A few months ago I pondered the origins of a little-known book called No Heaven For Gunga Din by Ali Mirdrekvandi, who may or may not have really lived. I recently got some additional insight into that subject from Sohrab Homi Fracis, who I met Wednesday night at the monthly poetry reading at Chamblin’s Uptown here in Jacksonville, FL (while it’s called a poetry reading, group leader Janice Best allows us prose writers to read excerpts from our books).
First, let me tell you about Sohrab and his excellent book, Ticket To Minto (2001, Universityof Iowa Press). The chapter he read that night at Chamblin’s was so entertaining and compelling, I knew I had to read the rest of the book. I was in luck – Chamblin’s had one more copy in stock, so I bought it. I think they’ve ordered more.
Writer Lenore Hart says Ticket To Minto “evokes the snaky path to adulthood, exposing all those hitchhiking demons at the intersections. From Caulfieldesque schooldays in Bombay, to assimilation amid the seductive consumerism and residual racism of American culture, a powerful, serio-comic look at two worlds, inside and out.”
The first story, Ancient Fire, reminds me of a chapter my own book, Tamper, called The Boy Who Hid In Leaves, in that they both invlove bonfires, bullies, and a youngster coming of age in a sometimes hostile world. Pesi, the boy in Fracis’ book, lives in India. Whit, the boy in Tamper, lives near the Appalachin Mountains of Virginia. But even though they were born and raised on opposite sides of the worls, these kids have more in common than they have differences.
Pesi and his family are members of the Parsis community in India. Jeremy Hart, reviewing the Ticket To Minto on PopMatters, explains that “the Parsis are Zoroastrians, worshipers of the ancient fire gods of the Fertile Crescent, descendants of Persians forced to flee their homeland when the tide of Islam washed across the Middle East centuries ago . . . In Ancient Fire, young Pesi is an outcast before he even hits puberty, a distinction made by his bullying tormentors seemingly in part because of his family’s religion, but he finds pride and self-assurance, ironically, in the same primordial element of fire venerated for millennia by his ancestors.”
I was moved to look up “fire symbolism in literature” and the first thing I found was a discussion of Lord of the Flies. But in contrast to Lord of the Flies, the scenario in Ticket To Minto does not devolve into anarchy. The world is still held together by the guidance of adults. Even though Pesi’s parents (especially his mother) might sometimes embarrass him, he knows they will be there for him. Good parents here on Earth make it easier to believe in truly good deities who will protect you when the parents are not around. I found this part of the story very comforting and true-to-life. I could relate to it.
New World Encyclopedia tells us, “Zoroastrianism (or Mazdaism) refers to the religion developed from the teachings of the Persian prophet Zarathushtra (c. tenth century B.C.E.), who is commonly known in the West as Zoroaster . . . in India they are known as Parsis (‘People from Pars,’ which refers to the Persian heritage of the group)” that the the teachings of Zoroastrianism “later influenced the theological development of Judaism (and, by extension, Christianity and Islam.)”
This brings us back to the topic I mentioned at the beginning of this article. I sent an email to Sohrab, asking him if he had ever heard of Ali Mirdrekvandi or the book No Heaven For Gunga Din. Sorhab replied thoughtfully, “No, I haven’t heard of that book, but it sounds very interesting. Its storyline reminds me of a favorite story of mine by another British author who wrote about India: E. M. Forster’s Mr. Andrews. I think it’s pretty likely that, whoever the author of No Heaven for Gunga Din was, he’d read Forster’s story and was inspired by it (as, perhaps, were the countless “St. Peter at the Pearly Gates” jokes). Read it on this online link and judge for yourself: http://www.daily-pulp.com/literature/mr-andrews/.
So, I want to thank Mr. Sohrab Homi Fracis for the above link to the complete text of Mr. Andrews by E. M. Forster, and also for writing such a great book, Ticket To Minto.