A Fine Balance: A Glimpse of the Indian Emergency (Book Review)

Updated on June 1, 2017

Rohinton Mistry


Rohinton Mistry, in his book A Fine Balance, brings together three fine narratives—one of a young student from a middle class background, a Parsi woman who did not want to interact too much with the outside world, and two tailors who have moved to the city of Bombay to start new lives.

As you read, you will see three stories unfolding and eventually meeting at the point when the President declares national emergency. Mistry uses the national emergency to weave the three narratives into one grand plot.

Unity Amidst Emergency

Though Mistry brought about the concept of unity of people of diverse backgrounds, he also strategically shows how unity was shattered by power, community, class, money, and caste. As pages go by, four simple and exciting lives are slowly trampled upon by politics, war, pride, and poverty.

A Fine Balance captures communities coming together to survive together. Though the people forgot about caste, class, and community and lived under one roof, the government did not accept such a thing. So, they made a clear distinction between the higher and the lower, the forward and the backward, segregated them, and defined their destiny.

The Characters That Come Together

  1. Dina is that strong independent woman who lives on her own and seems quite independent. Dina was raised in a family that had enough money. But with her father’s death and eventually her husband’s death, her standard of living kept dropping. Yet, she survived the trials and started living on her own.
  2. From a caste-structured society came two tailors to Mumbai with a hope that their lives will be restored. Ishvar and Omprakash are two characters in the novel that represent the majority of the population in the country. They have been exploited by inhumane caste system of India and are now eagerly trying to make a living in a new city. It is in Dina’s house that they find a job. Here they pursue a journey without knowing that the emergency lies ahead.
  3. Maneck Kohlah is the young boy who moved to Bombay for the sake of education. He moves from a hill station to the fast city of Mumbai, and the new lifestyle begins to play with Maneck’s personality. At many places in the book, Maneck sinks into a state of confusion and despair. During the emergency the students of the colleges are forced to move and so Maneck moves to Dina’s places and meets the tailors and Dina. Thus begins a new story.

The Hindu


The Last Few Pages

The manner in which Mistry unfolds the story is quite interesting. You will see how the characters are pushed out of their comfort zones. Dina continues in her lonely yet independent space. Ishvar and Om face the worst situations since the emergency affected the poorest in the country. Maneck moved out of India and found himself a job. It is only when he returns to India that he actually understand how the emergency affected his dearest friends.

The ending of the story is sure to break your heart. However, it is quite thought provoking as it helps you wrap your head around how intense the emergency was to every person in the large Indian society.

A Fine Balance


I would openly declare that of all the books I have ever read of India, the image of India during the emergency season could not have been described in a better way than it is in this book. The writer’s perspectives in this book are so full of life that it transported me to that time when many people were being persecuted for being poor. I could see the poorest of slums and also hear the whistle of the train that ran over the guilt in Maneck Kohlah.

A True Book of Fiction

Politics always look at the larger picture or the larger good of the nation, but little details and the downfall of individuals can only be recorded by a book of fiction—A Fine Balance.


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