INDIAN ELEMENTS IN THE WORKS OF ROHINTON MISTRY
Rohinton Mistry has emerged as a formidable writer on the world literary scene. He is a very popular member of Indian diaspora. He occupies a significant position as an Indian diasporic writer. Recently there has been a widespread growth of interest in his writings. The relation between literature and life seems the object of increased attention in his writings.
is the setting of Such a Long
Journey. Here, however, the social conditions that provided a distant
backdrop to the short stories now bear upon a particular Bombay family. Here Mistry deals
with the Parsi environment in Bombay .
The action takes place in 1971 in India Bombay at the
moment when war breaks out between India
and . The book received the Governor-General’s Award, the W.H. Smith/Books in
Canada First Novel Award, and the Commonwealth Writers’ Prize for best book. Haldar Santwana is of
the view: Pakistan
endures because it gives
and receives. Within this warp and weft is woven the special texture of its
social fabric, the spirit of tolerance, acceptance, generosity. Anywhere else
in the world, in those so called civilized places like Bombay England and , such terrible conditions
would lead to revolution.15 America
Rohinton Mistry belongs to that class of the Indian authors who shifted their base from
to somewhere else but throughout their lives they continue missing their mother
land. Mistry was highly inspired by Indian background, Indian people and their
psychology and that’s why he has written authentically about his Indian
experience before going to India .
He draws his major source of material from the observed life in Canada .
In almost all his works we find an Indian setting. They brilliantly capture
and its environment. They
deal with images of Indian culture and they are closely linked with the social
and political background of our country. They deal with the streets of India ,
the Parsi way of life and the people of the city. In his fiction he not only
portrays the picture of his contemporary social and political life but also
offers commentary on the historical situations and raises a national debate.
They depict the diverse facets of Indian socio-economic life and culture as
well as the life, customs, and religion of the Parsis. They start with a family
and gradually widen into the social, cultural, and political backdrop. He has
portrayed a vivid picture of political corruption and misuse of power in Bombay .
The characters change and develop subtly. They have a remarkable capacity to
survive. The details of their experience are chronicled with a painter's
sensibility. Mistry has brought out the fact that people in India manage to live in a crucial condition.
He has also discussed the treatment given to the minorities and to the Schedule
caste and Schedule tribes in India ,
thus he believes in the wide canvas of different Indian culture and community. India
Mistry’s writings are markedly nostalgic. It is Mistry’s unmistakable yearning to go back to his roots nostalgically that finds its multiple expressions in his fictional world. During the course of narration he imagines
in its multifaceted
complexities and realities. According to Mistry it was his brother Cyrus who
made him realize that it is not necessary to write about India New
in order to be a successful writer. Paris
is sufficient for that. Bombay
Critics have praised Mistry's ability to present a fresh perspective on his native land. Jagdish Batra is of the view that:
While choosing the time-tested method of conventional story-telling, Mistry could very effectively communicate his point of view on the intractable complexities of life in India.1
Although Rohinton Mistry is cited almost everywhere as a Canadian writer,
hardly features in his
writing. He chooses to revisit his original home, city and culture rather than
detail the immigrant experience. In an interview; he discusses why he writes
about Canada Bombay, the middle class Parasi in , the world he has
left behind: Bombay
faced with the reality of earning a living and realizing that although I had,
up to that point in my life, read books and listened to music that came from
the west, there was a lot more involved in living in the west. I felt very
comfortable with the books and the music, but actually living in the west made
that same music seem much less relevant. It suddenly brought home to me very
clearly the fact that I was imitating something that was not mine, that made no
sense in terms of my own life, my own reality.2 Canada
Mistry’s fictional writing includes Tales from Firozsha Baag, Such a Long Journey, A Fine Balance and Family Matters. Tales from Firozsha Baag is Mistry’s first collection of eleven interrelated short stories that brings together some of Mistry’s earliest and finest writing. It was first published in
in 1987 and a reprint titled Swimming
Lessons and Other Stories from Firozsha Baag came out in 1989. The same was
also published in Canada
in 1992. This first collection of Mistry
marked the arrival of a prodigious talent.
Here most of Mistry's later themes and preoccupations may be found in
All the stories of Tales from Firozsha Baag are set within one apartment complex in
. Here is a wonderful introduction to the residents of
Firozsha Baag. The tales detail the day to day lives of the
residents of the above mentioned apartment complex. They deal with middle class
life among the Parsi community and the problems of their everyday life.
