Socio-Economic Inequality In The Works Of Adiga And Mistry

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The dreams of the rich, and the dreams of the poor – they never overlap, do they? See, the poor dream all their lives of getting enough to eat and looking like the rich. And what do the rich dream of? Losing weight and looking like the poor.

Literature is intimately related to society. Viewed as a whole, the body of literature is part of the entire culture of the people. The characteristic qualities that distinguish the literature of one group from that of another derive from the characteristic qualities of that group. Its themes and problems emerge from group activities and group situations, and its significance lies in the extent to which it expresses and enriches the totality of its culture. It is an integral part of entire culture, tied by a tissue of connections with other elements in the culture.

Society influences literature in many ways and the connections of literature with society are integral and pervasive. In fact, the range for social influences on literature is as broad as the entire range of operative social forces. The prevailing system of social organization includes class structure, economic system, political organization, deeply rooted institutions, dominant ideas, characteristic emotional tone, sense of the past and then pattern of the contemporary realities. There is nothing in the compass of social life that does not play its part small or large, directly or by deflection, giving literature the impress of its surroundings.

The relation between literature and society is highly complex, and it is very difficult to determine which element of society has exerted what influence on literature. Therefore, everyone cannot afford to isolate a single element in society whether economic or ideological and assign to it a causal role in the final determination of literature. The whole social process including material, conceptual, emotional and institutional elements may be regarded as containing the potential influences determining the direction and character of literature of a period.

The theories of post-colonialism, subaltern, deconstruction and marginalization were discussed and portrayed by different diasporic writers in their respective works. These prevailing and socio-political theories also marked in the Indo-Canadian diasporic writings, giving birth to a number of eminent Indo-Canadian diasporic writers such as Bharati Mukkerjee, M.G. Vassanji etc. Emerged as a product of such writings, Rohinton Mistry accumulated worldwide name and fame for his works. Mistry walked the first major step of success and popularity with his collection of short stories titled Tales from Firozsha Baag in 1987.

In Post-colonial literature, writers who represent oppressed social groups and ethnic populations produce cultures different from mainstream majority cultures. Many of these writers earnestly attempt to highlight the glories of their culture, restore lost values and give their own version of their social history. A vociferous assertion of community with its glorious past and deplorable present is clearly discernible in the writings of minority Parsi writers. In their cultural specificity, Mistry’s tales challenge and resist the totalization of the dominant culture within India.

Mistry is a writer for whom India is an important subject matter, India or more specifically Bombay. Bombay is a source for Mistry that he draws on, in every piece of fiction he has published to date. Bombay is also the city that is home to Parsi community. The Bombay of Such a Long Journey is shaken by the rise of Shiv Sena, a local party with considerable influence in Maharashtra.

Mistry’s inscription of oral sources makes a claim for value of indigenous cultural practices. The preservation of the community’s cultural memory, on the other hand, allows the Parsis a point of identification because it works as a counter-discursive strategy challenging the hegemonic discourse of postcolonial Hindu historiography. While language and history play an important part for the construction of the community’s self image, the novel also pays close attention to another pillar of Parsi identity, which is religion.

The immigrants – the Parsis in India – though settled here for many centuries have still not come to terms with the Indian ethos and culture. They are unable to assimilate into the mainstream and try to establish boundaries, both cultural and religious between ‘us’ and ‘them’. The wall around the colony symbolizes their divide. Mistry takes his own community to task for maintaining their racialist difference. He seems to be of the opinion that such a demarcation does not help the cause of nation building. The picture of social injustice portrayed by Mistry is true of any Indian village. The local level politics in the countryside presents a sordid picture indeed, but the politics of the metropolitan city of Bombay is hardly better in the novel. The inhuman ways of big politicians are noted in the novels of Mistry. A good majority of the Parsis are well-educated and affluent. They find it extremely difficult to cope with Indian surroundings and mix freely with them. His fiction deploys a precise writing style and sensitivity to the humor and horror of life to communicate deep compassion for human beings. His writing concerns people who try to find self-worth while dealing with painful family dynamics and difficult social and political constraints.

