Chronicle of a Corpse Bearer – Cyrus Mistry

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. 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.

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.

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