A Fine Balance

The crises in Pakistan have made a lot of young people politically-aware or at least politically-excited. Some talk about revolution, others talk about socialism and some are turned off by democracy permanently. However, this post is not talk about the political awakening or excitement in Pakistan.

I am reading a book “A Fine Balance” by Rohinton Mistry. Despite not being a fan of South Asian English fiction, I have been captivated by the book. I hope to write a review of it once I finish reading it but if you can take my word for it, buy the book and read it. I have never read such wonderfully written English. For any aspiring English writer, it should be compulsory reading on how to make the reader read every word.

The book covers a large period but is mainly centered around the time when Indira Gandhi imposed State of Internal Emergency. Reading about it reminds me of my conversations with the above mentioned politically-awakened-youth.

Some excerpts from the book:

Their talk was filled with words like democratization, constitution, alienation, degeneration, decentralization, collectivization, nationalism, capitalism, materialism, feudalism, imperialism, communism, socialism, fascism, relativism, determinism, proletarianism – ism, ism, ism, ism, the words flying around him like buzzing insects.

This is exactly the kind of the discussions I have with the youth of today whenever I get the chance.

… Sometimes, dogs came into their debates – imperialist dogs, running dogs of capitalism. Sometimes the dogs were pigs, capitalist pigs. Money-lending hyenas and landowning jackals also put in occasional appearances. And lately, besides the isms, there was this Emergency that they kept going on about, behaving as if the sky had fallen.

The last sentence reminded me of my discussions with the people who have joined Musharraf fan club on Facebook.

I was too young when Emergency was imposed in India. However, there is a wonderful short description of the events leading to the Emergency:

….Three weeks ago the High Court found the Prime Minister [Indira Gandhi] guilty of cheating in the last elections. Which meant she had to step down. But she began stalling. So the opposition parties, student organizations, trade unions – they started mass demonstrations across the country. All calling for her resignation. Then, to hold on the power, she claimed that the country’s security was threatened by internal disturbances, and declared a State of Emergency….Under the pretext of Emergency, fundamental rights have been suspended, most of the opposition is under arrest, union leaders are in jail, and even some student leaders.

I have been oblivious of this episode of the largest democracy in the world.

But the best part I like was when the people from slums are rounded up in buses on a promise of five rupees and tea and snacks to attend a speech given by the Prime Minister. Reminds me of Musharraf era.

Once the Prime Minister finishes her speech to standing ovation from the crowd who start clapping on the cue, the speaker takes control of the mike and points dramatically at the sky towards the far end of the field.

“Behold! Yonder in the clouds! Oh we are truly blessed!”.

The audience looked up and around for the source of this rapturous seizure…on the horizon, floating towards the field was a huge hot-air baloon…It lost some height as it neared the crowds and now the sharp sight could recognize the high hovering face behind the dark glasses. The figure raised a white-clad arm and waved.

“Oh, we are twice blessed today in this meeting!” the man sang into microphone. The prime minister on the stage with us, and her son in the sky above us! What more could we ask for!”……..”Yes, my brothers and sisters, Mother India sits on stage with us, and the Son of India shines from the sky upon us! The glorious present, here, now, and the golden future, up there, waiting to descend and embrace our live! What a blessed nation we are!”

Zardari and Bilawal anyone.

1. The book is not about politics or Emergency. It describes how lives of some people become “linked inextricably in ways no one could have foreseen..written with compassion, humor and insight”

2. I picked out the political excerpts as to me they describe a situation that is so familiar.


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