Tag: indianfiction

Book Review: A Fine Balance (Rohinton Mistry).

A Fine Balance

-Rohinton Mistry.


A Fine Balance by Rohinton Mistry is set in an unnamed city of India during the period of The Emergency (1975 – 1976). This is the first novel by Rohinton Mistry that I have read. It is a long novel and complicated in terms of its plot, so I don’t think I will be able to summarize it here properly. I’ll try my best to explain the story.

The story focuses on four main characters – Dina, Ishwar, and Omprakash, who are uncle and nephew, and Maneck. The four characters come from different social settings. Dina was born in a well to do family, but after her father’s death, her older mother took her in because her mother was unable to provide for her. Dina’s older brother mistreated her regularly treating her like a burden. She rebels against him when she marries Rustom Dalal and they are happy together until Rustom dies in a car crash three years later.


Dina is determined and spirited enough to fight against the odds. This time she doesn’t want to be a burden to anyone and make her own way by starting her tailoring business. Ishwar and Omprakash are the tailors Dina hires to work for since her eyesight isn’t the best. Ishwar and Omprakash have fled their village to escape from caste violence against them. They want a fresh start in the city, and they get jobs as tailors for Dina. Surprisingly, they meet Maneck, a student from an idyllic hill station who rents a room as a boarder at Dina’s house later on. Maneck’s friend disappeared without a trace which still weighs on him and is the reason he moves away from his college campus housing. Their lives converge with each other, and in times of unrest, they form a solid understanding among each other.

A Fine Balance can’t exactly be classified as a political novel, but the Emergency period setting makes in an underlying theme. The characters come from different backgrounds so, the experience of each of them during this time differs from one another. This gave an insight into a period of unrest and crises from four perspectives which make the story is so realistic. Rohinton Mistry’s writing perfectly captures the essence of Indian culture in terms of his descriptions, and it transports you to those places and time. It touches on practices like the sterilizations, mass detentions, caste, and religious discriminations which were carried out during this time regularly.


The story takes a much darker turn and the true extent of the Government’s practices are exposed. It is hard to read through those parts. The freedoms citizens get that we take for granted; the story shows how horrific and anarchic it can get if these rights are taken away. For each character, the effect of the Emergency varies. Ishwar and Omprakash live in slums which are targeted areas for sterilization and labor camps. It is eluded that Maneck’s friend was an activist, and he was detained by the Government because he opposed, and nothing was heard of him again. Dina’s landlord constantly threatens her with eviction using thugs to do his dirty work.


I was unaware of the intensity and the extent of the effects on people’s lives at this time in the history of the country. The story is grounded, and at any point, doesn’t seem forced or unrealistic. The novel is pretty lengthy, but it is engaging throughout and doesn’t feel dragged on. I liked reading this book though, at times, it got too heavy. It is not something I’ll pick up again anytime soon, but it is one of the best books I have read. It is a must-read.

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Book Review: The Princes (Manohar Malgonkar).

The Princes

– Manohar Malgonkar.

The Princes by Manohar Malgonkar is an Indian fiction novel. The story is set in India during the times of British Colonialism, pre and post-independence era. It is about the survival of the Indian Royals during a time of change in the country.

The protagonist of the story is Abhayraj, the prince of Begwad, who is the only heir of his father. The story begins in the post-independent India but the narration shifts to the past, as Abhay reflects on his life. Abhay is an intelligent kid, and for the most part, he is not prejudiced against anyone or anything. He is taught to be a gentleman from a young age and carry himself a certain way. His father is very demanding of him, and at times it takes a toll on him.

Abhay is the narrator of the story. The story focuses on all aspects of his life. His childhood days, the first girlfriend, joining the army during World War II, his father’s struggle, and his mother’s wish to escape her life. Abhay grows up with all the treasures fit for a prince and is never wanting for anything. It is interesting to read about the character at different points in his life and how the social landscape around him affects his conduct.

The story discusses a lot of problematic aspects prevalent in society then. The inferior treatment of individuals based on caste is seen through the treatment of Kanakchand’s character, who later becomes an activist and politician. The treatment of Abhay’s mother by his father is appalling, and in general, the system of having concubines is considered the norm. Throughout the story, Abhay fights not to turn into his father, but on one occasion he does something cruel and accepts the fact that he is his father’s son after all.

The transition from British Raj to becoming an independent state is not exactly smooth. Especially for the royals, their treasures were taken and their power. Many of them tried to save as much as they could by any means possible. Abhay’s father says that he refuses to be the last king of Begwad and see this chapter of history close. I didn’t know much about dissolving the princely states and making them a part of India as a whole. The transition of this wasn’t easy, and there was resistance, but with a wave of democracy, they had to give in.

