Rohinton Mistry Biography


(Great Authors of World Literature, Critical Edition)

Rohinton Mistry spent his first twenty-three years in predominantly Hindu Bombay, where as a member of the Parsi community, he was considered an outsider. The Parsis had fled Persia in the eighth century and, as followers of Zoroaster, were looked at askance by Indian traditionalists. They were open to modern technology and education and tended to be successful in business and industry. They also engaged in a rite in which the bodies of their newly deceased were brought to a mountaintop to be devoured by vultures.

Mistry’s youthful interests were in music, mainly the protest songs of Bob Dylan, and he performed in small nightclubs while earning a B.A. in mathematics and economics from the University of Bombay. In 1975, Mistry and his wife, Freny, moved to Canada, where career opportunities were more promising. The Indian economy favored engineers, doctors, and lawyers, specialities that held little interest for Mistry. The young couple settled in a suburb of Toronto, and Mistry became a bank clerk. Even after earning a promotion, he found that the job lacked the stimulation he needed, so he began taking night classes at the University of Toronto in subjects that interested him, earning a second B.A. in English and philosophy in 1984.

Mistry found that the most exciting and challenging aspect of his course work was the written assignments. At his wife’s urging, he submitted a short story to a literary competition and not only won the Hart House Prize that year but the next also. Later, a Canadian government grant allowed him the time and money to hone his craft and quit his job.

Though Mistry was born into a moderately affluent family, his writings most often focus on the lives of ordinary people who battle impoverishment in the teeming streets of Bombay. The authenticity of the portrait he paints of the city he left and only visits on occasion has been brought into question, but Mistry feels that all memory is interwoven...

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(Survey of Novels and Novellas)

Rohinton Mistry was born on July 3, 1952, into the Parsi community in Bombay. The Parsi are a small ethnic minority in India whose ancestors originally came from Iran centuries ago. During British rule over India, which ended just five years before Mistry was born, the Parsi had relatively high status and identified with the British. After Indian independence their situation became more difficult, and many of them emigrated.

Mistry became part of the emigration in 1975, the year he turned twenty-three. He followed his wife-to-be, Freny Elavia, to Toronto, Canada, and found work there in a bank. Before leaving India he had attended the University of Bombay, obtaining a degree in mathematics and economics, but he was more interested in music, performing as a folksinger in the style of Bob Dylan and even releasing an album.

Unable to pursue his musical career in Canada, Mistry eventually turned to literature, studying part time for a degree in English and philosophy at the University of Toronto and beginning to write short stories. In 1985, he obtained a Canada Council grant, which enabled him to leave his job at the bank and write full time. He also became a Canadian citizen and remained in Canada, though his writing continued to be almost entirely about India.