A Fine Balance is written by Rohinton Mistry , an Indian born Canadian writer. This book was written in 1995 and deals with the Emergency that India faced in 1984 under the prime minister ship of Indira Gandhi. The story is initially India of 1975. It won the GIller Prize in 1995 and was shortlisted for the Booker Prize in 1996. It was adapted to stage in 2006 and again in 2007. There are four characters from different backgrounds but come together. The book shows the changes in the Indian society after independence in 1947 and the author is critical of Prime Minister Indira Gandhi, though her name is never mentioned.
The four main characters of the story are IshvarDarji, OmprakashDarji, ManeckKohlah and Dina Dalal. Each of them have a story and chance makes them friends. How they live and how they part and meet again is the story about. Though it may sound very simple the political scenario of the country affects each of their lives and when they part and meet they are different people. The story starts with a train journey where Ishvarji and Om meet Maneck and the chance is that all of them are going to meet Dina Dalal but for different reasons. The journey of their friendship also starts here.
Ishvar and Omprakash
Ishavar and Omprakash belong to a caste which was considered untouchable as they cured leather. Ishvar’s father does not want his sons (Ishvar and Narayan) to suffer the stigma so sends them to Ashraf Chacha who is a tailor in a nearby town. They become tailors and their skills are passed on to Omprakash, son of Narayan. Ishvar and Narayan move to Bombay in search of work. They hear about Dina Dalal, a widow, who wanted tailors to work for her. It is in this journey they meet Maneck a college student.
Maneck was born in a mountain town and his father runs a family grocery store. He is sent to a boarding school which really upsets him, he feels betrayed. From then on his relationship with his parents deteriorates. He is sent to a college where he chooses refrigeration and air condition as his major. He stays in a college hostel and befriends Avinash. Later that friendship also pales as Aviansh plunges into politics during the time of emergency, in which Maneck was not interested. Without Avinash around, he is ragged by other hostel students and he leaves that hostel. His mother arranges his stay as a paying guest with Dina Dalal. So he was on the train to meet Dina and he meets Ishvar and Om.
Dina was born a wealthy Parsi woman. Her father who was a medical doctor died when she was twelve. Her mother could not take good care of her and both were under the custody of her brother Nusswan. Nusswan treated his sister like a servant and finally she had to drop out of school. Dina did not accept the suitors her brother brought. She found one for herself and it was a chemist named Rustom. They were very happy but he is killed on their third wedding anniversary. Dina becomes a tailor and makes her living. After twenty years she develops problems with the eyes and she can no longer do her intricate embroidery designs and she becomes jobless. She finally meets Mrs Gupta who is running a company called Au Revoir Exports and was ready to buy ready-made dresses. Since Dina’s eyesight was poor she decides to hire tailors. To make some extra income she also wanted a paying guest.
Now we fit in the last piece of the puzzle. Ishvar and Om are the tailors and Maneck is the paying guest. They have some good times and then effects of emergency catch on them. Ishvar and Om lose their homes. They return home. Maneck also goes home after the first year with a certificate. But he has some problem there, so leaves to the Middle East with a lucrative job. Ishvar and Om are compelled into Vasectomy by the government officials as a part of emergency. In the process Ishvar loses his legs as he develops infection after the sterilization. Young Om is castrated. They are back in the streets of Bombay as beggars. Dina and these are two are still in touch.
Maneck returns after eight years for his father’s funeral. He realises that Aviansh’s sisters have all committed suicide because dowries could not be paid. He comes in search of Ishvar and Om and he recognises them even in their dirty clothes but refuses to make it known that he recognised them. Maneck is so upset that everything around him in India was depressing that he jumps in front of a train. Meanwhile Ishvar and Om are very upset that Maneck does not recognise them and when they meet Dina they say that Maneck was a changed man, not knowing the truth.
The story is not about the relationship between these four people but it is also about the changing political scenario which affected their lives. India experienced many changes during the rule of Indira Gandhi. She made many changes to make India a powerful nation but the aftermath affected many people negatively. The social fabric changes. There is poverty and beggars are on the rise especially in the cities. There are masters for beggars. It is a organised body. The beggars pay the master and he in charge protects them and helps them when they are in trouble. He is in fact very powerful. Dina’s problem peak when the beggar master who helped her dies.
Social castration and physical castration is seen in the novel. The rich bulldozes the poor, even murdered with no compunction. There is so much cruelty around yet the story is offset with simplicity and kindness. There is innocent yet strong friendship between Dina, Om and Ishvar, Maneck. As the title suggests life is a fine balance between different things and all lives are interdependent on friends and other relationships.