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...