The Ghost of Firozsha Baag is a story about a Catholic woman from Goa who works as an ayah ( a maid) for a Parsi family. The protagonist is named Jacqueline but she is called Jaakaylee by everyone. Class discrimination, racism, social exclusion of marginalized workers and the dignity of human labour are some of the themes that story explores.
Told in first-person narrative, Jacqueline talks about her paranormal experience and how nobody believes her. The story contains humorous details about Jacqueline’s experiences. However, there’s a more serious undertone that explores the themes of class difference and subalternation of people. This short story was published in Rohinton Mistry’s book; “Tales From Firozsha Baag” in 1987.
The Ghost of Firozsha Baag | Summary
The narrator of the story is a sixty-three-year-old catholic woman named Jacqueline. Jacqueline starts her narration by saying that she used to see ghosts often back in Goa when she was a little girl. She claims that she has “always believed in ghosts”. She came to Bombay to work as an ayah for a Parsi family and has been living with them for forty-nine years. One Christmas morning after the midnight mass, while she was returning home she sees a ghost on the staircase landing. She says she isn’t afraid of ghosts but thinking that he might do some mischief, she rings the doorbell. Her employers do not believe her and her Bai gets mad for waking her up so early in the morning. Everyone in the neighbourhood makes fun of Jacqueline for believing in ghosts, they tease and mock her.
The ghost returns and this time he appears on her bed and jumps on her chest. Since everyone had been mocking her she decides not to talk about this incident with anyone. After that, the ghost returns every Friday night and sleeps with her all the while trying to misbehave. Jacqueline reflects how back in her village it was common for people to believe in ghosts and she starts reminiscing about her life. She remembers a boy named Cajetan who used to misbehave with her, similarly to the manner the ghost did now. It’s been forty-nine years since she left her village and hasn’t seen anyone from her old life.
She gets confused and wonders why the ghost wants to sleep with a “fat and ugly” old woman like her. For almost a year she tolerates this misbehaviour of the ghost, and then she decides to confess to the priest at the church. The father assures her that she’s blameless and gives her holy blessings. After that, the ghost stops coming. She waits every Friday but the ghost does not come, she thinks he might show up on Christmas again but he doesn’t.
On New Year’s Eve, her employers go to a party, leaving her to take care of their children. She feels nostalgic thinking about her old life, her village and her family and this upsets her as she starts missing them. She decides to go to the balcony and finds that it is chilly so, she wraps herself in her white bed sheet and covers her head. Her employers arrive and Bai screams that she saw a ghost. She mistakes Jacqueline for a ghost. Jacqueline goes inside and pretends to be asleep. Bai wakes her up and explains how she just saw a ghost. Some people now begin to believe in ghosts after Bai tells everyone. About her sighting. One person offers to conduct a holy ritual to drive away from the ghost. Bai is consumed by her fear of the ghost and becomes paranoid, but Jacqueline decides not to tell the truth. Bai starts asking Jacqueline about her previous experiences with ghosts in her village. She starts treating her less like a servant. The story ends with Jacqueline telling how she prepares her Goan curry for the Parsi family, a dish that they love.
The Ghost of Firozsha Baag | Analysis
In this short story, Jacqueline narrates a paranormal incident she encounters. The story shifts between past and present as Jacqueline shifts between her current narrative and her childhood memories. This presents a contrast between the village and Bombay. While her life in the village was happier, her life in the city has been laborious. She vividly describes her memories of growing up in Panjim, and the journey from Goa to Bombay to start her working life as a fifteen-year-old; this displays her love for her home.
Even after spending several decades in the Parsi community, she is still treated as an outsider. She is never acknowledged for her hard work and has to lose her identity trying to fit in with others. She even has to forget her original name and her mother tongue in this process. This symbolizes the socio-cultural barrier that exists between the working class and the rich. What the author is trying to emphasize is that house workers don’t have an identity that they can use to dignify themselves in society.
Jacqueline works for a family that does not respect her. The Bai and Seth are dismissive of her and often make her overwork. Bai ridicules Jacqueline for believing in ghosts but once she encounters a “ghost” herself her behaviour towards Jacqueline improves – she becomes more respectful. Jacqueline remembers singing Konkani songs for the Seth when he was a child; even though she raised him, he isn’t attentive to her. While he doesn’t mistreat her, he doesn’t do anything to take care of her either. Her employers buy luxurious things like a car for themselves but won’t buy a machine grinder; instead, they make her use the mortar and pastel. She’s sixty-three years old but they show no regard for her age or her health.
We see a more serious topic like racism explored in the story when Jacqueline says how people used to call her “blackie” because of her dark skin. She says they preferred Mangalorean Catholics because they have light-coloured skin. When a baby is born with dark skin they say it’s “ayah’s child”. This displays the internalized racist attributes of the Parsi people in the story held, even after the British left India, their influence remained.
Tables turn at the end of the story as the Bai became superstitious, and arranged a ritual to drive away the ghost. Now it is Jacqueline’s turn to make fun of her employer’s superstitious behaviour, although she doesn’t express it openly. Bai mistakes Jacqueline for a ghost and Jacqueline decides to keep quiet about it as it enables her to have some respite from the hardships and exclusion she previously had to face.
The Ghost of Firozsha Baag | Theme
The Ghost of Firozsha Baag, we see how people are treated differently because they belong to a different class, religion or region. In the case of Jacqueline, all three categories are applied. She’s a servant, a catholic and she’s from a village in Goa. She also has dark skin for which people often ridicule her. This story explores the unjust ways house workers are often subalternized. We see it in the Parsi family’s treatment of Jacqueline. They overwork her, don’t listen to what she wants and they don’t even care to pronounce her name correctly. They make her sleep outside on a chilly December night because they can’t be bothered to wake up and open the door for her. Jacqueline is very old and her body can’t take much pressure yet they dismiss this and make her work harder. They give her separate utensils, make her always sit on the floor and don’t even give her a proper mattress and blanket to sleep. They treat her miserably and expect her to obediently listen to them. The people in the colony don’t take her seriously when she says she saw a ghost but when Bai says she saw a ghost, people believe her. Jacqueline has no credibility in the eyes of the people. Even after dedicating her whole life to serving the Parsi family, Jacqueline still sleeps and eats on the floor, is ridiculed and sometimes shouted at. The story depicts how people demean the house workers and don’t give them any acknowledgement. House workers are treated in an inferior manner and for their whole life. they are forced into the category of “servant” who isn’t respected by anyone.
Character Sketch of Jacqueline
Jacqueline is a very obedient worker and fulfils all her duties carefully. Even when she’s treated horribly she expresses gratitude for her job. She’s hardworking even though due to her old age she has trouble in grinding masala or walking up the stairs, she still manages to complete all her work as per given instructions and doesn’t leave anything undone. She has affection and dedication for the family she works for since she has been living with them for a long time. She’s clever as she manages to anticipate the ghost’s mischievous nature. Jacqueline is taken for granted by everyone but she never complains.
The Ghost of Firozsha Baag | About the author
Born in 1952 Rohinton Mistry is an Indian-born Canadian writer. He attended the University of Toronto to pursue a degree in English and Philosophy. He is of Parsi origin and most of his stories deal with Parsi characters. His stories explore themes of family, poverty and social issues. His debut novel “Such a Long Journey” was adopted on-screen in 1998. He has gained huge popularity for his humorously realistic stories and he has won many awards including the Commonwealth Writers’ Prize and the Neustadt Prize