Like other middle class persons in Bombay
the residents of Firozsha Baag have to engage in daily battle with intermittent
water-supply, dilapidated homes, peeling paint, falling plaster and leaking
roof. These fantastic tales gives us an
opportunity to enter into the daily routine and rhythm of their lives, and by
the time we reach the final story we are as familiar with the people of
Firozsha Baag as we are with our own neighbours. The crowded, throbbing life of
is brilliantly captured in this series of stories. India
Initially when Tales from Firozsha Baag were sent to Mistry’s parents, they were very sad after reading them, thinking that their son must be very unhappy in Canada, since the stories heavily centered on the minute details of Parsi life in Bombay – a life Rohinton had closely observed as a child. Mistry writes like an insider in Firozsha Baag,
and the vignettes
of life are totally authentic. A critic has rightly observed that Tales from
Firozsha Baag is a comedy of manners and Firozsha Baag is Mistry’s Malgudi. Bombay
Tales from Firozsha Baag was warmly greeted by critics and general readers alike for its insights into the complex lives of the Parsi inhabitants of Firozsha Baag. This collection examines the nature of communal and personal identity from a Parsi perspective. These stories cover a broad range of subjects and tones. Here ‘Mistry uses the narrative technique of memory and remembering.’3
In this collection Mistry tries to preserve the memory of his native environment. Here he concentrates his attention upon the everyday Indian reality. The intersecting short stories of sequence have two primary settings,
As such the stories might be divided into two categories, Indian stories and
migration / transcultural stories, though the boundaries between the two
categories are often blurred within the stories themselves. Canada
Tales from Firozsha Baag consists of eleven stories – One Sunday, Auspicious Occasions, A Ghost of Firozsha Baag, Condolence Visit, The Collectors, Of White Hairs and Cricket, The Paying Guests, Squatters, Lend Me Your Light, Exercisers, and Swimming Lessons. Throughout the eleven stories, the major characters reappear as recurring figures lending a sense of interpersonal connection among the residents of Firozsha Baag. A narrator—often considered the most autobiographical protagonist of Mistry's writings—presents the events and details of the characters' struggles to find their identities in the postcolonial ‘new’
India, as well as immigrants' attempts to adapt
to their new worlds in places like . Silvia Albertazzi is of the
A born story teller, in his tales Mistry depicts middle class life among the Parsi community, as he recalls it from abroad. All his eleven intersecting stories are set in an apartment block in
where a number of Parsi families live: all the people who live there are, in
turn, the protagonists of one or more short stories. The author himself tells
the last one, thus revealing that he comes from Firozsha Baag, too.4 Bombay
Auspicious Occasion, the first tale, projects the eccentric side of the Parsi identity. Even the title of the story is highly evocative. It depicts the Parsi notion of racial superiority and the resultant arrogance. The Parsi community of
is the focus of attention and the husband and wife, Rustomji and Mehroo are
analyzed with keen insight. Rustomji’s language is generally peppered with
Gujarati Phrases and especially abusive.
Mistry makes a conscious attempt to try to be exact in his descriptions.
It seems that he does not want to forget anything about Bombay . India
In Squatter, Sarosh tells his family that if he hasn't completely transformed into a true Canadian within ten years of leaving
India, he will
return to .
But after the ten years have passed, Sarosh discovers that he has become a real
Canadian in every sense but his ability to use the western toilet as intended
(instead perching on its rim and squatting over it)—an inability to adapt
completely which shames him deeply. The book closes with Swimming Lessons, a tale in which the narrator mails his concerned
parents a copy of Tales from Firozsha Baag. Upon reading the stories,
they continue to worry for him, believing that since all the stories are about Bombay India with few details about his new home in ,
he must miss his birthplace terribly. Canada
In these stories Mistry has focused upon
India from 1970s to 1990s – Mrs. Gandhi’s India of 1971 Bangladesh
war, Emergency of 1975 and the post-Babri Masjid . India
Rohinton Mistry's debut novel, Such a Long Journey, is loosely based upon a series of real events that took place during the Indira Gandhi administration. Short listed for the prestigious Booker Prize, Such a Long Journey, Mistry's first novel, manages brilliantly to portray Indian culture and family life setting it against the backdrop of the subcontinent's volatile postcolonial politics. This political backdrop is the canvas upon which the troubled life of Gustad Noble and family is played out. He is the undisputed protagonist of the novel. Mistry expertly presents the major events in
with those in the private sphere of the Noble family and of the other important
characters in the novel. India
Such a long Journey is the first novel written by Rohinton Mistry, a writer of Indian Diaspora, who settled in
Though the novel was published sixteen years after Rohinton Mistry had settled in Canada Toronto,
it has no trace of .
Rather, it reveals the author’s deep concern for the Parsi’s in Canada India in particular, and for the development of
in general.5 India
Such a Long Journey.is an intricate tale of the triumphs and disasters of a kind hearted bank clerk’s friends and family set in India in 1971, a time of domestic turbulence and war with Pakistan. Set during that year's conflict with
, the novel concerns a
Parsi man, Gustad Noble, who works at a bank. In this novel Mistry has explored in depth
the various complex attributes of Parsi life, history, culture and character,
as he recollected these from the Canadian diasporic space. Mistry set this
novel at a sensitive point in contemporary Indian history, when the era of
Nehru had just ended after his sudden death, and soon gave way to degenerate
politics of opportunism, nepotism and violence. Further, during the period
1962-1972 India had to engage in three successive wars with Pakistan China, Pakistan
and for the liberation of .
This period also saw the rise of communal politics, the emergence of new
political alignments and the slow but sure politics of votes by the dominant
Hindu/Brahmin community of Bangladesh .
