‘A Fine Balance’ by Rohinton Mistry, an Indo-Canadian author, is a novel set in the turbulent times of the emergency exacted by Indira Gandhi, published in 1995. It has a total page count of 614 long pages and was published to universal acclaim and stormed the corridors of the literary world. Despite the widespread deference for this artistic work, shamefully, many people in India are completely oblivious of this novel. People have heard echoes of Roy, Rushdie, Seth, and Desai but many bibliophiles aren’t acquainted to one of the most prolific and penetrating storytellers of our time, Rohinton Mistry.
The novel follows the lives of 4 characters: Ishvar, Om Prakash, Maneck Kohlah, and Dina Dalal as they spiral through the wafting tyrannies of the emergency and its aftermath, the tragedy that displaced, dislocated, massacred, maimed, emasculated millions of honest and gullible citizens of the framework of India.
The prose is lucid, clear and simple. Rohinton Mistry has a straight intention from the beginning of the novel, which is to animate the horrors of a dysfunctional society. It is the circumstances which these people have to live through, which form the backbone of the novel, and further, he nestles story within story and creates a tapestry of pain and heartbreak.
His writing is masterful, and is portrayed in a series of themes- beautiful conversations, food, multitudinous crowd of the city, work ethics, corruption, riots, and loss of identity. Rohinton brings to life all the emotions one could ever wish to read in a novel.
Words embossed like jewels, warming the facets of a country with grace and empathy, embracing the lives of characters, embedded in desperation and turmoil. The novel has rare glimpses of humour and beauty amidst the inveterate and eternally bleak circumstances. Mistry’s vision dives into the heart of darkness, throbbing in the flesh of his richly animated and authentic characters and the story moves from village to the city, showing the deep-rooted hollows of our society.
I wish to avoid all the spoilers, but without giving a lot of the plot away, I wish to warn the readers, this novel is not for the faint hearted, it is courageously unique and unconventional, ruthless in its execution, merciless in its sense of destruction and evisceration boiling through the post colonial land of the great country, the victim of utmost deceit and sadomasochistic totalitarianism by the rulers.
It is unfortunate that Mistry wrote this novel and made it so compelling. It is devastating to see how sad, prophetic, and visionary this novel, more than 20 years down the line, has proved to paint world, we as Indians have acquiesced to live in. I feel, I would never be able to see India the same way again, every street, every beggar rocking the tin cup for money, every tailor, and widow, would remind me of what happened to Ishvar, Om, Dina and Maneck. Mistry captures India from the speck of dust on the ground to the blue starless sky still with depression and depravity.
The way Mistry makes you fall in love with characters and takes you through till the end, is simply unbelievable, books with such power come across as a miracle to me. Having said that, it is one of the most gut wrenching and depressing books I have ever read, a part of me wants to delete this novel from my mind, it left me too broken to be repaired, affected me more than I imagined and sought to be, it might take longer than usual, a month, a year, a decade or perhaps a lifetime. I wanted to be moved, and I will have to pay the price for it, my spirit is broken. ‘A Fine Balance’ must be read by every Indian, it captures the vast richness of the great Victorian novels such as Middlemarch, portraying the human heart encompassing its pity and hunger for violence. ‘A Fine Balance, in my view is superior to all other famous Indian novels (Midnights Children, The God of Small Things, The Inheritance of Loss, A Suitable Boy) with an unparalleled sense of honesty and respect for human justice.
If there is a literary hero in India, a possessor of courage and wisdom, it is none other than Rohinton Mistry. As an Indian, I am forever indebted to him, a non- fiction author could never have expressed so well, the essence and the tragedy of India and its people.