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.

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.

Indian Mythology : Chronicles from the Indian Subcontinent

13.-Mythological-Drawings-By-Abhishek-Singh-Vishnu

In Indian mythology, the timeline of existence has been divided into four Yugas namely Krita, Treta, Dwapara and Kali. For Devas one year equals to 365 human years. Krita Yuga lasts for 4800 years, Treta for 3600 years, Dwapara for 2400 years and Kali for 1200 years for the Devas and Pitrs , the Gods and Ancestors. For humans each Yuga gets multiplied by 365. At the end of Kali Yuga, the cycle repeats itself and starts of again with the Krita or the most pious Yuga commonly referred to as the Satya Yuga.

And within the unending cycle of these yugas  lay the epic tales, chronicles and the rich history of Indian Mythology, and hence begins my quest to discover more about it.

It is quite difficult to not think about Devdutt Pattanaik if you are looking for authors writing about mythology, and even more difficult is not to love his work. But as I stumbled upon his earlier books I did not find that to be true. His writing has definitely improved over the years and so has the clarity in conveying things right way.

In one of my previous posts I had given a brief about the common sources of sacred narratives in Hinduism, which dates back to 2000 B.C.E. The scriptures included the Mantra Samhita, Brahmana, Upanishads, Puranas, and later various temple texts such as Agama. Derived from these texts come the 99 chronicles mentioned in this book titled ‘Indian Mythology: Tales, Symbols, and rituals from the heart of the Indian subcontinent’. The title  did grab my attention at first sight, and I was ready to delve deeper into the colourful mythical tales from the past. The book also has but limited history and comparison to Greek and Roman mythologies.

The Persians and later the Arabs had used the word Hind or Hindustan to describe the land around the river that was known to Greeks as the Indus and to the local population as Sindhu and hence came the name India.Customs , Rituals and beliefs maybe profound to a set of people, but to the  rational minded these sacred stories and customs remain fantastic, even absurd, and hence branded as myth.

The book talks a lot about the function of myth, essentially the book has been divided into spectrum of four major branches which include Mythology:Studying Myth,  Mythosphere: Comparing Myths, Mythopoesis : Transforming Myth and Mythography : Interpreeting Myth.

A dry read in the middle, the writing style is a drag, and not so gripping, unlike his other books. Devdutt in this book tries to merge Mythology with philosophy to some extent but fails to express clearly. For me it took a long time to read the book because apart from the illustrated chronicles other sections of the book seemed stark, undemonstrative and impassive.

What I hoped for was a rich history of the Hindu mythology but found a list of tales and information scattered around it. I love Devdutt’s work but this book simply fails to impress.