The result was the marginalization of smaller groups and ethnic minorities. India
Silvia Albertazzi puts the plot of this novel as such:
, in 1971, Gustad Nobel is a Parsi bank
clerk and a family man. He has two children, Sohrab, a university student, and
Roshan, nine years old, and a loving wife. His life is shattered when he
receives a letter from an old friend, Major Jimmy Billimoria, requesting him to
receive a package for him. This letter does not only plunge Gustad at the core
of a complicated political situation, but is itself harbinger of disaster. His
son leaves home after quarrelling with him over the young man’s refusal to go
to the Indian Institute of Technology. His daughter falls ill. The municipal
government requisitions the land where his apartment stands in order to widen
the road. And last but not least, the contents of Billimoria’s package put at
risk Gustad’s job at the bank. During the chaotic times of the Bangladesh war,
family order is disrupted and Gustad has to find a new way to look at reality
and cope with the outside world.6 Bombay
The novel begins at the dawn of a typical day with all its familiar sounds and smells:
The first light of morning barely illumined the sky as Gustad Noble faced eastward to offer his orisons to Ahura Mazda. The hour was approaching six, and up in the compound’s solitary tree the sparrows began to call.7
The milkman is selling diluted milk to women in the early hours, perhaps the first indication of contamination and corruption that is to take on greater intimations in the story. The next is the limited water supply – another perennial
Gustad Noble, the protagonist, suffers throughout the novel. First, Gustad’s son refuses to get admitted in IIT; secondly he receives a letter and a parcel from his old friend Jimmy that ultimately leads a lot of complication. Thirdly, some mysterious disease affects his beloved daughter Roshan; finally he loses his friend Dinshawji. All these sufferings lead to Gustad’s pilgrimage. Here, we find a typical kind of Indianness. The protagonist visits many places like Mount St. Mary’s Christian church, Haji Baba Mosque, a Muslim pilgrim place. It is found in
that whenever a person suffers, he assumes religious tolerance in order to get
rid of the problem. Holy places of other religions are also visited by him. The
novelist gives a clear account of how people in India follow many superstitions. India
Mistry produced Gustad’s character as a typical Indian father. Indian fathers have dreams about their children but when they fail to fulfill their dreams, they feel frustrated. In this novel, Gustad’s dream is to submit Sohrab in IIT but when Sohrab refuses to get admitted, Gustad thinks that the whole world has turned against him:
All I wanted for him to have a chance at a good career. T chance wrenched away from me. Now what I left? What is left in life? Tell me, Dada Ormuzd, What? 8
This is the first trouble that Gustad faces in the novel. Mistry has brought out the conflict between father and son. This is very common in Indian families. It presents a picture of Indian youths who rebel against their parents’ will.
Gustad Noble had decided to celebrate the birthday of Roshan who is a dashing member of the family. But, before the small family party takes place, the reader is introduced to the institutions, places, communities and things of
Incidentally, it may be mentioned here that Such a Long Journey is a
novel which remarkably captures the sights, sounds, smells, colours,
environments and landmarks of this city. As Gustad prepares to go to the famous
Crawford market to buy chicken for the party, Mistry gets the opportunity to
take the reader into this busy world. Bombay
Gustad has made nice provisions for the party with chicken, basmati rice and xxx Rum to be served. After the pleasant gossip and Dinshawji’s jokes, the discussion starts on Indian politics. In the course of discussion Dinshawji condemns Indira Gandhi. He calls her a shrewd woman who encouraged the demand for a separate
Maharashtra which caused a lot of rioting and bloodshed.
The result is that today there is the Shiv Sena.. This condemnation of Indira
Gandhi continues at the party. The atmosphere gets charged with Gustad joining
the anti-Shiv-Sena tirade. He recalls how they had indulged in violence against
the Parsis. After that when they begin to have food, the light goes out and an
argument between Gustad and Sohrab about his IIT admission begins.
The place from where the mysterious parcel sent by Billimoria is to be collected enables Mistry to bring in yet another
institution, the Chor Bazar. As Gushad gathers strength to start settling
Billimoria’s murky deal, the famous Bombay
monsoon breaks up, something Mistry recalls with nostalgia and irritation.
Mistry does not miss anything while talking about incessant rains. Taking
Roshan to Dr. Paymaster’s clinic also gives Mistry the opportunity to portray
his busy routine in a busy place. Close by is the House of Cages – the
notorious prostitutes’ quarter in Bombay where women are displayed like so many
cuts of meat, in tiny, barren rooms like cages. Outside lays another local
institution – Peerbhoy Paanwala whose own mouth is the first indication of the
several varieties of paan he creates for various taste and bodily needs. A
variety of interesting characters are introduced which not only supplement
Gustad’s individual narrative but also because Mistry makes them a ploy to
bring in exhaustive details about Bombay life, its colours, environment,
landmarks, institutions and politics. Bombay
At the end Mistry gets a chance to describe the fabled Indian train journey, all its comedies, absurdities and inconveniences – bribing of coolies to get seats, the fleeing of passengers for buying eatables, the bad toilets, the heat, etc.
