‘Family Matters’ was my first taste of Rohinton Mistry and I have been hooked since. A master story teller, he grips the reader with easy paced narrative, one rarely feels tedium. There is always a shadow of gloom in his books, and that is what gives it the sense of realism and the need for empathy. He uses humour and brilliant characterisation to offset the pall of grey.
Like most of his novels, ‘Such a Long Journey’ is set in the Bombay of the 70s. Gustad Noble, is a middle class Parsi going about his life quietly without much bother, until the point when he gets a letter from his old friend, Major Jimmy Bilimoria. (To digress a bit, in all the books of Mistry that I have read there is a clear point of crisis. In ‘Family Matters’, it is the point when Yezad gives into the temptation of gambling, in ‘A Fine Balance’ it is the point when Ishvar and Omprakash return to their village.) Gustad’s life is thrown in turmoil and he is buffeted by the Fates. His son is estranged, his friend Mr. Dinshawji dies and his job as a bank clerk is shaky.
Mistry has an enviable gift for characterisation, though some of his characters seem similar in his books. Yezad from ‘Family Matters’ and Gustad have a lot in common. The characters are simple and so realistic that if you went to any typical apartment block in Mumbai, chances are you would see these characters in some form. Mistry keeps his characterisation very simple and does not overreach by adding complicated clutter. Gustad is a simple man almost helpless against the troubles that come his way. However, in his own way he is strong and grounded. I also like the play off between the flamboyant Jimmy and the tepid Gustad. And also between Gustad’s only friends Jimmy and Mr. Dinshawji. Mr Dinshawji provides the comic relief and actually is a man with a heart. The mentally challenged Tehmul is another typical character that you would see in most middle class localities in India. The neighbours in Khodadad Building Miss Kutpitia, living in the memory of her dead nephew, the meddlesome Mr. Rabadi, the eccentric Cavasji are natural and highly realistic.
I am biased about Mistry’s work, I would still recommend this book like all the others.