As Nariman counts his last breaths amid the serene violin rendition of Brahms Lullaby, played by Daisy, my mind races through a gloomy apartment where the stale odor of eau de cologne amalgamates in the air of misery thriving among the bustling of outside traffic and noisy vendors trying to earn their daily wage unaware of Nariman’s existence. The acridity of my parched throat makes me think about my death. Will I die as a happy soul or will death be a gift that I would crave in the course of vulnerable seclusion? This is how Mistry’s words affect me, as I breathe and feel every emotion that flows through the ink. It is not because of my familiarity with the physical surroundings or the Parsi community, but the fact that Mistry writes a simple story of nameless ordinary faces with astonishing lives.
Old age and Parkinson’s disease has not only bed-ridden Nariman but made him a burden on his financially challenged children. Coomy and Jal, his step-children, both heading their prime and plagued by their own ailments coax Nariman’s biological daughter Roxanna into providing healthcare to her ailing father. A middle-class housewife with two young kids and a budgeted monthly survival faces a monstrous task by burning the candle at both ends. The woes of middle-classes ripened by bigotry and communalism are highlighted with sheer accuracy throughout the manuscript. The preposterous stubbornness of arranged marriages, the segregation of religious identities, stigmatism of step-parental aspects and the eternal financial instabilities mesh into a burdensome desperation of graphic cunningness. In Asian cultures, looking after elderly parents is viewed not only dutiful but the most obedient thing to do. The concept of old-aged homes is highly condemned in the Indian society (also, many other Asian cultures). Old age can be cruel and if plagued by incurable diseases it becomes a metal cage. A man who once was free to walk in the by lanes of his vicinity and enjoy a wonderful German orchestra at the nearby concert hall; Nariman was reduced to a mere caged mortal who longed for freedom to breathe fresh air, feel the splatter of rainwater as he walked through the puddles and for once make his own choices without being reprimanded for his doings. I empathize more towards Nariman than any other character in the book. Nariman could never marry his true love Lucy, for she was a Catholic, he could not bring his step-daughter (Coomy) to accept him as her father and now he was the sole reason for the rifts between his children. I wonder if my grandparents could have had found happiness if they were not arranged to be married? What would the circumstances be if my father was not financially well enough to take care of my grandfather during his last days surviving cancer? Would we have been deprived of basic amenities like butter or hot water and frantically hoped to find additional money in the budgeted envelopes of monthly payments? In a society where corruption is spelled in gold letters, and a man’s potency is derived from his monetary success, money matters; come what may.
Each sketched characters defines the ebb and flow of life and its greatness that we as children dream to achieve. Right from Nariman to Roxanna and even Yehzad (Roxanna’s husband) who once nurtured the dream of Canadian immigration, somehow end up in a vortex of familial or financial obligations of a capricious life. Mistry does not adhere either to pompous melancholic facades or epical anecdotes. He throws out the phrase of ordinary people with ordinary lives. For if, lives were ordinary, nostalgia would not be such a pain in the arse and worries would not construct topsy-turvy pathways.