I have recently reprinted the prayer book shown in the picture above.
It is a wonderful translation & transliteration of the Daily Zoroastrian prayers into simple English with meanings and insightful explanatory notes which, when read along with the daily prayers, gave me a new joy of understanding, comprehending and analysing, rather than simply reciting by rote the words that I knew out of habit.
I strongly feel that Framroz Rustomjee’s timelessly relevant words of advice stand good for all of us, be it parents teaching their children the Navjote prayers or adults seeking to understand the philosophy of Zoroastrianism better.
It is available for Rs 200 at the Parsiana bookshop, Zoroastrian Studies bookshop and & Minoi Meher outside the Anjuman Atashbehram in Mumbai. Or contact me by email: email@example.com
Proceeds from the sale of this book will be donated to charity.
This is a story narrated to Roshnimai Godiwala by a pious lady. It is the story of a simple husband who was unfortunate to have a wife whose lavish spending habits left him greatly distressed. For a long time, he tried his best to cater to her incessant monetary demands till one day, out of sheer despair, he decided to end his life. Even as he stood, poised for a leap unto death, on a precipice overlooking the Wai Ghat near Panchgani, a Sadhu suddenly appeared by his side.
When questioned by the ascetic, this Parsi gentleman explained his predicament , saying he was going to meet his Maker. The ascetic laughed aloud and told the Parsi that if this was truly a way to be liberated from life’s worries and meeting God, then many mortals would have succeeded by now. He requested this troubled soul to visit his Ashram and assured him that he would help him to meet God. Since the desperate Parsi had nothing to lose anyway, he accompanied the Sadhu to his Ashram.
The ascetic gave this despairing soul a fruit to eat. No sooner was the fruit consumed, the Parsi went into a samadhi– like state, liberated from all flesh and blood needs-no thirst, no hunger, no sleep, no defecation for forty days! When he returned from this trance like state, he had partaken of many secrets and mysteries lying locked in Nature’s vault. The ascetic handed a Jamaspe to this enlightened soul, instructing him how to use the book to prescribe Nirangs , prayers to other long suffering Parsi souls that they may enjoy some relief and happiness. He also told this Parsi that, henceforth, every morning when he awoke, he would find a ten rupee note under his pillow. It is worth noting that this sequence of events occurred in the forties when a rupee held great value.
On returning home, the man went about using the copy of Jamaspe and recently acquired divine knowledge for the work assigned to him. As for his extravagant wife, there was always the ten rupee note every morning to satisfy her foolish demands. After some time, the man realised his natural end was drawing near. He called a pious lady neighbour whom he trusted, and told her to take away the Jamaspe and carry on the good work after his death. The lady disciple told him that she would collect the sacred book from the prayer shelf with the burning oil lamp only after he had passed away. She assured him that she would then put it to good use as instructed by him. However, after his demise, when she tried to collect the book from the secret place shown to her, the book was missing!
Roshnimai asked late Jehangirji Sohrabji Chiniwalla Saheb (disciple of Ustad Saheb Behramshah Navroji Shroff) to explain why the book had vanished from the secret place shown to the survivor. He explained that , in the Aravali mountains, even today, there are places cut off from the outside material world by talismatic kash. Here lie some Astral Libraries where Holy Books of all the Divinely Revealed Religions are kept.Jehangirji Sohrabji Chiniwala Saheb opined that, since the survivor lady was not found eligible to use the secrets of Jamaspe, it must have, so to say, ehtherialised and got restored to one such astral library! He also explained that there are many such advanced souls dwelling in these places cut off from the outside materialistic world. Though the Sadhu was not a Parsi, he could draw the relevant book from such an astral library by virtue of his spiritual stature so that the Parsi could do the good work he was destined to do for other suffering Parsis.
The cynic and the doubting Thomas, will dismiss this story as an unbelievable yarn. We wish him good luck!
Strange are the ways of Nature and stranger, the multidimensional truths and events lying beyond the grasp of our puny human intellect that always presumes to understand the multidimensional truths of Nature. But then,as Hamlet told his friend,
“There are more things in Heaven and earth, Horatio than are dreamt of in your philosophy!.”
