Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Book Review: Family Matters by Rohinton Mistry

When I had read Rohinton Mistry for the first time, his novel ‘Such a Long Journey’ had made me feel like it is a long journey for the reader too. But his eye for the details was very impressive so I knew I would come back to him. ‘Family Matters’ is longer (500 pages novel) than my previous read but I thoroughly enjoyed reading it over a few days time.

Nariman Vakil is the ‘chief’ of a Parsi family living in Mumbai. When Nariman was young, he wanted to marry his girlfriend Lucy who did not belong to his community but it did not materialize with stiff opposition from his parents. He ends up marrying a widow chosen by his parents who already had two children, a son and a daughter (Jal and Coomy) from her first marriage. He becomes father to them too and then his daughter Roxana arrives into the family. Jal and Coony do not get married and lives with Nariman in a spacious flat with multiple rooms while Roxana gets married to Yezad, they have two sons, Jehangir and Murad and they live separately in another smaller flat.

While going for a walk, Nariman breaks his ankle and becomes bed-ridden. His old age and Parkinson disease makes things worse for him. Since their's is a middle-class family, Jal and Coomy struggle to make their ends meet along with the new medical expenses to be spent on their stepfather. More than the money, it is the physical effort to service the old man tires down Coomy. Moreover she did not have any nice feelings for the old man and she held his stepfather responsible for her mother’s misery and death. Exhausted by the needs to serve the ailing man, they arrange an ambulance to drop off Nariman at Roxana’s house. And the troubles get transferred to Roxana and Yezad’s family.

Yezad works in a sports goods selling shop owned by Mr. Kapoor who is disturbed by the reducing religious tolerance in the town of Mumbai. To overcome the financial pressures Yezad first attempts his hand in Matka (a form of speculation which is illegal), his beginner's luck does not last long. Then he develops a plot to gain benefit out of his employer. But coincidentally Mr. Kapoor gets killed by two members of a political outfit. That makes Yezad jobless.

In another parallel development, Coomy who had done everything to avoid the return of Nariman to her flat gets killed in a collapse in her flat while carrying out a repair. Saddened by the development, Jal (Coomy’s brother) invites Yezad’s family along with Nariman to live together in his flat. Yezad with the help of Jal sells his small flat and all family members relocate to the bigger flat.

The old man dies and the financial pressures on the family ease too but Yezad turns extremely religious. A sense of dissatisfaction remains in Roxana and Jahangir who thought they were happier when they lived in their small flat. 

Though family matters take center stage in this novel, sub plots touch many subjects from religion to politics to philosophy. Though this is a work of fiction, I guess the subject is heavily drawn from personal life of the author Rohinton Mistry who is represented in Jehangir’s character in this novel.

This novel was published in 2002. Like other two novels by the same author, this too was shortlisted for the Booker prize.