Read With Me: A fine balance to understand the innards of India

“A Fine Balance helped me truly understand the phrase I have been taught to parrot since grade 3 – “Unity in Diversity”.


[Student Voices]: I have never before been as lost for words as when I finished reading A Fine Balance.

This is part of our August “Read With Me” special. Young adults write on ‘The book without a picture’, the essential coming of age reading experience.

I don’t know how to describe it without contradicting myself. A celebration of success yet a story of hardships, a revelation of things to come yet a reminder of the past, a book that embraces not only the magnificent but also the downtrodden, A Fine Balance is a compelling read, written with passion. As the Guardian quotes “Like all great fiction, it transforms our understanding of life.”

A Fine Balance helped me understand the innards of India better than any History textbook. Set in the 1970s, the story revolves around four characters from diverse cultural backgrounds and how they deal with their bleak surroundings during the Internal Emergency. Maneck Kohlah is the son of a small Kashmiri businessman – he embodies the values of an upper-middle class family. Omprakash and Ishvar Darji are an uncle-nephew pair from a small village in north India, while Dina Shroff is a Parsi widow struggling to cope as a lone woman in the bustling city.

The lives of these protagonists intertwine and let go as fate brings them together and rudelypulls them apart. Mistry brings out the horrors of living on the streets with murderers sleeping by your side, the unenviable experience of staying in a hostel crammed with testosterone-fuelled teenagers and the hassle of landlords demanding exorbitant rents from women who can’t fight back. But the book is not only about the materialistic troubles faced by people. It goes deeper to prod gently at the otherwise untouched issues of gender-bias, caste-ism and fervent religious beliefs. It questions the base beliefs of Indian society, it makes one wonder why we go to such great extents to delude ourselves into thinking that everything’s alright.

 

Mistry made me see life through the eyes of people I had considered insignificant so far. The watchman at the drug-store. The cripple wheeling himself down the footpath. The tailor industriously working away at the corner of the road. The policeman with his rotund belly and shrill whistle. The fruit-seller hawking her wares on the road. Even the scrawny baby huddled in his mother’s hands, pitifully eyeing the bakery opposite.

A Fine Balance helped me truly understand the phrase I have been taught to parrot since grade 3 – “Unity in Diversity”. It opened my eyes to the rich heritage I have inherited, both good and bad. It made me remove the rose-tinted glasses I was looking through and jarred me into seeing the harsh realities of life. A Fine Balance made me grow up.

I believe that every Indian should read it. No, it does not deride India. No, it does not whine about our pathetic colleges, terrible workplaces and disgusting roads. No, it does not even evoke patriotism or feelings of national pride. But it is humbling. It does exactly what the Guardian said – it transforms your understanding of life.

This is part of the August Read With Me special series on children reading for a better tomorrow. Write to us about a book that helped you understand the world better. Send us upto 400 words along with a picture of your copy of the book. Win exciting books at the end of the month by Page 99.

 


  ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Samvida is a 17 year old student at NPS Indiranagar, Bangalore. She loves writing almost as much as she loves reading, and you can read her writing about reading at www.ramblings-of-a-bookivore.tumblr.com more

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  ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Samvida is a 17 year old student at NPS Indiranagar, Bangalore. She loves writing almost as much as she loves reading, and you can read her writing about reading at www.ramblings-of-a-bookivore.tumblr.com more

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