Bachi Karkaria’s Erratica has been deflating egos – and tickling ribs – for the past 25 years. The weekly column began in, and with, The Metropolis on Saturday, moved to the newly minted Bombay Times, sparkled in the Sunday Times of India and has come to rest on the edit page of The Times of India. Its pompous subjects have no such luck. The stiletto thrust, the intelligent association of ideas, the ever-ready wit, the masterful word-play, the warm humanity have won Bachi Karkaria a growing legion of admirers. Arguably, Alec Smart, the cheekier commentator at the end of each column has a bigger fan club. Erratica Once More, second in the series, is a selection from an eclectic range covering old targets and new media, Eng Lit pit and real potholes, gender and its agendas, life in all its foibles – and fun.
The Sunday Times / Peters Fraser + Dunlop Young Writer of the Year Award, in association with the University of Warwick, rewards the best work of fiction, non-fiction or poetry by a British or Irish author aged between 18 and 35.
Featuring three novels, a collection of short stories and a biography, the shortlist showcases the extraordinary breadth of young British and Irish writing: Minoo Dinshaw’s debut Outlandish Knight is the biography of a great and strange British historian; with the The End of the Road, Claire North has written a novel of life, death and everything in between; The Lucky Ones, Julianne Pachico’s debut collection of stories, mostly set in Columbia, brings together the fates of guerrilla soldiers, rich kids, rabbits and drug dealers; Conversations with Friends by Irish writer Sally Rooney has written an intimate story of high-risk relationships, youth and love; and The Lauras by Sara Taylor, whose first novel was shortlisted for the award in 2015, explores identity and relationships, set against a rolling backdrop of the North American landscape.
The winner of The Sunday Times / Peters Fraser & Dunlop Young Writer of the Year Award 2017, in association with the University of Warwick, will be announced at a reception at the London Library on Thursday, 7 December.
The restoration of the holdings of the 145-year-old First Dastoor Meherjirana Library in Navsari is an exercise in reclaiming the illustrious history of Parsis in India
I never saw such a fine collection in a small town, and it does honour to the generosity of the donors and to the zeal for instruction of the Parsi population at Navsari. This visit will remain one of the best remembrances of my short occasion in the Parsi mofussil.
This inscription, the first entry in the guestbook of Navsari’s 145-year-old First Dastoor Meherjirana Library, scrawled in the lithe, oblique hand of James Darmesteter, a French Orientalist, translator and scholar of Iranian philology and Zoroastrianism, dates back to January 1887. The son of a Jewish bookbinder, Darmesteter was elected chair of Iranian languages at the Collège de France in Paris in 1885. He travelled to India the next year to trace the origins of a few Pashto ballads. His 11-month-long itinerary included excursions to the Punjab, Peshawar and Abbottabad and brief halts in Bombay (now Mumbai) and Navsari. An article he wrote on Bombay’s oldest French library, Le Cercle Littéraire Bibliothèque Dinshaw Petit, located on Forbes Street (today V.B. Gandhi Marg in the Kala Ghoda precinct), published in LesJournal des Débats in November 1891, testifies to his visit to this thrumming commercial centre of colonial India. But what drew Darmesteter to Navsari, a sleepy town in Gujarat surrounded by chikoo plantations, about 250km from Bombay?
Photo: Abhijit Bhatlekar/Mint
Centre of learning
I first came to Navsari in 2015, looking for a house that had belonged to my paternal great-grandfather. The nationwide construction boom is visible here too as the town steadfastly embraces change—pastel-hued, one-storeyed houses with spacious otlas (porches) are now transforming into modest apartment blocks; grocery shops are making way for ritzy showrooms. When I went back in August this year, I made sure to stroll through the town, taking in the details—dense gulkand ice cream at the Yazdan Cold Drink House, the swathe of green that is Tata Baug, and the striking façade of the library on an arterial street.
It is believed that Parsi migrants settled in Navsari in the 12th century, some 400 years after their arrival on the shores of Sanjan. It is also believed that Navsari has the oldest existing fire temple outside of Iran, the Vadi Dar-e-Meher, consecrated between 1140-60—the exact date is contentious. It is revered as the most important centre of priestly learning in India, especially for those ceremonies that ordain priesthood. Navsari is so important to Parsis as a centre of learning, with the Vadi Dar-e-Meher being a key centre for initiation into priesthood, that in his Gujarati book Tawarikh-e-Navsari(1897), historian and sociologist Sorabji Mancherji Desai compares it to Oxford University.
