Book Review: A Fine Balance

” You have to use your failures as stepping stone to success. You have to maintain a fine balance, between hope and despair. In the end its all a question of balance.”- Rohinton Mistry

Enchanting, enthralling and magical. The only words that I can find to describe a book which at the end will make you realize how important it is to maintain a balance between hope and despair. A Fine Balance by Rohinton Mistry is a story which set in 1975, a time when Prime Minister declared Emergency in the country. Though her name is not mentioned in the book, her sinister presence is there. The book covers notorious crimes which happened during her reign: Forced sterilizations, detention, torture. A whole new era of human rights violation, something which is still famous among people who saw it with their own eyes.

Story’s protagonist, Dina Dalal is a widow who wants to stand on her own feet, doesn’t want to take help from her brother Nuswan and wants to earn a living without being dependent on anybody. She gets into the business of tailoring and hires two tailors, Omprakash and his uncle Ishvar, to help her in the business. For additional income, she takes on a boarder, her childhood friend’s son, Maneck. Together, they form an accidental family, each having their own specialities and flaws.

Ishvar and Om left their village to come work in the city, leaving the ghost of their past, ghosts created out of the ancient caste system of India, where a Chamaar will always be a Chamaar, not a tailor.Maneck left his home for studies, but he dearly misses it. Given a chance, he would run back to his hometown, but the family business is sinking and his parents want Maneck to get an education first so that they can be done with their responsibility. A hesitant Maneck eventually settles down with his accidental family. All four together, create magical tale full of twists in which they get stuck, thanks to The Emergency.

One of the most amazing things is that A Fine Balance will keep you engaged. After each chapter, you would like to know what happened next. All the twists have been churned out from the policies which were implemented during the Emergency. Whether it’s illegal pickup of beggars to work at factory sites without money or forced sterilisation. Each character has its own persona which will sometimes make you smile and sometimes laugh, Dina Dala, the middle-aged and easily agitated Parsi aunty, Maneck, a teenage boy with simple agendas in life, Omprakash, new to the city and always creating something vulgar out of regular conversations, and Ishvar, simple like Dina but sometimes way too emotional.

Apart from these four, many interesting characters have also been introduced in the book. Monkey Man, who plays a huge part in the climax, Rajaram, the hair murderer, who killed people to chop their hair off and sell to hair vendors, Beggar Master, who is extremely creative and manages the theater of beggars on streets, to monetize on public sympathy.

“If all beggars have the same injury, public gets used to it and feels no pity. Public likes to see variety. . . . Blind beggars are everywhere. But blind, with eyeballs missing, face showing empty sockets, plus nose chopped off — now anyone will give money for that. Diseases are also useful. A big growth on the neck or face, oozing yellow pus. That works well.”

The only thing which bothered us what the climax of the book, especially the part of Maneck. We obviously cannot reveal it, but then I wish it would have been different. Also, the length of the book is 700+ pages, and not something that you can just leave it halfway. But I have only one thing to say, don’t judge the book by its number of pages.

Once you start reading A Fine Balance, you will devour into this masterpiece!

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