[[ kindle ]] A Fine BalanceAuthor Rohinton Mistry – Z55z.co

Because it wasn t an unputdownable, hold you in its thrall page turner, this novel took me weeks to finish.My only real issue was that I loved the writing WAYthan the actual story.And what s not to like about Mistry s beautifully crafted prose I drooled over his penmanship and revelled in his wordplay Like Rushdie and Shakespeare, he intermingles pathos with humour.The story, though, didn t grab me by the ears and snog me.Which is why it drops one star. This is probably the most depressing book I have ever read in my entire life Not only is its chronicling of four lives bleak and without the slightest hint of hope or redemption, but it does this with a comprehensive scope and an unforgiving manner Even re reading it, knowing what was going to happen, did not mitigate my sadness If anything, it amplified my emotions, because for all of the good things that happen in this book, the moments of joy, I knew how it was all going to go wrong And t This is probably the most depressing book I have ever read in my entire life Not only is its chronicling of four lives bleak and without the slightest hint of hope or redemption, but it does this with a comprehensive scope and an unforgiving manner Even re reading it, knowing what was going to happen, did not mitigate my sadness If anything, it amplified my emotions, because for all of the good things that happen in this book, the moments of joy, I knew how it was all going to go wrong And this is not some adventure story or a romance where things get bad for a few hundred pages before the protagonists rise in the face of adversity No, in A Fine Balance, everything goes to hell And it doesn t get better.I could spend several paragraphs discussing how this book is depressing Suffice it to say, A Fine Balance is set in Mumbai, India It covers over 30 years, from independence in 1947 to the Emergency of the 1970s Rohinton Mistry follows four characters two tailors, Ishvar and Omprakash the widow, Dina Dalal, who employs them in her apartment and the college student, Maneck, rooming with the widow These characters endure poverty, oppression, and abuse by those in power and those with power The tailors, their relatives victims of caste violence in their village back home, arrive in Mumbai only to live in a slum that gets demolished, its slum lord now in the pay of the government But living on the streets is not an option, for during the Emergency police have broad discretion when it comes to beautifying the streets of the overcrowded, overpopulated city, and losing their residence is by far one of the lesser misfortunes that Ishvar and Om experience.The Emergency happened before I was born, in a land far removed from me It is nothingthan a name to me, a period in the recent history of a country related to mine by imperial ties and immigrant exchanges So this book lacks the personal resonance it has for those who did live through this period, whether in India or abroad And I haven t really ever experienced any of the hardships Mistry depicts here Nevertheless, I can still appreciate A Fine Balance as a depiction of suffering during a time of turmoil and tyranny And yeah, it is depressing, but I do not agree with those reviewers who find this a valid reason for panning the book Mistry makes you feel sad for a reason.While not perfect, Mistry s four protagonists are all good people We learn this early in the book, for he recounts their past to us in a series of flashbacks so verbose as to transcend mere exposition and become true parts of the plot and narrative Dina grows up under the thumb of her older brother, her dreams of becoming a doctor squashed by a patriarchal society Instead she resorts to marriage as an escape, enjoys a happiness too rich to last long, and becomes a widow For her, as with everyone, the question is how to make enough money to get by Ishvar and Om come from a caste of tanners their father made the defiant transition to tailoring and paid for the insolence with his life They carry on in his tradition, but they have come to the city seeking work Maneck has come to the city also looking for escape and edification he is enrolled in a one year college certification on air conditioners He s not a very good student, but he is happy he has left his hometown, and with it his unsatisfying relationship with his father.These are ordinary, everyday people They do not invite the misfortune that befalls them Why do bad things happen to good people A Fine Balance is many things, but it is not theodicy It is instead a look at the consequences of a certain zeitgeist present in India at the time of the emergency We see it in the way that Ishvar, Om, Dina, and Maneck all become victims, yes, but this zeitgeist pervades the novel on every level It is present in the attitudes of Mistry s minor characters, in the exclamations of approval from Mrs Gupta and Nusswan regarding the Emergency and its effect on trade unions, in the derision of Beggarmaster and the guilty conscience of Sergeant Kesar Just as ordinary people ignored the obvious injustices happening during the Holocaust, so too did ordinary people rationalize and justify the brutality and the injustices that occurred during the Emergency Some, like Mrs Gupta or Nusswan, do it for economic reasons, whether or not they believe such actions are truly justified scarily enough, some do Others, like Sergeant Kesar, care less about the political significance of their actions andabout the moral significance.I like Sergeant Kesar He is a very minor character, but he is an example of how Mistry manages to make the scope of his political themes so broad There are plenty of stock characters in A Fine Balance, but for every goonda mindlessly enforcing the will of a landlord or minister, there is a Sergeant Kesar or an Ibrahim, an authority figure with a name and a face These are antagonists or sometime allies who, for one reason or another, are probably good people but have managed to end up in the wrong line of work at the wrong time They struggle with their jobs, with the way they interact with people like Dina Dalal This struggle is