A Fine Balance: A Review

A Fine Balance is a fantastic novel by Rohinton Mistry, a notable writer. The theme of this novel is Indian land. Its setting is the mid-1970s of India. Its range is vast. It is a tale of the social and the political repression of humanity. This tale of repression has been presented with remarkable poignancy and honesty.
There is a portrayal of India in A Fine Balance from various directions. It deals with India, its people, climate, cities, ethnicity, classes, castes and regional identities. It reveals the diverse and complex realities of India. In this novelist focuses his concentration on the criminalization of Indian politics. Here he beautifully presents the Indian political scenario during the emergency period. It is about the sufferings of the four major characters due to political interference especially during emergency period.
A Fine Balance is the story of India of 1975. It tells the story of four Indians of an unnamed city during Indira's State of Emergency. These four people are: Dina Dalal, Ishwar, Om Prakash and Maneck. Dina is a Parsi widow. Ishwar and Om Prakash are untouchables. They are tailors who help Dina in her sewing shop. Maneck is a young student from border of India. Eventually they come together to live in Bombay. They live in the same apartment. The emergency affects their lives. Forced vasectomies, amputations, loss of dwelling and work are among the misfortunes which they face.
The previous lives of all these four characters find appreciable expression in the novel. Dina is a young widow. She has a brother. He is tyrannical. After the death of Dina’s father her brother dominated the household. Due to his attitude Dina’s mother suffers mental illness. Dina becomes widow after three years of her marriage. She is treated as a servant in her own house. She does not want to live in his brother’s house. She strives to be independent. The houses of Ishwar and Om Prakash are burnt down by the officials of government because of their attempt to rise out of their caste. The family condition of Maneck is very pitiable. Eventually they come together to live in Bombay. They live in the same apartment. They develop friendship among them.
A Fine Balance is set against the background of 1975. But it also talks about the history of India for the 75 years. Om Praksh and Ishwar are the untouchables depicted in the novel. While narrating these characters the novelist has taken events before the freedom of India. Mahatma Gandhi’s thought about untouchables and their sufferings are brilliantly presented in the novel. It has been shown that the atrocities towards the untouchables continued even after freedom of India. It is at its climax during the emergency. The novelist tries his best to present the disgraceful situation of inhabitants of the slum areas of Dharavi and Kurla too.
A Fine Balance presents the sufferings and difficulties faced by common man in India. It tells how Dina Dalal, Om Praksh, Ishwar Darji and Maneck Kolah come together to live in the city of Bombay. They belong to minority and suppressed communities. The narrative deals with their background and their woes and miseries. In each character of this novel India can easily be seen. The friendship and the togetherness of all these four major characters demonstrate that the people in India manage to exist even in such a miserable situation.
In A Fine Balance Maneck plays a very significant role. He appears as the representative of the youth of India. He explains how youths in India were suppressed during emergency. He has a friend named Avinash. Avinash is a student leader. He is killed in a suspicious way. Avinash, a friend of Maneck, a student leader, is killed in a suspicious way. Maneck’s life is disturbed due the suspicious death of Avinash. He is under depression.
This novel presents a true picture of affinity and hospitality in Indian family. Maneck comes to Dina’s house as a paying guest. The intimacy between the two develops and Maneck begins behaving as if he is her son. There is a conflict between Maneck and his father. Maneck wants to help his father in his business. But his father does not want Maneck to continue the family business. It was not beneficial for Maneck. Both appear well-wisher of each other. In the same fashion Ishwar wants Om to get married. Om Prakash refuses in the beginning. But at last he agrees to marry. Remembering his past Dina Dalal first refuses to live with her tyrannous brother. But later she is reconciled to him. What a fine balance!
Apart from the major characters readers can find a peculiar kind of family affinity among the minor characters. The character of Ashraf reflects the Hindu-Muslim brotherhood. It can be seen in the novel that Narayan and Ishwar take risk of life to save Ashraf’s family from Hindu rioters.
The direct impact of emergency on the lives of four major characters can obviously be seen in the novel. The business of Dina Dalal, Ishwar and Om Prakash runs smoothly for almost a year. But the effect of emergency often bothers them. Under a program of beautification the government acquires the slum area where the tailors live. The residents are forced to move in the streets without any compensation. Later Ishwar and Om Prakash are sold to a labour camp. After living two months in the camp any how they manage to come out. For that they bribe. Ishwar and Om are lucky because Dina Dalal is ready to let them stay with her. But they face a new problem. The landlord forbids Diana to run a business from that flat. Then Dina has to speak lie. She informs the landlord that Ishwar is her husband and Om Prakash is their son.
Ishwar and Om return to their village to find a wife for Om Prakash. Om Prakash is of eighteen. When they return to their old town Ashraf Chacha gives them a place to stay while they search for marriage prospects for Om. Unfortunately Ishwar and Om become the victims of forced sterilization. The vasectomy takes place. After that they suffer from infection. On the other hand Dina becomes alone. She has no protection at all. The landlord wants to increase the rent of her apartment. She is evicted. Her circumstances compel her to go to her brother named Nusswan.
Maneck is an employee of a company in Dubai. After eight years he returns back from Dubai to attend his father’s funeral. It is the time when Indira Gandhi is assassinated. While at home he reads old newspapers and comes to know that Avinash's three sisters have hanged themselves. They were unable to bear their parents' humiliation. Their parents were not able to provide dowries for their marriages. He was shocked. He decides to see Dina Dalal in Bombay. He finds her in a pitiable condition. He learns from her the pitiable condition of Ishwar and Om Prakash. By chance he encounters Ishwar and Om Prakash in the street. They were nearly unrecognizable. They say ‘Salaam’ to him. But Maneck doesn't know what to say and walks on. After sometime he commits suicide.
In short, in this novel it has been highlighted that how social and political conditions affect the middle class and the marginalized community. All the major characters of this novel try to overcome their hurdles but fail to maintain a fine balance. The compassionate realism of this novel reminds us of the realism of Charles Dickens. Beautifully it presents the reality of life of middle class people of India. It captures the true picture of the life of cities and villages of India. I would recommend this novel to those who are interested in Indian culture, society and polity. No doubt, this novel is capable in expressing the real political scenario of Indian emergency.


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