Swimming Lessons and other stories from Firozsha Baag by Rohinton Mistry : Part III

Continued from Part II:

Two very compelling tales involve Jehangir, the “Bulsara Bookworm”. In “The Collectors”, he’s the boy whom Dr. Mody takes a fancy to. Shunned by other children of the Baag for his quiet, introvert nature, he finds solace in philatelic sessions with Dr. Mody before his ultimate disillusion on a false accusal and Dr. Mody’s untimely death. I had written about this piece in the review for “Storywallah”, which chose “The Collectors” because it is the most isolated story from “Swimming Lessons…”, not only because of minimal cross reference to other characters, but also since it introduces Jehangir and the infamous son of Dr. Mody, Pesi Padmaroo, of whom we hear time and again. Earlier, I had neglected to comment on an important aspect: a reference to the emergency during Indira Gandhi’s tenure at the helm. There’s a small yet significant incident, when Patla and Jhaaria Babu, the street vendors outside Jehangir’s school, are rounded up and thrown out of the city, as a consequence of the drastic measures of garibi hatao drive to sweep out the pavement dwellers of the city. Both Mistry and Rushdie expose the horrors of the emergency through the plight of the defenseless – Rushdie is virulent in “Midnight’s Children”, but Mistry’s elaborate theme under the emergency raj, in “A Fine Balance”, extracts its tragedy more poignantly.

Jehangir grows up, a not too confident college goer, and falls in love. He also marvels at the “Exercisers”, whose rippling muscles he desires to touch, as if to compensate for the feebleness of his own existence. He is overpowered by his daunting mother casting a jealous shadow, preening him away from his love. Yet he is not short of compassion for his mother, when he explains to the girl who loves him, his reasons for returning home at the cost of spoiling an evening – “…I’m doing it because I want to, because her life has been troubled enough, because I don’t want to add more misery to it.”

There is tenderness in the way Jehangir chooses to become the sacrificial lamb.



Mistry is a wonderful storyteller, and “Swimming Lessons…” keeps one engrossed. He slowly unfolds the joys and miseries of the ordinary residents of Firozsha Baag in an extraordinary way. We laugh at the obnoxious Rustomji, commiserate with Jehangir and share Kersi’s nostalgia, building up the jigsaw with pieces of their lives. If there’s one drawback, it’s the thematic similarity conveyed by a sense of loss in almost all the episodes (Almost, because “The Ghost of Firozsha Baag” and “Squatters” are in a lighter vein). Yet, this is not really a drawback, since it does not take away the variety in the stories themselves.



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5 thoughts on “Swimming Lessons and other stories from Firozsha Baag by Rohinton Mistry : Part III

  1. Swimming and Other Stories was simply fascinating! I read it some years ago and spent every moment completely enthralled.

    On several occasions I allowed my childhood memories of similar Parsi colonies to color my imagination as I read the accounts of the many beautifully crafted characters.
    Some of the stories were so true to life that I was rolling around in laughter, till the tears ran down my cheeks.

    Having read other Indian authors, many of them now famous in the literary world, I wonder if I can naively comment on how great a storyteller Rohinton Mistry is and how joyously he can relate real life. Unlike many of these famous authors, he does not dwell endlessly on the sadness, darkness, and defeat that seem to be the common themes among writers.

    Three cheers for Rohinton Mistry I say! May he keep highlighting the laughter.


  2. Sadness and a sense of loss deeply tie into most of Mistry’s works. But he certainly injects laugh out loud instances even in dour themes.

    I second the statement that he is great storyteller. Perhaps the best contemporary fiction writer of Indian origin.


  3. Some of the stories were so true to life that I was rolling around in laughter, till the tears ran down my cheeks.

    Perhaps the best contemporary fiction writer of Indian origin.

    taking from above two comments is what exactly I too believe in. There ‘s no better writing genius than him!
    Desperately waiting for his next work to come. Its high time now


  4. In spite of living abroad for so many years his memories are so fresh.
    stories mostly revolve around darker memories. Always takng of dirt n filth around. Never takng of the beauty of Bombay.
    Still its fantastic!!!!


    1. The honesty and quality of his writing sets him apart. Among all Indian writers in the English language, I find him and Vikram Seth to be the foremost. Their work shines because of its quality and depth – not because they address a certain audience, or because it is fashionable (at least today) to write in English and get published.
      Strangely, neither has won a Booker award, though “A Fine Balance” and “A Suitable Boy” are both brilliant, better than any of the books (by Indian authors) awarded so far.


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