James Darmesteter’s entry in the visitors’ book dated January 1887. Photo: Abhijit Bhatlekar/Mint
The foundation of a library in this town of scholarship and erudition was perhaps only to be expected. The First Dastoor Meherjirana Library was established in 1872 in the town’s Dastoor Vad precinct, and is home to about 630 manuscripts written in Avesta, Gujarati, Pahlavi, Pazand, Persian, Sanskrit and Urdu. “Back then, it functioned as a kitab khana (or the space of a library-workshop; also known as khizana-al-kutub) where human and material resources were accumulated in order to manufacture manuscripts,” says Katy Antia, chairperson of the library’s board of trustees.
Katy Antia, chairperson of the library’s board of trustees (right), with Parinaz Gheewala, administrator. Photo: Abhijit Bhatlekar/Mint
In 1872, Navsariwala Seth Burjor Bamanji Padam, a wealthy Parsi gentleman, gave Rs225 to construct the library. But soon there were too many books; a larger space was needed. In 1906, Jamshedji Kavasji Dastoor Meherji Rana gifted the building he owned in Tarota Bazaar, and the library still stands here today. An annexe was erected in 1967 after a donation of Rs16,000 by Seth Rustomji Hormusji Kolah. Kolah’s family were the original makers of the fêted brewed cane vinegar (sarko) and fish roe pickle (gharab nu achaar) that Navsari is known for. One of the outlets of the 132-year-old EF Kolah & Sons, in fact, is a stone’s throw from the library. In 2009, using funds from the Sir Dorabji Tata Trust, a new building adjoining the existing structure was constructed. The library now has a reading room, a conference hall, accommodation for visiting scholars and a laboratory for the conservation of manuscripts. It was the second library in India to house important Zoroastrian manuscripts, founded 15 years after the establishment of the Mulla Feroze Library in Mumbai.
The upper level of the main reading room. Photo: Abhijit Bhatlekar/Mint
The library’s repository of manuscripts is impressive and wide-ranging—it includes sanads belonging to the Mughals; an Indo-Persian cookbook titled Kitab al Ma’qulat va’l Mashrubat; recipes from Unani medicine in Gujarati; Outlines Of Zend Grammar in Avestan; and copies of the 19th century illustrated and lithographed Shahnameh, a Persian epic by Firdausi first completed in 1010. It is also home to printed publications such as volumes of Parsee Prakash (see box), a record of the obituaries of prominent Parsis; the collected works of Friedrich Max Müller, including Chips From A German Workshop and India: What Can It Teach Us?; and parts of Harmsworth Popular Science, a British fortnightly on science and innovation first published in 1912. There are books on science, philosophy and popular literature, autobiographies and encyclopaedias. The library is often open until midnight, with students using the reading room free of charge. It is a space open to members of all communities.
The Meherjirana Library has attracted scholars from across the world—Australia, France, Germany, Iran, Japan, Spain, the UK and US. “We have hosted 56 scholars in the last six years,” says Antia. A three-day conference in January 2013 saw the library play host to scholars such as author Amitav Ghosh, historian and pedagogue Dinyar Patel and a researcher from the Oxford Centre for Hindu Studies, Anton Zykov, and was an occasion to showcase a selection of the meticulously conserved manuscripts. The library has also been working closely with Prof. Alberto Cantera and his team of researchers at the University of Salamanca, Spain, to digitize important Avestan manuscripts through the Avestan Digital Project (see box).
The name of the library can be traced to one of the manuscripts it holds, the Mahyarnama, a versified Persian biography of Meherji Rana. A boy named Mahyar Vacha, later known as Meherji Rana, was born in Navsari in 1514. Adopted into the lineage of the Bhagaria group of Parsi-Zoroastrian priests of his paternal uncle Vaccha Jesang, Meherji Rana soon won recognition for his devoutness. According to a translation of the Mahyarnama, an excerpt of which appears on the official website of the library, “Meherji Rana was chosen by the Mughal governor at Surat to have an audience with the Emperor Akbar…During his stay at the court from 1578-79 AD, Meherji Rana impressed the emperor so much that according to the Mughal historian ’Abd al-Qadir al-Bada’uni, the Emperor ordered his vizier Abul Fazl to keep a fire burning day and night at the court. Meherji Rana thwarted the sorcery of a Hindu priest named Jagatguru, who had caused a plate to ascend into the sky, appearing like a second sun. Before Meherji Rana left court he was given a land grant by the Emperor, in an area called Ghelkhadi, near Navsari.”
