Saturday, March 14, 2009

A Fine Balance - Rohinton Mistry

The setting for the story is Mumbai during the turbulent state of internal emergency of 1975, and how different lives were affected by it. Although the political scenario takes a backseat in the narration, it remains the element which drives the story forward, defining the paths of the character’s fortunes behind the scenes.

Rohinton Mistry gives an absorbing narration of the lives of the poor and the ill effects of the caste system in the villages. The delineation of the underprivileged reminds one of another great book, Salman Rushdie's Midnight's Children, which also leaves an indelible effect on the readers mind in describing poverty and destitution.

The book takes us through the mechanics of a system which is corrupt to the rot, and spares no thought for the helpless. Be it a new government policy being implemented, strikes, riots, or just a bad monsoon, it is the poor and underprivileged man who has to bear the brunt. A Fine Balance tells us about the lives of common people, and how their lives are affected by the state of political developments in the country, and at the same time how they are also intertwined.

There are aspects in the lives of all the characters which one could identify with, for example Maneck Kolah's thoughts about visiting his parents, where they would miss him while he is away and could not live with him in peace either, and before you realize the times have changed.

Some portions in the story about the life of lower caste families in the villages, and also the concluding sections of the novel make for some tragic reading, and leave one with a heavy heart and make us feel for the characters. One cannot help feeling that but for endemic greed and corruption, so many lives could have prospered.

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