Mistry’s awareness and analysis of contemporary social and political situation in
presents itself remarkably in the eventful years (about a decade from
1962-1971) of recent Indian past. However, Mistry’s portrayal is tinged with a
sharp irony and satirical mode with which he sees Indian polity, government and
its affairs. His attack on Nehru and Indira Gandhi are unsparing, so is his
snide remark on Sanjay Gandhi. The dynastic congress rule through which Nehru
pampered his darling daughter Indira to ascend various positions is seen by
Mistry as the undoing of the nation, because she promoted dissensions, power
blocks in regions and parties, corruption and nepotism to keep her power
intact. On the other hand, Shastri comes in for admiration for his moral
uprightness and courage of conviction because of which India won the 1965 war. India
A Fine Balance is Mistry's masterpiece. It is his second novel. It was published in 1995. It won the second annual Giller Prize and Commonwealth Writers Prize. At the same time it was short listed for the 1996 Booker prize. This sprawling work established Mistry as a notable writer. In its range and panoramic quality it is comparable with Vikram Seth’s A Suitable Boy and Shashi Tharoor’s The Great Indian Novel.
The subject-matter of this work of art is
Set against the Emergency Measures imposed by Indian Prime Minister Indira
Gandhi in the mid-1970s, the novel is a powerful and painful examination of a
humanity beset by social and political repression. It is a record of this
shameful episode that is rendered with remarkable poignancy and honesty. Here
Mistry concentrates his attention on the criminalization of politics as it
began with the Emergency in 1975. Suspension of basic fundamental rights
granted by the constitution led to widespread resentment by the opposition
parties, spearheaded by the late Jayprakash Narayan. They branded it as the
darkest hour in the Indian politics. India
A great deal of the novel is about the crazily mixed Indian life – its people, climate, cities, ethnicities, classes, castes, regional identities as they undergo the fast-paced charges in Indian life both in cities and villages, following economic and socio-cultural shifts. Here the author attempts to reveal the diverse and complex realities of
to include people from several streams and occupations. India
The short story of the novel is:
in 1975, in an unnamed city by the sea, during Indira Gandhi’s State of , the novel is
the story of four people: a young widow called Dina, two tailors who help her
in her sewing shop and a student renting a room in her apartment. In the first
250 pages, we learn about the previous lives of the four characters. In Dina’s
family a tyrannical brother dominated the household after the death of her
father and consequently her mother suffered mental illness. A widow after only
three years of marriage, Dina strives to be independent, in order not to go
back to her brother’s house, where she is treated like a servant. The two
tailors, Ishwar and Omprakash, had their dwellings burned down by the
government because of their attempt to rise out of their caste; the student
Maneck, comes from a difficult family situation. Starting from reciprocal
diffidence, the four characters learn friendship and compassion among every
possible hardship. They will keep on going despite the tragedies happening in
their lives and in the lives of their friends. Forced vasectomies, amputations,
loss of work and dwelling are among the misfortunes which befall them, while
around them their acquaintances are tortured by the police, commit suicide out
of sheer hopelessness, and are hanged to the branches of the tree and so on.
Mistry follows the destinies of all these outcasts and underdogs until the
assassination of Indira Gandhi in 1984.9 Emergency
There is a portrayal of
in A Fine Balance from
various directions. It is about the sufferings of the four characters due to
political interference especially during emergency period. Dina Dalal, a Parsi
widow, Om and Ishvar, two untouchables and Maneck a youth from border of India
are the major characters. The novel is set against the background of 1975 but
it also speaks about the history of India for the 75 years. India Om and Ishvar are the untouchables depicted in the novel.
While narrating these characters the novelist has taken events before the
Independence of India. Mahatma Gandhi’s ideas about untouchables, their
sufferings and the upper class society are vividly depicted in the novel. The
novelist says that the atrocities towards the untouchables continued even after
It was at its peak during the emergency.
Mistry has tried his best to present the pitiable condition of dwellers
of the slum areas of Dharavi and Kurla. Independence
A Fine Balance deals with the sufferings and difficulties faced by common man in
. It tells how four characters
– Dina Dalal, Om, Ishvar Darji and Maneck Kolah – come together to live in the
madness of Bombay. The narrative describes their backgrounds with their loads
of woes and miseries. Mistry has chosen characters from minority and suppressed
communities. In each character India
may be found. Togetherness of all these characters shows how the people in India
manage to live in such a crucial and wretched condition. Maneck represents
youth of India India who shares
how youths in
were suppressed during emergency. Avinash, a friend of Maneck, a student
leader, is killed in a suspicious way. Maneck’s life is disturbed by the death
of Avinash. Maneck goes to the train station, his world shattered. He
walks out on the tracks as an express train approaches the station and commits suicide
by letting the train run over him. Suicide on a railway track is common phenomena in India . India
Indian family affinity and hospitality is revealed in A Fine Balance. Maneck comes to Dina’s house as a paying guest and behaves as if he is her son. Maneck is rebellions against his father because he does not want to help his father in business. But Maneck’s father does not want maneck to continue the family business. In the same way Ishvar wants Om to get married but
refuses. But at least he agrees to marry. Dina first refuses to live with her
brother Nusswan but later, she is reconciled to him. One can find a kind of
Indian family affinity amongst the minor characters. The character of Ashraf
reveals the Hindu – Muslim brotherhood. Narayan and Ishvar save Ashraf’s family
from rioting Hindus.
