Rohinton Mistry – Such A Long Journey

04Feb09

This book is not in the same league as A Fine Balance, or even, for that matter, Family Matters. However, the more I think about this book, the more I appreciate it. Mistry has this amazing knack of bringing to life a realistic Indian society, and how they handle various crises and catastrophes that life brings in its wake.

This book centers around the life of Gustad, a god-fearing bank clerk, who puts trust, loyalty, good work ethic and friendship above all. Despite living in a congested and small apartment in Bombay, where the windows are perpetually blacked out (it’s based in the 1970s India, when war was imminent. However, the windows had been blacked out since the 1960s Indo-China war, and Gustad, much to his wife’s chagrin, had left them in that state, certain that it was only a matter of time before the ‘blackout’ was reinforced), the wall opposite is used as a public bathroom by many people, and the resultant stench attracts flies and mosquitoes, Gustad tries to make the best of everything he has without complaints or regrets. So imagine his happiness when his eldest son, who he always had the highest of aspirations for, gets admitted into IIT, an academic institution renowned world-wide for its superiority.

However, his life soon starts falling apart, with his son suddenly shunning the whole IIT ideology, and wishing to remain an Arts student in his present college, his nine year old daughter having some mysterious illness which the doctor is unable to diagnose, and an old friend who he hasn’t heard from in many years, asking him for a favor that seems to have its roots in some corrupt activities. And if that’s not bad enough, his present-day closest friend seems to be very ill, and hiding his illness behind a facade of sorts.

Gustad attempts to do the right thing: help his friend (against his better judgment), and pray continuously, hoping things will turn for the better. He meets an old friend in the local market, who accompanies him to a church where miracles are known to happen. On the other hand, his wife, influenced by one of their neighbors, is convinced the horrors that is affecting her family is being caused by an inauspicious ‘evil eye’, and she follows directives provided by the neighbor to cast off this evil eye.

This book is descriptive, seemingly accurate in its narrations, and is beautifully written – the funeral scene/’Tower of Silence’ scene specifically comes to mind. The characters are well-drawn, and well-built, and as the story unfolds, you can’t help but admire Gustad who continuously adheres to what he believes in, and genuinely attempts to make the world around him a better place.

This is not a feel-good book. It’s a book about India in the 1970s, where the government is corrupt, and money meant for the greater good is channeled to the secret bank accounts of the then Prime Minister, Indira Gandhi. It’s a book about a middle-class family who try to stay together, while the world around them is falling apart. It’s about friendship at its very deepest. It’s about seemingly silly superstitions, albeit the ‘remedies’ actually seem to work. And it’s a book about humanity, morality and integrity in a world tainted with greed, corruption, selfishness and if I may say so – the ‘evil eye’.

Overall, a 7.5 on 10. And yes, I’d definitely recommend Rohinton Mistry. The more I read books by him, the more I like them… which is saying a lot, considering the first book I read by him is probably proclaimed his best!

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