Why are canonical works of literature, sometimes, not as wonderful as expected? Or is that one of the criteria for labeling a work ‘canonical’? Raja Rao‘s Kathapura is one such work. I had read the Introduction in an undergraduate class on Postcolonial Literature and how strangely the English language functions after independence and decolonization.”The telling has not been easy. One has to convey in a language that is not one’s own the spirit that is one’s own. One has to convey the various shades and omissions of a certain thought- movement that looks maltreated in an alien language. I use the word ‘alien,’ yet English is not really an alien language to us. It is the language of our intellectual make-up-like Sansrit or Persian was before-but not of our emotional make-up. We are all instinctively bilingual, many of us writing in our own language and in English. We cannot write like the English. We should not. We cannot write only as Indians. We have to grown to look at the large world as part of us. Our method of expression therefore has to be a dialect which will some day prove to be as as distinctive and colorful as the Irish or the American. Time alone will justify it.
A Fine Balance (1995) is Rohinton Mistry‘s second novel, after Such A Long Journey. It is too long at 600+pages. It is a wonderful book set in Mumbai between 1975-1984 (Indira Gandhi’s Emergency features prominently), but it is still too long. There are numerous histories of the four main characters and their previous generations. It reminded me of Shashi Tharoor’s The Great Indian Novel, and its scope is as large as the Mahabharata.
The novel is nevertheless interesting and would probably make a good Hollywood movie. It is tragic but not in the Greek tragedy way. Sad and horrible things happen to characters from the beginning to the end with a slim section of happiness and hope in the middle. The four main characters are Dina Dayal (formerly Shroff); her two employees, an uncle-nephew duo of tailors, Ishvar and Omprakash Darji; and her tenant, Maneck Kohlah, son of her friend and studying refrigeration.