Friday, March 5, 2010

My Review : A Fine Balance

There are very few books that move you, emotionally drain you and make you feel, rather selfishly, that thank god you were not in the same situation as the characters in the book. ’A Fine Balance’ makes you go through all these emotions and more. It is a very hard hitting novel, it is a book about the human spirit, I would rather say the oft repeated ‘Spirit of Mumbai’. I was born and raised in this city and have seen lots of things around me that are part of this book. I have seen the slums, I have heard of the tough struggles people have gone through to make it big in this city. I have travelled in the overcrowded local trains, I have seen the filth, the dirt, the stink but there’s just something so vibrant and energetic about this city that such things do not affect you after a point. You see the slums but you also see the positive attitude of the people living in these slums. Many a times I have been bombarded by questions such as ‘How can you live in this city? It stinks, it’s filthy, poor quality of living, traffic jams etc ’ I don’t have answers to these questions but all I know is that this city is an example of a human being’s indomitable spirit, a spirit to survive all odds , a positive energy that binds us all. It is a city of hope. It might be hard for people who are not from Mumbai to understand or comprehend this but this is an answer you will get from every Mumbaikar! 

The book is set in the mid-70 ‘s in the city of Bombay,India at a time when the Government has declared a state of Emergency. The book describes the circumstances that prevailed in the country and the civil liberties that the erstwhile government took during that period. It gives you a glimpse of a time when the country was in turmoil. After reading about the atrocities perpetuated in that period I only ended up saying a feeble prayer for the people who suffered. It is so unimaginable in today's day and age the press was gagged, the opponents were jailed, the voice of the poor suppressed. It also speaks about how the men in power used and abused their stature. Like I mentioned earlier this book drains you emotionally and makes you feel the pain the people suffered during that period.

It is the story of Dina Dalal , a widow  whose refusal to marry has left her struggling to earn a living as a seamstress; two tailors Om and Ishwar who are initially from a chamaar (untouchables) family but learn the tailoring trade to escape casteism in their village and a life of drudgery because of their untouchable status, who come to the city searching for employment and join Dina’s tailoring unit; and a student Maneck from a small hamlet in the Himalayan foothills, whose father has sent him to attend college and lives at Dina’s house as a PG. 

The story brings together these four unlikely people from different parts of the country to live in one house in Mumbai!How the characters move from distrust to friendship and from friendship to love, A Fine Balance creates an enduring panorama of the human spirit in an inhuman state.

A bit about the book :It has won the second annual Giller Prize in 1995, and in 1996, the Los Angeles Times Book Prize for Fiction. It was selected for Oprah's Book Club in November 2001 and sold hundreds of thousands of additional copies throughout North America as a result. It won the 1996 Commonwealth Writers Prize and was shortlisted for the 1996 Booker prize

I highly recommend this book and it is a must read!

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