The writing paints a picture of the life during those times and I realized how much history I was unaware of regarding this period. Abhay, as the narrator, is pretty reliable though he tries to be objective; it doesn’t work all the time, which might be on purpose. This is the only book by Manohar Malgonkar I have read, and his writing style is intriguing and easy; he doesn’t digress too much. The story set a good pace from the beginning, and it continued throughout the novel.

The Princes is different than I expected it to be. It has a good story with the right amount of historical context to keep you interested. Surprisingly for me, it was also emotional in parts, and you can’t help feeling empathetic towards Abhay. I enjoyed reading this book.

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Currently Reading (September ’20)

Currently Reading (September ’20)

The books I plan to read this month.

  1. A Fine Balance by Rohinton Mistry.

A Fine Balance by Rohinton Mistry is set is an unnamed city of India during the time of The Emergency from 1975. There are four main characters – Dina, Ishvar, and his nephew Omprakash, and Maneck. These characters come from varied backgrounds but develop a solid bond during times of turmoil. Only a couple of chapters in but, the story has a good pace. The historical events are in the centerfold of the story which makes it interesting and grounded.

2. 1984 by George Orwell.

1984 by George Orwell is a dystopian fiction novel. It was written in the 1950’s but is still relevant and relatable. The story is set in the future, in the year 1984, where the world is drastically different than before. I started reading this book a few months back but I never finished it. I don’t know why I stopped; I had liked the part I read. So, I am going to start reading it again this month and finish it.

3. The Princes by Manohar Malgonkar.

The Princes by Manohar Malgonkar is a story about Abhay, a young prince of Begwad. The story focuses on the princely states in India during British colonization and how these states steadily declined as India came closer and eventually became independent. The novel begins in the present but, then shifts from past to present. The way it is written makes it easy to keep track of the story. I am enjoying reading this novel.

Book Review: Inside the Haveli (Rama Mehta).

Inside the Haveli

 – Rama Mehta.

I read this book a while back when it was part of my syllabus at college. Inside the Haveli is a story of an urban girl Geeta, who gets married to the son of a former prince. She struggles to fit into a traditional and conservative family of her in-laws in Udaipur, Rajasthan. The novel is set in the1970s.

Geeta is the central character of the story and the journey is mostly seen through her eyes. Another important character at the beginning of the story is Laxmi; a maid in the haveli who has lived there since she was a little girl. It is the only home she has known as she was taken in by the family. The story begins with the birth of a girl for Geeta and her husband. Geeta is restless; she hasn’t adjusted to the way things run in the family. She is a well-educated girl from Mumbai and has always lived in an urban and cosmopolitan environment so she doesn’t understand the old customs and practices of her new family.

Laxmi, on the other hand, has grown up in such an environment and doesn’t know anything other than that. Laxmi has a daughter as well. She has been compelled to make certain decisions which she didn’t wholeheartedly agree with and that weighs on her. Laxmi leaves the haveli, her husband and her daughter to see what lies outside the walls of the haveli. She wants to be free.

The plot of the story is pretty straightforward and thus, easy to follow. I liked the flow of the writing. The descriptions of the city of Udaipur, the setting, the workings of the haveli and the atmosphere are apt. As you read, it transports you to that place and time. Before I started reading this book, I was told that it’s a feminist novel with strong women characters. By the end, I realized this was misleading. Geeta is constantly questioning the regressive practices still prevalent in the family. She doesn’t understand the need for such customs in such progressive times but she never argues against it.

Geeta keeps her head down and does what is expected of her even if she doesn’t agree with it. The only time when she questions anyone is when her mother in law plans to get her daughter married before she is even 18 but even that doesn’t lead to anything. That is the precise problem I had with the book, the plot builds up and builds up, whereas a reader you feel something is about to happen but then nothing happens at all.

 As I came close to the end, I started to care less about the story and the characters. Geeta, in the end, conforms to the same traditions and practices wholeheartedly which she had reservations about earlier in the story. How this is a feminist novel I have no idea. It sent a wrong message I think in the end that that one has to conform to the regressive practices of society. Laxmi, who runs away from the haveli, is alluded to; she has suffered because she left. The girl who actually takes a step towards freedom has shown to suffer. Yes, she abandons her daughter which makes her less sympathetic and later she sneaks to her daughter’s school to get glimpses of her. So when you follow the old traditions you are okay but when you leave nothing good comes of it. Geeta being a well-educated person, her choices to start accepting everything as it is was baffling for me.

I was actually interested in the story for a long time. Once I reached the middle, I thought now the plot will advance but all the ideas don’t go anywhere. As a reader, it is very frustrating. It is not a feminist novel, especially not in our times. The end was the most frustrating part of the story and frankly, it pissed me off. Maybe when it was published in the 1970’s it had a different impact then it does now. I liked the setting and the whole atmosphere of the story, the world created in that story has almost disappeared now but overall I liked the book in the beginning but lost interest halfway through.

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