Month: July 2017

Chronicle of a Corpse Bearer, by Cyrus Mistry

“Because if the dead are really and truly dead, null and void, snuffed out without a trace – then everything we grow up believing in is a lie. All religion, theology, my father’s life and beliefs and prayers, the pumped-up ‘power of faith’ – everything is simply wishful thinking.”

Processed with VSCO with f2 presetI first read about the Towers of Silence in the James Patterson-Ashwin Sanghi collab project Private India. Until then I did not know about the Parsi custom of disposing corpses by leaving them for vultures to feed on. The Parsis are a close-knit community and I admit there wasn’t much I knew about them before reading Chronicle of a Corpse Bearer.

According to custom, the Parsis are not allowed to touch dead bodies, even those of their closest family, as they’re considered unclean. It is only the corpse bearers, or the khandias, who carry the corpses to the Towers of Silence, where they are left for the vultures. The khandias are therefore considered untouchables. Chronicle of a Corpse Bearer is the story of Phiroze Elchidana, son of a priest, who falls in love with Sepideh and is forced by her father to become a corpse bearer if he wished to marry her. Phiroze loves Sepideh enough to denounce his family and priesthood, and join the ostracized community of khandias. His father breaks all ties with him, and the only news he receives from home is from Vispy, his elder brother. Sepideh, or Seppy as she is fondly called, dies soon after, leaving Phiroze with the responsibility of raising their three year old daughter Farida.

The corpse bearers were forced to work for long hours under harsh conditions. One morning, overcome by fatigue and hunger, Phiroze faints, causing a corpse to fall off its bier. The superiors, convinced that he was drunk, suspend him and later place him on probation. Given the other challenges the corpse bearers were facing, they decided to go on strike. The strike lasted three days, during which no corpses were removed from their houses. The superiors agreed to their demands and also reinstated Phiroze.

This strike, in a way, forms the crux of the story. Chronicle of a Corpse Bearer is based on the true story of a corpse bearer who led the only khandia-led strike in Bombay in history.

What I liked about this story: An insight into the guarded Parsi community. Phiroze questions many of the rigid religious customs, and is often admonished by his father, Framroze, who considers it his responsibility to uphold the orthodox traditions. Framroze believes his wife died of cancer because she sometimes refused to follow his religious instructions. Phiroze, though overly fond of his father while growing up, begins to see him in a different light when this revelation is made. His heartbreak over losing Seppy is also a main part of the story – his belief that they will be reunited in the afterlife is quite moving.

What I did not like: The writing! The writing was too verbose for me to be invested in the story. One of the simplest examples of this is the following sentence: “He and I were meeting after the passage of a long time.” Needlessly long. The book is written in first person – Mistry has written it as though Phiroze himself has written it, but at no point does Mistry’s writing voice not conflict with his intended narrator’s voice. If you have read Arthur Golden’s Memoirs of a Geisha, you can hear the story being narrated by none other than the geisha in question. This is not the case here. For one, Phiroze is described as a simple man. However, the sophisticated language used is quite out of synch with the kind of character described.

Chronicle of a Corpse Bearer is a story in which a lot is written, but very little is said. On the whole, considering the potential of the subject matter at hand, I feel a tad underwhelmed by the book. The title rouses one’s interest, but the title may just be its most interesting part.

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How To Be A Bawse, by Lilly Singh

“You’re a Bawse now, and you need to spend less energy stalking your ex on Instagram and more energy making phenomenal first impressions. Plus, there are so many famous puppies on Instagram now who are way cuter than your ex. Get your priorities straight.”

rainandabook-lillysingh-superwoman-howtobeabawseI’ll always fondly remember the evening I was introduced to Lilly Singh aka Superwoman’s YouTube videos. The reasons for that are beyond the scope of this post, so I won’t elaborate further and bore you. That said, I confess that I’m not a regular viewer of her videos. In the three years that I’ve known about her channel, I’ve watched only a handful of them.