Mistry’s novel Family Matters can be considered as a sermon on Parsi religious community. In it, the author narrows down his approach. Analyzing the community’s consciousness of the modern Parsi writers, Avadhesh Kumar Singh points out that their “works exhibit consciousness of their community in such a way that the community emerges as a protagonist” (Singh 28).

Mistry, who is now in Canada, pays more attention to the depiction of his community and his fictional works are replete with numerous details of Parsi life, culture and religion. In the case of Mistry in addition to Post-colonial concerns of narrating country and community there is an exigent need to write about his community. As it is on the verge of extinction he wants to leave a record of it for the benefit of posterity. In an interview, Mistry confessed “… when the Parsis have disappeared from the phase of the earth, his writing will preserve a record of how they lived, to some extent” (Bharucha 59).

Mistry’s fictional works deal with a particular phase in the history of post-colonial India and hastens to prevent the position of his community as well as the country simultaneously. In his latest novel Family Matters, Mistry’s atavistic urge takes a violent turn and forcefully allows the predicament of his community. In it Mistry introduces a bedridden, retired Parsi professor, Nariman Vakeel, and makes him symptomatic of the feeble condition of his community. The narration of the novel is centered on the experiences of the protagonist and the members of his family, covering three generations of Parsis in the fast changing Indian socio-political context.

Family Matters is a moving account of the helplessness, misery, suffering and travails of parents in old age and the heartlessness and callousness of children. However, his understanding and articulation of socio-political scenario of postcolonial India has also brought recognition for him as a socio-political novelist in the category of Bhabani Bhattacharya, Manohar Malgonkar, Nayantara Sahgal and Salman Rushdie. In Family matters, Mistry has focused on the current issues, glorious Parsian past, the Indian connection and ways and more of the Parsi Zoroastrians. He discourses not only on the problems of Nariman’s Parkinson and Osteoporosis but also the ageing Parsi community on the verge of extinction.

The novel is about the life and living of the protagonist Nariman Vakeel who is a septuagenarian former Professor of English stricken with Parkinson’s disease and haunted by the memories of the past. He is a widower and a decaying patriarch who lives in a large flat named Chateau Felicity with a small but conflicting family consisting of his two middle aged step children, Coomy and Jal. Nariman’s sickness is augmented by his broken ankle which forces him to be dependent upon Coomy and Jal for the daily necessities. Coomy’s harshness reaches its height when she devises a scheme to send Nariman under the care of Roxana, her sister and Nariman’s real daughter and the complexities of the narrative starts from this point. Roxana lives a peaceful and contented life in a small flat of Pleasant Villa with Yezad and her two children Murad and Jehangir. The inclusion of a new member in a small and already stuffed house proves painful both from emotional and financial point of view. Nariman’s staying with Chenoys “for the next few months, changes the lives of everyone – they struggle, they grow, they learn and they endure” (Dodiya 87). Despite this, Roxana’s selfless devotion and an urge to be a dutiful daughter prompt her to shoulder the responsibility of Nariman without any hesitation. But Yezad is quite angry with the mischief done to them by Coomy and Jal for pushing them in an acute economic instability.

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Nariman’s inclusion has proved to be an additional burden on Yezad’s household. Inundated by the ever increasing financial worries he tempts himself to an idea of theft involving Vikram Kapur, his eccentric employer at Bombay Sporting Goods Emporium. After the death of Mr Kapur, Mrs Kapur announces her intention to wind up the shop. Before doing that she wishes to give Yezad a month’s salary in advance despite ignoring his fourteen years service. With this all the hopes of betterment of monetary circumstances shatter and Yezad plunges into a whirlwind of contemplation about the future that ultimately makes him a Parsi fanatic who seeks solace in the sacred texts and praying at the fire temple. Mistry through this transformation of a confident, resolute and jovial man into a religious dogmatist, tries to prove the necessity of religiosity in this so called modernized world. Jal has shown them a way out from the gloomy future by suggesting reunion in Chateau Felicity and sell the small flat for ensuring a livelihood. Family Matters with its narrative strategies show “the whole world can be made to inhabit one small place and that the family can become the nexus of the collective and the universal” (Bhautoo-Dewnarain 38).

