Family Matters by Rohinton Mistry

A tale of the pains of old age and disease, Family Matters is also a reflection on ties that bind us in joy yet enmesh us in misery at the same time. It’s a statement on the pitfalls of succumbing to blind tradition disregarding love and logic, both in the matters of the family and in the bigger socio political scene.

Family Matters Like his other works, the setting is Bombay, this time during Shiv Sena rule post Babri Masjid turmoil of the 90s. Mistry brings out the brutality the Shiv Sena regime through numerous incisive remarks of his characters and portraying a Muslim victim of the riots. At times it does feel like he has adopted a populist anti Hindu fundamentalist agenda through some stereotypical characters (Mr. Kapur, his Muslim protege Husain). But really, it’s the sad outcome of any kind of fundamentalism, or orthodoxy, that the novel brings out in the end. Nariman Vakeel is as much a victim as a perpetrator. While one is touched by his tragic life, there’s also surprise and a certain anger one experiences in how an educated, rather unconventional Parsi can relent to stupid parental pressures into disavowing the love of his life. While this surprise is implicit, leading to questions on the genuineness of the Nariman character itself, the other surprise blows up in ones face. No, unfurls like a curtain is more appropriate, no subtlety there, for Yezad, the book’s other principal, is gradually transformed from an unbeliever to a staunch, orthodox Parsi. Yet, the transformation brings out in him larger human qualities, helps him understand Nariman’s pain, realize the ephemeral nature of life itself.

 

What folly made young people, even those in middle age, think they were immortal? How much better, their lives, if they could remember the end. Carrying your death with you every day would make it hard to waste tie on unkindness and anger and bitterness, on anything petty. That was the secret: remembering your dying time, in order to keep the stupid and ugly out of your living time.”

 

Undoubtedly the best lines of the book.

 

More subdued than “A Fine Balance”, his preceding work, this is nonetheless a poignant story, flowing with excellent narration, subtle wit and sarcasm, one quite difficult to abandon till the end.

7 thoughts on “Family Matters by Rohinton Mistry

  1. Amritbir Kaur

    Thanks for the nice review. I have wanting to read this novel from the last few months but I have not been able to lay my hands upon it. Now I’ll definitely do it as soon as possible.

    Reply
  2. yves

    Hi MW,
    I’d said I’d try to keep you logged on common interests, among which Satyajit Ray and Rohinton Mistry, and as I’ve just written my thoughts on Family matters, I’m leaving a note for you to go and discover them yourself.

    I don’t know for the rest, but I’m already in disagreement with what you say about Nariman, “how an educated, rather unconventional Parsi can relent to stupid parental pressures into disavowing the love of his life”: excuse me, but this line shows you have not had perhaps enough understanding of the pressure parents exert on their children even today in India, and also of the difficulty in which children find themselves when they wonder about opting for an existential choice which their elders would dislike. These parental pressures are only “stupid” seen from our uninformed perspective. When you put yourself within the framework of Indian traditions, they are socially and morally essential. In India, you cannot grow to become a mature adult if you do not accept that you are part of a social fabric which transcends you; I think you have read Vikram Seth’s “A suitable boy”: this reality is made quite clear in this book!
    Well anyway, I’m looking forward to your remarks: don’t heistate to criticise me as I’ve done!
    cheers

    Reply
    1. mystic wanderer Post author

      Bigotry cloaked in “tradition” is still bigotry. It is stupid, and worse. One can remain true to the traditions, without adopting its despicable traits. That’s all I had meant.

      Reply
  3. yves

    Hmm… “Bigotry cloaked in “tradition” is still bigotry”: yes, I admit, but what you call traditions’ “despicable traits” sometimes (when they’re not inhuman) only become despicable when you extract yourself from the environment where these traditions draw their meaning. There are ways out of the bigotry of traditions, but I think that if you want the followers of these traditions to accept these ways, they’ll have to include a respect and a consideration for the whole context, and this means all the traditions.

    Reply
    1. mystic wanderer Post author

      In the context of the story, one would expect someone like Nariman (enlightened by education) to be more assertive. But, as in life, it doesn’t happen, leading to much remorse.

      Reply

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