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Chronicle of a Corpse Bearer: Haunting, Poignant and Stark

The novel has, as its subject matter, an exploration of the lives of the caste of corpse bearers within the Parsi community in Bombay.

Lopamudra Chatterjee |

Updated:May 1, 2014, 5:27 PM IST
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Chronicle of a Corpse Bearer: Haunting, Poignant and Stark
The novel has, as its subject matter, an exploration of the lives of the caste of corpse bearers within the Parsi community in Bombay.
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Cyrus Mistry is not new to the world of writing. He is, in fact, a famed playwright and has made a substantial contribution to the annals of contemporary theater in India. His first novel, Radiance of Ashes, was published in 2005, and he has managed to weave a beautiful, poignant tale yet again, with his new novel, Chronicle of a Corpse Bearer.

Published by Aleph Book Company, the novel has, as its subject matter, an exploration of the lives of the caste of corpse bearers within the Parsi community in Bombay. The Khandhais, as they are known, carry dead bodies to the Tower of Silence. Marginalized, extremely poor, and largely neglected, the book deals with this unacknowledged minority section of society from a very personal point of view. The narrator, Elchi, is born as the son of a priest, but on account of falling in love with the daughter of a Khandhai, he leaves his community and joins the thankless job of being a corpse bearer himself. As the reader follows the tragic life of Elchi, and his day-to-day struggle, the story becomes much broader in its scope of depicting the lives of this isolated community.

The rituals of the Parsi community are described in great details in the book, with focus on their idea of death, and the manner in which this inevitable phenomenon is dealt with. The tradition of showing the dead body to a dog to affirm its deceased status, the described tradition of anointing the body with bull's urine, and also the custom of getting the funeral over with by sunset are just some of the customs which and explained very starkly.

As the novel takes us through Elchi's bittersweet childhood, his relationship with his family members, especially his father, and his tragic love story with Sepideh, one gets drawn into the lives lead within this secluded community. Their poverty-stricken status, their curse of untouchability, their small victories and larger sorrows opens up to the reader.

Chronicle of a Corpse Bearer is a beautifully woven tale of the life of one man, which reflects the lives of a dying, isolated and largely marginalized and overlooked community. Eye-opening, poignant and brutally honest, the book introduces us to this ignored community from a very novel vantage point.

Chronicle of a Corpse Bearer

Author: Cyrus Mistry
Publisher: Aleph Book Company
247 Pages
Price: 495 INR

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