Joyce Lagow's Reviews > A Fine Balance

A Fine Balance by Rohinton Mistry
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Jul 24, 09

Read in July, 2009

When I first started this book, I thought it was going to another one of those multi-generational epics set in a particular time period, which seems to be a popular theme among current Indian writers of every generation. Instead, what I found and was totally absorbed by, was a massive, detailed, and utterly fascinating story of the lives of four people who have been thrown together by the exigencies of the time--the 70s and 80s under the tyrannical, corrupt, reign of terror of Indira Gandhi, Nehru s daughter, who was the then-Prime Minister.[return][return]Dina Dalal is a 30 year old widow in an unnamed city by the sea (most likely Bombay) struggling to preserve her independence with a small piece-work business making women s dresses. With failing eyesight, she hires two tailors, Ishvar Darji and his nephew Omprakash Darji; in addition she rents space to Maneck Kohlah, a university student from the mountains of India s north. By accident and force of circumstance, all four wind up living together in Dina s tiny apartment during a period of terrorist activity on the part of the police under Gandhi s Emergency Act. Despite their best efforts, Ishvar and Om are caught up in caste and religious violence, police raids, and Maneck discovers the perils of opposition to the regime s policies.[return][return]The story is a wonderful combination of the love that eventually arises among these four very unlikely friends and the description of the brutality, corruption and cynicism that infected every part of Indian life during Indira Gandhi s despotism. But it is also an exploration of the unlikely ways that people are connected, many times through total strangers met by happenstance . It is an evocation of the concept of Indra s Net, a Buddhist concept of the infinite interconnectedness of all existence, symbolized by a net at whose nodes are jewels; pluck just one thread of the net, and all the jewels vibrate. [return][return]This is a beautifully written book, fascinating in its description of everyday lives both in a large city and in villages, of relationships between and among ordinary people, and the terrors of political and civil oppression. Nothing is romanticized--not the lives of the people or the people themselves, yet the characters are completely empathetic, despite their flaws.[return][return]Don t miss this one.
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