“God sometimes tells lies. We spread our hands out to these lies and live with them”
In what seems to be a long long time(even though it was just three days). I have finally reached the end of A Fine Balance. What remains now is a profound sadness, but also a slight confusion, that I try to dispel as I write.
What I can say about the book is that it drips with life, or better, tries to replicate life itself: complete with its miseries, struggles, incomprehensibilities, meetings, joys, stagnancies, and of course, goodbyes.It begins with a meeting, which, while pulling the characters out of their immediate predicaments, ends up as a prelude to unforeseen but consequential events.Fate brings them together and need binds them, albeit with a cord so frayed it threatens to break at the slightest of innocent pressure.
Still, like the memories that refuse to be forgotten, the book keeps bringing up their pasts, which they uselessly try to put behind them. A curious group of misfits(a middle-aged widow trying to live without depending on her brother; a college going student who has weathered severe bullying and violent student unions; a kind-hearted man and his hot-headed nephew, who have dearly paid the casualties of being in the lower chamaar caste in their native village), the house where they live becomes a haven to them which they viciously protect.
From the beginning, Mistry makes us fall in love with the characters. It has been a while since I’ve empathized with the characters to the extent that I’m impatient to know where their lives will take them next; and yet increasingly reluctant as the end approached, maybe because I could sense the impending doom and recognize the subtle forebodings.
All people are but a product of their circumstances. They all have their own reasons, beliefs, stories, moral codes and breaking points, and Mistry does well to explore these to their darkest depths. The setting of the book (1970s – 1980s) when India was fraught with political uprisings, caste based riots and, above all, the consequences of the Emergency (forced sterilization camps, destruction of slums, and effectively, the withdrawal of all human rights for those without money or powerful backing) helped this generously, but was not half-heartedly done. Above everything else, Mistry shows India ruthlessly, glorifying in all its twisted sensibilities and heartlessness, but all the while preserving the kindness and love people inherently retain in their hearts, perhaps to prove their humanity to a society which will not give them their due.
The book does not have a happy ending, so to say. There is, after all, a limit to how far people can walk a tightrope while continuously glancing behind their backs. Their pasts inevitably catches up with them and smashes them back to where they began. Yet, that does not refute the short refuge they enjoyed when together with one another, making it one of the most beautiful time of their lives.
And what do I myself have to say about the time spent reading the book? Simply that, along with giving an interesting glimpse into the 1970s India, it taught me a lot of things I had no other way of knowing. I am a different person now from when I picked it up, and for that it deserves my respect and gratitude.
HEADS-UP: Look forward to plenty of unusual allegories and motifs, but not to a happy ending. Take your time savoring this book, it has a lot to offer(literally, it’s 614 pages, in fine print). It’s gonna get an easily accessible place on my shelf. And most importantly, do give it a shot, but remember, it is not for the weak-hearted.
QUOTES: A Fine Balance is more of a paragraph-quotes book, if you know what I mean. Still, here are some of my favorite picks:
As always, feel free to discuss your opinions/suggestions.
 Kamisama ga uso o tsuku by Kaori Ozaki