Rohinton Mistry-A Master Craftsman


Hands up, anyone who has ever read a book by this man!

What did you think?

Were you blown away or was it just ‘blah’ ?

I’ve just recently finished ‘A fine balance,’ which is a novel set in 1984, in Mumbai.

Now, I stay away from writing book reviews, and this isn’t really a book review, but I will talk about the book, the author and tell you how wonderful they both are!

The man is a genius and knows how to tell a story! He crafts his characters meticulously from the fertile depths of his observations and imagination. He weaves their lives together like Dina Aunty’s quilt and uses imagery and symbolism to further make his novel into something extraordinary.

I came across Mistry, one Sunday morning, whilst having a coffee with a friend in Costa’s, above Waterstones (A bookstore) I can’t remember which book it was, but I remember being intrigued by his name. I was amused at the Indian-Englishness of it; after all, Rohinton sounds a lot like, Rohit, Rohin and Remington, all rolled into one. Anyway, I didn’t have enough money to spare for the book so I left it, thinking I’d look him up when I was back in India, where books are considerably cheaper!

A few days before my flight, I came across him again, in an Oxfam Bookshop. There were 3 copies of the same book, ‘A fine balance’ and I knew I had to pick one up; price was not the issue this time.

And he did it, he had me hooked and reeled me in with his very first line, “The morning express bloated with passengers slowed to a crawl, then lurched forward, as though to resume full speed. The train’s brief deception jolted its riders…”

The book has the quality of grimness paired with light…It’s funny, hopeful but oh, so tragic! I’m not sure how that’s even possible! The man’s a genius!

I have learnt so much from reading this 613 page book, which I devoured quickly and without chewing, that I feel that Mistry must be called my unofficial mentor, from now on. Lahiri and I on a par, I’d say. (I’m not being facetious!) But Rohinton Mistry is on another level entirely! There is so much depth in every single page, with the actual harrowing happenings of the time painted clearly in neat meaningful brush strokes; so much raw emotion without the need for frivolous sentimentality that I just feel humbled to have discovered a great, from whom I could learn so much. This is an important novel in so many sad ways that I feel an injustice has been done to the man who has been nominated for the ‘Booker’ 3 times. Why haven’t I seen or heard of him before?!

I suppose being a writer can also mean being invisible. But for me, right now, he is a shining beacon of brilliance. I bow to you, Rohinton Mistry…You are my guru, my guide through this journey of mine. And unlike Bal Baba, I know you can show me the way!

rohinton mistry

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The Goddess in me?


Outside my window there is a kite. Not the kind of kite that is tied by a string, but the kind that is tied by its nature. It circles, it swoops, it glides and it rests and then it begins again. I have no idea if it hopes or if it dreams or if it feels compassion, for aren’t those in the hearts of humans?

I ponder this as I watch this creature, tied to its nature. How far removed are we humans from our base instincts of fight, flight, fear, lust, rape?

I don’t mean to sound like a man hater; I’m not. I’ll say it loud and proud; I love men! But those creatures who rape, who leer, who undress me with their eyes as I step out of the supermarket, are not men. Please understand me as I say this, I’m not seeking attention in my loose fitting t-shirt and my jeans, but I think they think I am, because these leerers, these lecherous weeds of humanity can see a hint of the shape of my breasts.  Their gaze does not fall as it follows my form and I am left with the fury of a long ago Kali, ready to slit their throats, and cut off their…

I am exhausted and resigned to the fact that here, in this land of the Goddess Durga, where she is worshipped with fervour, by these same asuras, I will have such encounters.

I arrived in India just as it was reeling in the aftermath of the gang rape of a young student on her way home in Delhi. She eventually died in hospital from her injuries. This sparked much outrage and condemnation all over the country and the world. At the time I remember being sickened and saddened at what had happened. I followed the case and tutted to myself. I told myself that this was an isolated incident. Rape happens everywhere and when it does, it rightly is brought to the attention of the public, but Delhi, India, is not to blame. I think I oversimplified it in my mind. I told myself these cases are in the minority. When I arrived in Calcutta, however, there was more awaiting me; reports of children being raped; a five year old, a six year old, a four year old. As a mother of a daughter, I wished I held that trident in my hand. I wish I had the courage and enough rage to tear to through the world destroying all in my path. This sick, sick world we inhabit needs to be destroyed, I thought, believed.

