Magic from Monotony

Perhaps the best gift a writer can ask for is to be able to conjure up images out of nothing; when what appears desultory and monotonous can be twisted into a creation to be marvelled at for its simple grace and earthy beauty, all without pretension.

Rohinton Mistry does this with consummate ease. Tales from Firozsha Baag is a delightful collection of stories about Parsi families in a housing complex in Bombay. Mistry uses random observations to depict the lives of the young and the old; generations and classes against one another, prurient impulses seeking satiation, women resigned to a life within the peeling plaster of the compound even as their daughters carry their dreams abroad, boys coming to terms with realities beyond cricket and gramophone records. In Mr. Mody, Rustomji, Najamai and Mrs. Boyce, you see the people you hear of and bear with constantly. A large number of Zoroastrian references are used throughout without needless stereotyping. What really works for me, though, is the lack of high-falutin phrases, the nonchalance with which Mistry connects with the reader.

Mistry has a keen, observant eye. There isn’t an implausible idea in the book; look around and you’ll see ample evidence of the vagaries of character so effortlessly described. You don’t race through the stories, you linger over them as does Mistry‘s pen, hovering over the calendar on the wall and the compartment in the train. If ever there were a worthy successor to Ruskin Bond’s unhurried, easy prose, it would have to be Mistry. His strength lies in his ability to pull wonders out of seeming nothingness, and you realise that the people in his book are all around you- only, you never looked at them the way he does.

I’d recommend the book for a lazy summer night when the blades of the fan cut through the hot air with a heavy languor; let the surface of your glass of lemonade frost up and nostalgia be an uninvited guest as a noisy, grimy, yet appealing world unfolds in front of your devouring eyes. It isn’t everyday that someone makes your cantankerous next-door-neighbour look human.

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