However, Family Matters spreads Indian secularism. In the depiction of the religious milieu of the nation Family Matters incorporates people from more religions than the other two Mistrian fictions. Chenoy is a Parsi, Mr Kapur is a Hindu, Hussain is a Muslim, Lucy Braganza is a Christian and there are references of Jains in the plot of the novel. The novel also refers to several festivals from different communities like Diwali, Christmas, Id, Navroze, Baisakhi, Buddha Jayanti, and Ganesh Chaturthi which proves the basic foundation of national integrity.

Again Mistry has elaborately shown the theme of today’s child turning to be tomorrow’s father. Jahangir is the child, while the father figure is the patriarchal grandfather Nariman Vakeel. The picture of the family life comes through them to the forefront. “Mistry has used the metaphor of the ‘jigsaw puzzle’ through which the boy tries to solve the quarrels and power politics that stake his family” (Dodiya 83). Yezad resents his children’s proximity to their grandfather: “… first they should learn about fun and happiness, and enjoy their youth. Lots of time to learn about sickness and dying” (Matters 286). But in contrary to Yezad’s view Roxana opines that: “… be glad our children can learn about old age, about caring – it will prepare them for life, make them better human beings” (Matters 286).

The novel explores the growing relationship between Jehangir and Nariman. Young Jehangir feeding his grandfather is symbolical manifestation of Indian ethics: “nine-year-old happily feeding seventy-nine” (Matters 113) again Mistry portrays Jehangir reading Enid Blyton to Grandpa’s pleasure. “Mistry himself is in favour of a surrender of the individual self but rather a model of mutual dependence and continuity between the generations” (Dodiya 89). Mistry has shown Yezad as transformed from moody, resentful and uninvolved husband to sweet and caring son to Nariman after several months’ coexistence with his father-in-law. Later on Yezad overcomes his previous notion and shows sympathy towards his father in-law and trims the nails of him and shaves him. He comments on the beauty of providing help, comfort and solace to the elderly. “Implicitly, Family Matters distinguishes between two kinds of families. The ideal family for Mistry is not a matter of birth but caring, solidarity and humanity” (Genetsch 188). This change of vision regarding true humanism by helping the aged and the infirm finds expression in Mistry’s pen:

He returned to his teacup, not sure if Nariman had heard him. Strange trip, this journey towards death. No way of knowing how much longer for the chief … a year, two years? But Roxana was right, helping your elders through it – that was the only way to learn about it. And the trick was to remember it when your own time came… (Matters 358)

Another theme we find in the novel is that of immigration. Parsis emigrate to foreign countries for monetary security. In this regard Narendra Kumar writes:

The Parsees prefer the West since it offers unlimited scope for growth and prosperity. Dislocation is part of the Parsee psyche. Exiled twelve hundred years ago, they came to India. Now they are migrating to west in search of greener pasture. Thus there is ‘double migration’ in case of Parsees. (Kumar 14)

