Thursday, August 30, 2012

Teething troubles of a linchpin and beyond!

Book Review: Fiction/Chronicle of a Corpse Bearer by Cyrus Mistry, Aleph, 247 pp; Rs495 (Hardback)
Under the socio-cultural practices in vogue, a corpse bearer seldom is known for a heroic claim-alone going beyond the corporeal construct to look on them too will be not considered less than ‘altruistic’. But against the limiting factors, Cyrus Mistry’s “Chronicle of a Corpse Bearer” makes thing malleable with bringing a reneged as catalyst and his lively overtures as the frame of reference for this beautiful literary fiction. Hitherto, very few novels have written in English on the enterprising Parsi community of Mumbai and certainly the life of a Parsi “corpse bearer” never drawn any workable attention from the writers, who dwelt extensively to work on this city surrounded with hypes and its collapses.

Zoroastrian faith was a beginning with an inter-community marriage of a girl, which later shaped through the normal growth of her family and turning into a social group in the course of time. Zoroastrian theology considers all dead matter bruising and unhygienic. Cyrus derives the idea of the novel from a Parsi dock worker who married Khandhia’s daughter. The timeframe of novel is set in the pre-independence era, with having a corpse bearer (Phiroze Elchidana) as narrator. Phiroze, the son of a revered priest who fall in love with Seppy (Sepideh), the daughter of Khandia-Elchi agrees to become a Khandia (on his father-in-law Temoorus’s condition for marrying his daughter), but unfortunately loses his beloved Seppy to snakebite soon after the birth of their daughter, Farida. Mistry presents lucidly, and with amazing clarity, dark humour, the social and occupational details of a Khandia and his continuing low position in Parsi community.

Khandias are sort of ‘untouchable’ because they deal with the corpses, which are symptomatic of frenzied biases in favour of standard or sub-standard socio-economic existence, never such heavy dose of emotion allow to accept something like ‘exhuming’ as an important work done by the corpse bearer. Availing the mass-market senses, here too rituals downgrade the potential of rational thinking. Though the Parsis do not officially have castes or sub-castes, barring an overt categorisation of Athornan and Behdin but Mistry’s analysis of Parsis seems dominating those old narrow and misleading systemic beliefs. His verbalization of clear occupational biases are supported by the impressive odysseys, so it would be hard for anyone to let down this well conceived commentary on intrinsically closed Parsi society.

The good thing is, neither this book carries the amount of controversial puts to draw any ban or high sounding resistance of non-reading crowds (which are quite rampant these days) nor the author is acting in haste of dethroning the old set of beliefs, which are outdated and not so venial deserving simple pass off. Parsis have seen high time in India through theirs enterprising quest and the success came along with those merits. However, trade is much open now and drawing the interest of all sections-hence making things competitive in ideas and cronyism as the real plank of action. It’s not the Parsi’s business position has dwindled only because of liberalisation of India’s economic outlook but prominently through theirs persisting reliance on ‘closeness’ still as the order of the day.

Although, this novel is set in the time of greater orthodoxy but it’s hard enough even today to see Khandias lower positional claim caused with the poverty or any other factors-still the ‘rituals’ are the excuse for theirs segregation. Cyrus Mistry, a writer of high senses for those all who follow his works have a sound basis in putting forth his community’s inner life picture-while all this, the absorption of intricate social accounts confirms the high degree of authenticity coming through the author’s long solitary life and his overtures within and outside of the Parsi’s usually acclaimed close circle. Distinct from Mistry’s own earlier novel, The Radiance of Ashes; his present work deals more straightly with the Parsi community through having sharper focus on an unusual and telling subject.

Arvind Krishna Mehrotra’s blurb aptly defines the qualities of the novel in these scintillating words -“There’s more magic in Mistry’s realism than in magic realism”. His remarks are convincing for the readers and critics who have read this book that totally moves to tell on the margins of history with an amazing level of originality. Tells of tragic love and degradation seldom could be so charming and horrific at the same time, as it appears in the Mistry’s Chronicle of a Corpse Bearer. Beyond recognition, he was being taken for long as one of the leading literary merits of his generation; now this book will also give him the limelight as much he will desire. Still if left with the choices, Cyrus Mistry will be prefer to rove in the world of ideas rather with the noisy acclaims.

It would not be an exaggeration, if said “Indian writing is English is now more diversified and matured with this novel”. This is a kind of literary work repeats not frequently but in sporadic arrival, the level of such high standard works imbue new spirits, essential for the functionalities and excellence alike. The floods of writing can’t do good except making irrelevant interfaces as popular habit-the well shaped and targeted writing like this, certainly has better reach to the readers (even though not very high in numbers). A pure literary fiction on Mumbai celebrated Parsi’s community life is a new phenomenon, here the underlyings are not bollywood, Shiv Sena or the filthy capital-so giving time for a special overview on forgotten Khandias and his personal life. Personally, I will rate this book as the best literary work of the year, written so far…readers seeking insightful reading must spend time with Cyrus Mistry’s Chronicle of a Corpse Bearer..!
Atul Kumar Thakur
August31st2012,Friday, New Delhi

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