A Fine Balance by Rohinton Mistry: Of quotes, names and more

        I wanted to follow up my earlier post with a few things I had in mind, but could not fit in, due to lack of context and contemplation.

The first is in the name of a principal character – Dina Dalal. This is almost too perfect a nomination, yet doesn’t sound jarring or unnatural at all. In Parsi, Dina (as I found searching on the web), means judged. However, the Hindu connotation (deen) is mired in poverty or lack, just like her life. She then becomes an agent, or a dalal, for an export company to counter her situation. How much relevant could it get. Nicely done!

A character I missed was Monkey Man (his real name we never know). This is the guy whose hand is seen in the cover of the book, balancing a little girl atop a pole. You’ll have to read the book to find out more of the Monkey Man’s and the little girl’s fate, but the innocence of the photograph intended to garner pathos is utterly misleading – for the hand turns out to be that of a murderer. A murderer that society created when it took away the poor man’s livelihood and forced him into things he’d rather not have ventured into. But not all wronged become murderers, means there must have been something, a streak of madness, in him to make him cross the line. Monkey Man is another of the bizarre characters that the book is littered with. Bizarre in the absurdness of what one does to earn a living, and in the extremeness of their actions. Some of the others are Hair Collector Rajaram, Shankar the Worm and Beggarmaster. Perhaps I should also include Ibrahim the rent collector and Vasantrao Valmik the proofreader turned orator turned lawyer.

I’d like to conclude with a couple of significant quotes that I spotted. Both are from Dina’s younger life, in the earlier parts of the book (since I got too engrossed later to jot down any specifics).



The first is an excellent use of a metaphor:
There was no such thing as perfect privacy, life was a perpetual concert-hall recital with a captive audience.”


The second is after the untimely demise of Dina’s husband, when she’s trying to regain her foothold on life:
The road towards self-reliance could not lie through the past.”

I think I might hang this one up in a frame in my study.

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24 thoughts on “A Fine Balance by Rohinton Mistry: Of quotes, names and more

  1. what are some signifant events that take place in the following characters lives










  2. Here are the answers to the quiz…hope there’s a reward on its way:

    Dina – husband’s death, finds sewing contract through Zenobia, finds tailors, finds pg through Zenobia

    Ishvar – Ashraf’s training and family ties, Dina’s job, eviction, vasectomy, amputation, beggary

    Om – Ashraf’s training and family ties, Ishvar’s presence, Dina’s job, eviction, castration, Maneck’s friendship, beggary

    Maneck – disillusion with father, Hostel, Om’s friendship, Avinash’s friendship, Dina’s pg, Avinash’s death, Dubai job, father’s death, Avinash’s sisters’ death, suicide

    Nusswan – Dina’s life, I guess, children, marriage …really nothing significant and everything at the same time

    Narayan – Ashraf’s training and family ties, business startup, death

    Rajaram – befriends Ishvar and Om, eviction, loses hair collection, vasectomy propagandist, becomes hair thief, turns into a psycho killer, repentance, turns into fake holy man…how weird!

    Ibrahim — cruelty at the hands of sons, intense frustration, beggary

    Your turn: Beggarmaster, Worm, Monkey Man


  3. Great Review.
    Everyone I know that has read this book, loved it, despite it’s tragic ending. This same ending however, almost upset me.
    I don’t understand what message is being conveyed when Maneck decides that “It did not always have to end badly – he was going to prove it…” and then ends up killing himself, and very suddenly too. Or why he recognizes Om and Ishvar outside Nusswan’s house and vice-versa, but neither party acknowledge each other?
    Is there a moral in here that I am missing?


  4. Thanks “inquisitive”.

    I do not think a message or moral was intended. Maneck was portrayed as a sensitive character, who spirals downhill in the face of repeated tragedy upon his return.
    But I too found the suicide rather sudden and incongruent.

    ‘…why he recognizes Om and Ishvar outside Nusswan’s house and vice-versa, but neither party acknowledge each other?”

    Here’s a thesis:
    For the fear of tarnishing the memories of a golden past. But Maneck, of course, is already very depressed. The sight perhaps leaves him too flabbergasted.


  5. Okay, I see what you mean by Maneck being a sensitive character. Also how he didn’t respond to Ishvar and Om, but howcome they didn’t talk to him either. They both claim to have recognized him, and they even got his attention by asking for money.
    Another thing, why did most of the characters die in the end? Like Shankar/Worm, Beggarmaster, Ashraf uncle, etc.? Was it to just give a sense of the madness and ruthlessness of the people at the time?


  6. Ishvar and Om were unsure, or even a bit embarrased, of how Maneck would embrace their old friendship. They do remark that it was not the same Maneck whom they knew (since Maneck did not wait to meet them in Dina’s place).

    I think the development was also to some extent driven by the nature of Maneck’s exit. A sort of finality to the end of their friendship. Maneck dies. But the other three were not likely to know that he was gone forever.
    Imagine if they would become friends again, it would be harder to draw up the tragic end, which was Mistry’s intention.

    “why did most of the characters die in the end? Like Shankar/Worm, Beggarmaster, Ashraf uncle, etc.? Was it to just give a sense of the madness and ruthlessness of the people at the time?”

    You’re probably right. I too find all this dying quite needless. Something that could be done without. In fact, some of those characters could have been curtailed or removed to shorten the novel’s length, without affecting too much of its impact.


  7. Hi again, thanks for all the previous comments. I have another question.
    Maneck is one of the main characters, however I was unable to find his “struggle”. Like Dina struggles to live independently and Ishvar/Om struggle to get away from the mistreatment in the village, etc. But it seems like Manek had it pretty easy, with his loving parents financing all his needs even when he is in Mumbai, and he even finds a friend or two (Avinash and Om).
    Am I correct in saying that he is quite a passive character in the novel and more of an observer than active member of the plot?