a poignant counterpoint to the innocent suffering of our four protagonists The Emergency is not a monolithic movement of one group oppressing another It is, Mistry shows us, a tumultuous period of conflict as one government tries to stay in power while elements subvert it for their own purposes.That seems to fit with India, a country always in flux as a result of its vast population and rich history Indira Gandhi s desecration of democracy destabilizes the country, but it is just another straw on the back of an already over laden camel From Ishvar and Om s backstory we learn of the deterioration of the caste system, and the resulting resistance from those, like the Thakur, who have power in the villages From Maneck s childhood we see how urban development and expansion, commercialism and competition, are changing India s rural landscape and endangering some enterprises, like his father s general store Dina s tale ispersonal andgendered, but it is also a story about family and independence As she points out, independence is an illusion We are all dependent on each other, especially in a city as big as Mumbai, and the culmination of the relationships of these four characters is an illustration of their interdependence Ishvar and Om s detainment and disappearance profoundly affects Dina and Maneck, both personally and professionally likewise, Dina s troubles with the landlord threaten Ishvar and Om s livelihood.But I digress In A Fine Balance, Mistry juxtaposes the turmoil of the Emergency with many other events occurring simultaneously to alter India s zeitgeist The result is a snapshot of a country that has always fascinated me for its conflict and its contradictions Mistry s descriptions of life in Mumbai, especially for the impoverished, are almost beyond my ability to grasp, so different are they from what I know India is in that interesting zone between developing and developed nation though I am aware such terminology is, as ever, controversial Its economy is so huge, so rich, both real and with potential, yet its massive population faces problems of education, poverty, and health It is a fascinating country with very real challenges, both now and in the 1970s when this novel takes place.All this, of course, does not really address that central question why so depressing Why couldn t Mistry weave a thread of hope through his quilt of a story In my opinion, Maneck s ultimate fate obviates any possible solace one might find in the tenuous equilibrium achieved by Dina, Ishvar, and Om It is a grace note that manages to overpower the end of the book, cause shock and dismay, and colours anything that follows I don t want to spoil it if you haven t read the book, but it is an action of such implicit nihilism that it is emblematic of the tone of A Fine Balance.Simply put, if this book ended on a happy note, if Ishvar, Om, Dina, and Maneck emerged with little in way of complaint, then their suffering would have been meaningless That is a major claim to make, I know Other books involve characters who suffer greatly only to emerge triumphant and all the better for it, so what makes these ones different It is both the nature and the degree of their suffering Their experiences are so brutal, so dehumanizing, that any serious redemption would minimize them too much for the reader In order to emerge from such experiences triumphantly, it would have to be through actions of their own doing, through some form of resistance that overcomes the adversity This would contradict the sense of powerlessness that Mistry wants to communicate, the utter helplessness in the face of an implacable political climate created by corrupt politicians and police Ishvar and Om are not, cannot be revolutionaries Dina and Maneck cannot be subversives So when they suffer and submit and then it is over well, it cannot really be over, not until they are devastated Mistry must administer a coup de gr ce that finalizes the destruction he has plotted since page one.This book is fiction, so it must have a beginning, middle, and end But it is as close to being true as fiction can get, both in verisimilitude and in attitude It is neither uplifting nor endearing but wearing Even the most optimistic person would feel besieged by Mistry s careful and persistent erosion of everything good from the universe of A Fine Balance And this holds up to repeated readings, because his depictions of characters both major and minor are just so vivid, so believable, so tortuously touching, that you cannot help but care about what happens to them, even when you know it will be nothing good.And so, I am not sure what to say, except that this is one of my favourite books, and in my opinion, one of the best books ever written, period There will always be those who disagree, who pick it up, trudge through fifty or a hundred or two hundred pages, and then declare it a waste, a wash, unimpressive or boring at best I don t know how to respond to those people, or even if I should respond All I can say is that few books have ever affected me so much as A Fine Balance Many books have moved me many have entertained me and charmed me and made me laugh and cry But A Fine Balance has left an indelible mark upon me It is a work of consummate skill This book is fiction, so it must be false But it is a sad, depressing book, because somewhere out there in the past and the present and, yes, the future, every single bit of it is, in some form, true But rest assured This tragedy is not a fiction All is True Hence started my journey of a fine book, A Fine Balance I have no sane excuse for my ignorance about Rohinton Mistry novels I just didn t have a single clue about him or his achievements till I joined Goodreads Yes Though it s not a big deal as one is not supposed to know everything but here s a writer of Indian origin, writing unbelievably great books about Indians and is still remain unacknowledged by a common Indian reader is But rest assured This tragedy is not a fiction All is True Hence started my journey of a fine book, A Fine Balance I have no sane excuse for my ignorance about Rohinton Mistry novels I just didn t have a single clue about him