A restored ‘firman’ in the library. Photo: Abhijit Bhatlekar/Mint
A firman or sanad (deed) was issued under Akbar’s seal and signed by Abul Fazl. Today, it sits framed in the administrative office of the library. Restored with the support of the New Delhi-based Parzor Foundation, first initiated by UNESCO New Delhi in 1999 for the preservation of Parsi-Zoroastrian heritage, it was on display at the exhibition Threads Of Continuity: Zoroastrian Life And Culture, held at the Indira Gandhi National Centre for the Arts (IGNCA) in New Delhi in March last year.
Upon his return to Navsari, Meherji Rana was accepted as the head priest (vada dastur). There began a priestly lineage that continues today: On 25 January 2010, Kaikhushroo Navroze Dastoor was chosen as the 17th Dastoor Meherji Rana, and currently serves as the head priest.
The Atash Behram (fire temple) in Navsari. Photo: Abhijit Bhatlekar/Mint
A stately structure in cadet blue and white, the library is located a short distance from the Atash Behram (fire temple). A flight of stairs leads to the main reading room, where empty chaises longues dot the periphery. In the afternoon, the space sinks into sepulchral silence, save for the rare cry of a hawker ferrying wood apples and sweet-and-tart carambola (kamrakh) on a pushcart down the street. The air is filled with the musky scent of leather-bound covers. A wrought iron spiral staircase in one corner leads to more cupboards chock-full of books. A member of the staff arranges well-thumbed dailies on a pigeon-hole wall shelf. Students pore over tomes to prepare for entrance examinations, patrons go through newspapers with hawk eyes.
Ervad Rustomji Padsha Antia, one of the oldest residents of Navsari, at his 100-year-old house in Tarota Bazaar. Photo: Abhijit Bhatlekar/Mint
Keeping up with the past
In 1923, the library commissioned Ervad Bamanji Nasarwanji Dhabar, a scholar of Zoroastrian studies and Avestan and Pahlavi, to catalogue the collection. They had 469 manuscripts. This was titled “Descriptive Catalogue Of All Manuscripts In The First Dastur Meherji Rana Library”, Navsari, known colloquially as “Dhabar’s Catalogue”. In 2008, a comprehensive catalogue of all the manuscripts received after 1923 was compiled by Firoze Kotwal, a community scholar-priest and adviser to the Unesco-Parzor Foundation project of manuscript conservation, Daniel Sheffield, a postdoctoral fellow and scholar from Princeton University, and Bharti Gandhi, the librarian at the time. They listed the 157 manuscripts that had been acquired over 85 years.
“The collection of manuscripts was built gradually as a result of contributions by various families and individuals from Navsari and elsewhere,’’ says Antia. Several manuscripts were donated by the Meherjirana family itself. The largest was by Dastoor Erachji Sorabji Meherjirana (1826-1900), a descendant of Mahyar and a remarkable scholar who mastered the art of writing Persian manuscripts by hand at a young age. He was appointed librarian at the Mulla Feroze Library in the early 1860s, and simultaneously assigned the task of copying a number of manuscripts in Avestan, Gujarati and Persian. According to Kotwal’s paper, A Treasury Of Zoroastrian Manuscripts: The First Dastoor Meherjirana Library, Navsari (2011), Dastoor Erachji not only made copies for the Mulla Feroze Library but for himself as well. When he donated his collection to the Meherjirana Library, there were more than 75 manuscripts in his own hand. He is also recognized for having compiled the first Pahlavi-Gujarati dictionary in 1869. More recently, the holdings of the library have been further enriched by the acquisition of manuscripts from families living in Mumbai, from Kotwal’s collection, as well as from non-resident Indians.
The exactitude of the “makers” of Zoroastrian manuscripts—the calligrapher, illustrator and binder—was of prime importance at each stage of creation. The same importance can be extended to the role of the conservator. The important manuscripts conserved at the library by the INTACH Conservation Institute, Lucknow, include two illustrated volumes of the Shahnameh, the Sikandar Nameh of the Persian poet Nizami, Jamaspi manuscripts in Gujarati, a Persian vanshavali (genealogical chart), and several firmans.
