Behram’s Boat: A Hero’s Journey

This is not a funny book.

This is a book about deliverance. One man. One boat. 75,000 people playing Russian roulette with destiny.

The man is Behram Rustomjee. Flawed. Like all of us. But also like no other. A man sunk into the bottom of an empty whiskey glass. Tetherless. Prayerless. Living each moment as if the next didn’t matter.

His wife has left him for the eternal ever after. His daughter, for another man. He has nothing to live for. So he doesn’t. Instead, he spends his days riding the local train from one end of his beloved city to the other.

And that would be that, except this is also a story about love. The love that compels a daughter—sweet, kindly Persis—to commit her father, contrary to her nature and against all odds, to a sanatorium, a great Parsi institution, where drunks go to dry out and the orphaned elderly go to die.

And there, in this crumbling building, and through a series of unlikely events—involving rascal boys, a tin can, and a fit of pique—Behram makes a decision.

He will build a boat.

Not any kind of boat. But a boat that will sail off into the horizon and save his people—the Parsis.

I could, at this point, tell you about the Parsis; about how they are some of the best people on earth; about how they are leaders in industry, philanthropy, and art; about how they take care of their own and each other; about how they love to eat and drink and be merry; about how skilled they are at telling a joke—the raunchier the better; about how much they love their mothers, and how much they despise their fathers—their crazy, eccentric, irrepressible fathers; but I’ll let you find out for yourself.

Because it’s all there in this book.

The Bombay Behram loved. The old Bombay. More south than South Bombay. The Bombay of Dhobi Talao and Churchgate and Colaba. The smells and sounds and taste of Bombay. The institutions—Paradise and Leopold’s and City Bakery. The legends—Adi and Pesi and Jimmy. They’re all there. Waiting for you.

But first, Behram has an urgent problem he needs to solve. His people, the Parsis, are dying out, due largely to a deadly combination of anachronistic religious rules, extra-marriage, and a low birth rate. Absent an expedient and drastic solution, the end of the line is inevitable. So Behram decides to take matters into his own hands. He will build a boat. A boat that will whisk away 50 Parsi couples to retrace their steps to their place of origin—Iran—a boat that will, along the way, serve as a crucible for the rejuvenation and regeneration of the future.

With this Quixotic dream, Behram sets off to Salaya, deep in the hinterlands of Gujarat, to build his boat. A village so small that it has no hotels, no restaurants, and only the tiniest of police chowkis to mark its entrance. But in this village, Behram  finds Salim Bhai, boat-builder and bijness man par excellence. Salim Bhai is the mentor to Behram’s hero and together they set out to build his boat.

But what will become of it, and how will the story end?

This you will have to discover for yourself. Behram’s Boat will transport you to a foreign shore, where good and evil are indistinguishable, where fallen men find grace and redemption in the arms of a simple people and through the back-breaking labor required to realize an impossible dream. It is about salvation, spiritual and biological. And it is brilliant.

Categories: Books, Reading, Reflections

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