A Fine Balance by Rohinton Mistry
thoughts on a thought provoking book ...
... in which four lives that seem very different at first, mesh and mingle to show how similar they actually are. A Fine Balance, the acclaimed and popular novel by Rohinton Mistry, tells the tale of these four lives. Two tailors Ishvar and Om, a young student Manek, and Dina, a struggling widow come to form an unlikely family in this moving and beautifully written book which deals with the multiple "fine balances" between everything and nothing that permeate everyday life.
The story describes the pasts of each of these characters - their sufferings and triumphs - and continues to follow their lives as they unfold. It is set in an unnamed Indian city by the sea during the seventies. Many political and social ideas are addressed in the book - those of the destructive and social caste system, the State of Emergency and slum "clearances" aimed at "beautifying" the country that were exerted by the government of the time, and the mass "sterilisations or "birth control" likewise enforced. The book highlights the seemingly unbridgeable gap between wealthy and poor, and also of the far reaching and destructive consequences of political incentives and propaganda.
One of the things that stands out in the book is the suffering and trials that each of the characters face and have faced in the past unbeknownst to one another. However Om, Ishvar, Dina and Manek move from distrusting each other to knowing, even understanding and loving each other, and in this process they learn more about the different kinds of suffering that the world holds. More importantly, perhaps, the reader learns at the same time through the experiences and judgements of the characters that a lot more lies behind the face of a person than first meets the eye. We learn through the four protagonists that it pays not to judge a person on their occupation, social class, skin colour or anything else because chances are that they have had their own share of trouble in life. Just because suffering is not immediately visible on the outside does not mean that it is not there, lurking beneath the surface in some shape or form.
However, do not begin to think that this book is a melancholy and morbid one because of the extent of suffering that it depicts. What is truly touching about this book is its ability to be ultimately uplifting despite its tragic elements. In fact, it seems that this book is more uplifting because of its tragic elements. This is most poignant at the end of the book when Om and Ishvar, who have pretty much lost everything and as a consequence should be weighed down by life and its grievances, are instead walking along the street clowning and laughing. This scene, like many others, depicts what is probably the most touching aspect of the book: humanity's ability to survive and to continue to live and love despite circumstances to the contrary.
A Fine Balance is one of those books that, once you have started reading it, is nigh on impossible to stop. Alluding to its title, the book is constantly aware of and drawing the readers attention to the fine balance upon which every human life teeters. Nothing is ever certain in life: one misguided step or false turn and all that one has can be lost....or won.
Reviewed by Kimberley Davis, BA Eng. (Hons)
copies of A Fine Balance are available through Jumping Tangents, you will find them in the "really good books" category.