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.
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.