Rohinton Mistry World Literature Analysis
There was never an apprenticeship period for Rohinton Mistry. The first short stories he submitted for publication were admired by critics for their highly polished style, their precise descriptions, and their vivid revelations of character. These qualities have placed Mistry in the first rank of Canadian writers.
Mistry is, above all, a realist. All of his fiction is firmly rooted in time and place. Most of it is set in his native Bombay, though he may venture briefly into the country, as he does in A Fine Balance, or even use Canadian settings, as he does in “Swimming Lessons,” the final story in his collection Tales from Firozsha Baag. However, the central reality in every one of Mistry’s works is Bombay, and, more specifically, a particular building in an area inhabited primarily by people who, like Mistry himself, are Parsis. Firozsha Baag is the name of the apartment complex where the stories in his first book take place. In Such a Long Journey, A Fine Balance, and Family Matters, the apartments where the characters live symbolize their way of life, their security, and their independence.
Mistry’s realism is evident in the way he lingers over descriptions of everyday life, showing a woman at her morning chores, a family eating dinner, or children doing their homework. His lavish use of detail in these passages effectively introduces readers to a place and a people that might otherwise seem alien to them. However, these scenes have another important function: they make it all the more horrifying when the lives of such ordinary people are disrupted by outside forces.
One source of such disruption is religious intolerance. The older characters in the novels can recall a time when Indians of various faiths—Parsis, Sikhs, Hindus, and Muslims—lived together in harmony. However, that all ended with the bloodbath that followed Indian independence and the division of the subcontinent along religious lines. Mistry points out that people of different faiths can still coexist and can even become friends. In A Fine Balance, for example, a kindly Muslim tailor accepts two Hindu boys as apprentices, and later they save his life from Hindu extremists. As a realist, however, Mistry knows that too often intolerance wins out. Like Vikram Kapur, the shopkeeper in Family Matters, Mistry’s decent people are often martyred.
Mistry’s characters also live in fear of powerful, wealthy men and of corrupt government officials. The injustices that were perpetrated during Indira Gandhi’s tenure as prime minister of India are major themes of two of Mistry’s novels, Such a Long Journey and A Fine Balance, both set in the 1970’s. In A Fine Balance, a wealthy local leader has a man who attempts to vote his convictions tortured and his family killed. In the same novel, a bureaucratic decision to force sterilization maims two characters and makes them beggars.
However, one should not conclude that Mistry takes a totally bleak view of the human condition. Though it is clear that human beings have very little control over what happens to them, they do have the power to choose between good and evil. Those who choose good, even at the cost of their own lives, are the real heroes and heroines of Mistry’s fiction.
Such a Long Journey
First published: 1991
Type of work: Novel
A Parsi bank clerk and devoted family man deals with one crisis after another, including his own innocent involvement in government corruption.
Gustad Noble, the protagonist of Such a Long Journey, is a well-meaning man with a highly developed sense of duty. Lesser men might well have become embittered by the losses that his family has incurred. Noble’s grandfather had a thriving furniture business; his father, a successful bookstore. Mismanagement by Noble’s dissolute uncle resulted in bankruptcy and the loss of everything the family had accumulated over the years. Though Noble sometimes recalls those earlier days of relative luxury, he tries to make the best of his modest circumstances.
As the novel opens, he is praising Ahura Mazda and contemplating his own good fortune. At fifty, Noble is healthy; his wife, Dilnavaz, is attractive, good-natured, and efficient; his son, Sohrab, has just been admitted to the Indian Institute of Technology (ITT); and both his younger son, Darius, and his daughter, Roshan, are intelligent, obedient children. Noble’s only worries are the stench outside his apartment building, caused by passersby urinating on the wall; the repression of the Bengalis in East Pakistan; and, more immediately, a letter from his old friend, Major Jimmy Bilimoris, asking Noble to make bank deposits that will provide relief for Bengali refugees.
That very day, things begin to go wrong. Sohrab announces that he no longer wants to go to ITT, and his frustrated father evicts him. Roshan develops a stomach disorder, and her parents cannot agree as to how to treat her. Neither the folk remedies of Dilnavaz nor the expensive medicines of a backstreet doctor whom Noble trusts seem to help. Noble’s only success in that troubled period of his life involves the wall: he hires an artist to cover it with religious figures representing every faith, and immediately the urination ceases.
When packets of bills begin arriving from the major, Noble begins to think that he has made a mistake. At first, he hides the...
(The entire section is 2262 words.)