But then, I look at my husband, I look at my son. I see my father and my brother, I watch my father in law and my brother in law and I see good men. I see that the world perhaps does not need to end. But I do think that the world does need to stop for a moment and watch. It needs to contemplate and take a breath because in all honesty something’s going wrong if I can’t walk down the street without feeling unclean or I am suspicious of anyone who wants to start a conversation with my daughter.

It shouldn’t matter what I wear, it shouldn’t matter what I look like, I’m not asking to be appraised like a piece of meat on a butcher’s hook.

Education is the key? Cliché but true. “Teach your sons how to respect a woman.

Teachyour daughters how to respect themselves.”

We are human, not kites flying to the whim of its nature or the direction of the wind.

 

For more on this topic and for some really powerful poetry, check out http://nirbhayasindia.com/

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From google images

The Eye Doctor


antique-spectacles“To learn to see- to accustom the eye to calmness, to patience, and to allow things to come up to it; to defer judgment, and to acquire the habit of approaching and grasping an individual case from all sides. This is the first preparatory schooling of intellectuality. One must not respond immediately to a stimulus; one must acquire a command of the obstructing and isolating instincts.”

Friedrich Nietzsche, Twilight of the Idols

This is something that I must practise. I happen to be one of those people who jump headfirst into an opinion about a person or a situation. I instantly like or dislike. Very rarely do I have a balanced approach to any given situation.

One person I instantly liked, respected and admired was the ‘Eye Doctor’ in Hyderabad. We were referred to him by my father-in-law who used to know him before he retired. My father-in-law, a man whose world seemed to me to be black or white, right or wrong, definitely saw this man as good, not bad.

We were all worried about my son. My little 19 month old suddenly developed a very itchy and irritated eye. It was red and watery and swollen and painful. As a mother I was frantic and I immediately thought that something must have gotten lodged in it. Eventually I was persuaded to visit the Eye Doctor.

Mamaya, my father-in-law made a call to the doctor who told us to get there by half four. He would see my son, after he closed the clinic to the general public so we would not have to wait. We would be his last patients and he would go home straight after. We got in a cab and made our way to the clinic. At first we were on the main roads but after about half an hour the roads began to narrow. The big shops and the shiny cars were behind us and instead we shared the road with bicycles and auto rickshaws. High-risers and mansions were replaced by much smaller clay fronted buildings crammed into a neighbourhood of ‘not much but just enough.’ There were no longer Telugu or English signs atop the shop fronts, at least none that I spotted. Instead the signs were in Urdu and the men out front wore ‘topis’ or hats traditionally worn by Muslims. We were in a minority Muslim neighbourhood.

In my mind, I was confused and little angry! Where had my father-in-law brought us? How could we even hope to treat my son here? What kind of facilities would this so called ‘Eye Doctor’ have in a dump like this?

We reached the clinic, a building much like the others on the outside, except with a tiny plaque telling us that a doctor indeed practises there and a slightly bigger sign in English telling us there was no appointment system. I imagine the same was written in Urdu underneath. Inside were two rooms, a waiting room and the actual clinic. The waiting room was sparsely furnished with a few rickety wooden chairs and a couple of posters on the wall. The doctor was with someone so we waited. My son, on my lap, was uncomfortable and apprehensive. He looked around and would not let me go. He seemed to mirror my own fears as we were finally called inside.

Once inside Mamaya shook hands with the Eye Doctor and they greeted each other in Telugu. He introduced him to his son and then me. Immediately, as soon as the good doctor knew I was not a Telugu speaking person the conversation turned to English. To my surprise this tall rickety octogenarian with his dark grey hair, oiled and parted to one side, was remarkably eloquent. He put me at ease straight away, making a joke about the state of affairs in India and telling me I had a lot to get used to. I smiled and chuckled in all the right places and he proceeded to examine my son.

My little one seemed very happy suddenly, perhaps it was the vibes I was emitting but he trusted the old man without hesitation. The doctor easily distracted my son as he quickly took a look with that funny looking torch that all opticians have and turned to me very matter of factly. “There is nothing to worry about, Amma. This is simply symptomatic of an allergic reaction. I will give you eye drops and that should clear it up.”

The Eye Doctor, with his loose fitting dentures and milk bottle glasses, went onto explain how and when I should administer the drops and I felt happier than I had done for the last few days. And to top it all off he gave my son a little sweet which the happy little patient wanted to munch on immediately!