The Emergency has a direct impact on the lives of the four main characters of the novel. Nearly all the major characters are affected due to emergency.
Dina and the tailors' business runs fairly smoothly for almost a year, but effects of the Emergency bother them often. The shantytown where the tailors live is knocked down in a government’s beautification programme and the residents are uncompensated and forced to move into the streets. Later Ishvar and
rounded up by a police beggar raid and are sold to a labor camp. After two
months in the camp they bribe their way out with the help of the Beggar Master.
Ishvar and Om are lucky and Dina decides to
let them stay with her. The tailors and Dina find trouble from the landlord
because she is not supposed to be running a business from her flat. She
pretends that Ishvar is her husband and Om
their son and also get protection from the Beggarmaster.
return to their village to find a wife for Omprakash who is now eighteen.
Maneck also returns home. He takes a lucrative job in Middle
Dina, being alone now, and her protector the Beggar Master having been murdered,
has no protection from the landlord who wants to break her apartment's rent
control and charge more rent, so she is evicted. Dina is forced to again live
with her brother, Nusswan.
Omprakash and Ishvar return to their old town Ashraf Chacha gives them a place to stay while they search for marriage prospects for
Om. Ishvar and Om become the victims of forced sterilization. The vasectomy takes
place. After vasectomy
they suffer from infection.
Eight years later, Maneck returns home for the first time from
for his father's funeral. Maneck is repulsed by the violence that follows after
the Prime Minister's assassination, for which Sikhs are killed. He returns home
and attends the funeral. While at home he reads old newspapers and learns that
Avinash's three sisters have hanged themselves, unable to bear their parents'
humiliation at not being able to provide dowries for their marriages. Shocked
and shaken, he decides to visit Dina in Mumbai for better news. He learns from
Dina the horrific lives that Ishvar and Dubai Om –
one disabled and the other castrated – have led as beggars after their village
visit. As Maneck leaves, he encounters Om and
Ishvar on the street. The two former tailors are nearly unrecognizable because
of their filth, and don't appear to recall him. They say ‘Salaam’ to him, but
he doesn't know what to say and walks on. After sometime he commits suicide.
How social and political conditions affect the middle class and the marginalized community is highlighted in this novel. The lives of four main characters namely, Dina Ishvar,
and Maneck, are interwoven. They try to overcome their hurdles but fail to
maintain a fine balance. It is a conscious effort to embrace more of the social
reality of .
It is crucial to realise that Mistry’s portrayal of Hindu culture is not an
impartial ethnographic account of Indian society. He suggests that stark
injustices are inherent in the practice of caste. The inhumanity of
untouchability is severely criticised as a contributing to an erosion of
meaning in the lives of Dukhi, Narayan, Ishvar and India Om.
An example for the cruelty and arbitrariness that characterises their treatment
by their betters is illustrated in the following way:
The news was the same type that dukhi had heard evening after evening during his childhood; only the names were different. For walking on the upper-caste side of the street, Sita was stoned, though not to death- the stones had ceased at first blood. Gambhir was less fortunate; he had molten lead poured into his ears because he ventured within hearing range of the temple while prayers were in progress. Dayaram, reneging on an agreement to plough a landlord’s field, had been forced to eat the landlord’s excrement in the village square. Dhiraj tried to negotiate in advance with Pandit Ghanshyam the wages for chopping wood, instead of settling for the few sticks he could expect at the end of the day; the Pandit got upset, accused dhiraj of poisoning his cows, and had him hanged.10
In 2002, Mistry published his third novel Family Matters which was also shortlisted for the Booker Prize. It is based in
once more. Where his first two novels were set in the 1970’s and were
essentially historical fictions however, Family Matters depicts
and is set in the 1990s. It can
be called a retreat into the Bombay Parsi world. It has been rightly called
Mistry’s most compassionate book. The Shiv Sena is still around the novel. But
the time of the novel is post Babri Masjid Bombay. Bombay
The following is the plot of Family Matters according to Silvia Albertazzi:
in recent years, the story deals with the problems concerning the caring of an
elderly father in two branches of Parasi family. 79 nine year old Nariman
Vakeel, who suffers from Parkinson’s disease, lives with his stepson and
stepdaughter, both single and in their forties. Living together is very
difficult, because the young people cannot forget how Nariman neglected their
mother for the sake of a former lover. Actually, Nariman’s marriage was an
arranged one: compelled by his parents to break his long lasting affair with a
Christian woman, he had accepted to marry a Parsi widow with two children. Of
the marriage a baby daughter, Roxana, was born. After his wife’s death in
tragic circumstances which will be revealed only at the end of the book, and
his daughter’s marriage, he had been left alone with the two step children.
When Nariman breaks his ankle accidentally, he is moved to Roxana’s. Here he
has to share a two room flat with her, her husband Yezad and two children.
