Family Matters-Rohinton Mistry


If I ditch a book mid-way it could only mean it is one hopeless book. But if I toy with the idea of giving up reading a book albeit a brilliant one, it means that the book is forcing me to ruminate on issues that I choose not to think about i.e., if the book disturbs me. I found myself picking and dumping "Family Matters" off and on. Pun intended. Mistry has sure chosen the best possible title for the book, which is in itself a double entendre.

Nariman Vakeel, a retired English professor and an aged widower, lives with his middle-aged step children (Coomy & Jal). He is haunted with memories of his deceased lover (Lucy), whom he never got to marry. Memories of love haunt his mind, Parkinson's disease enfeeble his body. To make matters worse, he fractures his ankle during one of his perfunctory walks, making him bed ridden...He's considered an unwanted burden and is forcibly dumped in his biological daughter's (Roxana's) place. Roxana's husband who is not very pleased about the whole thing finds himself helpless in the hands of fate. Amidst Roxana's laborious yet affectionate care, Yezad's inability to alter the hapless situation, Coomy's cunning plots to distance her step father, is the dignity of an old man at stake.

Ofcourse, as with most of Mistry's other novels, its a Parsi family that the story revolves around.

Its both funny and sad, to think of the ways parents do so much for children, and children grow up and have second thoughts in taking care of elders at their twilight years. Isn't oldage called second childishness?

Not only is the author's narration strikingly honest and down to earth in portraying the lives of the various characters involved, the sarcasm with which he gets across the message is incomparable. Few highlights-

-Nariman inadvertently dirties the bed with his feces and the stink gets Coomy confused. "Nariman decided:he would open his eyes and come clean. He smiled the next instant, amused by the thought-clean was a state much to be desired in his present condition.". His thoughts are hopelessly sad, yet conveyed in a lighter vein.

-Roxana leads a happily married life with Yezad and their two sons in "Pleasant Villa". The name of the house only becomes an irony after the sick Nariman's entry into their family. What's more incongruous is "Chateu Felicity" which is what the house which Nariman shared with his step children is called. Though the house seems palatial what with seven rooms, the hearts of the stepchildren aren't accomodative enough.

-When questioned if Coomy isn't feeling even the least bit guilty, she answers "Conscience is easier to look after than Pappa".. Bloody brilliantly blunt, I'd say.

If Yezad's woebegone family scenario isn't a trouble enough, his employer adds to his exasperation by announcing his desire to run the elections at one time saying that his "beloved Bombay is being raped" and playing Santa to all others, not considering that his own employee would do with few extra bucks. But Yezad is sketched as having an amicable relationship with his boss. Wonder what stops him from openly asking for a hike/promotion instead of ploying unnecessary tactics. The lengthy description of the Parsi death ceremony was another uncalled for detail. Another area which I found faltering was the solution which Jal finds to all problems, financial and otherwise. It was disturbingly sudden.
.
But what stands out the most is the transformation of Yezad from a moody person to an elightened one. Helping a dying person to die peacefully, sure is the best way for one to assuage all other misdeeds. The conversations between Yezad and his father in law are witty and seem real.

The book is definitely worth a read. Though heart wrenching at places, its not a gloomy book in its entirety. To live with parents, or to leave them by themselves is a tricky conundrum. Be it as it may.... ultimately Family, matters...

rating:4/5

13 comments:

avdi said...

I read some other book by Rohintan Mistry once. It was well crafted, well written but gloomy. So I chose not to read any more by the author.

I know he is good, but the subject drags me down.

Bouncing-Bubble said...

Avs--I too avoided his books earlier for the same reason. but he's way too brillianto, to ignore! though I make sure not to read 2 of his bks consecutively

couchpapaya said...

hi bubbles - lovely review!! i've read the book a long time ago and it reminded me of all that i loved and found disturbing about it. mistry has a very evocative style !!

@avdi - ur right, this was the first book of his i read and i have not picked up another one by him for the same reason.

bubbles, any other titles by the author u'd recommend?

Bouncing-Bubble said...

cp-I'd recommend tales from firozsha baag. its a compilation of short stories, some of them hilarious, some of them sad.. and Mistry's works are impactful

Vee said...

Indeed those parts are sad and gloomy. Humans when age and especially when retire get irritated a lot if they have nothing else to do and thats when the next generation should be with them to make them cope with the world.

I haven't read Mistry so far but will surely try some..

Bouncing-Bubble said...

Vee-from what I know of u (tho might be little) am sure u'll like Mistry's books.
and about old age, i read somewhere, think u may understand "mudhumai enakku varumanaal, ilamaye enakku vendam".

Smita said...

I have read this one and loved it. There was sadness, depression, sickness but still its a captivating read because it shows reality :-)

Fantastic review :)

magicalsummer said...

bubbles, definitely a subject that resonates with all of us. i'm definitely going to look this one up in my library. haven't read rohinton mistry before, and it seems like it's a read way overdue!

WhatsInAName said...

hi bubbles!
The story seems to be a sad one. Somehow old age seems so scary. Looking at my inlaws and the way they are struggling, and the way we younger ones loose our patience at times, oh yes i am scared. I dont really know if i want to read the book and add to my agonies. may be i will give it a try :-) only because you are recoing it!
btw hope you are doing well. i read about that lump. hope its nothing to worry about!

Bouncing-Bubble said...

Smi-i've become a fan of the author now.. though sad don't u think he's brilliant?

ms-welcome! ur sure to be bowled over by the book... i found the end a bit hurried though.. recently learnt the author himself is almost 60..

wian-sollama kollama enga poneenga neenga? :D nice to see u back..lump is there for 6 mths now, so its become part n parcel of life :D

WhatsInAName said...

i had a lump too when i was feeding my first one. It dissolved on its own in 2 3 months. Hope that happens in your case too!
As for missing, :-) i was vacationing for some time and then recuperating :-D Hopefully no more breaks

Bouncing-Bubble said...

wian-
thnks for ur wish. this one is on my neck and is sure causing worry off and on.. that I've not been unwell is the only relief.. next month am cmg there, so among the numerous other things will hv to look into this as well..
hope u had a super vacation!!

Psych Babbler said...

Rohinton Mistry has got to be my fav Indian author so far. A Fine Balance is still my fav book but I enjoyed Family matters too. I know his books can be a bit depressing but I tend to prefer those than 'happily ever after' books that follow a very filmy style (whether Indian or otherwise).