The Hindu : FEATURES / LITERARY REVIEW : A legacy of silence.

However, word on the publishing street is that he’s a bit of a recluse. Do you think that’s a fair assessment, I ask. Mistry offers a wide smile and wry acceptance: “Yes, I think recluse is fair. I’m not a very sociable kind of person. And I try not to organise or attend parties.” Neither is he comfortable doing the regulation book tour for his latest effort, Chronicle of a Corpse Bearer ; a launch in Mumbai is the only concession he’s made so far.

Smiling again (he does smile a lot for a reclusive guy), he admits, “I’m happiest when I’m writing; I feel whole and healthy when the writing is going well. When you’re exploring an idea and one word leads to the next smoothly — that’s the real pleasure.”

Most of that writing is now done in Kodaikanal, a world apart from his native Mumbai, the setting for much of his work. How did that happen? “For health reasons and because my son goes to school there,” he says. “Anyway, Mumbai has become insufferable and so money-centric. People seem to have too much money to spend. I don’t have that kind of money.” The language barrier doesn’t bother him either: “I may not be able to speak Tamil well, but I relate much better to the people in Kodaikanal than in Mumbai.”

Another reason Mistry has not been too much in the news is that, for many years, he battled a debilitating illness that has left him somewhat frail in body but stronger in mind. “I’ve overcome illness by using my mind,” he says. Though, in his customary self-deprecatory manner, he says later,I’m not very cerebral, I’m not an ideas man. Emotion is very important to me.

Plenty of emotion — joyous, aching, bitter, ribald — spills out of Chronicle of a Corpse Bearer , a novel imbued with an overwhelming sense of loss and a dark, brooding humour that never lets up. A love story set against the backdrop of the khandhias or corpse-bearers of the Parsi community, the novel expectedly asks questions about life and death.

“These are questions one keeps asking oneself: How seriously should I take karma? How do miracles happen? When you’re a person of strong faith, God is on your side. You can rationalise even the bad things that happen to you; they don’t destroy your faith,” he muses. Of himself, he says, “I am a person of doubting faith; a person who likes the idea of prayer and faith but wonders whether there is any evidence to support it outside of our own minds.”

Mistry does not hesitate to ask these questions upfront in the book, partly because he sees that approach as integral to the purpose of writing. As he declares in his brief bio on the Aleph website, a work of fiction should be “able to move its reader at some fundamental level, to disturb and rearrange his outlook on life, perhaps even change him as a person for even a very short moment.”