or his achievements till I joined Goodreads Yes Though it s not a big deal as one is not supposed to know everything but here s a writer of Indian origin, writing unbelievably great books about Indians and is still remain unacknowledged by a common Indian reader is densely pitiable His Facebook page has 7000 odd likes where, as I gauged from the comments, majority is of non Indians But then he is no marketing guru but a writer who writes and writes well, so well that it can make you cringe at the comfortable life you re having or at least makes you open your eyes to take a good look at the hardships of the hapless lots around you I don t read about Politics because it disgusts me I don t have a deep understanding about the 1970 s Emergency period because fortunately nobody in my family or acquaintances got affected by it, so basically it s the experience which tells a story, just watching, simply gives an indifferent shrug On the surface I know that it happened under the PMship of Indira Gandhi School mainly tells you She was the First women PM of India She was the daughter of honorable Pandit JawaharLal Nehru She was the mother of one of the youngest PM of India, Rajiv Gandhi She was the reason why India didn t face another partition by launching Operation Blue Star, hence reduced the idea of Khalistan into ashes because of which she was later assassinated Nothing , nothing less always a glossy and martyred picture of Daughter of India, Ironically So how does it feel to read A Fine Balance What does it promise to convey its readers What makes a 600 page novel readable or rather a page turner What s different about the lives of Dina Dalal, Ishvar, Om and Maneck that you haven t witness before especially being an Indian Well the answer could be May be nothing is different, all trite , or It s helluva great story, I haven t read anything like this before But the answer remains somewhere in between and the secret is Rohinton s great writing His matter of factly narration, awesome character building and plot settings can give you the pleasure like watchingHum Logon high definition channel He is not a man of big bulky words, dictionary is almost dispensable while reading him but the words are piercing enough to make you feel the subject The story reflects through them in an unmatched finesse There is no room left for any improvement as he has used every single component at his disposal in building this masterpiece, just like Dina s quilt in the novel The story revolves around four main characters, Dina Dalal, a widow and a self respected lady who treats her independence dearest than any of the relations left in her life Ishwar, a darji tailor whose father sent him to get equipped with tailoring in order to earn him a life of repute which he wouldn t have got under the fate imposed Chamaar profession Om, Ishvar s nephew, again a darji, a young and aggressive lad and an orphan whose life is dedicated mainly to his uncle Ishvar and vice versa And, Maneck, a guy from Mountains, whose struggle to know and feel his worth in lives of others especially his parents and a college friend remained unending The story is about how four of them got together in one flat not willingly but due to twists and turns life threw at them It s a journey of how reluctance was over powered by compassion, how loneliness made room for companionship and how a house became home , how four of them amidst many doubts and objections became there for each other Kind, but it was a home of cards waiting for a gush of insensitive wind to tumble it and its housemates It s a sad novel, heart wrenching in fact It will make you cry except in case of defective tear ducts and it will make you very angry It has its dose of humor but simultaneously it carries an air of apprehension around it like how a moment of happiness is short lived and shall soon be replaced by gloominess and sorrow It s something I felt while watching Clint Eastwood s Million Dollar Baby and Gran Torino, where as an audience one starts to feel that good days will be balanced out with bad days because Life, the bitch, usually gives us lemons, and to the unfortunate lot, it plants a lemon tree at the backyard of their wretched life But throughout, this book echoes one universal law, that despair doesn t have a favorite victim It befalls upon everyone at some point of time, triggered by fate, destiny or power hungry human beings History is a witness to how Power breeds evil, breeds mainly on the blood of innocent lives who would have never imagined that their destiny would sacrifice them to such inexplicable atrocities This book depicts the story revolving around such atrocities and enduring them, living through them, dying through them or merely surviving through them and resilience is the main key to such survival Rohinton has captured life through his characters, has captured India through an unfortunate time, has captured ugliness of human face and has finally captured resplendence of human soul through his mesmerizing words.READ IT Here s my audio review of this book Like most Americans, I remember clearly the date September 11, 2001 I recall where I was standing when I first heard about the attack on the Twin Towers My first child, a son, was almost eight months old at the time My first reaction was fear later, sorrow and grief set in In my mind ran the thought that life as I knew it would never be the same again My son would grow up in a world dominated by the unknown and the constant threat of danger How could I possibly protect him from such uncer Like most Americans, I remember clearly the date September 11, 2001 I recall where I was standing when I first heard about the attack on the Twin Towers My first child, a son, was almost eight months old at the time My first reaction was fear later, sorrow and grief set in In my mind ran the thought that life as I knew it would never be the same again My son would grow up in a world dominated by the unknown and the constant threat of danger How could I possibly protect him from such uncertainties Then I paused to reflect further and feelings of intense guilt erupted The bubble of security I had been