Sunday, 5 April 2015

Rohinton Mistry's A Fine Balance - Savita Kalhan

I don’t generally read books twice, but there are a few that I come back to time and time again.

Rohinton Mistry’s A Fine Balance is one of them. Radio 4 has dramatised the book in one hour segments over three weeks, which is an amazing feat considering it is 614 pages long. It’s on Sunday afternoons at 3pm. Today the last part will be aired, but you can still listen to podcasts of the first two parts.

I’ve listened to the first two episodes and enjoyed them. But it’s very much like when you watch the film version of a book you love – it will never be quite the same and rarely can it be better than the book. I have to almost totally separate the two entities in my mind in order to be able to watch the film.

But the Radio 4 dramatisation is nevertheless very good. The pivotal scenes from the book are present even if much of the background is not.

In A Fine Balance Mistry explores the inherent inequalities of the caste system, extreme poverty, high level corruption, and life during the turmoil of Indira Gandhi's Emergency, and the sterilization programme, and the 'Beautification' policies, which led to the forced removal of street-dwellers into indentured labour. His characters are drawn from many Indian communities including the Parsi, Hindu, and Muslim communities. The cast of characters include Untouchables to beggars, thieves and even Indira Ghandi; but there are four central characters of different backgrounds and histories, and it is from their perspective, and through their hearts and minds, that the story is told.

The four characters are a Parsi woman, Dina, two tailors and a student from the north. Tragedy exists at the heart of each of their stories, it permeates each page, yet the resilience of their spirit sits right next to it, tempering it. 'You have to maintain a fine balance between hope and despair' - and quite simply, that is exactly what Rohinton Mistry does.

'... his sentences poured out like perfect seams, holding the garment of his story together without drawing attention to the stitches' - this is a line spoken by one of Mistry's characters, and perhaps best describes the mastery and craft of Rohinton Mistry himself.

His work speaks to me as an Indian, but it is universal in scope and in its depiction of humanity. He is, above all, a writer who plunges you, heart and mind, deep into his stories, where you remain submerged until the final page has been turned and you come up, gasping for air. It’s a work of genius.

Listening to the dramatisation has made me want to pick up the book again. It’s inspiring, and it inspires me to write.
Is there a book that inspires you?

Radio 4 - A Fine Balance

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Mystica said...

I like his writing very much - the depiction of real day to day life is not just emotional, it's sometimes heart breaking. The use of language is masterly as well.

Penny Dolan said...

Savita, thank you for this post about A Fine Balance.

I read this novel just over a year ago, and found it the most incredible, haunting work. more than worthy of all the praise. The characters live so vividly and the situations they deal with are such an onslaught. One longs for good things to happen for them, wants to feel hopeful on their behalf but oh! oh! oh!
It's truly unforgettable in the vision it offers, and I will try and catch the radio version.

Yet a feel that A Fine Balance is a book that needs to be read , although I feel you probably need to be in a good frame of mind when you can give yourself up to the power of the book. Whenever people talk about a "must read", this is one title I'd seriously suggest. It's rewarding but not easy in its subject matter, although the prose is compelling and clear. Totally agree with you!

Savita Kalhan said...

Thanks, Mystica and Penny. Yes, I so agree - the book is heart-breaking, rewarding and utterly compelling, and definitely a must-read. The radio dramatisation can never match it, but worth listening to for a flavour of the book.

Nick Green said...

That book is so unbelievably awesome in every way! It easily makes my all-time top ten. I'm still haunted by so many scenes, and it's years since I last read it. Must read it again. Thanks for the reminder!

Miriam Halahmy said...

Great reminder - I must listen to it on the Iplayer. I loved that book so much and read it first of all on your recommendation.It is a book which lives and lives in the memory. Great post Savita.