First undertaken in February 2006, INTACH’s ongoing conservation of rare manuscripts was planned in phases. A temporary climate-controlled laboratory was set up inside the library annexe. Twenty-five phases of curative conservation have since been completed, and 88,417 folios restored. Around 698 objects, including firmans, scrolls (one is 18ft long), vanshavalis, oil paintings and photographs were given a new lease of life.
Mamta Mishra, director of the institute, says: “The main problem was posed by the fugitive inks used and the charred effect of the iron gall ink, which is acidic in nature. The iron gall ink is initially black in colour but on ageing, chars, turns brown, and gets transferred on the rear side of the paper.” The most common causes of wear and tear, according to Mishra, are deposition of dust and dirt on the paper, brittleness due to acidity, warping and abrasion of the folios, and ink stains. Fungus growth and infestation by insects take a toll too. Defective repair using acidic paper too leaves splodges of adhesive on the folios. The pages are very delicate—there is a fearful crackle of paper; it crinkles at the slightest touch.
Yet the greatest challenge comes from the climate, which prompted the microfilming of almost 90,000 pages, a project funded by the Parzor Foundation. Other donors include the FE Dinshaw Trust, the Pirojsha Godrej Foundation and the World Zoroastrian Organisation Trust.
Membership of the library has grown. It currently has about 400 members, 100 of them lifetime members. The fee is modest—Rs240 for an year-long membership, and Rs5,000 for lifetime membership.
Acquiring funds is a recurrent challenge faced by the library, but its operation and upkeep are far from the bureaucratic malaise that plagues similar institutions in the country, owing to the dedication of trustees and staff. “There is endless conservation work to be done and more manuscripts await treatment,” says Mishra. “They are then beneficial to the research scholars who visit the library from time to time.”
Photo: Abhijit Bhatlekar/Mint
Born in Bombay in 1849, Bomanji Byramjee Patel collected newspaper cuttings of major events in the Parsi community of Bombay and the world. When he died in 1908, it is believed he left behind about 200 scrapbooks of cuttings. But a few benevolent Parsis had recognized its archival value earlier. They helped Patel establish a periodical that would eventually become a vital source of reference for the general public. It was named ‘Parsee Prakash’, and comprised unabridged obituaries of members of the community; letters drafted by renowned Parsis; government deeds; and even the eloquent writings of itinerant travellers. While the first volume, comprising 11 parts, was published in 1888, the second was put together after his death by his wife. Thereafter, Rustam Barjorji Paymaster, a Mumbai-based scholar and poet, was hired to edit and compile volumes (3-7), published by 1942. Following Paymaster’s death in 1943, efforts were made to renew the periodical, and by 1973, another four volumes were published, recording events until 1962. It is believed that an additional volume (12) served as a comprehensive index to the entire set. Most of the volumes are at present at the Meherjirana Library, the KR Cama Oriental Institute in Mumbai, and the library of the Bombay Parsi Panchayat.
Photo: Abhijit Bhatlekar/Mint
Conservation of the KhordehAvesta from 1601
he INTACH restoration process salvaged a copy of the Khordeh Avesta, a prized manuscript of the library that is over 400 years old. The team from the department of preservation at the Royal Library in Copenhagen, Denmark, led by conservator Hanne Karin Serensen and book-binder Hanna Munch Christensen, received it in two volumes: one comprising 299 folios, and the other, 250 folios. Handwritten in red and black ink, it was partially restored by the late Nicholas Hadgraft in Cambridge, UK. The text arrived in Copenhagen in poor condition—the manuscript was unbound, the pages yellowing and infested. The red ink had corroded in portions, and the paper was prone to foxing, or the appearance of reddish-brown rusty blotches.
The restoration process
■Strips of thin Japanese paper were used to secure the insect-damaged parts
■ The adhesives were chosen to suit a warmer climate. In some places, wheat starch was used to create stronger bonds.
■ The loose pages were rejoined with strips of paper from both sides, the quires gathered and sewn together.
■ The book block was sewn on and woven with cotton-linen tape, and the sewing thread used was a linen yarn from Sweden.
■ The spine was glued with synthetic adhesive Evacon-R.
■ The end bands were made by hand and sewn with linen thread on a thin rope, followed by a piece of tape to further strengthen the structure.
■ Preparation of the leather cover involved paring with a hand-knife, to make the edges thin enough for a gathering which appears as discrete as possible.
■ The box was lined with cotton flannel, the spine covered in the same leather as the cover, and the lid and sides dressed with red-coloured bookbinders’ cloth.