Yezad’s meager salary is not enough to satisfy the demands of a bedridden old
man, and Roxana’s physical and mental health is badly affected by the hard
work. Yet Nariman’s stepdaughter refuses to her stepfather back, taking this
situation as an opportunity to take revenge for how her mother was treated.
Only after her accidental death, can Nariman go back to his own large
apartment, this time together with Roxana’s family. But it is already too late:
Yezad, who looked for comfort in religion, had become a Parsi fundamentalist.
His children resent the change of environment, and Nariman dies soon
The focus in Family Matters is more personal than political, though the political fall out does leave an impact upon the life and profession of all the characters of the novel. Amidst the family chatter, there is gossip of Shiv Sena. Husain, a peon of Bombay Sporting Goods Emporium, is a tragic victim of the Babri Masjid riot. His wife and children were killed in the riot. Shiv Sena involved in looting and burning the poor and innocent people. Hussain describes the incident in the following words:
In those riots the police were behaving like gangsters. In Muslim mohallas, they were shooting their guns at innocent people. Houses were burning; neighbours came out to throw water. And the police? Firing bullets like target practice. These guardians of the law were murdering everybody! And my poor wife and children…. I could not even recognize them.12
Mistry has chosen
as a background for
all his novels and short stories. At the same time Bombay is also portrayed as an interesting
city and is being loved by his characters especially in Family Matters. Here Mistry describes various features of Bombay : Bombay
You see how we two are sitting here, sharing? That’s how people lived in
That’s why Bombay
has survived floods, disease, plague, water shortage, bursting drains and
sewers, all the population pressures. In her heart there is room for everyone
who wants to make a home here.13 Bombay
Mr. Kapur, the owner of Bombay Sports Emporium and Yezad’s boss is crazy about
. Appreciating Bombay
he says: Bombay
We had to run. And we came here. But
treated us well. My
father started over, with zero, and became prosperous. Only city in the world
where this is possible.14 Bombay
Mistry’s attraction for
no doubt, fantastic. It can be seen in the words of Mr. Kapur: Bombay
The conversation between Nariman and the doctor in the hospital provides Mistry an opportunity to discuss displacement of English from
curriculum. This also brings up the bane of Indian hospitals – unhygienic
condition, lack of staff, and poor care of the patients. In Family Matters Mistry exposes the
corrupt condition of Indian University
in the following lines: India
Corruption is in the air we breathe. This nation specializes in turning honest people into crooks.16
Mistry’s characters live in
Their lives are filled with tragedy and difficulties. They are being taken from
different strata of the Indian society and they all are the representative of
their own cast, creed and community. If we start discussing about the behavior
of various characters then we can come to know that each and every character is
being influenced by some or the other factor may it be their surroundings or
social arena, their family background or educational background. In Family Matters we can strongly observe
the shadow of Indianness in his various characters. Through these characters
Mistry has shown his own attachment with his motherland. Bombay
The Protagonist of the novel Nariman Vakeel is a very loving person. He was madly in love with a Non Parsi girl Lucy. But in
it is commonly practiced that the children’s have to marry according to the wish
of their parents. So the same was his tragedy. He was independent, earning
well, mature enough but according to his parents he was not grown up enough to
take the most important decision of his life that was Marriage. Nariman
complains to Coomy: India
In my Youth, my Parents controlled me and destroyed those years. Thanks to them, I married your mother and wrecked my middle years. Now you want to torment my old age. I won’t allow it.17
Nariman, in his youth, loved a Christian girl called Lucy. But due to restriction in Parsi religion they could not marry. About eleven years Nariman and Lucy had plnned to creat a world for themselves. Lucy called it Cocoon:
A cocoon was what they needed, she said, into which they could retreat, and after their families had forgotten their existence, they would emerge like two glistering butterflies and fly away together.18
Coomy schemes to make sure that Roxana is forced to care for her father in her tiny flat while she and Jal live in the relatively enormous family apartment, pretending that it is disintegrating and not fit for their father to live in. Nariman, a former professor, says:
To so many classes I taught Lear, learning nothing myself. What king of teacher is that, as foolish at the end of his life as at the beginning? .. Don’t worry, this Lear will go home again19
Roxana is Cordelia to Nariman’s Lear, the most favoured daughter who finds that Coomy, at least, is quite insincere to her father. Indeed, this family has its share of filial ingratitude and betrayal.
In every part of the world, families are taking decisions and taking certain degrees of responsibility for their elders. But this story is still utterly Indian and there is no question about whether Mistry is the deserving recipient of the Kiriyama award. While the story of taking care of our aging and dying elders is a world wide issue, the minutia of this family’s daily life is distinctly Indian. Bombay’s train system, arranged marriages, unending corruption of government, religious discrimination, exploding pressure cookers full of curry, pollution and jewel toned saris, extremists whose goal it is to abolish Valentine’s day and attacks Muslims, children escaping into an Enid Blyton book to fantasize about the sort of British that aren’t even in England… the beauty and agony of India act almost as another character in the story.
