Hindu culture, a cow is supposed to be the most sacred animal and one who is worshipped daily. Godan means gifting a cow to a brahmin and a certain set of prayers need to be performed along with it.This is a very sacred ritual in the Hindu subcontinent.

Mythologically it has been mentioned in Shastras that the performance of the Godan ritual facilitates one’s route or journey across the Vaitarani River and it becomes very easy for the dead. This gift serves as a relief to the deceased along their journey.

So the book revolves around a villager, ‘Hori’ and his life as a peasant in India. Suppressed by landlords or Zamindars and being pushed into a vicious cycle of debts , this book clearly identifies the plight of the poor and still doesn’t fail to identify the  small joys they experience each day.

This is a book about the rich as well as much it is about the poor. Godan provides a large canvas of various interwoven stories set Uttar Pradesh short of Lucknow. A long and arduous read. What I thought was not necessary was too many secondary characters which do not have a major role in the novel which could have been avoided. A highly recommended read.

The book which is a translation in English by Jai Ratan & P. Lal,  fails to capture the emotions by Premchand. The writing is downright mediocre but the story makes up for the pathetic translation. One should go for reading it in Hindi only if the language is not a barrier.

Munshi Premchand’s words ring true even today, with great reverence that always leave their mark. Premchand’s original name was Dhanpat Rai, but he shifted to his pen name ‘Nawab’ Rai and changing it to Premchand short while thereafter.

 Munshi was a great laureate in both Hindi and Urdu. A lot of people say that he has been an unparalleled author in Hindi Literature, one of the first and he definitely struck a chord with the rich and poor alike.

This is my way to pay tribute to someone who has coloured true and vivid pictures of real India through his writings and it cannot get real than this. I think I selected this book because unless the heart of India is not read about, its villages not experienced vicariously, reading India seems incomplete.

Today I post this as a tribute to Munshi Prem Chand on his Birthday and I believe that more people should go ahead get a copy and read this brilliant masterpiece.

The Palace of Illusions :An artistic marvel

palace-of-illusions

“Through the long, lonely years of my childhood, when my father’s palace seemed to tighten its grip around me until I couldn’t breathe, I would go to my nurse and ask for a story.  And though she knew many wondrous and edifying tales, the one that I made her tell me over and over was the story of my birth. I think I liked it so much because it made me feel special, and in those days there was little else in my life that did. Perhaps Dhai Ma realized this. Perhaps that was why she agreed to my demands even though we both knew I should be using my time more gainfully, in ways more befitting the daughter of King Drupad, ruler of Panchaal, one of the richest kingdoms in the continent of Bharat.”

And thus begins the story of Princess Panchaali, born out of fire , as it was prophesied, she would be responsible to change the course of history, and oh man how excited was she to hear all about it over and over again. This beautiful dark skinned princess was none other than Draupadi. As we all know her as the wife of the legendary Pandava brothers, the only women to have five husbands all at the same time.

I have read the Mahabharata a couple of times, and a couple of versions of the epic have surfaced before my eyes and through these very hands. Each time I have added something new to my existing knowledge , and each time I have read a new version by a different author, it keeps on getting better. From my early childhood days I have wondered that how ever all the Pandava characters have been given much importance in the epic, but not much has been talked about Draupadi, apart from the very fact being that she was responsible for the downfall of the Kauravas.

A story becomes powerful with every retelling, and so has been the case with The Palace of Illusions by Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni. An enchanting retelling of an epic that is truly powerful. This book while painting a vivid picture of events leading up to the war at Kurukshetra also sinks in the realization of the imperfections of human nature.

The palace of illusions is a very different approach to the Mahabharata. It is narrated by Panchaali. It is Mahabharata through the eyes of Draupadi. From the time she was born until the end, its her take on the entire situation, and on the journey she mentions about her thoughts, her insecurities , her desires, her anger, lust, love, responsibility and her portrayal of courage.

Courage of-course. Courage to have five husbands. Courage to face shame in an assembly full of her husbands and their brothers. Courage to have Krishna as her best friend and comrade and courage to let go of her love, the person she admired the most, with whom she always wanted to be. As the author rightly mentions –

“Love comes like lightning, and disappears the same way. If you are lucky, it strikes you right. If not, you’ll spend your life yearning for a man you can’t have.”

The highlight for me has been the conversations between Draupadi and Krishna. How subtly Krishna explains Panchaali about things beyond her understanding. The way Krishna always talks in riddles, and how behind every conversation there is a deep meaning to the entire context.

One of my favourite quotes from the book, again a conversation between the duo, wherein Krishna says –

“Just as we cast off worn clothes and wear new ones, when the time arrives, the soul cast of the body and finds a new one to work out its karma. Therefore the wise never grieve for the living or the dead”

Draupadi’s character has been discussed in depth.To what lengths she can go to have her way, how she often dreams of living in huge palaces, and get adorned with the finest jewelry and be pampered at all times. Her character is buoyant, expansive and uncontainable, a side of hers which lot of people are not aware of.

The book is written in a very gripping way. Its simple yet beautiful. Its vivid and colourful. The details are very picturesque and the whole saga has been depicted in a very quaint style. I loved the book, and was hooked to it completely. It definitely features in my ‘Top 5 picks of all time’.

Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni has done complete justice to the concept of this half mythical half fictional tale, which has turned out to be completely magical.

 

 

An Appeal

India is a country of 1.2 Billion people. It is more than the sixth of the world’s total population. Divided into twenty nine states and seven union territories, this giant peninsular is vast. Here one not only finds, people speaking so many different languages and dialects, but one notices a cultural shift every few kilometers. This vast ethnicity has contributed so much to India’s rich literature. There is an enormous generation of culturally rich knowledge and learning’s which await to be explored.

My father is an Ex-Army Officer from the Indian Army. The best thing about this has been moving to various places every few years. Not just my geographical understanding of the region has been solidified but I have learnt the shift in social cultures and traditions across the length and breath of the country. I have grown up in small towns as well as big cities. I can ride the roughness of a small village, and survive the madness and high of a metro at the same time.  The experience has been just amazing until now.

But I don’t want to stop there; I want to explore more of this country which I proudly call home. I would want to spend a year of reading India. Experiencing India, vicariously. With such rich background, I am yet to experience it fully. And hence this project has been a small initiative to fill in the void I think has been missing.

A step to know India better through the medium of Print would be a good way to begin.

So what is this project all about?

During 2016 I am going to read 29 books signifying each of the 29 states in India. It could be either originating from a particular state or written by an author of a particular state. In turn I would also be blogging about these books as and when I read. And each of these, which is, Reading, Researching and Blogging about all the books from each of the states will be done in a period of one year.

I understand a lot of local books might not have been translated to English, hence finding the really good ones would be a challenging task. Hence I appeal to each one of you to please suggest me books, be it fiction or nonfiction, self-help, history, adventure, folklore or a collection of short stories from each state of India. Also I would request each one of you to share the post and help spread the message.

You can help me suggest books in the comment section below, or get in touch with me via E Mail, Facebook or Twitter. All details are mentioned in the contact page of this blog.

This will help me in shortlisting the best books for the project. What I am in particular looking at is that, each book should have a reflection of a particular state in some manner or the other and a story worth sharing. Also please connect me to the right people in case you think, who will be well informed about such books.

I hope I do justice to the project, and bring the best out of each book.