Category Archives: Rohinton Mistry

Such a Long Journey – Rohinton Mistry

‘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.


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A Fine Balance – Rohinton Mistry

Like my clan, the Syrian Christians, the Parsis are an interesting community. In the south, we are not as exposed to other communities like people in Mumbai or Delhi. Prior to Rohinton Mistry’s ‘Family Matters’ my understanding of Parsis was limited to knowing that one of my colleagues in Mumbai was one and looking at the ‘Fire Temple’ off Queen’s Road in awe. I read the “Story of Zarathustra” from Amar Chitra Katha as a kid. And I did score a point at the high school quiz contest with my tremulous, “Is it the Zend Avesta?” answer.

Pardon the digression. Rohinton Mistry is another writer that I really like. Though I wont rate ‘A Fine Balance’ among his best, I still think it is way better than a lot of books I have read recently. The story is about Dina Dalal and has a strong hue of Hardy’s ‘Tess of the d’Urbervilles’. Like Tess, fate treats her unfairly all through her life. All through the book she is battling against odds and just as we think that she finally has come to grips with it, misfortune rears up again. Even the three other main characters endure the vagaries of fate. The untouchabe uncle-nephew duo, Omprakash and Ishvar try to escape their miserable life by becoming tailors, only to realise at the end that there is no escape. Maneck the paying guest goes through loss as well. All through the novel there is a pall of gloom except for a brief period when all of the characters are at peace with each other and their lives.

In terms of characterisation, Dina of course is sensitive but turns harsh largely due to insecurity and her fear of losing control. One tends to get exasperated with Omprakash for his boorish and ungrateful behaviour. Ishvar is a delightful character, always calm and never complaining. The relationship between young Maneck and the matronly Dina has strong erotic undertones. Mistry plays safe and sensible with his portrayal of that relationship.

As always, the structure is strong and the narrative strong too. The backdrop is the dark hour of Indian history, the ’emergency’ and all the characters are effected in diferent ways by it. Mistry makes his abhorrence for the ‘prime minister’ and her party very clear. My only reservation with the book is the number of characters, the novel has around 24 characters. There were several times when I had retrace chapters to recollect a particular character.

My advice? It is Rohinton Mistry you will like it anyway.


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