Such a Long Journey: Rohinton Mistry

If ever there would be a prize for being self-centered, I guess I would win that – hands down! In the past few months, I’ve only ranted on and on about myself and how frustrating the circumstances around me can get.  Well, I thought my non-existent readers deserved a good break from my narcissisim (I’ll never know the correct spelling for this word!).  And what better way to break this spell than sharing MY views on a book that I read recently!!

Title: Such a Long Journey
Genre: Fiction/Drama

Such a Long Journey

Book cover

Author: Rohinton Mistry
Publisher: Faber Firsts
Price: Rs. 280/-

Summary:  Gustad Noble is a mumbai based Parsi, typical middleclass bank employee and a father of 3.  In his mundane life revolving around family and work, the defiance of his son, and a letter from his erstwhile best friend creates a storm. Before he realizes Gustad is ensnared into a nightmarish web whose yarn has origins from as high as the Prime Minister’s office & the then prime minister herself!! As Gustad wades his way through the murky affairs at home and work, facing uncertainities and unable to trust anyone, he discovers newer meanings to relationships and life in general.  In this long journey of his life, Gustad has to now come to terms with sweeping changes – forget old memories and build new ones, come to terms with the facts that relationships are fleeting and not all dreams come true.

Well, I will have to thank Binod for insisting that I read this book. (So much so that he bought it for me! Now no escaping that!).  I have always been a bit wary of fictions off-late. In a time when wanna-be-uber-cool writers of the whatz-his-name-5.someone-writer group are ruling the roost, with their mediocre film screenplays being published as books, and worse, considering themselves to be important enough to comment on National & International affairs (well I am different! I don’t write screenplays! ;)) fictions have started to be as tricky as picking the right vegetarian dish in an obscure restaurant using a foreign language menu, where none can speak English!  More often than not, it ends up leaving a bad taste and a sense of guilt for wasting the money!  Given my zest for Tagore, R K Narayan, Raja Rao and the likes, I may be written off as someone who believes that serious literature work was done only in the bygone days and everyone writing these days are just dried grass!  Or worse! I maybe seen as one who doesn’t appreciate the desi boom on the literature space in the new age, and hence unpatriotic, west-pleasing and a hypocrite!  Or even worse, no one may care! 😛 But the fact for me has always remained that we now have a highly commercial and crowd pleasing approach to writing (not that there is anything wrong with it, mills and boons existed since eons!) and for me that is a tragedy.

Rohinton Mistry, is thankfully out of this league.   Such a long journey, was his 2nd book and one can clearly feel the freshness of his memories, given that his roots were from Mumbai.  The parsi life style, that has for me been quite enigmatic, was opened to view like the crisp newspaper on a fresh spring morning.  Its delightful to know of the customs and traditions – from something as commonplace as their blessings to as mysterious as the death ceremonies.  The characters come to life as they meander around the streets of Mumbai, the local trains and buses, wading through the flooding waters of the Mumbai rainfall to discussing the political affairs in the office canteen.  Set in the backdrop of the India-Pakistan war over the liberation of Bangladesh and the political storm over Mrs. Indira Gandhi’s rule, the book seems a daring attempt by Rohinton to relive and immortalize the days of his childhood & youth.  The parsi community of the Khodadad building with all their lively characters, seem an ensemble of characters inside the reader – everyone coming to terms with their losses, compromising on their dreams, fighting, cajoling, begging to be accepted and treated as normal: no matter how abnormal we appear.  From Ms. Kutpitia, to Tehmul, every character has a mysterious aura that shows their purpose in this grand setting – only towards the end of the book.  Most characters that seem to be a mute spectator or a passing entertainment, suddenly spring to life in full grandeur and bring a befitting closure to the pains and travails of the central roles.  We find traces of Indira Gandhi’s betrayal in Dilnavaz’s actions too!  How different would the act itself seem, if one is done at a National level, and another at a small community level? Isn’t that what even we as a Nation are debating day in and day out?!! How different is the impact of Kiran Bedi inflating the bills to Mr. Kalmadi inflating the bills to you and I inflating our bills????  There is betrayal, fear and conspiracy that is interwoven through every character’s life.  And the book portrays how the betrayal of someone more stronger and powerful impacts and overshadows the betrayals of the smaller characters, so much so, that what they do, seems almost forgivable!

Such a Long Journey is a book about the travails of a typical middle class family.  The parsi flavor certainly adds its charm and being set in Mumbai of the 1960s-70s,  it surely brings to life the memories for core Mumbaikars.  The book does have its short comings. In certain instances it seems almost long-drawn as if it has lost its focus and puts on a information brochure mask.  But this doesn’t last long and it is soon brought out of that mode.

On a side note, the amount of hue and cry that was raised by Shiv Sena that led to this book being banned in Maharashtra is surprising! There is more Indira & USA bashing than Shiv Sena.  And it seldom seems out of place.  If there has to be genuinity (and a necessary one at that, not a pretentious genuineness or an abuse that is placed only for the sake of creating controversy) for the representation, a well placed abuse can be justified.  Its ironical that in a Congress ruled state, a local pesky trouble maker group created so much ruckus while the ruling party found nothing objectionable!

What made this book endearing is that the characters of this novel, are very real time. Gustad could be any of the late 40s – early 50s that we run into in our everyday lives! The character doesn’t necessarily derive his thrills by jumping off of cliffs or tall towers, flaunting high end gadgets and solving mysteries as though he’s cracking the peanut shell open!  But the simplicity of his affairs, and the fear he harbors towards the administration is the hallmark of the typical Indian middleclass families.  While the mystery of the character Jimmy is resolved, there is a certain mysticism and foggy mystery that persists even when the book ends, and that has nothing to do with the central theme! It is more subtle in its undertone and everything is left to the imagination of the reader to decipher.  Was the ultimate solution provided by the blackmagic of Ms. Kutpitia? Whatever transpired in the climax, was it the result of Ms. Kutpitia & Dilnavaz’s voodoo?  What restored normalcy to the life of Gustad?  While superficially it may seem death of some of the characters, but underneath that, it is the closure that it brings about.  A closure is what most of us seek – benevolent or violent, once the end is reached, we know that we now have the opportunity to build a cocoon over it and stack it in some obscure corner of our mind and move on.  This moving on, is the strength of every individual.

My Rating: 4/5.0

1 comment

    • Bornali Dowerah on June 3, 2012 at 7:43 AM
    • Reply

    That’s really awesome to hear something that is sensible about a diasporic writer. I think what our contemporary writers are doing right now the diasporic writers are filling the gaps and doing much better like Rushdie, Bharati Mukherji, Mistry, Naipaul and so on. The 5. someone people are veering more towards the trend of popular culture. Anyways, I find Mistry glorifying as well as mocking at the Parsis in a heroic stature as Gustad and Biliboy, and the religious rituals of vultures eating out the dead bodies phenomenon, respectively. Here the role of memory and of identity are crucial. How from time to time Mistry takes Noble to his childhood memories- that is evident when Gustad goes to the Crawford Market for buying meat stuffs. Mistry tries to mingle with the clock time and the psychological time in the novel very dexterously.

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