The manuscript is now nestled in a cabinet under the watchful gaze of the librarian. It is available on request, and one is expected to wear a pair of gloves while leafing through its painstakingly restored pages.
From the author of Breathless in Bombaycomes an intensely engaging novel about life, family, friendship, and duty. In the heart of Pali Hill, the Beverly Hills of Mumbai, four friends await the arrival of Jonathan, a man “greatly appreciated for his wit, his effervescence, and his indignation,” a man exiled from his home state. Through their conversations, we learn of the tumultuous life of Jonathan – how he single-handedly breaks up a matka den, disarms a rioting mob, charms a recovery agent, evades arrest at a drug-ridden rave party, and brightens up the lives of sex workers and their children. Jonathan has a solution for every crisis that strikes others, but not for his own dysfunctional family life. It is left to life then to resolve matters for him.
Drawing on the terse intensity of a play, the sparkling wit of a stand-up comedy, and the insights of a thought-provoking novel, Waiting for Jonathan Koshy reflects the triumph of a spirit that refuses to let up on humor and quick thinking in the face of intense personal adversity. It is a book about friendship, perseverance, family obligations, and duty. Most importantly, about life’s late but redeeming powers.
“What a delicious irony sits at the heart of Murzban F. Shroff’s Waiting for Jonathan Koshy: the central character is almost larger than life, having done the things we all might dream of doing to serve others in desperate situations; but in his own life, for his own welfare, he is, in many ways powerless. By magnifying the heroic, Shroff unflinchingly portrays our human vulnerability. Waiting for Jonathan Koshy is a fascinating reading experience from a deeply skilled writer.” – Robert Olen Butler, Pulitzer Prize Winner
“Murzban Shroff’s kaleidoscopic image of Koshy’s passage through the complications of his journey offers a remarkably frank and revealing view of twenty-first century Indian life.” – Madison Smartt Bell, National Book Award Finalist.
About the Author
Murzban F. Shroff is a Mumbai-based writer. He has published his fiction with over fifty journals in the U.S. and UK. Six of the stories have won a Pushcart Prize nomination; one has been the recipient of the John Gilgun Fiction Award. Shroff’s debut short story collection, BREATHLESS IN BOMBAY, was shortlisted for the Commonwealth Writers’ Prize in the best debut category from Europe and South Asia. It was rated by the Guardian as among the ten best Mumbai books. His novel, WAITING FOR JONATHAN KOSHY, was a finalist for the Horatio Nelson Fiction Prize. Shroff is a contributing editor to Panorama: The Journal of Intelligent Travel, a UK-based travel magazine. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org
The story of Viraf, a Parsi foreign student in Delaware, who in the turbulent wake of the Iran hostage crisis can’t distinguish his redneck oppressors from his Deadhead neighbors. And the story of a violent world that is nevertheless slowly coming together.
PRAISE FOR GO HOME
“At the heart of Sohrab Homi Fracis’s poignant new novel, Go Home, is the question of one’s place in the world, the answer never more ambiguous or fragile than for the immigrant or exile, when a person’s condition of homelessness is in transition, neither here nor there. Given the cultural moment, I’m grateful to Fracis for his highly topical reexamination of the American Dream, a still reliable but never easy remedy for all those yearning to reinvent themselves beyond the constrictions of tribe and nation. And in Go Home, assimilation, sometimes a wretched exercise, can also be a hilarious and uplifting affair.”
– Bob Shacochis, author of The Woman Who Lost Her Soul (Dayton Literary Peace Prize) and Easy in the Islands (National Book Award)
“I read Go Home with great pleasure and lots of empathy for the displaced and somewhat mystified but always lovable Viraf and his misadventures in America. The author’s (and Viraf’s) powers of observation as well as the period he covers — Deadheads and Pintos, great fun — are distinctive qualities of his engrossing account of the immigrant experience.”
– Diane Johnson, author of Le Divorce and Persian Nights, and co-scriptwriter of The Shining
“Go Home is the story of one man’s journey to build a cultural bridge across continents, crossing waters that are unsettling and unsafe. While Fracis sets the novel during one of the most turbulent decades in both India’s and the United States’ history, his writing also offers insight in today’s tense climate. Beautiful prose, wise and witty.”
