A Fine Balance
by Rohinton Mistry
Category: Fiction / General
948 pages; ISBN: 0-7862-4196-9
Rating: 9/10 (Ratings explained)
Reviewer: Coletta Ollerer
Dina, a widow in her 40s living in a large city in India and in economic straits, hires two tailors, Ishvar and his nephew, Omprakash. She starts a garment manufacturing comapny in her flat to avoid living with her brother and his family. She decides to take in a student boarder, Maneck, as an additional boost to her income. Ishvar and Om have come from a small village to find work and end up living in a slum. They are kicked out of the slum and get sent to a work camp. They would have died there had it not been for the help of a beggar, Shankar, and his Beggarmaster. They get out of the camp and Dina allows them to live in her flat. “The enlarged household turned the wheel of morning with minimal friction. Dina was the first to rise, Maneck the last. When she had finished in the bathroom the tailors took their turns.” The four become close and start to feel like a family.
The landlord wants to kick them out and sends goons to do the job insisting it is not legal to operate a business in the flat. The Beggermaster uses his clout to keep the flat for them. They settle in again and Dina comes to appreciate and even love Ishvar and Om, her social inferiors. She is glad to have put aside the loneliness of widowhood for this small `family.’
Ishvar takes Om back to the village to acquire a wife for him with the promise of their soon return. Maneck leaves for a brief visit with his family. “The return of solitude was not quite as Dina expected it to be. These many years I made a virtue of inescapable reality, she thought, calling it peace and quiet. Still, how was it possible to feel lonely again after living alone most of her life? Didn’t the heart and mind learn anything?” This story, set in India in 1975 during political unrest, is a one of growth, loss and acceptance.
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