  8. Maneck’s “struggle’ is all inside. He is torn apart at the monstrosity of the world, which ultimately becomes too much to bear. In that way Maneck suffers more than anyone else.

    I am not sure what you mean by “passive character”. Granted he has no monetary hardships, but he does play a central role. But I somewhat agree that he is sort of an “observer”, as you put it. The desperation and helplessness he feels is not unlike what many of us do at times in the face of injustice happening around us.


  9. I just completed an essay on this novel. I centered the entire essay on the thesis that Ishvar and Om never seemed to find an inner peace with themselves until the end of the novel. I explained in it that no matter what the two relatives did or tried to do, they were always met with some horrifying tragedy. First Ashraf’s friend is really a joke of a friend, then their house is destroyed, followed by them being sent to a forced labour camp. And then to top this all off they go with high hopes back to their village, what they had always dreamed of, only to have their best friend die and both undergo sterilization. I just find it amazing ironic how in the beginning of the novel they comment on Shankar (at the time they did not know him) being the worst they had seen, and in the end, Ishvar ends up being just as Shankar was, and even worse since Beggarmaster could not protect them.

    Cudos to Mistry, a fantastic novel.


  10. On another note, I have to read one part of the novel, max two pages that really expresses the novel and what it is about. Any ideas?



  11. Dave,
    If “inner peace” can be described as the loss of every dream and desire, then yes, Ishvar and Om do find inner peace. And sometimes, man does find peace, in a strange sort of way, when he is pushed to the corners of suffering, when every choice and hope is seized from him. Perhaps that’s what happened to Ishvar and Om. It does seem that they accepted their condition rather well in the end.

    A novel like this is quite multifarious in its scope. And given the subjective nature of literature itself, you are really not tied any single theme or idea. It could be oppression of the weak in the hands of mighty, or a woman standing up for herself in a patriarchal framework, or the beauty of friendship beyond narrow social/class borders.


  12. you seem to really know this book well. I cant seem to figure out what element Vasantrao Valmik represents in society. Aside from the fact that he is clearly the philosopher that speaks about how coincidences make up life and the importance of loss, etc. I don’t know how to figure out what he represents. The essay prompt I am dealing with says that I must analyze the statement the author is making about society through Vasantrao Valmik, but I don’t know where to start.




  13. i have a similar topic to ‘unsure’, but i need to know Mistry’s purpose with Mrs. Gupta. I think she in someway represents the upper class in india who isn’t really harmed by the emergency or something like tat. I don’t know if i am on the right track. Please help me out



  14. There is a bizarre novelty attached to the story in the absurdness of its characters and their enmeshed lives. Probably not the best treatise on the Emergency years in India, but Mistry does manage to prop it up as a great and bitter backdrop for his story which is primarily about the lives of four people and their fight – a believer, a cynic, a struggler and a fighter.

    While Dina tries hard to let go of her past and struggles to find her place in the world, Maneck tries to salvage his past and struggles to keep up with the changing world. Ishvar and Om constantly fight for their identity in the meandering sea of people that is India in the midst of oppression and much chagrin.

    Ultimately, a fine balance is struck and freedom gained in oppression!

    Neither as magical and insightful as Rushdie nor as lyrical and beautiful as Seth; but Mistry has his moments – his tale about fine balance has its moments of wit and grace masked in the lines that portray a grotesque truth and yet make you laugh and that is exactly how it ends!


  15. “A Fine Balance” opened my eyes to the chaotic grace of the Indian landscape. An environment built upon the beautiful coexistence of extremes, and the triumph and shortfalls of the human spirit. The ordered anarchy of the slums, the rigidity of caste life, and the tragedy of Kashmir are all brilliantly connected in the capillary lives of the Indian people.

    A friend once told me that India is defined by the bombardment of ones sensory systems; ubiquitous by nature, yet inseparable from the Indian experience. The inability of mankind to distinguish the source of each defines what is and what isn’t India – a country amassed with delicate wonder and structural fragility. Through Rohinton Mistry, I can’t help but agree.

    One of the greatest reads of my life. Plain and simple. For those who feel the same, I definitely suggest reading the novel “Shantaram” by Gregory David Roberts.

    Has anyone read it?


  16. rohintons essays are composed with mystery and tribulations of semantic restitution of ideas . conforntation of situation related to themes in this essay is realistic and stratification in thematic control in strategic sense. literary and diametric in pre-supposed ideas are embedded here in totality of existence.the stand is literary and requisitional at the same time.creativity is reflected to a great context in characterization of characters in totality of existence .the method in this literary trend is focal and bifocal in approach in realism. calcutta unversity library has profused materials in this text and context in fullest exactitude.the theme cognised in this realm is literal and categorical in reseach dimension . therefore the ideas are recommended and seconded in literary strand and stand.


  17. I’m collecting quotes for my project- I love the metaphor you pointed out, but do you have the page number? If not that’s okay, but if you do that’d be sooo awesome! (really great review by the way) I love this book so much.


  18. Hey. How can i compare this novel with “Such a long journey”by Rohinton Mistry?
    Do you think the comparison between the struggles of Dina Dalal and Gustad Noble would make up a strong topic for my essay? And if i do compare their struggles, do you think it should be compared with all the protagonists of “A fine Balance”?
    Any other ideas?


  19. hey, I do not understand how the book talks about a balance between hope and despair, could you please explain this a little bit?


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