Whilst in the waiting area, during the course of the examination and in the car I learnt a little more about the Eye Doctor; he was retired and ran this clinic voluntarily with only a little funding from the government and his own pension. He handed out medication for free and charged nothing for an examination. He was a freedom fighter in his youth, much like my father’s father and was appalled by what the politicians had made of the country he and his comrades had fought so hard for. Judging by where he was practising, he had no hatred for Muslims and possibly was saddened when his beloved Bharat was bargained to pieces.

I left Dr Laxmanaswamy Reddy’s clinic reminded of the old addage, “Never judge a book by its cover.” Things are never quite as they seem at first sight.

Time for change!


After a month in Hyderabad, where the average temperature was around 30-34 degrees celcius, I found Kolkata quite chilly! The temperatures in Kolkata were in their mid 20s and in the night they would drop down to the high teens, but the skies were always blue. They still are! For this, although our flat at the time, didn’t offer much of a view, we were very grateful. Leaving behind the grey of Coventry was not a sacrifice. 

We were put up in a block of flats called Eastern High, just off the EM Bypass. From the outside they were clearly distinguishable from their multicoloured patches of colour lighting up the skyline like a festival of flags. On the inside they were spacious and well planned. The decor, however, was not to my taste. As I stepped into the living room, after sighing with relief that I had made it, I smiled wryly to myself. This is what I would have to get used to! Everywhere was dark mahogany stained furnishings; The dining table and four chairs, the sofas and the armchairs all had the same sombre varnish. The upholstery reminded me of Bangladeshi curry houses in the UK, still stuck in the 70s, claret and cream with walls of contrasting hues of orange and green. I despaired! But it was OK, we’d be out of here in a month or so and I just had to get by until then. 

I landed on a Saturday, which gave me enough time to find the local shop(s) and get my bearings. My husband had already been here a week and knew of all the local places to eat, as he refused to cook! He had also found a local supermarket, within walking distance. 

On Saturday evening, after I recovered from my traumatic journey and the colours of the living room had stopped spinning, we took a walk. We arrived at the relatively small but well stocked ‘Reliance Fresh’ Store and I took in my surroundings. The shelves bore the weight of plastic toys, cooking oil, shampoos and hair serums, clothes, bathmats, spices, cooking utenstils and cutlery (but no butter knives). There was everything and although it was a squash and a squeeze we made it to the check-out with most of what we needed. The bill came to a reasonable Rs2543 and I thought that if we handed the cashier a Rs2600 in notes then we’d be able to get out and get on with the rest of the evening. What I did not know, and I am still unclear as to why, is that when you travel to the supermarket you must, (Now, I’m being really serious about this!) always, always carry change! The cashier instantly, without even opening the till, demanded Rs3. My husband complied without hesitation and I was confused. But this was not the exception, every single trip to the supermarket, without exception has resulted in someone asking for change and it turns out there’s a real shortage of the small silver rupee in tills, despite every single customer having to shell out the changle of change in their wallet or purse! 

At one point, I refused. It happened to be the in the well known supermarket chain called ‘Big Bazaar’. In my opinion it is very aptly named. It is very big and has, like the ‘Reliance Fresh’ Store, everything you could possibly need except meat and umbrellas. It is set out with cardboard boxes, trolleys and stacks of goods, piled precariously at dangerous angles, ready to topple if knocked by a hurried handbag; a cross between a warehouse and a supermarket. It is not a sophisticated shopping experience. Image

Anyway, I made my way through the maze of isles to the checkout where the young cashier, who had slightly two slightly older and more moustachioed cashiers behind him, chatting away merrily. One scanned, one chatted and another packed. Eventually, after quite a leisurely pace, the cashier told me the total, I handed him the notes and predictably he asked me for some change. I just couldn’t be bothered, so I point blank refused. I don’t think it’s the done thing here, because he looked quite shocked. “Ek tuk dekhun na, Madam..” “Please check, Madam”. I replied with a curt, “No.” The cashiers looked at each other, not quite sure what to do next. We had reached somewhat of an impasse. Neither of us willing to back down. However I gave him my best teacher look, raised an eyebrow and folded my arms. “Are you trying to tell me, there is no change anywhere in such a big store?” Image

Reluctantly the cashier sent one of his friends to get me some change from the till opposite. I had won that round but how long could I keep this up?

I have come to the conclusion that someone needs to stand up to these big chains and corporates. Surely it’s time for some change!