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A Review and a Rant
"Holding this book in your hand, sinking back in your soft armchair, you will say to yoursef: perhaps it will amuse me. And after you have read this story of great misfortunes, you will no doubt dine well, blaming the author for your own insensitivity, accusing him of wild exaggeration and flights of fancy. But rest assured: this tragedy is not a fiction. All is true."

This paragraph from Balzac's Le Pere Goriot stands guard to one of the best written novels I've read in some time now. Resisting the charm of magical realism, Rohinton Mistry, in A Fine Balance, writes simply and masterfully, the book is so complete it fills you up, with sadness mostly, but also reminiscence and a longing to be back in the city by the sea. After the rather poorly written The Moor's Last Sigh, AFB was a welcome relief, it's been a while since I read a book that narrates, without any embellishments of fantastic exotica and incestuous innuendo. AFB in that sense is not at all multilayered, it is, to borrow an analogy from the story, a patched quilt of complex relationships and the hopelessly intertwined lives of its protagonists. The author was criticized for exaggerating the impoverishement of India's poor, and even of the middle class, by feminist Germaine Greer, he responded by calling her comments asinine, and I agree, her comments are blase. I have atleast one aunt who would be a good model for Dinabai, there was a Shankar outside the railway station I took my train to college from everytday, bereft of limbs, he used to roll on the scorching asphalt, his lean body glistening with sweat, teeth missing and scraggly beard, he used to call out for alms, banking on the pity his condition inspired. My mother used to give tuitions at home and some of her students came from a small slum close by, one of them, lived with atleast six siblings, father and an intermittently sick mother in a small shack with an improvised and shaky second storey across from what was once a river but now reduced to a convenient dump for everything from industrial waste to used motor oil. He often had trouble naming his numerous brothers and sisters. which brings me to two other issues, one, the growth in India's population, there seems to be no plan on the ground to control it, rather I keep reading India is poised to take over China as the world's most populous nation in a few short decades but I never hear of any major government initiative to deal with that problem, that worries me greatly, I don't see how our land, our infrastructure, our resources and our economy will deal with almost one fourth of the world's living. The second issue is about figures released by the Indian Census Bureau which cite a growth rate of 29% from 1991 to 2001 in the Muslim population, lower than the 33% in the decade before (and much lower than the goofed up figure of 36% initially touted which had the RSS and BJP rankled), but still a figure that raises concern. A friend of mine chided my concern saying Allah provides and there shouldn't be a concerted effort to reduce the population in accordance with Islamic principles, an argument I find both disingeuous as well as alarming because it is comfortably accepted in many circles. An article in Mid-day, a Bombay (nee Mumbai, nee Bombay ;)) daily, recently says,
Muslims are incapable of social reform because they do not view change from Islamic practice as reform but as heresy.
which is exactly the problem the Indian Muslim community faces, reform is a horrendously difficult task and I'm at a loss to predict how or when, and in what form, it will take place, if ever.
Anyway, heavy and serious matters aside, if you have anything to do with Bombay or India or the Emergency, then you absolutely have to read A Fine Balance.

Cross posted on LoI

hi ubaid,
ur comments about indian alarming over-population and lack of any nationwide plans to control it paints a very disturbing situation. About this lack of any initiative, I think that if some plans are made and run on a large scale a real effect can be bring in controlling population. It reminisces me of once having conversation with my cousin brother who is a doctor in a Rajasthan village about the polio vaccination scheme and how effectively it is implemented. He told me that senior doctors at village panchayat level are instructed that every child born in the village should get all the proper doses of vaccine and the records are very meticulously maintained and followed.
So why don't we can do something about this kind in reducing population??


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