Weekend Reading

Recollections of books carried back and forth on the elevated train -- in a long-term, though belated, attempt to learn something about the world.

Thursday, October 08, 2015

Rohinton Mistry : A Fine Balance

The setting for this weird novel is Hell - i.e. contemporary India as the author comprehends it. (He moved to Canada) .  If they don't become monsters, the minor characters are killed off , while the major characters face mutilation - or, if Parsi, a destiny that must be far more terrible: they  are condemned  to live with their families

 Two Parsis and two Dalits share a tiny Mumbai apartment  in 1975. Many disasters befall them, especially the Dalits, as a result of Indira Gandi's Emergency.  I had not imagined that she could draw such a strong negative reaction, even a decade after her assassination.   Earlier reading had prepared me for the lawless anarchy in certain areas of contemporary India - but not at a personal level. Another book had introduced me to the insular family life of Parsis - but not as melodramatic as this story.  Rohinton's primary female character, a Parsi widow, tries desperately to achieve independence from her brother. She fails. Rohinton's primary male character, a Parsi college student, aims for a career away from the family business.  When he discovers that the world outside his family is even worse than the world within it. he throws himself under a train. Ouch!

I'm not surprised that the population of Parsis has been steadily declining.  Regardless of their economic success, they do not feel like they belong in this world.


Presumably, this story's fraternization between Parsis and  Dalits exemplifies inter-communal open-mindedness, on the part of the author, as well as his characters.  But his depiction of the younger Dalit, Om, does seem to fit a stereotype of despicable otherness. He has lice - he has worms - he has uncontrollable sexual urges - and as with all characters, we are never shown his inner life.