Perhaps the first thing that catches your eye about A Fine Balance penned by the veteran author Rohinton Mistry, recipient of many accolades and whose books have been shortlisted for the Booker Prize many a time, would be the chunkiness of the book, what with the story spreading out to more than six hundred pages. A Fine Balance is undoubtedly a meticulously written novel, rich in superfluous detail, which is set mainly in the 1975 India. It has a certain charm and rawness entwined to it that would make sure that the reader sticks on to its pages which are overflowing with the naiveté of the proletariat.
The novel literally maintains a fine balance between the stories of the four protagonists who meet at one point of the book, during and after which their lives are altered beyond imaginable ways but mostly ending up at heartbreaking crossroads. At first comes Dina Shroff, a girl based in the then Bombay in a well-to-do Parsi family. Her narrative revolves mainly around her family who was shattered by the passing away of her father which culminates in her mean brother, with his hypocritical ideals, taking the control of the house. This finally leads to an abrupt end to Dina’s education. Later, she meets Rustom Dalal and turns into Mrs. Dina Dalal as she is known throughout the rest of the story. Her husband, who is too good to be real, dies in a freak hit-and-run accident at the night of their third wedding anniversary, which leaves a traumatized Dina behind. She was determined enough for a young widow to say an outright no to a second marriage and to refuse a place under her brother’s roof, probably ending up as an unpaid servant for life! But instead she strived to fend for herself with help from one of her childhood friends.
Parting with Dina’s narrative for now, the pages take us to “In a village by a river” where we are introduced to Ishvar, Narayan, later Om and the story of their ancestors. This area of the book is ostensibly nothing but a tale of woe sometimes taking on a harsher version reducing us to tears. It deals with the caste system and the outrageous brutality of the loathsome landlords who deserve to be ripped apart. The effectual and overpowering account rendered by Rohinton Mistry in his fluid flow of language enrages the reader to act against the despicable acts of the so-called upper caste men upon the destitute.
Then again as life moves on, we move on to Maneck Kohlah, a boy leading quite a carefree life up in the mountains inhaling lungful of fresh, pure air each morning, absolutely oblivious to the lives down in the cities. In this part of the novel, we are treated to the frivolities of the families in the mountains, co-existing in complete harmony and wrapped up in their personal worlds of blithe. Ishvar and Om as tailors and Maneck as a paying guest find themselves at Dina’s house. Gradually they steer clear of their prejudices and make quite a company! But nothing too good stays for long. And so the merciless hands of fate unclenched apart their bonds of intimacy and friendship and strewed them across for their own destinies to devour them.
A Fine Balance does a lot of talk on the Internal Emergency declared in India during the setting of the novel. It does compel the reader to put your thinking cap on and frown. The author is visibly taking a harsh and cut-and –dried stand against the then Prime Minister, even making a complete mockery of her at one instance of the plot. But, all the same, the opinion whether biased or not all depends on the mindset of the reader. But one thing we can never deny is the fact that Rohinton Mistry has once again proved his sinuous style of unfolding the chronicles of the hoi polloi with such passion, rawness, simplicity and candor that it is next to impossible not to keep the pages turning and finally reach 614th page!
Class: XI-A (Shift-I)