A Fine Balance by Rohinton Mistry
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
When I picked up this book out of curiosity and excitement about reading an Indian author’s book whose name I had not heard much before. Also, though I had heard about the Emergency declared in India in 1975, but was not aware of its real consequences on citizens in both cities and villages.
Immediately after starting the book, I kept saying in my mind: This book is going to be brilliant. Because the language is strikingly beautiful. Lines like:
The chalks and slates fascinated them. They yearned to hold the white sticks in their hands, make little white squiggles like the other children, draw pictures of huts, cows, goats, and flowers. It was like magic, to make things appear out of nowhere.
Sometimes, unjustified beating was described with mocking comedy, like when Ishwar and Narayan was beaten ferociously they ran.
Ishvar and Narayan ran off with their pants straggling, stumbling and tripping comically.
Or when they went for performing their morning calling at railway tracks bearing a vulnerable ‘louta’ :
The water in it sloshed a little as they scrambled over mounds of concrete rubble and broken glass. A foul-smelling stream, greyish yellow, trickled through the mounds, carrying a variety of floating waste in its torpid flux.
To be true, the book is full of misery, pain and loss. But there are joys in little things, more than enough to delight any reader.
At Om’s prompting, Ishvar got on the carrier behind the saddle. He sat sideways, legs straight out. With his feet inches off the ground, sandals grazing the road now and then, they sailed away. Om’s optimism pealed in the tring-tring showers spouting from the bell. For a while the world was perfect.
Halfway through the book and I was wondering this book should be called “A tragedy too long”. Because to be true, none of the characters is happy in this book, their lives were full of tragedies.
I kept reading anyway, just because of the unbelievably beautiful language and prose style. At nearly 70% of the book, some really nostalgic moments had made me smile unknowingly. I have smiled because the way they found joy in midst of total anarchy. And I knew for sure that Mistry would ruin it soon; it was obvious from the experience I got from reading 70% of this book. And true I was.
A 600 page long book describing only pain would not be a great experience, but Mistry has done it in style. There are ample amount of fun and jokes to make you laugh out loud. And LOL, chess of time it was.
Avinash’s hollow-cheeked father would have lit the pyre. Crackle of kindling. Smoke smarting the eyes. And fingers of fire teasing, playing, tickling the corpse. Causing it to arch, as though trying to sit up … a sign, they said, the spirit protesting. Avinash used to often arch like that when playing chess, lying back, almost flat on the bed, turning his head sideways, contemplating the board. Rising on his elbow to reach the piece, to make his move.
Checkmate. And then the flames.
And I think this would be more of Mistry’s thoughts than Dina to justify above:
How much Dina Aunty relished her memories. Mummy and Daddy were the same, talking about their yesterdays and smiling in that sad-happy way while selecting each picture, each frame from the past, examining it lovingly before it vanished again in the mist. But nobody ever forgot anything, not really, though sometimes they pretended, when it suited them. Memories were permanent. Sorrowful ones remained sad even with the passing of time, yet happy ones could never be recreated – not with the same joy. Remembering bred its own peculiar sorrow. It seemed so unfair: that time should render both sadness and happiness into a source of pain.
This book will remain one of the favourite books I have ever read simply because every single character in this book has come alive with masterful hand of Mistry. I repeat, every single negligible character.
I was on the verge of comparing Mistry to G.R.R Martin, for both like to kill every character they create. But the next moment, I thought GOT is nothing but high fantasy, but Mistry’s atmosphere was true. It was truly horrible and miserable as it said. That was really a spine-chilling experience, and I was thanking my fortune for not coming in this world on those black days. Also, the deaths here were justified from the person’s physical and psychological condition, sometimes even symbolic.
I can now say that I have read a truly black and tragic book which everyone should read at least once, for life is too short and pain is too big.