Book review: A fine balance by Rohinton Mistry

October 21, 2007

‘A fine balance’ is a historical novel set during the Indian Emergency of 1975-1977. The entire book revolves around four characters – the still beatiful Parsi widow, the traumatised student, the stoically suffering tailor and his firebrand nephew. They are all brought together as a result of mayhem caused by during the Indian emergency of 1975.

In 1975 the Allahabad High Court found the Prime Minister, Indira Gandhi, guilty of election malpractice and removed her from the Parliament null and void. Strikes and rallies started on a country-wide scale to demand her resignation. Indira declared a state of emergency ostensibly to prevent ‘internal disturbance’. Rumours were also heard of ‘a foreign hand’ – allegedly the CIA – worsening things. The declaration of emergency gave her almost dictatorial powers, suspending elections and civil liberties.

It was beyond a doubt one of the most controversial periods in modern Indian history. The government, no longer encumbered by having to respect civil liberties, went on a rampage with their ‘garibi hatao’ (abolish poverty) campaign. Many politicians, union leaders and even student leaders were jailed and allegedly tortured. Freedom of speech was absent and newspapers were muzzled. Thousands of poor illiterate men were forced to have vasectomies. Slum-dwellers were left homeless or were killed when slums in Delhi were demolished. It is this India in which Mistry’s characters go about their wretched lives, living in miserable conditions, working for a pittance and suffering grave injustices.

Interestingly Indira is never referred to by name in the book. The ‘city by the sea’ described in the book is most probably either Mumbai or Kolkata. Mistry’s potrayal of India is ruthless, be prepared for a poignant look at India’s many problems – poverty, caste violence, corruption, etc. As a review on the book jacket says, this is truly the India novel.

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One Response to “Book review: A fine balance by Rohinton Mistry”


  1. […] Family matters doesn’t hold a candle to Mistry’s A Fine Balance, which was one of the best books I have ever come […]

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