However, the book, How To Be A Bawse is delightful enough to revisit every once in a while. Going in, I assumed it was going to be another celebrity memoir (a genre I quite enjoy), but right at the beginning, Lilly says, “I’m not that old or wise, so this is not a memoir. Instead, this book is an accumulation of lessons I’ve learned that I want to share with you.” Fair enough.

So what is How To Be A Bawse? It is, as the name suggests, a kind of work that borders on Self Help. So what am I doing reading it, given that I despise the genre? Because it felt so positive and uplifting as soon as I started reading it. I won’t call it motivational (cos that makes it sound boring) or funny (which it most definitely is, but that’s so incomplete and dismissive if funny is all I called this book). God knows we could all use more positivity in our lives.

And what then is a Bawse? In Lilly’s own words, “A Bawse is like a boss, but so epic that I had to change the spelling.” Tell me you don’t wanna be a bawse after reading that definition. I’ve only just finished reading this book, and I already feel like taking on the world.

In this book, Lilly talks about the stairs and ladders she climbed rung by hard rung to reach where she is. At the end of each part, she’s included a section titled “Out of the blue”, where she compares who she used to be years ago, suffering from depression, and who she is today in comparison. As someone who has been going through the relapse from hell since the beginning of this month, I found strength from these portions (and wished Lilly was my therapist, but life is not that kind).

She talks about meeting her idol, Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson (and makes some… um… puns on the way) and how the most important thing is to visualize your goals and work towards making them happen. Now, a lot of what Lilly says isn’t something we don’t already know, but it’s the way she says it that makes a difference. The positivity, the sense of hope. Something that calls out to us, asking us to believe in ourselves. That is what I enjoyed the most about this book.

The reason why I mentioned in the beginning that I haven’t watched a lot of her videos is to point out that you don’t have to be a huge Lilly fan to enjoy this book. You don’t have to be familiar with her brand of humour to like it (Ellen DeGeneres’ Seriously I’m Kidding is an example of the opposite of this). It’s great and stands well on its own.

One of my main takeaways from this book is that if you have accomplished something in life, be unafraid to be proud of it. You achieved something, you deserve all the good things that come with it – pat yourself on the back for it.

I’d recommend How To Be A Bawse for the happy vibes alone. Whether you want to follow her advice or not, or whether you think you already know the lessons she has to offer, read it for how her story makes you feel. You will definitely not be disappointed.

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The Mistress of Spices, by Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni

“Ahuja’s wife has of course a name. Lalita. La-li-ta, three liquid syllables perfect-suited to her soft beauty. I would like to call her by it, but how can I while she thinks of herself only as a wife.”

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The Mistress of Spices is the story of Tilo, who was born in an Indian village, and bore a different name, before she discovered she had certain powers with which she could summon those she thought of. Unfortunately for her, she accidentally summons a group of pirates who abduct her. However, soon, with her talents, she turns the tables on them and becomes their queen. She then hears the about an island, where an old woman lives, and imparts the knowledge of spices to those who have the gift needed to communicate with the spices. Those who have this gift are known as Mistresses.

At the end of their training, each Mistress is given a new name and is sent to a different part of the world, where they are to help people with the power of the spices. Tilo chooses her own name, and against the wishes of the Old One, wishes to go to USA. She then wakes up in the body of an old woman, in an Indian store in Oakland. Her customers include various Indian immigrants trying to make a living in the States, and she figures what each of them needs before offering it to them.

I was enthralled in the beginning. The way Tilo sensed what everyone needed reminded me of Vianne from Joanne Harris’ Chocolat, and the way the spices were described to have healing powers reminded me of Laura Esquivel’s Like Water For Chocolate. So taken was I by these descriptions that I recommended the book to others even before finishing it. By the half way mark, however, I realized I’d spoken too soon.

The prose that seemed enchanting in the beginning quickly turns irritating. Nearly everything has been described with superlatives, hyperbole, similes and metaphors. The good prose wears off and begins to grate. This results in the work being overly wordy and bloated. By 3/4th of the book I just wanted it to end, because the themes that had interested me in the beginning had been abandoned in favor of the forbidden love affair between Tilo and Raven. The writing that had been so convincing began to fall flat, and I started questioning everything without finding satisfactory answers.

