The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Rohinton Mistry: Ethnic Enclosures and Transcultural Spaces By Nilufer E. Bharucha, Rawat, Rs 475

Rohinton Mistry’s works can be read on many levels — as Parsi history, testimony of Indian postcolonial reality as well as diasporic experience. This many-layered structure can be linked with Mistry’s status as a migrant — physically from Bombay to Canada — and racially, as a Zoroastrian, from Iran, where they were persecuted by Muslims, to India, where they settled down in the coastal areas in the west.

The Parsi diaspora is an area in which Bharucha has been working on for quite some time now. “As a diasporic people, they have perfected the art of existing on boundaries, partaking of different cultures and yet retaining that ultimate ethnoreligious retreat,” she generalizes.

After a discussion of transnatural spaces and multiculturalism, Bharucha analyses Mistry’s works: Tales from Firozsha Baag, Such a Long Journey, A Fine Balance and Family Matters. She focuses on problems in Mistry’s writing — “a time-warp, common to most diasporic writers, and occasional lapse into nostalgia”, his attempts to depict caste interactions despite being located in Canada and hence wanting in first-hand experience of the life of the underprivileged sections of Indian society.

Nevertheless, Bharucha feels Mistry’s “compassion” for characters from “the subaltern sections of Indian society” is authentic. In her words, “The compassion can be conjured and read as a ‘postcolonial trauma’ and makes this very centrally a text of import to postcolonial theorising.” In this connection, it would have been more politically correct for the author to refer to them as the “underprivileged castes” instead of “lower castes”.

As a Parsi herself, Bharucha makes a number of insightful observations about Mistry. She sees the ageing of Nariman Vakeel in Family Matters as a “metaphor for a geriatric community on the brink of extinction”. With a zero birth rate, the Parsis in India do not have the support system that can be provided by the young and able. More often than not the responsibility has to be shouldered by middle-aged children or cousins. Often the latter are single and “from a psychological angle they resent looking after their elderly relatives, since the prospect before them is a lonely old age, leavened not even by grudging care-takers”.

Single Parsi women, financially secure but lonely, haunt housing society apartments as there aren’t enough eligible bachelors to marry them. Remember Dina Dalal in A Fine Balance and the gallery of similar women in Family Matters' Till now Mistry has given his fiction an Indian setting, except for a couple of short stories in Tales from Firozsha Baag. However, “If a story comes to me with Canadian setting, I will do it…. I am quite open to it,” Mistry says. For now, Mistry’s country of origin remains his main source of inspiration.

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