– Susan Muaddi Darraj, author of A Curious Land (American Book Award, AWP Grace Paley Prize, Arab American Book Award) and The Inheritance of Exile
“This is a beautiful novel about leaving home and moving to America, old world to new, and the courageous spirit of beginning a new life. With his accurate eye and marmalade-like descriptions, Sohrab Fracis’s characters come alive. Go Home fulfills the promise of his Iowa Short Fiction Award.”
– Deepak Singh, NPR, PRI, BBC Commentator, author of How May I Help You? An Immigrant’s Journey from MBA to Minimum Wage
REVIEWS OF GO HOME
“Sohrab Homi Fracis’ debut novel is a powerful, prescient tale of moving away and longing to belong…a quest tale of the highest order…dealing in all-inclusive ideas, of who we are, where we are going, and even where–or when–we are welcome…. Fracis is both a deft realist and master mesmerist with his prose…. By book’s end, the reader is saddened to leave.”
– Daniel A. Brown, “A Place To Be,” Cover Story for FOLIO
“When we first meet him in the early ’80s, Viraf is a student slightly at odds with his heritage…. Clearly, the complex maze of his cultural allegiances makes ‘home’ a hard place to find…. [A]ssailants appear unexpectedly (encountered on an empty road) and disappear just as quickly. Unpredictability adds to their menace—no precaution will keep them away. For Viraf, this makes racist violence seem as inescapable and uncontrollable as the snow: embeds it in the landscape.”
– Tadzio Koelb, “Exile on Main Street,” The Brooklyn Rail
“Viraf’s adjustments to American culture are mitigated in intriguing ways in the novel…. Shock and unresolved grief color Viraf’s interaction with the world…with a growing hostility and wariness taking over his personality in ways that are newly poignant and even heartbreaking, considering his warmth and gregariousness towards his friends in the earlier chapters.”
“Funny, dark, true, and poignant, Fracis found a way to talk about multiculturalism, immigrants, racism and globalization of the societies without being boring. Even if the story is in the 80s readers will eventually see that almost nothing has changed, except the cars!… But still books such as Go Home give hope that humanity is on the right way, the way of inclusivity and mutual respect.”
– Olivier Rey, Red Dirt Report
“Fracis serves his readers an experience that recreates the traveling lifestyle of an outsider…. This provides a painfully intimate snapshot of how one’s sense of identity can break when he or she fails to find belonging within a community…. Whether violence targets those perceived to be fraternizing over lines of color and caste or those from foreign lands, humans attack other humans. [Go Home] pose[s] the thought: are our enemies so real, or did we create them because of the acts of a few? If created through the acts of a few, we should judge our actions just as carefully.”
This clever period novel about a Parsi boy born without a future (almost) wins you over
Give Tashan Mehta’s ‘The Liar’s Weave’ a chance if you’re in for some cleverly personalised mythology.
Tashan Mehta’s first novel almost wins you over; almost.
It all boils down to the kind of reader you are. Of course, when I say, Tashan Mehta’s first novel The Liar’s Weave almost wins you over, I am talking about me, myself. She almost won me over, with her confidence and her troubled, Edenic landscape, alternating between a heavenly refugee forest and a colonised Parsi Colony. All of this did seduce me into imagining Mehta’s multiplying, alternative history of India under the British Raj (her protagonist is a boy born without a future, and in one of the many parallels between her themes and Salman Rushdie’s, it made me imagine the boy’s country without a future as well.)
And so let me go on for a while in praise of this young, imaginative author, whose greatest quality thus far, for me, has been her ability to write fiction that is not bad, not one bit, not at all. Because let’s face it: young people write a lot of rubbish, and the forcefed cherry on top is, they get it published too. Here, instead, is someone with a plan, an understanding of panorama, and an undeniable sense of perseverance.
Give Tashan Mehta a chance if you’re in for some cleverly personalised mythology and, as her Twitter bio accurately puts it, some “unnecessarily profound” things. (I must say that it has always been the case with me that whatever is profound is always unnecessarily so. Like travelling into space and realising how inconsequential politics is. You didn’t need to spend all that money and catapult Laika to her death in order to realise that.)
So, here we are, in early 20th century Bombay, in British India, in the home of a Parsi family with an unusual kid: Zahan Merchant, who – like his last name – has been blessed with the power to trade in some destinies, some futures, some heavy lies and truths here and there, you know. Why? Because Zahan was born without a future, in the sense that the most noted astrologist couldn’t read his birth chart. The consequence? If Zahan lies, he creates reality. Sounds like me on my Facebook profile, but it’s obviously much better than that.
