Critical Assessment

“American readers hearing the name of yet another important English-language novelist from Bombay probably want to know how he compares with Salman Rushdie, so I’ll give it a try: Less hyper, to start with the obvious, less given to flashy virtuoso display, more open to genuine wonder and sorrow at the ways people manage to endure. When both authors are at their very best, Mr. Mistry brings to mind Bruegel, Mr. Rushdie Hieronymus Bosch.”

A. G. Mojtabai, “An Accidental Family,” The New York Times, June, 23, 1996.

First Excerpt

“Dina’s father had been a doctor, a GP with a modest practice who followed the Hippocratic oath somewhat more passionately than others of his profession. During the early years of Dr. Shroff’s career, his devotion to his work was diagnosed, by peers, family members, and senior physicians, as typical of youthful zeal and vigour. ‘How refreshing, this enthusiasm of the young,’ they smiled, nodding sagely, confident that time would douse the fires of idealism with a healthy dose of cynicism and family responsibilities.

“But marriage, and the arrival of a son, followed eleven years later by a daughter, changed nothing for Dr. Shroff. Time only sharpened the imbalance between his fervour to ease suffering and his desire to earn a comfortable income.

“‘How disappointing,’ said friends and relatives, shaking their heads. ‘Such high hopes we had for him. And he keeps slaving like a clerk, like a fanatic, refusing to enjoy life. Poor Mrs. Shroff. Never a vacation, never a party–no fun at all in her existence.’

“But Mrs. Shroff undertook a different sort of campaign: to dissuade her husband from going into what she felt were the jaws of certain death. She attempted to coach Dina with words to sway her father. After all, Dina, at twelve, was Daddy’s darling. Mrs. Shroff knew that her son, Nusswan, could be of no help in this enterprise. Enlisting him would have ruined any chance of changing her husband’s mind.

“The turning point in the father-and-son relationship had come seven years ago, on Nusswan’s sixteenth birthday. Uncles and aunts had been invited to dinner, and someone said, ‘Well, Nusswan, you will soon be studying to become a doctor, just like your father.’

“‘I don’t want to be a doctor,’ Nusswan answered. ‘I’ll be going into business-import and export.’

“Some of the uncles and aunts nodded approvingly. Others recoiled in mock horror, turning to Dr. Shroff. ‘Is this true? No father-son partnership?’

“‘Of course it’s true,’ he said. ‘My children are free to do whatever they please.’

“But five-year-old Dina had seen the hurt on her father’s face before he could hide it. She ran to him and clambered onto his lap. ‘Daddy, I want to be a doctor, just like you, when I grow up.'”

Second Excerpt

“Nusswan preferred to regard his mother’s disintegration as a widow’s appropriate renunciation, wherein she was sloughing off the dross of life to concentrate on spiritual matters. He focused his attention on the raising of Dina. The thought of the enormous responsibility resting on his shoulders worried him ceaselessly.

“He had always perceived his father to be a strict disciplinarian; he had stood in awe of him, had even been a little frightened of him. If he was to fill his father’s shoes, he would have to induce the same fear in others, he decided, and prayed regularly for courage and guidance in his task. He confided to the relatives–the uncles and aunts–that Dina’s defiance, her stubbornness, was driving him crazy, and only the Almighty’s help gave him the strength to go forward in his duty.

“His sincerity touched them. They promised to pray for him too. ‘Don’t worry, Nusswan, everything will be all right. We will light a lamp at the fire-temple.’

“Heartened by their support, Nusswan began taking Dina with him to the fire-temple once as week. There, he thrust a stick of sandalwood in her hand and whispered fiercely in her ear, ‘Now pray properly–ask Dadaji to make you a good girl, ask Him to make you obedient.’

“While she bowed before the sanctum, he travelled along the outer wall hung with pictures of various dustoors and high priests. He glided from display to display, stroking the garlands, hugging the frames, kissing the glass, and ending with the very tall picture of Zarathustra to which he glued his lips for a full minute. Then, from the vessel of ashes placed in the sanctum’s doorway, he smeared a pinch on his forehead, another bit across the throat, and undid his top two shirt buttons to rub a fistful over his chest.

“Like talcum powder, thought Dina, watching from the corner of her eye, from her bowed position, straining to keep from laughing. She did not raise her head till he had finished his antics.

‘”Did you pray properly?’ he demanded when they were outside.

“She nodded.

“‘Good. Now all the bad thoughts will leave your head, you will feel peace and quiet in your heart.'”