After all, what is happiness? And how much can houses as buildings contain them? How is it that houses with growing children are so lively and the moment they end up teenagers the balance shifts to uneasiness? What about happiness in houses that have sick elderly and them having to be taken care of? How can one perceive the same situation with love, with adventure or growing despair & turn to religion based on what you are: a loving daughter, a child or the person struggling to hold it all together by providing for all?
Mistry has his penchant for the dramatic moment, something that he suppressed usually to keep the narrative straight, to not rely too much on the emotions. Considering that his stories are built around emotions and families, that was no mean feat. He tried to hold back, trying to do an Ozu instead of a Sivaji Ganesan.
In Family Matters, he seems far more confident of his tropes, and he cuts loose. People remembering long forgotten promises, especially death bed ones, hell even a death bed scene. A child that takes to his sick grandpa and tries to feed him and the mother who looks on wistfully, some twists to the tale that keep happening till the last minute in a vague backstory that you don’t think he’s that interested in. In some ways this is also his attempt at something bigger than he’s tried before, a more confident writer than the one who tried telling stories he wanted to tell. At many points the story seems to come apart as he tries to weave in the Shiv Sena, and other myriad things, just because of his need to have a political background. It is as if he decided that this was his final book and he wanted to do as much as possible in it. While, A Fine Balance was about the Emergency, Such a Long Journey was about the 1971 war, this one is about the Mumbai’ing of his beloved Bombay.
There is the start with Nariman’s falling down and hurting his ankle and setting off a series of events he has no control over. That house he lives in which seems to need one unhappy person, and the other house where his daughter lives which is almost a carbon copy of Gustad’s house with its share of domestic squabbles but the happiness & liveliness that inhabits houses with children, where at the end of all quarrels people still love each other.
Somehow, Nariman ends up going deeper and deeper into the background, becoming just someone who’s medicines need to be afforded, he’s even lost his voice when we get to him after some 100 pages. He rules the first half with his background stories and current plight and then Yezad, his son-in-law, takes over with his own stories. There really isn’t much here, the usual bungling of fate and destiny and being washed along with it before ending up in a state which is mostly a checkpoint to see people living. For once, Mistry finishes with a note almost like a horror story.
While writing this review I switched between 3 and 4 stars multiple times on GoodReads. It has its moments, a Mistry work always has its moments – he gets the idea of growing up and growing old while kicking and screaming all the time about wanting to return to childhood, or to that one love when one is old, maybe. I wondered how Yezaad was besot by his childhood while Nariman was not. But then maybe he had his bigger ghosts to put behind.
I could not decide, so am saying 3.5 which GR doesn’t have. But that hardly matters, does it? Like all his books, however flawed, this will also stay.