Roxana’s husband, Yezad, works for a sporting goods emporium and has, in the past, eloquently written for permission to immigrate his family to
. Mistry himself immigrated
to Canada Canada some twenty years
ago, as part of the nearly subconscious desire in to find better opportunities
in the west. India
Mistry is amongst one of the author who belongs to
but settled in some other
part of the world long ago but still could not give up the passion for writing
about their motherland. For him India
is important as a subject matter. India India
or more specially
is a resource for Mistry that he draws on in every piece of work he has
published to the date. So it is essential to evaluate Bombay from the parameter of Indianness. Bombay
The center of Such a Long Journey is metropolitan
Bombay, the of dreams and
nightmares, of hopes and despair, of joy and suffering, of comedies and
tragedies. It is the Bombay Mistry had known as a child and a grown-up, and the
way the city undergoes change. But Bombay ,
as is presented in the novel is also one which had been created and developed
by ethno-religious minorities; the buildings, the institutions, the landmarks
and the overall character of the city, all stand witness to this multi-cultural
character of the place. It is then that one can understand the later monolithic
view of the city, which become the capital of Bombay Maharashtra,
and thus sought to be taken control of by the Shiv Sena. It is this that brings
in a confrontationist idea of belonging, a politically charged atmosphere that
lies behind the narrative in a significant way. But, despite all his polemical
politics about whose identity is threatened or is eroded, Mistry has the compassion
and the broad worldview to celebrate each and every aspect of . Mistry’s Bombay Bombay
is still the celluloid capital, of the lilt of famous music directors, the
Carnival’s queue, crowded
of great variety and possibilities. Bombay
At one level, the novel excels in interesting details about
markets, streets, institutions, festivals and other well-known aspects. We find
all kinds of mixed-up rituals and practices, cutting across Hindus, Christians,
Parsis, Muslims and others finding place in the narrative. Mistry devotes a lot
of time and space to describe the English language to send his own purposes.
Several styles and dialects, forms of speech taken from Gujarati, Marathi and
other languages are spoken, to contaminate the so-called purity of the English
language. This is, as is well-known, a key feature of post-colonial writers
too, who have indianised the English language to bring in local colour,
regional and ethnic flavour in their works. Mistry does not hesitate to use
scatological details to expose the dirt and squalor of Bombay . A glimpse of life of chawls can be
seen in Mistry’s A Fine Balance: Bombay
The tap is out there, in the middle of the lane. Most convenient. You won’t have to go far for water, like they do in other inferior colonies. This is a nice place.’ He swept his arm around to take in the field. ‘Newly developed, not too crowded. The rent is one hundred rupees per month. In advance.’Nawaz tapped the walls with his fingers like a doctor examining a chest, then stamped his foot on a floor plank, making it wobble. He made an approving face. Well built’, he whispered to the tailors.
Navalkar gave a circular nod. ‘We have even better huts. You want to see? ‘No harm in looking’, said Nawaz. They were led behind the rows of tin-and-plastic jhopadpattis to a set of eight brick- walled huts. The roofs once again were of rusted corrugated metal. These are two hundred and fifty rupees per month. But for that money you get a pukka floor and electric light’. He pointed to the poles that fed wires to the huts, pirated from the street- lighting supply.20
The literary members of Indian diaspora use the names of Indian dresses, cuisines, flowers, pots and many other things deliberately. Through this act they want to affirm their existence and identity. These things exhibit the everyday modes of life. Mistry’s language is a fine specimen of his indianness. When he describes typical Indian scenes, situations and characters, he uses a different kind of language. His fiction is conspicuous for his use of vernacular. The vernacular expressions like bhaiya, chacha, saali, , yaar, arre, malik, seth, huzoor, kusti, mua, jhopadpattis, chawl, kholis, dholni, masala, hing, basmati, thaali, chumchas, paan, goaswalla, charbee, murgi, subjo, agarbattiu, loban, rajai, mogra, chamayli, goolbahar, surajmukhi,, nargis, chumpee malis, tayel malis, , jaadu-mantar, tamaasha, satta, charkha, , bawa, namaaz, mukaadam, kuchrawalli, kutchoomber, gherao, morcha, bungalee, punchayat, , maali, sudra, sabaash, papee, palung tod paan, chamaat, chaalo-chaalo, , raakh- bhoosa, , dil deke dekho, lorri, arre baap, bhoot, humko kuch nahin maloom, etc. abound in his fiction.
There is also a good example of mix language in which he uses Hindi, Marathi and English. He freely uses vernacular abusive expressions as- goondas, maader chod, hijdaas, golaas, bay-sharam, bahen chod, jungles, bhungees, devdasis, rundees, vaishyas, baywakoof and budtameesz.