living in was burst It struck me that the fear I was experiencing was one that millions of others across the globe are forced to live with on a daily basis How lucky had I been How presumptuous to assume that my family should be exempt from the horrors and injustices of the world Well, admittedly and quite thankfully, we remain in a state of relative bliss, but a greater awareness has grown I know that at any time, I could find myself standing in the shoes of another much less fortunate I will not take for granted my rights and protections.So, I digress a bit This book, A Fine Balance, has nothing to do with the terrorist attacks of 9 11 What this book accomplished, however, was similar to that which happened to me following that tragic event I was once again placed figuratively in the shoes of another human being, actually in the shoes of several individuals that faced indignities, discrimination, and monstrous hardships on a regular basis Rohinton Mistry spins a stunning and heartbreaking tale of four individuals whose lives intersect for one year during 1970s India, under the rule of Indira Gandhi It was a time of great political upheaval resulting in the Emergency of 1975 Human rights were suppressed, mass sterilization was enforced, the slums were destroyed, and the jails were full of Gandhi s opponents How this emergency affects these four as well as a number of secondary characters is nothing short of abominable Dina, a widow struggling to make ends meet independent of her domineering brother, has been struck with diminishing vision She is in need of two assistants to help with her tailoring business if she is to succeed Ishvar and his nephew Om, a pair with a sad background story of their own, are skilled in sewing and jump at the opportunity to work under Dina s supervision Maneck is a young college student that feels as if he has been cast aside by his parents and turned out from his relatively comfortable existence in his hometown by the mountains Dina needs additional income and Maneck is distressed by the conditions at the youth hostel A simple solution for both situations is found when Maneck moves into her home as a temporary boarder We learn the stories of each, what their lives have been prior to their encounters with one another Ishvar and Om are descendants of a lower caste How this affects their relationship with both Dina and Maneck is one of the most touching portions of this novel This is where I was able to grasp snatches of hope among the ruins of so much despair A proofreader on a train ride has a chance meeting with Maneck and makes a statement that will continuously echo in this young student s mind, as well as the reader s, for the duration of the novelYou see, you cannot draw lines and compartments, and refuse to budge beyond them Sometimes you have to use your failures as stepping stones to success You have to maintain a fine balance between hope and despair In the end, it s all a question of balanceWhile reading of one tragedy heaped upon another, onestory of wretchedness and loss, you will start questioning this balance as Maneck often did What is Mistry trying to tell us Is it possible to always find this balance Cannot the scales be tipped so much against some individuals that the balance can never be achieved And yet, there are characters in this book that despite all adversity, continue to hold onto a dream of a better future Some accept their lot and others refuse to do so, abandoning all faithIf time were a bolt of cloth, I would cut out all the bad parts Snip out the scary nights and stitch together the good parts, to make time bearable Then I could wear it like a coat, always live happily This is a difficult book to review in the sense that I cannot pinpoint any single emotion to convey Yes, it was depressing at times But sometimes, too, I laughed and held onto a very fine strand of hope At one point I stopped and mulled over whether so much bad could really exist in the life of any one person Maybe the author was exaggerating surely he has a trick up his sleeve But then I considered the time, the place, the fact that this wasn t happening in my little cocoon but elsewhere in the world Maybe, just maybe, Mistry s characters represent an entire body of people that were mistreated and victimized during a time when rights were stripped and awful injustices were the order of the day I embraced it as a warning of what can happen when power is abused, when persons forget about the humanity in everyone, and when we fail to acknowledge our own role in helping to balance the scale If you haven t already read this remarkable novel, I urge you to do so It will surely leave a lasting impression I also encourage you to pair it or follow it with a lighthearted read in order to soothe your spiritPeople forget how vulnerable they are despite their shirts and shoes and briefcases, how this hungry and cruel world could strip them, put them in the same position as my beggars Poor naked wretches, wheresoe er you are,That bide the pelting of this pitiless storm,How shall your houseless heads and unfed sides,Your looped and windowed raggedness, defend youFrom seasons such as these O, I have ta enToo little care of this Take physic, pomp Expose thyself to feel what wretches feel,That thou mayst shake the superflux to themAnd show the heavensjust King LearWhy did I dislike him so much, she asked herself Where humans were concerned, the only emotion thPoor naked wretches, wheresoe er you are,That bide the pelting of this pitiless storm,How shall your houseless heads and unfed sides,Your looped and windowed raggedness, defend youFrom seasons such as these O, I have ta enToo little care of this Take physic, pomp Expose thyself to feel what wretches feel,That thou mayst shake the superflux to themAnd show the heavensjust King LearWhy did I dislike him so much, she asked herself Where humans were concerned, the only emotion that made sense was wonder, at their ability to endure and sorrow, for the hopelessness of it all Dina, A Fine BalanceLear s Patchwork Quilt A Fine Balance is a true modern epic, built on the ordinary If one could read only one book about