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'I want to be another Guru Dutt'

January 20, 2014 12:22 IST

The going has never been easy for author Cyrus Mistry.

The reclusive author, who bagged the prestigious South Asian literature award, talks openly to P B Chandra about his illness and how writing has helped him cope with it.    

Author Cyrus Mistry became only the second Indian to bag the 2014 DSC Prize for South Asian Literature for his engaging novel Chronicle of a Corpse Bearer at the ongoing Jaipur Literature Festival.   

And for him it meant the world. Suffering from a nervous disorder, Mistry took to creative writing to overcome his deficiency.  

Chronicle of a Corpse Bearer is a deeply moving book on the Khandhias or corpse-bearers of the Parsi community. In his second book, Mistry weaves a powerful story about this downtrodden caste, considered the Dalits of the Parsi community.

The book exquisitely drawn on the fast dwindling Parsi community takes a tiny slice of the lives of Khandhias, who are small in number -- only 15 live in Mumbai.   

In this book, the author questions the way the world looks at justice, customs, love and death.

He speaks about his illness, his writing and more in an interview with P B Chandra.

What kind of an illness are you suffering from?

It’s a disease that has to do with the nervous system. I have a problem in maintaining my balance when walking. I have a sound mind; and I’m undeterred by the nervous disorder problem. I write and am self-inspired.

You have been rewarded for Chronicle of the Corpse Bearer. What does it mean to you?

I am happy because it’s a book on a neglected lot belonging to the dwindling Parsi community. It’s about the plight of people who have suffered for generations as untouchables. The book made me healthy and now the award would make me healthier. (Laughs)

What inspires you to write?

I am not a person who thinks of plots. I am driven by my own emotions and they are plenty -- both joyous and bitter.

What were your thoughts before writing Chronicle of the Corpse Bearer?

I did a lot of research about the Khandhias and their sufferings. The novel is set against the backdrop of the corpse bearers of the Parsi community. It expectedly asks questions about life and death. The book deals with a love story and it has a magical ending.

The narrator of the novel, Phiroze Elchidana, is a man who is not born a Khandhia, but opts to become one in order to marry the woman he loves. The enormity of his choice lies in the work and life of the Khandhias -- ferrying corpses to the Towers of Silence to be picked clean by vultures.

The book talks about the ostracisation and segregation of the Khandhias, the pseudo-scientific reasons behind it and justifications for that.

What about your first novel -- The Radiance of Ashses?

It was about social cruelty. I thought the book with its thematic appeal would rock the world, but nothing happened. And now Chronicle has caused an earthquake. I am just amused.

Any plans for the next book?

I would prefer classic to contemporary. I want to use the medium of films also to express myself. I want to be another Guru Dutt.

I’m working on two titles  -- one, a book of short stories, and another is a collection of my plays. I cannot invest in a novel now.

Who are your favourite authors and writers?

I like Russian author Fydoor Dostovesky, Elizabeth Bowen and Angus Wilson.

 About the award:

Chronicle of a Corpse Bearer won Mistry the best South Asian literature award of $ 50,000 at the Jaipur Literature Festival on Saturday. Mistry is the second Indian to win this award. The first was Jeet Thayill who bagged the honour last year for Narcopolis.

There were six books short-listed for the prize. They were Anand’s Book of Destruction in Malyalam, Benyamin’s Goat Days, Mohsin Hamid’s How To Get Filthy Rich In Rising Asia, Nadeem Aslam’s The Blind Man’s Garden, Nayomi Munaweera’s Island Of A Thousand Mirrors.

The organisers received close to 70 entries this year with participation from publishers in South Asia, United Kingdom, United States, Canada and Australia among others.

The jury comprised literary critic Antara Dev Sen, writer and teacher Arshia Sattar, managing director of Oxford University Press in Pakistan Ameena Saiyid, British journalist Rosie Boycott, veteran bookseller from United States Paul Yamazaki.

About the author:

Born in Mumbai, Mistry moved to Kodaikanal as he found it difficult to cope in Mumbai with his illness. Moreover, his son is studying in Kodaikanal.    

His first novel The Radiance of Ashes was published seven years ago.

Mistry has been a playwright and a freelance journalist. His play Doongaji House written more than 35 years ago won him a lot of praise in contemporary Indian theatre.

His brother Rohinton Mistry is also a renowned author.  

Image: Author Cyrus Mistry with actor Kabir Bedi at the Jaipur Literature Festival

Photograph: Chandra Mohan Aloria

P B Chandra