Tales from Firozsha Baag
“With a bellow Rustomji emerged from the WC.” (Mistry, 9) Thus begins Rohinton Mistry’s latest offering, an eleven-story collection detailing the lives of Parsis in Bombay and in North America. In the first story, Mistry employs his customary sardonic irreverence to highlight and the internal contradictions of the Parsi community. The effect is one of light parody; affectionate ribbing and the exposure of the comical in the supposedly grave and serious make the book a very pleasant read. The two objects of his inquiry (the Parsis and the tenets of Zoroastrianism itself) provide excellent material for an exercise in the absurd: namely, the contrast between the sublimity of religious ideas and the banality of daily life. This duality also serves to analyze the Zoroastrian belief that Good and Evil are absolutes that possess distinct origins.
In ‘Auspicious Occasion’, Mistry brings us into a realm where bodily functions are viewed as an unavoidable evil. Perhaps insignificant to a Western reader, initiating this collection with a (triumphant) emergence from the bathroom could be read as questionable, irreverent, or hilarious to a Parsi audience. Without delay we are taken directly into the lives of Mehroo and Rustomji, a married couple whose age difference is beginning to show. In the Zoroaster religion, it should be noted that decay holds a very special place. Mortal life is held to be a temporary state, in between incarnation and reunion. Thus it is rather glib of Mistry to be presenting Rustomji as a man old before his time. Parsi Zoroastrianism also employs a unique method of disposing with the dead. Because the elements are considered sacred, corpses are placed in an area known as the Towers of Silence. Here, vultures are given free rein to devour the dead, speeding up the natural process of decay. So, already, within the first couple of paragraphs, the reader is put in mind of age,...