India, this would make a very good choice On city, one village, one town, three families this is the tight canvas in which Mistry paints, or rather, is the quilt that he weaves They fit together to form a Persian carpet that captures within it an entire country s desolation As the characters move from distrust to friendship and from friendship to love, Mistry creates an enduring panorama of the human spirit in an inhuman state, at once unsettling, pitiful, and maddening in its clarity.Never dramatic, never superfluous, the details keep getting added to the quilt, no stray piece left untended, every discarded cloth piece added and stitched in with exquisite care Mistry s quilt is perhaps among the greatest novels composed on modern India, at least in terms of sheer ambition of the construction and the constrained canvas in which it is accomplished.Every anguish, spread across four generations, every tumult and gasp of a country is squeezed into the harrowing tales of a few poignantly realized figures Indeed, the whole drama is almost Shakespearean in scope with distinct echoes of King Lear in it in the pride and distance of each character in their imaginary walls, which crumple with closeness.Lear s Storm, Writ LargerMistry is often compared to Dickens, the archetypal author of the Uncaring State For me, the comparison that kept forcing itself was with Shakespeare As I mentioned above, I could hear distinct echoes of King Lear as I was reading this magnificent book However, I was not sure if I was reading this into Mistry since I had just gone very deep into Lear in which I was reading too much of Plato, to be honest I did not trust myself and decided to investigate and I found to my relief that Mistry loves King Lear he had even made an entire novel out of it not this one, but Family Matters It thus turned out to be a very lucky coincidence that I read King Lear almost in parallel with Mistry.In any case, I now feel justified in elaborating on this theme on the logic that a possibility of a King Lear influence having contributed to A Fine Balance cannot be discounted.I have to confess that once I made this discovery, I became overzealous and did make an attempt to draw the plot of King Lear directly into Mistry s novel, but Mistry is too much the master for that I tried to connect the abiding theme of love in both, trying to imagine Dina as an abandoned Cordelia I tried to think of Maneck as a proxy Edgar, one who was spared tragedy but only the obvious hard hitting ones that we dignify by the word tragedy , not the creeping disenchantment with life that can be evencruel I tried to deconstruct and see if the intermixing story lines of Fine Balance serve the same function as in Lear, the two story lines, the two tragedies mixed into one, joining to form a single base line to the symphony, echoing and reaching the same notes a ritornello, of sorts None of this worked satisfactorily.Eventually, my reconciliation is that Mistry has set his novel in an in between place between the lunacy of self inflicting suffering and the self wrought tragedy of the end, of Lear Instead, this epic unfolds in the forest, in the storm, the characters thrown into it directly, with no semblance of a why or a question of deserving anything Unlike the Shakespearean tragedy, where there is at least an apparent causation for the tragedies that befall each, the condition of the storm, of wild uncaring nature is the default here All are equal in this world, the same storm lashes them all.One of the major themes in King Lear is the path to understanding and salvation , forged in the wild under this wild buffeting of nature s storms where the ships of varying fates are lashed against each other, making them realize the equality of pathetic mortals , the only salvation allowed to them to be extracted from the whole tragedyYou know things falling apart, centre not holding, anarchy loosed upon the world, and all that sort of thing In Mistry s world too, the blind force of the Government and the Emergency looms large and ominous in the background affecting these characters, with no personal enmity or malicious intent almost like a primal force of nature, grabbing, destroying or sparing the lives and joys of the actors just like wild nature in King Lear.Mistry also works in a lot of political criticism of the Indian political system Let us pick a phrase from Mistry to summarize this A house with suicidal tendencies The path seems inexorable Once tyranny makes an entrance, it allows the government to becomeandauthoritative, insensitive, even casual in how they treat human lives and dreams , without any real conscious intent like the blind pagan gods of Shakespeare Thus, maybe a step beyond nature then as powerful, all pervading and unreadable as the Gods themselves.It makes one wonder how unreasonably powerful our modern governments are capable of reaching in and snuffing out even the minutest blooms of happiness, at random Isn t it scary to have such gods amongst usWhere was God, the Bloody Fool Did He have no notion of fair and unfair Couldn t He read a simple balance sheet He would have been sacked long ago if He was managing a corporation, the things He allowed to happen Set against this blind force, the characters of Mistry too blunder blindly through the vast forces of nature in search of some reconciliation their lives too seem to present glimmers of hope until the next wild gust, or random malice, sweeps it away but finding each other, giving what support they can, realizing that the straws are all that matters to the drowning man, finding what little joys they can in the occasional beauty of their fraying tapestry of a quiltBut how firm to stand, how much to bend Where was the line between compassion and foolishness, kindness and weakness And that was from her position From theirs, it might be a line between mercy and cruelty, consideration and callousness She could draw it on this side, but they might see it on that side If you think about it, that is almost a primal question for a civilized society From asking a question like that to reaching a point in which the line is erased altogether, at least