The difference between a good book and a great book is very small; it depends on the fragile balance of a captivating story and fluid prose. A Fine Balance by Rohinton Mistry is a perfect example of this, and it shines as a presentation not only his brilliance, but also his ability to portray reality in a lyrical yet hard-hitting fashion. Rohinton Mistry is an author whose magical words weave a complex tale that stays well within the boundaries of fiction, and yet leaves you with a sense of familiarity. A Fine Balance slams you hard with a tidal wave of grief within in the first hundred pages. However, the author’s fluid and highly descriptive verse tends to grip you in its powerful plot. No matter how uncomfortable you get due to some of the visuals he plants in your mind, you succumb to the raw truth highlighted within its pages, longing for more.
A Fine Balance is a story that depicts the plight of four lives in an unnamed city in India. Two tailors escaping from caste hierarchy in their village, a fiery widow, and an innocent student are all connected by unfortunate circumstances and come together to live under one roof. A story that progresses from hostility and insecurity to friendship and trust, the author has explored the different facets of human personality in a sensitive and poignant way. Set during the Emergency of 1975, the book perfectly captures the emotions of common citizens whose rights were denied and their freedom snatched away. The characters seem simple at first, but as the story progresses, you get to see the hidden sides of their beautifully described personality. From narrating the brutal treatment of the Chamaars by the rich landlords, to subtly displaying the stern yet compassionate love of a widow towards the tailors she employs in secret, this tragic tale of hardships and struggle has touching moments of hope woven together to make a beautiful canvas of emotions.
Another eye-opening aspect of this book is the treatment of those who live below the poverty line. Rohinton Mistry portrays poverty in its most natural form, which lingers with you long after the words leave the page, for the sole reason that it rings true. Most situations depicted in this book are the ones we’ve seen around us, such as the limbless beggar on the street-side or the naked children running across the broad backs of filthy sewage pipes. His powerful prose is riddled with examples from everyday life, which makes the impact even stronger. The book tends to open your eyes a little wider and you begin to notice the dirt and corruption riddled in our society for many days after turning the last page. A Fine Balance is an essential read for everyone who calls themselves a citizen of India, as it is a portal to learn from the mistakes of the past for the youth, and a reminder of the flaws that still exist for the older generation. Rohinton Mistry’s story feels like a tight slap on the face. Harsh, and yet we deserve it every once in a while.