The ending was weak and seemed forced. There were so many other better ways it could have gone. I’m also left with a lot of unanswered questions, unmet conclusions. The Mistress of Spices takes too many themes, but in the end fails to do justice to any, because it focuses on the weakest link in the story. I’m almost sad to see so much potential wasted.

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Sad Girls, by Lang Leav

rainandabook-sadgirls-langleavAt the outset, let me mention I didn’t finish Sad Girls. Let me rephrase that a little bit – I couldn’t finish Sad Girls. I rolled my eyes so many times while reading about the lives of these (terribly sad) girls that I was worried they would fall out of their sockets. At one point, I rolled my eyes so hard that I think saw the edge of my brain!

Some may argue it is unfair to review a book that I abandoned midway. You wouldn’t be wrong – it is unfair. But here are my reasons to go ahead with my thoughts anyway.

To summarize, Sad Girls is the story of Audrey, who lied to her friends about their classmate Ana and the lie spread like fire. Unable to stand the rumours, Ana committed suicide. At the funeral, Audrey meets Ana’s boyfriend, Rad (I tell you, I hate even the names of the characters in this sad book). Audrey and Rad hit it off instantly, and decide to leave the funeral and hang out elsewhere.

All of these people live in a small town where everyone knows everyone’s business (to a level that can only be described as creepy). The whole town is now talking about Audrey and Rad (if the hot topic in your town is the whereabouts of two teenagers, you need to move to a better town). They are even talking about it in the grocery store, where Audrey’s mother hears about it. She forbids Audrey from speaking to Rad, but hello, rebellious, angry, mother-resenting teenager at work here. Later, Audrey’s boyfriend (oh, did I not mention that she already has a boyfriend?) gets uncomfortable and tells her not to see Rad again, and she reluctantly agrees. The more she stays away from Rad, the more she misses him, and the more she feels her current boyfriend is “not the right guy for her.”

From a literary standpoint, Sad Girls has way too many issues to even keep a track of. The plot is blah. The dialogues just keep running one after the other. They are inane, the characters drone on and whine on. The language sounds like it was written this way to appeal to the YA crowd, but most YA isn’t written half as badly. Young Adult books aren’t supposed to be stupid; you don’t need to dumb anything down for its audience – but that’s how it is in this excuse of a novel. There are characters in this novel who don’t have much to do. They sit along in the sidelines, mouth a few dialogues, create a bit of drama, cry a few tears, speak a few pretentious profound things, then just vanish. Sad Girls is a literary fiasco.

What bothers me most isn’t the above points though. The literary reasons aren’t why I decided to go ahead with this post in spite of not finishing the book. My biggest problem with this book is how it trivializes things like suicide, panic attacks, anxiety, depression etc. We live in a world that’s finally waking up to the true horrors mental disorders and of late a lot of emphasis is being given on seeking out help and getting the right treatment. As someone who has suffered from depression, I find it most irritating when a book – especially a book whose targeted audience is of the age that’s most vulnerable to these disorders – treats it like it’s a silly thing. Nope. Not done.

This isn’t just me getting triggered either. Lang Leav is a subpar writer with a ridiculously wide reach. Her audience mostly consists of an impressionable crowd – is this the message you want to give them? I mentioned in my review of Lang Leav’s book The Universe of Us that she confuses abuse for love. In some of her other works (I refuse to call it poetry) as well she has glorified sadness and grief. I understand that some good art comes out of pain, but to glorify it? To be so addicted to it? Not a healthy message to send out to the world.

I never had much respect for her (so called) “poetry”. After reading whatever I’ve read of Sad Girls, I have no respect for her fiction either. What I do have is anger and disappointment, but I’m gnashing my teeth and swallowing it for now.

Note: An ARC of this book was available on NetGalley. The opinions expressed here are my own. 

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