when seen, at a certain angle, from both sides that is the only trajectory that deserves the name progress Emergency is an almost comical word, but it is poignant since, as Mistry shows, most stumble from one Emergency to the next, uncomprehending Some may escape the blindness and see each other, but perhaps only in the minds of visionary authors.All this parallels the distinct evolutionary trajectory of the characters in King Lear too, as the Kings and Nobles realize that underneath their garbs, the thin veneer of civilization, we are all equal And when fates and higher powers tear us apart and smite us with lightening, the poor and the rich can see each other, and their equality, in that fateful flash.The Finely BalancedSo we come back to this Indeed, the whole drama is almost Shakespearean in scope with distinct echoes of King Lear in it in the pride and distance of each character in their imaginary walls, which crumple with closeness.The real fine balance, the real circus act , is the flimsily constructed wall that balances so finely between people, between families, between castes, between classes, between societies but it cannot stand up to personal acquaintance Which is why we use emotions of fear and disgust to prop it up.This wall, a mere figment of imagination, is made up of stories, fictional ones the moment it encounters real stories, it tumbles down Authors like Mistry are the modern equivalents of the quixotic hero, trying to crumple these walls, reaching across thousands of miles, through the pages of a book.Of course, we can see in figures like Nusswan those people who manage to keep the walls of fine balance erected throughout their lives we see in them ourselves Can we dare to see ourselves in Nusswan In a character like Maneck we can see someone who was perhaps lucky to escape childhood without erecting them In the other poor souls who haunt the book, we see the ones on the other side of our well tended walls Then, in Dina we can see the ones who do break free of these finely balanced walls And we might even aspire to their tragedy so that we can be free of these walls too That is the power of a work like this it makes us crave even for tragedy, if only to let us escape our self constructed prisons How powerful is that Liking this book makes no sense Not only are its characters subjected to like, the bleakest set of circumstances ever, but then those circumstances are presented to the reader with such an alarming degree of authorial detachment that you almost have to wonder whether Mistry himself fed up with the unending series of hardships his characters are required to endure didn t just raise his arms in the air and say, Oh, fuck it And yet I could not tear myself away from this train wreck A Fine Balan Liking this book makes no sense Not only are its characters subjected to like, the bleakest set of circumstances ever, but then those circumstances are presented to the reader with such an alarming degree of authorial detachment that you almost have to wonder whether Mistry himself fed up with the unending series of hardships his characters are required to endure didn t just raise his arms in the air and say, Oh, fuck it And yet I could not tear myself away from this train wreck A Fine Balance presents neither a balanced nor a very fine account of a group of four Indian residents during the late 1970s These folks, heralding from different castes and backgrounds, are tossed together by their individually perturbing situations to forge an unlikely bond not unlike the bond formed among the cast members of Big Brother or The Real World except that in this case, the glamorous hot tub around which the characters congregate is replaced by a broken propane stove and a rusty tap from which water can be drawn only occasionally For those not brushed up on their political history, the late 1970s saw India under the rule of Prime Minister Indira Gandhi who, though largely considered one of India s greatest prime ministers on account of her centralizing policies the constitutionality of which, I suppose, could be debated , was certainly not among those in the author s favor Throughout the story, Mistry s characters are continually being caught in Gandhi s crossfire even while remaining mostly oblivious to the political climate surrounding them We get the distinct impression that Mistry is trying really hard to keep his own opinions from interfering with the story, but it is pretty obvious dude s got some serious bitterness issues to work out.Anyway, this book is not without its flaws A few characters bump into each other under repeatedly, under no plausible pretext other than pure coincidence, and this coincidence occurs frequently enough, especially toward the end of the novel, that the reader has to remind himself that this is India we re talking about here, right The one with a population density of a thousand people per square mile Mistry makes us feel like this might be an India under glass, where the characters are tiny steel balls and Mistry is controlling the flippers.This book is good, though For all its doom and gloom, I still see the hope in its pages Three of its characters are clothing tailors, and one of the repeated themes is something about how life is like the patchwork of a quilt, the good parts and the bad parts being sewn together but if one were to try to remove the bad parts, he d only end up with holes in his life I suppose you d have to think positively when you share a crapper with 150 other villagers OMGOSH Definitely a five star read for me, but all of my emotions are shot to hell Did a world like this really exist in 1970 s India Heaven forbid Rohinton Mistry introduces his four main characters and their individual stories one by one until they merge together sharing a cramped apartment in a world of starvation, suffering and despair.With civil unrest and demonstrations against a corrupt government on the rise, our protagonists needlessly endure despicable injustices to both body and so OMGOSH Definitely a five star read for me, but all of my emotions are shot to hell Did a world like this really exist in 1970 s India Heaven forbid