Book Review: A Fine Balance by Rohinton Mistry.
This is a poignant novel set around the period of emergency in India till the 1984 riots in the aftermath of Indira Gandhi’s assassination.
The story follows the life of Dina, a Parsi widow, living in a rented accommodation in a city by the sea – though not named anywhere in the book, but is obviously Bombay.
She is surviving in the big city, living alone, not wanting to live with her overbearing brother. She takes up a tailoring assignment for an export firm; and starts looking for two tailors, who can work from her small apartment. She also decides to take on a paying guest to supplement her income.
Enter Ishvar, and his nephew, Om – the two tailors. They are from the cobbler community; but Ishvar’s father ensured that they move away from the leather work to a more respectable tailoring work. They had to come to the city, when the remaining family is burnt alive in caste violence in the village. Maneck, son of another Parsi woman, who was her classmate in school, comes to live with her as a paying guest, to study for diploma. He has led his life in the mountains, and has come to the city as his parents want him to lead a better life.
Other characters, living in the slums, join our lead cast. They all are trying to live a life, which is a drudgery, where hope and despair alternate for each of them. They all are survivors in a world which can be cruel, yet offers hope. It depends on the way that the characters look at their lives.
As I started reading the book, I felt that the premise was to strike a fine balance between life and death. It is that too, but as you finish the book, you realise that life is A FINE BALANCE between hope and despair.
The book reminded me a lot about the writing style of Charles Dickens, and his three iconic characters – Oliver Twist, Pip, and David Copperfield.