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4.07 

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.::A gripping, disturbing equipoised epic!!::.
Sep 04, 2003 02:42 AM 6696 Views
(Updated Sep 04, 2003 01:14 PM)

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That sparsely haired child on the cover perched perfectly on an acrobatic spinpole yearning to touch the yonder sky with an outstretched, bangled hand had me intrigued. Even being perfectly balanced on a thumb, its oculi were searching for that remote freedom.... just like the four principal characters of this book!


A Fine Balance, principally is a tale of four antithetical characters, who come together in even more eccentric circumstances in the mid 1970s Bombay. Its a splendiferous and disturbing tale of the freakish situations that they stomach in the tumultuous epoch of the Internal Emergency of 1975 which curves and degenerates their lives forever!


Its a story of Dina Dalal, a middle aged sartor, whose dilapidated physical and financial stature takes her in search for two seamsters and a paying guest. Enter Ishwar (a middle-aged man) and Omprakash Darji (his 17 year old nephew), two tailors who have recently transshipped to Bombay in search of work. The paying guest comes in the form of Maneck Kohlah, an 18-year old boy, from the hills, who had been nauseated by the disgustful college ragging. From then on, its a tale of their slow interwining of domiciles, of obstacles they face in the hands of government and law.. its an equipoise of mirth and mourn, of birth and death, of fiction so beguiling that it might well be real. What makes it so special, is for all to read below!


Familiar with Mistry's picaresque and hypnotic narrative that I was (thanks to Family Matters read in recent past), ruffling through the first few pages wasn't much of a surpise. The narrative prologuing with the nucleating of the main characters and suddenly meandering into three consecutive flashbacks which visit the auld langsynes of the aforementioned characters' lives was quite accelerated to hook the reader.


While Dina's yore is debauched by child abuse, begetter deprivation and widowhood, Ishwar and Om are the descendants of the untouchable-tanner family which has been incinerated brutally by the ever-repelling caste system. Maneck, however is a victim of deracination from his beautiful home in pictureseque hills to a disgusting college in the meddlesome city of Bombay. Life, for all of them, has been a frustrating and inadequate fare transmogrifying them into individuals thirsty for peace, for independence. With three characters handshaken consecutively, the sporadic narrative clasps each of the life-troikas vividly, though the rhetoric is extremely played down to leave a lasting impact. Elaboration is where the focus is, and the accumulation is done slowly, carefully and matter of factly, in third person, like a fable being told, with the harrowing experiences shaking you every now and then.


Drama, in all its resplendance returns as the characters come together in Bombay, from where the narrative also turns linear and highly unpredictable. It is now that the whipping craftsmanship of Mistry's writing comes to fore, and the reader is submerged in the magnimously-dimensioned Bombay and its amusing, queer and funny population replete with their day-to-day problems. In fact, the characterisation of this book is its strength. However trivial the characters may be, their significance on the plot and the psyche is lasting, and their completeness in the cyclic narrative all the more dulcet and satisfying. Some such characters worth recalling and elaborating are:


Omprakash Darji: In this brusque teenager, the author plonks in ample doses of voyeurism. The cheap pleasures he derives from peeping into a ladies changing room, in arousing babbles of fornications and in auto-eroticism, how this very sex amputates his life forever in one gut-wrenching sequence where he's castrated in the most barbaric manner (thanks to the government's Family Planning Programme) sends shivers down the spine!


Maneck Kohlah: Call it a coincidence, but yours truly always finds a character in Mistry's books that's quite well an extension of his own personality. This brooding teenager is so full of flesh-and-blood, that by the time you scan the last page, you tend to develop an alternative instinct of how this character will react. A superb feeling this, his constant recollections of past through feeling non-living objects and surroundings is something I identified with completely!


Beggarman-- With this character, the author plunges deep into the horrific mantle of mendicancy business which inflicts every city in India like a parasite plus how the upper crust of society wheels on influence. His revelation about his step-brother who's an amputated beggar and his dawning as a messiah for Dina's household is memorable!


Avinash: A well-informed roommate of Maneck, his prudency and logic lets the author fill him up with sensible descriptions about the Emergency. The dispirited demise and Maneck's reaction towards the climax will judder you for sure!


Apart from the above quintette, there are many more impersonations equally enjoyable like those of a submissive rent-collector, a monkey juggler (the cover is dervied from this one), a dubious hair-collector and of a proofreader (you'll enjoy his lofty ramblings!) which makes this fiction so much more special. Notable is the number of references the author makes in continuum to the endozoan of problems degenerating urban Indian society-- Rent collection, child labour, child marriage, lives in slums and the seething corruption. His take on the effect of industrialisation on solitude-laden valleys and two other obnoxiously painful periods-- the Partition and 1984 riots is commendable.


Being written around 1975, the author's dig at the Government's stinking enactment of the City Beautification Law, Family Panning and Slum Clearance Programme, which stream into a schizophrenic mode thanks to the foxy middlemen is enlightening. Equally revealing are the double-standards the then lady Prime Minister employed to with-hold her seat by mollycoddling the law and eyewashing the media by forcibly filling up speech premises with pullulating poverty-stricken population. All this holds an uncanny importance in the way its been sewn in the plot and how this very misgoverment and obliteration directly dents the lives of all the characters (particularly of Om and Ishwar).


Mistry's fecund use of Oxford English makes accessing the lexicon second nature. Teeming with lissome vocabulary, the language elevates this fiction to a swish-and-posh literary pinnacle which'll make for an overwhelming reading experience time and again. Use of lofty and imaginative metaphors, comparisons and tropes have been wonderfully coined to life, lending that depressive and disturbing undertone perfectly for the archipelago of tales the book jackets. That said, to render individuality and earthenness to some characters, bouts of strong language and Hindi are ubiquitous throughout the length and the breadth of the book.


.::Epilogue::.


A Fine Balance is about misfortunes, of cataclysms blotting euphoric moments, of unanticipated ecstacy dotting tragedy, of the ever-mystical destiny intertwining and spreading wrath and joy concentrically corroborating the celebrated theory of equilibrium in life. An epic by stature, its so ethical, absolved and crystallised in its virtues, so unfamiliar, unpredictable and startling in its fiction that it'll aurify your vision of life, of people... An illustrious piece of work embodying a living era, this comes highly recommended to every fiction-lover!!


Hope you savoured the review! Two words of appraisal in the comments section{the section also houses some miscellaneous ramblings} will be treasured!


© Karan 2003


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