The theme of suffering, a sense of belongingness and the crisis of uprootedness have been treated through the character of Nariman who is the embodiment of Parsi community. “The subjects of mobility versus immobility, decay and mortality are explored through Nariman’s way of life” (Vinodkumar 108). He suffers from senile diseases like Parkinsonism, osteoporosis and hypertension. His broken ankle adds more tragedy to his already existing diseases. “The novel provides an intimate and compelling depiction of matters to families in the universal situation of aged parents’ need for home care” (Vinodkumar 101). He neither finds peace in Chateau Felicity nor in the Pleasant Villa. Mistry with his subtle touch tells Nariman’s younger days full of mental agony when he is denied of marriage by his orthodox parents with a non-Parsi lady, Lucy Braganza. He has to lead a miserable life by marrying a Parsi widow Yasmin but cannot forget his unfulfilled love for Lucy in his old age. “His memory of the past destroys his will power and brings him back to his love for Lucy” (Dodiya 86). Nariman is suffering from the crisis of belongingness. The crisis takes him back to the roots of his community as well as to the bye gone days and he narrates the stories of Parsi traditions.

The deteriorating health of Nariman, symbolically narrates the sad and the decaying tales of the dwindling Parsi community. Both Coomy and Jal remain unmarried and it also suggests the fixation of the Parsi community. The dilapidated condition of the building in the novel is also symbolic. The fading colour of the building, crumbling plasters of the house, perforated water tanks, broken drain pipes all reveal gradual loss of identity of Parsis and they can hardly revive this faded glory. Nariman, with his broken ankle, is taken to Dr. Fitter who mentions that the Parsi men of today are useless, indecisive and wavering idiots and he also mentions that the race had deteriorated. He pathetically utters:

When you think of our forefathers, the industrialists and ship builders who established the foundation of modern India, the philanthropists who gave us our hospitals and schools and libraries and baags, what lustre they brought to our community and the nation. . . Demographics show we’ll be extinct in fifty years. Maybe it’s the best thing. What’s the use of having spineless weaklings walking around, Parsi in name only. (Matters 51)

Again Mistry shows the decaying ethics among the Parsis. Jehangir holds no fascination for his name and thinks it is old fashioned and asks his father to alter his name to John. In reply, his father suggests him that being a Parsi he has a Persian name and he should not change that. “Did you hear that, Roxie? your son wants to become a Christian.” No, I’ll still be a Parsi, just my name will be slightly different.

Listen Jehangla, your Christian friends have Christian names. Your Hindu friends have Hindu names. You are a Parsi so you have a Persian name. Be proud of it, it’s not to be thrown out like an old shoe. (Matters 247)

Nariman has to depend on his step children for the smooth functioning of his life. He refuses to stoop down by Coomy’s constant naggings and Jal’s exaggerated fears regarding dangers of walking on the streets of Bombay. He instead retorts angrily: “In my youth, my parents controlled me and destroyed those years. Thanks to them, I married your mother and wrecked my middle years. Now you want to torment my old age! I won’t allow it” (Matters 7). Coomy in one hand is fastidious in caring for her stepfather but on the other hand is also cruel and angry for the wrong his stepfather did to her mother, Yasmin. She thinks he is responsible for her mother’s death and never forgives him. On the other hand Jal is a forty-five year old unmarried and unemployed man with hearing disorder. He is a shadow of his highly frightening younger sister Coomy. She is domineering, bossy and aggressive. She thinks herself as the owner of the Vakeel household. Her behaviour is something like a hysterical headmistress. Mistry narrates: “She should have been a headmistress, enacting rules for hapless schoolgirls, making them miserable” (Matters 2).

Mistry while mentioning the theme of suffering employs the intertexual references from Shakespeare’s Macbeth and King Lear. The bad smell in Nariman’s room annoys Coomy and she humorously says to Jal: “All the perfumes of Arabia, all your swabbing and scrubbing and mopping and scouring will not remove it” (Matters 104). Mistry seems to equate the life of Nariman to Shakespeare’s King Lear. Here Nariman meets the same tragic fate as of Lear. The children he trusts so much proves to be cruel and unkind to him in his old age. But he loves both of his daughters that shows his loyalty and decency towards them. Though, he feels he made many mistakes he never regrets them. He dumped his agonies and sorrows within himself. At last he feels as foolish as Lear must have felt when he was treated badly by Reagan and Goneril.

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