Fine Balance.

Essay by alexandragirlieCollege, Undergraduate December 2003

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Suppose that you were reading a novel about the struggle of a group of people on the margins (economic, racial, religious margins) of society in Hitler's Berlin or Stalin's Moscow, a novel written by a refugee; you wouldn't expect a particularly happy ending would you ? But somehow, even though Rohinton Mistry is a Parsi refugee from India, who moved to Canada in 1975 when Indira Ghandi declared a State of Emergency and assumed sweeping powers, we just aren't prepared for the moment when his narrative of life in Indira's India turns truly dark. This really says more about our political naiveté when it comes to the Third World than it does about his plotting technique or his writing style. I suspect that for most readers, and I know it was true of me, there's a sense that oppressive totalitarianism is really only a tragedy when it drags a developed Western nation back down into barbarism--that for underdeveloped nations, such murderous misrule is pretty much the normal state of things.

Perhaps there's even some lingering imperialistic, racist feeling that such backwards peoples are not capable of imposing the kind of all-encompassing, soul-killing, dictatorship that we find so horrifying when they descend on a Western populace, or that these long abused peoples, unused to freedom, can not feel its absence as profoundly as do we. Rohinton Mistry disabuses us of such notions, quite forcefully.

A Fine Balance is set in an unnamed Indian city--I guess it's supposed to be Bombay--in 1975. It centers around the unlikely living arrangements of four characters who are forced by their strained economic circumstances to share an apartment. Dina Dilal is a widower who has spent her life trying to escape her abusive and domineering brother, in a society where independent women are, to say the...