A Fine Balance Rohinton Mistry

A fine balance Rohinton Mistry - Learn about a very corrupt India and some very well written interesting characters. Great for book clubs, if you can cope with its length (over 600 pages)

This book does have a fantastic story and the characters are extremely well developed.

The story lines are at times, very depressing but it is a book that I still remember vividly, despite reading it at least 5 years ago.

Plot / Story

A Fine Balance Rohinton Mistry

The story is about 4 characters who lives become intertwined. The era is 1975 - 1984.

Om and Ishva are from a small village and from the caste system. Their father decides to send them to become tailors in a local town to better themselves than staying in the caste system. When the tailor's shop goes under, Om and Ishva find work in a "city by the sea" (Mumbai) working for a lady called Dina.

Dina is a widow who has built a small businesses for herself sewing from home. She agrees to take on Om and Ishva as she needs help fulfilling her orders. She also has another lodger Manek.

Manek is a student, studying away from his mountain village where his father runs a Cola company and shop. His father struggles to take any of Manek's ideas for modernising the shop seriously and the influx of cheap pop is set to be the downfall of their business. Manek definitely needs a back up plan.

These four people are flung together and at first, struggle to get on. After all, they are all from very different backgrounds.

But a series of events brings them together as friends and comrades. At this point, they are living in a happy and "fine balance"

The "prime minister" calls a state of emergency in India and it is at this point that the balance becomes disrupted.

Several awful things happen, particularly to Om and Ishva, that throws this balance out. (amputation of limbs just to make begging more lucrative, labour camps, living in slums, involuntary steralisation, castration, infection, to name just a few)

Their lives go very separate ways, and the book does get very dark at this stage. They do meet up at the end of the book, (apart from Manek who commits suicide) Despite all their sufferings, it is Om and Ishvar that seem able to find meaning in their suffering and continue with their life.


A Fine Balance Rohinton Mistry


The friendships that develop between the four main characters are unlikely but heart warming. Despite their different social backgrounds, the four manage to set asisde these differences and become friends.


This plays a large part in the novel, given must of the devastation is caused by "The Emergency". This time in India's history is momentous. It lasted 21 months from 1975 and allowed Inira Ghandi, full power of decree. i.e. dictator type power, where she cold make decisions single handedly. 

Ghandi was voted into power 4 times and made several important changes to the constitution, allowing India to emerge as a greater power.  She was assasinated in the aftermath in 1984.

We get a glimpse of what being a political activist was like through Manek's friend, Avinash.  He is forced into hiding as part of the Emergency and the impact on his family is immense.

Cruelty and Kindness

There is immense cruelty in this book. From the labour camps, to the Beggarmaster, the upper caste member, Thakur, who castrates Om.

But there are moments of tenderness and kindness. Dina, does what she can to help Om and Ishva in particular. The Beggarmaster even shows moments of kindness too, when he helps out Dina from her landlord.


Probably the most important theme of the book and relates most closely to the title "A fine Balance." You need money to survive in India, otherwise poverty and a difficult life awaits.  Om and Ishva experience happiness for a such a short period of time, living at Dina's. But with little money and prospects, the slightest change in circumstances or political environment leads to their demise - it is such a fragile and precarious existence.

We also see the difference between rich and poor in the caste system, where clear lines of authority and power exist.

Our Past

The characters all spend much time thinking about their past, and Rohinton Mistry flashes back to their past lives on several occasions. It means we understand the characters much more. We see how events have defined them. The quilt that Dina sews from remnants of the material shows the passage of time and the events that have weaved their lives together.

Book Club Questions

A Fine Balance Rohinton Mistry

  • Discuss the title of the book - Why is a "Fine Balance" appropriate?

  • Which parts of the book were particularly shocking for you?

  • Why do you think the Author chose not to name the city or the prime minister when it is very obvious?
  • Does the Family Planning policy have any merit or is it cruel?
  • What evidence is there to suggest that the author belives that happiness comes from togetherness and not solitude?
  • Why do you think the caste system lasted so long in India? (the book is set in the 1970's and 80's)
  • Is survival in India possible without money?
  • Why do you think Manek gives up, where as the other three characters or able to carry on despite such hardships? Is it something to do with their upbringing or past lives?


A Fine Balance Rohinton Mistry

This book is a long read, and we read this early on in our book club, before we made the rule of no books over 400 pages.

It is a great book, and one that will stay with you. We gave it 8/10.

The characters are interesting and very well developed. The story gives a fantastic picture of India at the time of the Emergency.

Our only criticism is its length and perhaps the continuing set of horrific incidence that happen to Om and Ishvar. It started to get  slightly unbelievable.

Hope you found this summary of A fine Balance Rohinton Mistry useful!

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