Indian slogans like ‘Hindi –Chinee bhai-bhai’21 ‘Nahi chalaygi! Nahi chalaygi! Municipality ki dadagiri nahi chalaygi’22 ‘gully gully mey shor hai, Congress party chor hai’23 Bharat Mata ki Jai, 24 etc. have been frequently used. We find the names of Indian films in the text as ‘Jis Deshme Ganga Bahati Hai’25 Mistry writes the beginning lines of a popular Indian song as it is ‘sausaal pahale, mujay tumsaypyar tha, mujay tumsaypyar tha, aajbhi hai, aur kalbhi rahagya’26
Use of Indian jokes is a very important device employed by Rohinton Mistry in his works. In Such A long Journey, the women of the compound gather round the bhaiya, the milk sailor, and old Miss Kutpitia shrieks from above for watery milk. After giving the instruction for the next delivery, someone joked with the man:
Arre bhaiya, why not sell the milk and water separately? Better for the customer, easier for you also- no mixing to do.27
Mr. Dinshawji, Gustad’s friend at the bank, tells an endless number of crude jokes and gives his audience comic anecdotes about his wife, whom he describes as his domestic vulture, even while he is dying of stomach cancer. He tells jokes everyday in the canteen:
Everyday in canteen, over lunch, their regular group told jokes. They told the perennially popular Sikh jokes. (What did the Sardarji runner say, after finishing first in the Asian Games, when asked: ‘Are you relaxing now? He said: ‘No, no I am still Arjun Singh’); they told Madrasi jokes, mimicking the rolled- tongue sounds of South Indian languages (How does a Madrasi spell minimum? yum-i-yen-iyum-u-yum); they tolg Guju jokes, capitalizing on the askew English pronunciations of Gujarati and their difficulties with vowels, ‘o’ in particular (Why did the guju go to the Vatican? he wanted to hear pope music. Why did the Guju bite John Paul’s big toe? He wanted to eat popcorn); they told Pathani jokes, about the Pathan’s supposed penchant for rear entry (A Pathan went to his doctor: ‘Doctor Sahab, in my stomach is a lot of pain, so the doctor gave him enema. The Pathan left in ecstasy, told his friends: ‘Arre, how pleasureful modern science is- belly in pain, but medicine beautifully arse-way rammed.’ The next day, his friends lined up at the doctor’s clinic for enemas).28
Mistry has included jokes from every group of society or religion. Even he does not spare his own Parsi community with its vast reputation:
The group in the canteen did not spare themselves either, joking about the vast reputation of the Parsi proboscis (What happens when a bawaji with an erection walks into a wall? He hurts his nose). No linguistic or ethnic group was spared; perfect equality prevailed in the canteen when it came to jokes.29
Besides good jokes we find some erotic jokes in Mistry’s novels. In Such A Long Journey Dinshawji tells an erotic joke to Gustad:
The first man says, ‘Yaar, ever since my wife started driving lessons, new-new things she does in her sleep. Grabs my lorri and says, first gear, second gear, reverse- this way and that way she keeps twisting it.’ Then the second fellow says, ‘Changing gears? That’s nothing. My wife, in the middle of the night, catches my lorri, puts it in, and says, twenty liters petrol, please.30
1. Jagdish Batra, Rohinton Mistry: Identity, Values and Other Sociological Concerns (
: Prestige Books, 2008), p.7. New
2. Narmeen Shaikh, Interview with Rohinton Mistry, Accessed on 17 Nov.2014 on htpp:\\ www.asiasourse.rg/news/special_reports.com
3. Jaydipsingh Dodiya, Perspectives on the Novels of Rohinton Mistry (
: Sarup& Sons, 2006), p.31. New Delhi
4. Silvia Albertazzi, “Rohinton Mistry” in A Companion to Indian Fiction in English, ed., Pier Paolo Piciucco (
2004), p.276. New Delhi
5. Haldar Santwana, Rohinton Mistry’s Such a Long journey A Critical Study, p. 16.
6. Silvia Albertazzi, “Rohinton Mistry” in A Companion to Indian Fiction in English, ed., Pier Paolo Piciucco (
Atlantic, 2004), p.411. New Delhi
7. Rohinton Mistry, Such a Long Journey (London: Father and Faber, 1991), p. 1.
8. Ibid. p. 178.
9. Silvia Albertazzi, “Rohinton Mistry” in A Companion to Indian Fiction in English, ed., Pier Paolo Piciucco (
Atlantic, 2004) p.368. New Delhi
10. Rohinton Mistry, A Fine Balance, (London: Faber and Faber,1995), p. 108 -09.
11. Silvia Albertazzi, “Rohinton Mistry” in A Companion to Indian Fiction in English, ed. Pier Paolo Piciucco (
Atlantic, 2004) p.366. New Delhi
12. Rohinton Mistry, Family matters (
: Faber and Faber, 2002), p. 148. London
13. Ibid. p. 152.
14. Ibid. p. 145.
15. Ibid. p. 152.
16. Ibid .p. 30.
17. Ibid. p. 7.
18. Ibid. p. 13.
19. Ibid. p. 287.
20. Rohinton Mistry, A Fine Balance (London: Faber and Faber,1995), p. 161-62.
21. Rohinton Mistry, Such a Long Journey (London: Father and Faber,1991), p. 9.
22. Ibid. p. 327.
23. Ibid. p. 325.
24. Ibid. p. 308.
25. Ibid. p. 325.
26. Ibid. p. 205.
27. Ibid. p.5.
28. Ibid. p.70-71.
29. Ibid. p.71.
30. Ibid. p.172.
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