Rohinton Mistry introduces his four main characters and their individual stories one by one until they merge together sharing a cramped apartment in a world of starvation, suffering and despair.With civil unrest and demonstrations against a corrupt government on the rise, our protagonists needlessly endure despicable injustices to both body and soul just for being in the wrong place at the wrong time.While reading A FINE BALANCE, I lost count on the number of expletives I screamed inside as I encountered shock after unbelievable shock.Excellent, but draining read with absolutely wonderful secondary characters added to the mix and a story I will not forget, andoh the ending Don t miss this oneDefinitely worth your reading time Rohinton Mistry has written three whopping novels set in India, Such a Long Journey, A Fine Balance, and Family Matters, and they re all brilliant He doesn t have pyrotechnic prose like the DeLillos and Pynchons, he s the tortoise to their hares, he plods on with his careful beautiful pictures of the details of people s lives, the complexities and the horrors and the unnoticed pools of affection, where the money comes from and where it goes, how they get through the day and how they don t his Rohinton Mistry has written three whopping novels set in India, Such a Long Journey, A Fine Balance, and Family Matters, and they re all brilliant He doesn t have pyrotechnic prose like the DeLillos and Pynchons, he s the tortoise to their hares, he plods on with his careful beautiful pictures of the details of people s lives, the complexities and the horrors and the unnoticed pools of affection, where the money comes from and where it goes, how they get through the day and how they don t his camera never lies I recommend all of these three novels without any ifs or buts You may be weeping at the end of them, because life is sad, but you won t mind that You see, we cannot draw lines and compartments and refuse to budge beyond them Sometimes you have to use your failures as stepping stones to success You have to maintain a fine balance between hope and despair He paused, considering what he had just said Yes , he repeated In the end, it s all a question of balance A Fine BalanceI sometimes take a moment to focus on the corner of my office The way the two walls come together forming a line, a demarcation I think of it as bringi You see, we cannot draw lines and compartments and refuse to budge beyond them Sometimes you have to use your failures as stepping stones to success You have to maintain a fine balance between hope and despair He paused, considering what he had just said Yes , he repeated In the end, it s all a question of balance A Fine BalanceI sometimes take a moment to focus on the corner of my office The way the two walls come together forming a line, a demarcation I think of it as bringing the two halves of my brain together, to focus, to think, to ponder It is an illusion of course, but I m fortunate that some of my life can be given to fanciful thoughts like thinking I can marshal the powers of my mind by staring meditatively at a conjunction We all worry about things, ponder things, and even dream about being somewhere else or about being someone else We all have loose threads that bother us, sometimes they are consuming us, and little do we know these bothersome threads are becoming stronger, like a man imprisoned, who spends vast amounts of time doing pushups and situps, waiting for the bars to open But it is a small matter, because I eat three meals a day, take a hot shower every morning, and sleep six solid hours a night on a bed that is not too soft nor too hard I have rights that protect me from my government at least for the moment I have law enforcement that doesn t have to be bribed to protect me from those that wish to do harm for harms sake I have a circle of family and friends who wish me well and will lend a shoulder to lean on if I falter I have healthcare and life insurance in case I am unlucky I live in a bubble of civilization that almost insures me a certain length of life span So when I do get time to snip those loose threads of my life I m doing so with a brain that has the luxury of worrying about somethingthan just NEEDS As large as my problems become they are still,but a small matter There are a vast array of characters in this novel Some are at a slightly higher economic level than the rest, but regardless of their circumstances no one can feel safe, no one can worry about matters beyond the most basic needs of water, food, and shelter The bulk of this story occurs in 1975 in an unnamed Indian city by the sea It is the time of The Great Emergency which really means that the government has declared a form of martial lawfor the safety of the people of course They have implemented a rigorous Family Planning Program that at first entices people with cash and better ration cards for food if they are willing to have the operation for sterilization When bribery doesn t elicit the results the government wants their methods becomeinvasive anddrastic The government also implements a beautification program that translates to bulldozing all the temporary structures that have been erected around the city These were thrown together to house the influx of country people coming to the metropolis to try and scrounge a living doing what others don t want to do The hodge podge of housing built out of cast off materials, rubbish to people of means, is not beautiful, not in the way that we are taught to evaluate beauty, but the creativity and the determination to build something for themselves is beyond beauty It is simply magnificent As they make a little money they fix something, add something, make ittheir home You build it and they will come There is no field of dreams in this India.So the government eliminates these eye sores, but does not provide a place for these people to live They are thrown to the elements to shift for themselves If truth be known the government would like to see these people vanish, stacked in the same pile as the rubbled remains of their homesWhat sense did the world make Where was God, the Bloody Fool Did He have no