The Rushdie conundrum
There’s not much to be gained, however, by summarising any part of Mehta’s plot, unlike some other cases, where summarising is crucial to explaining why I liked or did not like a book. Here, the challenge is different, and here, I’ll return to Rushdie. Have you ever read a novel where you could feel the writer sitting back at times, smiling, looking at you, going, “Are you going to continue? Hmm? I thought as much.” It’s a bizarre form of love, and it first happened to me with Salman Rushdie.
It was – I mean, it had to be – Midnight’s Children. Which is to say, this is not a mark of bad writing. Growing exasperated with Mehta’s prose did not repulse me, or make me put away her book with the wish never to pick it up again. This is not that kind of a novel. I’ll repeat: it’s not a bad novel. But there is a method to drawing your reader in; Mehta fumbles on that count.
I won’t say I’m all for confusing, withholding narratives. I take much more to something like the voice of Tristram Shandy, who is so eager to tell you everything about his life, so very eager, that he just goes on and on in a highly articulate yet delightfully clumsy manner. Even Rushdie, whose magic realism most works on his ability to build a door which only his protagonist can open from time to time, relies on exposition and a cleverly engineered foolish voice that just talks so much.
Mehta would do well to reflect on the nature of description. A fiction-writing workshop might convince one (as it did me, for a while) that description and narration don’t always go together. But it’s like making tea: if you add milk and sugar, yes, you will be making it conventional, but you will also be making it so much better. So go ahead, Ms Mehta. Combine description and narration. Give me more non-conversational histories, more spaces, more cavernous homes, spoonfeed me. And not at the end of 200 pages. Spoonfeed me now, or sometime around now.
This is not just the warcry of the reader who heads straight for Wodehouse past all the Tolkien and George RR Martin titles, it’s also the invisible Instagram bio of every millenial, armed as they come with a five-second four-emoji attention span. (Don’t get me wrong. I’m not asking the author to pander to useless, unthinking demands. All I ask is that she give me more to keep me there. It’s capitalism, when you look at it that way.)
And here’s why I’m begging for help here! I won’t leave without citing my reasons. Because Zahan Merchant has the ability to lie and create (and a general proclivity towards the magical), he is drawn into a secret forest full of ill-fated people, and even as he keeps secret his dealings with the people there, he has to deal with astrologers, parents, siblings, best friends, the whole birthday party, here. And there are intelligent references to British atrocities, a careful crafting of a relevant political backdrop, a hyper-aware, sylvan consciousness.
But it is, for lack of a better explanation, too intelligent. Far from taking a small step back, Mehta plunges right off the board and straight into the deep – she does it with grace, and that’s the saving grace. She tells her story with feeling, with a keen eye and ear for an other time, an other space. And above all, she tries to understand difference: the figure of Zahan, the forest full of outcasts, the Sanskrit terminology mixed into English speech. But before and after all the intricacies and the intelligence, there comes the eternal virtue of simplicity, false indicators of which include short sentences, easy words.
Simplicity is necessary, and for my pen, that is the bottom line. Tashan Mehta’s prose makes me think about the nature of fiction itself, which is a good thing, but it also makes me think, this book should probably have been either 200 pages longer, or Tashan Mehta, less ambitious.
Secrets, secrets and more secrets….the characters in this debutante novel ‘Coffee Days, Champagne Nights and other secrets’, of author Kainaz Jussawalla, seem to be having secrets come out of their closets and woodworks by the dozen.
From the innocent Punjabi girl leading a baffling dual life, to the strong counsellor fluxed in the face of her own dilemmas; from the emotional married man caught in an entangled web of his own life choices, to the fiesty ex Military man fighting his own inner battles; from the catholic nun oscillating between two equally strong truths, to the doctor with her own devious plans; to the women who give freedom a new address the novel is a treat for all book lovers that are intrigued with the workings of the human mind.
Sassy, spicy, juicy, dramatic, enthralling with breath- taking climaxes, ‘Coffee Days Champagne Night and other secrets’, promises to leave you glued to the edge of your seat, long after the show is over
Read it! Enjoy it! And this is one Secret you must spread around
Now available at Crossroads
Note : Also available in Braille, printed by the National Association of the Blind.