Saturday, August 28, 2010

"The Crow Eaters" has been written only to reflect the Parsi culture in detail". How far do you agree with the view?

"The Crow Eaters" is the most significant and striking novel which represents the Parsi culture in true manners. Bapsi throws light on various aspects and features of Parsi community. In the opening chapter of the novel she tells about the historical background of Parsis, when they migrated from Persia to India with their sacred fires at the time of the arrival of Arabs thirteen hundred years ago to save their religion—the teachings of Zoroaster, from being Islamized by the Arabians. They are followers of Prophet Zarathustra; their religion known as Zoroastrianism was founded around 2000 B.C. Its essence is to be found in the five Gathas or Divine songs of Zarathustra.

In the latter chapters, Bapsi writes about the religious beliefs, appearance, culture and ceremonies of the Parsees. In Parsi community, the man and woman wear the dresses which differentiate them from other cultures. They wear other dresses too but their traditional or cultural dresses have some distinction. Men wear the white pyjamas with starched white coat-wrap fastened with bows at the neck and waist as described about Freddy—the heading figure of novel.

The very next evening, rigged out in a starched white coat-wrap that fastened with bows at the neck and waist, and crisp white pyjamas and turban, he drove his cart to Government House.

The women wear saris with white Mathabanas which cover their head like a skull cap and a holy thread around their waists. Putli and Jerbanoo are often seen in the novel following strictly this dress scheme.

…his wife and mother-in-law never appeared in public without mathabanas—white kerchiefs wound around the hair to fit like skull caps. The holy thread circling their waist was austerely displayed and sacred undergarments, worn beneath short blouses, modestly aproned their sari-wrapped hips.

A culture is truly recognized by the language and living style of its individuals. The novel shows that Parsi style of speaking is much louder just like yelling on others. The word yelling has often been used in the novel referring to the way of speaking of Jerbanoo and Freddy especially when both are shown talking to each other. The very title of the novel shows the capacity of too much talking of Parsees. The Crow Eaters follows a proverb that one who talks too much is supposed to have eaten crows. Since the novel is about Parsi community the title very aptly justify its selection for the book.

Parsees have their own way of doing with their dead ones. They have open-roofed enclousers atop hills, where their dead ones are kept to be endeavoured by vultures. These enclosures are called as Tower of Silence.

…the marble floor slopes towards the centre where there is a deep hollow. This receives the bones and blood. Underground ducts from the hollow lead to four deep wells outside the Tower. These wells are full of lime, charcoal and sulphur and provide an excellent filter.
The outer rim of the floor is made up of enough marble slabs to accommodate fifty male bodies, then comes accommodation for fifty females, and the innermost space, around the hollow, is for children. It takes the birds only minutes to strip the body of all flesh.

Now, the height of the Tower is precisely calculated. The vultures, taking off at full throttle, are only just able to clear the Tower wall. If they try to get away with anything held between their claws or beaks they invariably crash against the wall.

Following the teachings of Zarathustra, Parsi consider smoking a crime because the fire is sacred for them and it is a sin to puff at it. When in Freddy's home, a servant boy is caught smoking a beeri, a severe reaction comes from every member of the family and the boy gets a beating.

Fire is the most sacred thing for them. In Freddy's house a lamp is always kept burning. Sandalwood is a necessary element of their prayers.

Parsi community has a strong belief in stars and astrology. The exact time of birth of a baby is noted with the help of stopwatch to know the exact horoscope of the baby. Women blacken their eyes and soot their cheeks to avoid the evil things and black magic. Off and on in the novel, Freddy is shown to have a firm belief in the movements of stars, superhuman and supernatural things. Whenever he is dejected and depressed he goes to some fortune-teller. His visits to the tenement fakir and Brahmin Gopal Krishan are examples of his faith in such men.

Parsees have an interesting way for the young ones to give an indication of their desire to get married. They add a fistful of salt into the drinking water. And someone from family approaches to them to know their wish. Faredoon used the method at the time of his marriage. And the same is shown repeated when Yazdi wants to get married.

Parsees don’t like to allow out-of-community marriages. In the Crow Eaters when Yazdi sees his father in his office to talks about his wish to marry an Anglo-Indian girl Rosy Watson, Freddy slaps him and strictly refuses to allow this.

Freddy had not been prepared for this. His face stiffened visibly. 'What kind of a name is that? I don't think I know any Parsi by the name of Watson.'
'She's not Parsi. She is an Anglo-Indian.'
Father and son were both as pale as whitewashed walls.
'Come here,' said Freddy in a strange, harsh voice.
His face twitched uncontrollably. Yazdi came round the table and stood before his father. Freddy got out of the chair. He gave his son a hard, level look. Yazdi felt his long stringy frame cringe involuntarily but he held his ground. Suddenly, Freddy raised his arm and slapped the back of his hand hard across Yazdi's face. The boy staggered back.

'You have the gall to tell me you want to marry an Anglo-Indian? Get out of my sight. Get out!'

Mrs. Easymoney accepts the proposal of Billy for her daughter Tanya just on the grounds that the boy was well off and a Parsi and she knew it was hard to find a good Parsi match.

Parsi women do not wear burka. There is no concept of wearing purdha in them.

…This is most so among the Muslims and among the majority of Hindus who keep their women in purdah. There is no purdah at all among the Parsis—but the generally repressed air of India envelops them. Little wonder Putli was afraid.

The Crow Eaters gives a detailed account of Parsees's way of marriages. The marriage of Billy and Tanya has been shown with full detail.

The officiating priest eventually recited, '...Say whether you have agreed to take this maiden named Tanya in marriage to this bridegroom in accordance with the rites and customs of the Mazda worshippers, promising to pay her 2000 dirhems of pure white silver and two dinars of standard gold of Nishahpur coinage?'
'We have,' answered Freddy and Putli.
'And have you and your family with pure mind and truthful thoughts, words and deeds, and for the increase of righteousness, agreed to give for ever and aye, this bride in marriage to Behram?' the priest asked the bride's witnesses.
'We have agreed,' they replied.
Then the priest asked, 'Have you desired to enter into this contract with pure mind and until death do ye part?'
'I have so desired,' answered Billy and Tanya in unison.
After this the priest invoked the blessings of God on the married couple and advised them on how to conduct themselves properly.

The bridal couple were smothered in garlands and presented with thousands of envelopes containing money and gold coins.

As a conclusion we may say that The Crow Eaters is an outstanding novel of its kind. The sole object of writing this novel seems to introduce the Parsi community, its culture, rituals and customs to the world. There are traces of freedom movement, World War II, the colonial impacts and things like that in the novel. But the lime light throughout the novel has been on the Parsi community and its way of living. Bapsi has been more than successful in her attempt to present, in detail, the community to which she herself belongs.

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