Such a long journey.

Short-listed for the 1991 Booker Prize and Winner of the 1992 Commonwealth Writers’ Prize, Rohinton Mistry’s ‘Such a long journey’ makes a wonderful read. Surprisingly, (or maybe not?) it is also his first novel.

Set in the late sixties and early seventies, it portrays the life of Gustad Noble, a Parsi settled in Mumbai. His closest friend Major Jimmy Bilimoria gets caught in a political ploy, and Noble, unwittingly, falls into it too. How he deals with it forms the rest of the story.

Mistry’s characterization is impeccable: Gustad Noble as the ambitious, tradition-loving father is very well portrayed. His colleague, Dinshawji, appears to be a prankster, his conversation spiced with sexual innuendos, but it is he who turns out to be Noble’s strongest ally. Another interesting character is Tehmul, Noble’s ‘crazy’neighbour, A child’s mind and a man’s urges, he says while talking about him. All his characters fall into place neatly like the pieces of a jigsaw, not one out of place or unnecessary.

The plot is gripping and there is no condescension when he talks about India. It is all very matter of fact. Yet at places, Mistry seems to revel in the joy of things Indian. He comes across as a person who is not ashamed of his past, yet can see the loopholes, the traps. His writing flows from one page to another, keeping you engrossed. His depictions of family life, the homes and the settings are perfect. For a moment, I felt I was lost in a Hrishikesh Mukherjee film.

The strength of the plot laced with Mistry’s innate talent for beautiful writing, makes it a truly good book. I especially loved the last few scenes, where Noble prays for all his dead friends, for all the ways their lives had touched his. For Major Bilimoria, for Dinshawji, for Tehmul.

Here’s an excerpt:

With covered head he sat, placing his right hand upon Tehmul’s head. Tehmul’s hair felt stiff under his fingers, matted where the blood had dried. He closed his eyes and began to pray softly. He recited the Yathu Ahu Varyo, five times, and Ashem Vahoo, three times, his bloodstained hand resting light as a leaf on Tehmul’s head. Flies buzzed around the room, drawn by the smell, but they did not distract him. He kept his eyes closed and started a second cycle of prayer. Tears began to well in his closed eyes. […] Five times Yathu Ahu Varyo, and three times Ashem Vahoo. Over and over. Five and three, recited repeatedly, with his right hand covering Tehmul’s head. […] As much for Tehmul as for Jimmy. And for Dinshawji, for Pappa and Mamma, for Grandpa and Grandma, all who had had to wait for so long…

It comes with no frill of hidden meanings or underplayed sorrow. Just a great story, superbly narrated.

I loved the book. 🙂

ROHINTON MISTRY

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