notion of fair and unfair Couldn t He read a simple balance sheet He would have been sacked long ago if He were managing a corporation, the things he allowed to happen The two tailors Ishvar Darji and his nephew Omprakash were there when the bulldozers started knocking down homes Only after all the homes were destroyed did the monster machines stop for twenty minutes to allow people to salvage what they could The tailors are working for a woman named Dina Dalal who is fortunate to have her own apartment She still mourns the death of her husband taken from her in a freakish accident many years ago She nearly went over the brink with griefFlirting with madness was one thing when madness started flirting back, it was time to call the whole thing offShe has a relationship with her brother that is complicated She dislikes having to accept his help and yet, finds herself going to him for money when she is short of rent In a bid forindependence andfinancial security she decides to start making clothes for a large manufacturing company, but her eyesight is failing and so she hires Ishvar and Omprakash to do the sewing Further help arrives in the form of Maneck Kohlah, a rich boy in comparison to the other people in the apartment, who contributes much needed rent while he is going to school She is not supposed to run a business out of her apartment She is not supposed to sublease The landlord is looking for any reason to get his hands on this apartment so he can finally break the rent controls It is a recipe for disaster born out of desperation It is a bid for freedomAfter all, our lives are but a sequence of accidents a clanking chain of chance events A string of choices, casual or deliberate, which add up to that one big calamity we call life Through a series of unpredictable events they all end up living in the apartment together The tailors out on the veranda Dina shoehorned into the sewing room Maneck in Dina s old bedroom There are difficulties mainly because Omprakash begins to resent Dina s position as overseer Om perceives her as a big shot, a rich person, when nothing could be further from the truth Being a manager myself I really identified with Dina s issues She would try to belenient and the two men would takeandadvantage of her She would try yelling and the men would become resentful She would try negotiating with them, but any concessions she was willing to make was never enough How quickly the men forgot how bad things were before the found the benevolence of the woman with an apartment Despite those issues for a little while, too short of time, they were happyGod is a giant quiltmaker With an infinite variety of designs And the quilt is grown so big and confusing, the pattern is impossible to see, the squares and diamonds and triangles don t fit well together any, it s all become meaningless So He has abandoned it The mystery of happiness It is so hard to obtain and so difficult to duplicate You can bring together the same people under the same circumstances and not be able to achieve it again There is a magic missing, a zing, a spice, a mood or just the will to let it happen There are a host of satellite characters who add so much vitality to this novel My favorite was the Beggarmaster As his title indicates he managed and took care of an army of beggars He also, for a price, extended protection to people like the tailors, to people like Dina He is as powerful as a magistrate and the police know not to mess with him or his people He sees everyone the same whether they are people missing limbs or people still retaining every body part they came into this world with He sees the world through the lens of the poorFreaks, that s what we are all of us I mean, every single human being And who can blame us What chance do we have, when our beginnings and endings are so freakish Birth and death what could bemonstrous than that We like to deceive ourselves and call it wondrous and beautiful and majestic, but it s freakish, let s face itThe Beggarmaster would have been perfectly at home stepping into a Dickens novel as would many of the characters in this novel Many reviewers have made comparisons to Charles Dickens and nowhere is itapparent than in the cast of characters that Rohinton Mistry has assembled Dickens would have also certainly loved taking on the issue of forced sterilization, the issue of sanitation, the issue of deprivation, and the overreach of a government completely out of touch with the largest majority of their populationthe poor You will find yourself living with these characters You will even feel like you are sharing their deprivation through the power of a gifted writer s words Success is fleeting Disaster ever present Hopelessness is a shadow around everyone s heart No one is immune and everyone is walking on the ledge hoping the wind doesn t blow The things that matter to them the most are the essential things The very things the rest of us take for granted Rohinton MistryRohinton Mistry very well may have written a masterpiece This was recommended to me as a favorite book I can t resist when people say a book is their favorite book So what I would like is for everyone to share their favorite book with me on the comments thread I will do my best to eventually read every one of them that I haven t read before This novel is Highly Recommended If you wish to seeof my most recent book and movie reviews, visit also have a Facebook blogger page at With a compassionate realism and narrative sweep that recall the work of Charles Dickens, this magnificent novel captures all the cruelty and corruption, dignity and heroism, of India The time isThe place is an unnamed city by the sea The government has just declared a State of Emergency, in whose upheavals four strangers a spirited widow, a young student uprooted from his idyllic hill station, and two tailors who have fled the caste violence of their native village will be thrust together, forced to share one cramped apartment and an uncertain future As the characters move from distrust to friendship and from friendship to love, A Fine Balance creates an enduring panorama of the human spirit in an inhuman state