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Rohinton Mistry ‘a Fine Balance’

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  • Pages: 5
  • Word count: 1203
  • Category: Society

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The passage is woven around the lives of two tailors; Ashraf, older and more experienced character, and Ishvar; younger, less developed character. These two characters are used by the writer to convey different ideals in society as well as to explore the condition of tailors in small towns. To begin with, the writer uses characters purposely to carry across issues of concern and create the awareness of these issues through the characters’ plight. The writer’s use of ‘tailoring’ is also very much deliberate and in line with the themes present in the passage. The main characters, Ashraf and Ishvar, appear at the center of the passage. Ashraf, is portrayed as caring, thoughtful and kind-hearted. In the first paragraph, ‘Ishvar [gives] up their lodging in the rooming house, at Ashraf’s insistence’. Ishvar and his nephew Omprakash are given a room by Ashraf, who [claims] ‘there [is] plenty space in the house, now that his daughters [have] all married and left’.

Ashraf’s good nature is seen not only when he offers his home to Ishvar and Omprakash, but his concern for the young Omprakash. Both friends [fret and agonize] over the boy’s future, their genuine interest in the boy’s well-being is captured when they [stand] together and [watch] him sleep. Ishvar, is also portrayed to the reader as caring and sensitive. Ishvar, like Ashraf is concerned about his nephew, and ‘fears that if his nephew should go back to the village [he may do] something foolish’. Although the tailors are portrayed as affectionate men, their characters contrast in their ideologies. Ishvar, is suggested to the reader as a romantic, whose judgement is based on imaginative, idealistic and unrealistic things. He considers the ‘loss [of] clients temporary’ and suggests ‘a big new shop with stacks of shirts to choose from [will] attract customers’. Ashraf, on the other hand, appears more realistic and considers the ‘[lower prices offered by the big factories], the huge number of clothes produced and the competition they face’. In spite of the fact that he is portrayed as realistic, he is not completely realistic.

As the passage progresses he displays elements of idealism. Ashraf laments over their fortune and admits he knows the factories in the big city are ‘beggaring’ them but comments that ‘maybe [he’ll] have to go and work for them in [his] old age’; although he admits saying it only as a joke, this element of idealism is conveyed to the reader more vividly when the two consider work elsewhere because the ‘customers [continue] to flee to the ready-made store’. Ashraf asserts that he has lived life and advises Ishvar to focus on himself and his nephew Omprakash. His idealistic thoughts are conveyed to the reader in several instances. First he suggests the two work ‘for a short time’, ‘a year or two’, ‘work hard, earn money and come back’; this idea is also encouraged by the already idealistic Ishvar who has also heard that ‘[one] can make money very quickly in the city’. They move further into this idealistic and imaginative thought and consider a ‘paan shop, or a fruit stall or toys’ for business.

Their attitude towards this is somewhat jovial, as they laugh at their own thoughts. Again, Ashraf who is kind-hearted offers a friend, ’Nawaz’, who can be of help to Ishvar and tries to convince Ishvar that ‘everything will fall into place’. Second, the reader is presented with a narrow setting. A small town and the house of Ashraf. All the characters are located together in the same setting making it easy for the reader to appreciate the relevance of their environment to the subject of the story. The major theme, which is; the challenge tailors face in small towns and big cities is brought to life through this somewhat limited setting. Since we are not told the name of the town or the big city, it is safe to assume the writer’s aim was to make a general impression about tailors on the reader. Throughout the passage the dialogue between the tailors, Ashraf and Ishvar, is centered on the tailoring business and this emphasis conveys the writer’s theme more clearly.

The challenge small scale tailors face because of the competition from ready-made shops emerging in the small town and big city. Another theme subtly brought out is the education and training of the youth. Ashraf and Ishvar’s concern for Omprakash is also essential in bringing out the theme of youth training. Ishvar believes that Omprakash ‘is still too young, [with] too many foolish ideas clogging his head’. This helps convey to the reader the instability of youth and their vulnerability to unfruitful and aimless prospects. Earlier in the passage they ‘fear he [will] do something foolish’, their answer to the question of how to help the young boy is ‘provided by the faltering fortunes of the Muzaffar Tailoring Company’. It is apparent that, the tailors believe that working with them will be an effective strategy to help keep Omprakash away from trouble.

The setting; The Muzaffar Tailoring Company in the small town and the factories in the big city are used to bring this to effect. This is captured in Ashraf’s statement, ‘But it is unfair to Om, Maybe it would be better to try elsewhere’. It would be better for Ishvar and Omprakash to leave Muzaffar Tailoring Company and the town, to the big city, in search of greener pastures. Furthermore, the situation; the limited market for tailoring business, which is a major theme in the passage, is addressed through the writer’s distinct style. The writer uses a series of metaphorical questions to emphasize the condition of the tailors and also convey his attitude towards the issue of tailoring. The writer’s attitude is slightly mocking and sarcastic; ‘A year had passed since the murders when a ready-made clothing store opened in town.

Ashraf’s list of clients began to shrink’. The lack of work and the tailors predicament are considered [murderous; extremely unpleasant], this figurative use of ‘murder’ conveys the level at which the tailoring business was failing. Again, the use of ‘shrink’ also suggests the rate at which Ashraf was losing his clients. The writer mocks Ashraf and Ishvar, and Omprakash (apprentice), this attitude nonetheless helps convey the concern the two tailors had for Omprakash and his future. Numerical images such as ‘two tailors’ and ‘forty years’ suggest that the tailors have not been very fruitful in their line of work.

The writer also uses the characters to convey his thoughts and ideas; Ashraf as a blend of realism and idealism, and Ishvar as idealistic and for comical effect. The writer extends his cynicism and sarcasm on the characters when he comments ‘soon [they] were lucky to find themselves busy one day a week’. The characters are also used as a reflection of the type of ideologies present in the town and the result of this thinking on their business. Tailoring is an indigenous art that has been visited with many challenges, especially with the inception of machine made clothing. The art must not disappear because of this, but should increase productivity among tailors who rely solely on apprentices to get work done.

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