Theme Of Hope And Despair In A Fine Balance By Rohinton Mistry

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Rohinton Mistry, in A Fine Balance, explores the various social stereotypes and challenges that the characters face and the effect that such circumstances have on their relationships. He uses characters from diverse backgrounds to define India’s multiculturalism as he unites an unusual and unique group of protagonists through a journey of hope and despair, placing the middle-class Parsis – Dina and Maneck with the ‘low-caste’ tailors, Omprakash and Ishvar.

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In his novel, Mistry addresses the age-long social practice of caste discrimination. He presents this evil to an extreme as the readers gain insight into the story of Narayan, Omprakash’s father. Mistry describes social discrimination as a justification for the wealthy in the village to exert their power and exploit the poor, as he writes, “What the ages had put together, Dukhi had dared to break asunder; he had turned cobblers into tailors, distorting society’s timeless balance. Crossing the line of caste had to be punished with the utmost severity, said the Thakur”. This quote brings across Mistry’s major concern in the novel, caste segregation. The traditions and norms in the Indian society have taken long to be eradicated. Not only time, but lives of various people have been sacrificed. Narayan, hopeful of bringing a change in the society, demands for his right to vote but is punished for attempting to challenge the society’s norms. As a result, Narayan and his entire family are burnt to flames by the wealthiest and most powerful man in the village, Thakur Dharamsi.

Throughout the novel, Mistry addresses the evils of social discrimination as he reveals its consequences on the characters’ lives, mainly the caste system that exists within the society and deprives individuals of the right to an equally fulfilling life. Another example of the social division is seen through Dina’s attempts at differentiating between the tailors and herself. Mistry maintains and breaks the stereotypes at the same time. He maintains the class distinctions as he explains Dina’s behavior towards the tailors when she segregates the cups used for tea. Mistry uses the motif of the teacups to define the differences between the protagonists. Dina, as the better-off Parsi employer, decides to keep the red rose borders for herself and the pink rose borders for the ‘lower class’ tailors. The segregation that Dina makes is based on the social and economic distinctions present between them, thus agrees with the social practice of discrimination and treating people differently based on the social status and occupation. However, as the novel progresses, Mistry erases those lines of distinction as he puts Dina under the same roof as the tailors. Dina realizes her mistake of conforming to the social practice of discrimination and rectifies it, as seen through the quote: she Dina poured the tea while they were finishing up… handed two cups to Om. Noticing the red rose borders, he started to point out her error: “The pink ones for us,” then stopped. Her face told him she was aware of it. “What?” she asked, taking the pink cup for herself. “Is something wrong?” “Nothing,” his voice caught. He turned away, hoping she did not see the film of water glaze his eyes.

Mistry points out the joy that Om experiences when Dina gives him the cup with red borders, that she had reserved for herself, significant of the fact that they are no longer divided by social standards. Om is glad that Dina has looked beyond the social practice of segregation and their status of being ‘untouchables’. Through Dina’s action, Mistry aims at bringing the two separated worlds of the middle-class and the ‘untouchables’ together, a practice considered against the Indian social norms. Explaining the interdependence and the unity between different sectors of the society, Mistry uses the symbol of a quilt to display how different patches come together to relate the patterns of hope and despair. This is seen as Maneck says, “I prefer to think that God is a giant quiltmaker, with an infinite variety of designs. And the quilt is grown so big and confusing, the pattern is impossible to see, the squares and diamonds and triangles don’t fit well together anymore, it’s all become meaningless, so He has abandoned it.” Mistry uses the symbol of the quilt to explain how different people from different sections of the Indian society fit together to form at pattern. The novel revolves around the characters’ journey from hope to despair. Dina works on the quilt with the hopes of forming new relationships, however the fact that the quilt is never completed explains the dreams and aspirations of the characters were never fulfilled.

Though most of the circumstances in the novel cause dejection, characters always manage to find a few rays of hope in the worst circumstances. However, Maneck fails to maintain the balance between hope and despair as he ends his life by jumping onto the railway track. Thus, in A Fine Balance, characters struggle through periods of hope and despair as they are faced with challenges in the society.

14 May 2021

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