There are some books or writers that I get to only after everyone else seems to have read them. My particular area of non-expertise is Indian male writers, for I am drawn to female writers instinctively. So when I found this Rohinton Mistry book at the discount bin at Half-Price Books, I was happy to see its relatively small size and grabbed it.
When the sci-fi/fantasy book that I was desperately attempting to read came to a narrative standstill, I picked up Mistry and was pulled in head first. You know that feeling of missing a book when you’re not reading it? That’s what this one did to me. The story began simply enough – Nariman Vakeel is an old man living with his stepchildren Coomy and Jal in his old, but spacious house. Relationship dynamics in their household are as any other Indian family – there’s bickering and arguing, and love and care hiding under the garb of duty. But when Nariman breaks his ankle, Jal and Coomy, under the latter’s insistence, foist him off on their half-sister, Nariman’s daughter Roxana. Her husband Yezad and Roxana live in a small, two-room flat with their young sons Murad and Jehangir. The family is forced to accept and make room for Nariman in their house, and it completely messes the fabric of their routine lives. How they cope with the added burdens, their small victories over big financial battles, the sudden maturing of their two sons, the test that the couple’s marriage goes through — all these make up for the story of Family Matters.
For someone who has lived most of her life in Bombay, Mistry’s evocative descriptions of the city and the life of its citizens, made me nostalgic, sad, and happy all at once. Mistry shows how living in the city is an adventure, but also a burden; the love-hate relationship with Bombay is underlying in everyone’s minds, and there is irony in the fact that the city’s biggest worshiper also has the most terrible fate. Mistry also does well in “family” department. The Vakeel/Contractor/Chenoy families all have traits that can be found in typical, middle-class Indian families – may they be Parsi, or Maharashtrians, or Gujaratis, or Punjabis. Mistry is aware of how families work (or don’t), and his characters are painted in shades of grey. The youngest of these – Jehangir and Murad – will steal your heart away. I, for one, wouldn’t mind an entire novel with Jehangir as the protagonist. That said, the epilogue of the book was needless and left a bad taste in my mouth. The novel would have ended perfectly right before the epilogue.
Be that as it may, Mistry’s Family Matters is a wonderful read. There are matters in the family that can tear people apart, but as the pun intends, family is what matters the most.