I have figured out a way to kill two birds with one stone today because I am a genius! Yessss!
I am not talking about racism/ ignorance/ close-mindedness in the American/ Western sense today, even though those are important too. I feel like enough persons are talking about those issues today already. I did consider recommending Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky and To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee, which are both books I love. In fact, To Kill a Mockingbird is one of the books that inspired me to study law and it moves me deeply every time I read it. But… it felt kinda like a cop out to talk about these books and leave it at that.
That’s because that is not the world I live in, though we do share a lot of the issues. The world I inhabit is a lot more complex and a lot more diverse, I guess, and it’s just different. I wanted to think of a book that close-minded/ racist persons of India need to read. And that is why I will be discussing A Fine Balance by Rohinton Mistry.
This is a book that I read recently and that I have been struggling to review since because it’s so layered and nuanced and it views the issues faced by common people, especially those from a poor economic background and those from backward castes during the Emergency which was imposed in India from 1975 to 1977. Being an Indian law student, I know a fair bit about what happened during this period and I have very strong feelings and opinions about it, and most of those are negative. I have a deep dislike for Indira Gandhi and her brand of politics, and I also have fears that it’ll be easy to impose another Emergency and turn our country into a dictatorship again. Perhaps permanently this time. It keeps me up at night.
But that is not what this post is going to be about, because if I get started on my opinion about politics, I will never shut up. (Ask my dad. He knows.)
The point of this book, I think, is to explain that these issues faced by these people didn’t begin with the Emergency, and they didn’t end when the Emergency ended. The problems were aggravated during the Emergency because of a suspension of basic human rights, but the point is that, for people living in the remotest areas of our country, especially those from the “untouchable” castes, there never are any human rights. The point of this book is to highlight the prejudices that we all carry towards the lower classes of society. And the point of this book is just to emphasize that human suffering is all around us.
There is a quote at the beginning of the book that I just love:
“Holding this book in your hand, sinking back in your soft armchair, you will say to yourself: perhaps it will amuse me. And after you have read this story of great misfortunes, you will no doubt dine well, blaming the author for your own insensitivity, accusing him of wild exaggeration and flights of fancy. But rest assured: this tragedy is not a fiction. All is true”
It just sums everything up so beautifully!
This book is about four persons: a widowed tailor who outsources her work due to her failing eyesight; the two tailors, an uncle and a nephew, who work for her; and a young student who lives in her spare room for a year as her paying guest to supplement her income.
This book is largely set in that period of two years, but it also has rich backstories for each of the four protagonists that go back several years into the past. These stories made me feel deep affection for each of the characters, and I grew to love and understand the motivations of each of their actions and I loved watching them grow and evolve through the novel. I laughed at their jokes and cried when they suffered but I ultimately wanted them to be okay.
Which I guess made this book even more heart-breaking. (Um… should I have said spoiler alert or something?) I wouldn’t wish these sufferings on anyone but my love for the characters made it that much harder to bear. I think making a character suffer after you’ve come to love them is a literary tool designed to make a book more gut-wrenching and more memorable.
As I said before, India is a country with deep-rooted class, caste and religious divides. Our motto is “Unity in Diversity” but diversity also breeds prejudice. The situation today has improved but in a lot of the country, the sufferings of our fellow humans continue. This book depicts all of that prejudice masterfully and quite gruesomely. I don’t grudge the author for that because the reality is in fact, gruesome. He tells us the truth of those times where basic human rights were suspended for ‘productivity’ and ‘beautification’, but mostly to keep a corrupt person and her and her son’s deranged experimental, paternalistic policies in power.
More people need to know what our fellow humans are suffering and that’s where this book comes in.
You know, I have an issue with the fact that this question clubbed in ‘ignorant’ with ‘close-minded’ and ‘racist’. If you’re only ignorant, just fix that. Research, read, learn. It’s what we’re all trying to do, right? On that note, go ahead and pick up this book. Rohinton Mistry is a brilliant story teller and this story will stay with you for a very long time.
When put in the context of recommending this book, reviewing became a lot easier. 🙂 Do read this book. I absolutely recommend it to everyone. I know a few people who aren’t from India as well who love this book. It’s just… it’s excellent.