Tales from Firozsha Baag by Rohinton Mistry

I have just finished reading third novel by Rohinton Mistry, ‘Tales from Firozsha Baag’.

And as I think back, it amuses me to remember how I had almost given up on Mistry, while reading Such a Long Journey, owing to his mind numbing insensitivity towards animals and a bit too frank portrayal of carnal desires.

However, at times, an author’s style grows on you, and this is entirely true of Rohinton. As I moved onto A Fine Balance, I discovered an illuminating streak running through Mistry’s narrative. He precariously balanced the luxurious lives of rich with demented existence of poor vis-a-vis political anarchy during Emergency. By the time, I finished reading his second novel, I had fallen in love with Mistry’s writing prowess.

Though, he does burst into physiological orgies at times, delving a bit too much on the anatomy, yet he does justice to the most important organ i.e. Heart!

His stories seethe with emotions, strangely concealed beneath the rough textured exterior. And, I must say, the magic continues through Tales from Firozsha Baag.

Firozsha Baag can be compared to Narayan’s Malgudi. An imaginary Parsi colony on the Chowpatty Beach of Mumbai, littered with people from every strata of society, ranging from humble clerk to rich CA, vivacious Doctor to venomous lawyer, sick old men to suckling infants, varying in age, status and behavior, yet eking out a common existence.

There are as many themes at play, as are the characters in this novel. Stories range from an adolescent’s experimental puberty to an old man’s veracity, from a widow’s loneliness to the forced aloofness of a landlord.

In short, Firozsha Baag has every element of life. All one needs is fertile imagination and creative outlook to make sense of this mess. And, a thread interconnecting these meshed up emotions is revealed through the eleven intersecting stories of Firozsha Baag written by Rohinton Mistry.

The very first story ‘Auspicious Day’ begins on an ironically funny note. Apparently, it is the day of Behram Roje, the day of Mehroo’s birth, navjot and marriage. She wishes to spend it in the best possible way. However, in the morning itself, her ill tempered husband Rustomji becomes a victim of water leakage in loo!

As I struggled to suppress my laughter in reverence of old man’s plight, Mistry toppled the story on its head. Wily Rustomji is actually an embittered, frustrated man married to a much younger, smarter wife, who is lacking the essential tools to enjoy marital bliss yet living in spirit, taking out his agony on neighbors and keeping a bad eye on unsuspecting maid servants. The story moved from usual banters to unreserved innuendos, culminating in foulest assault and even a murder!

They say, well begun is half done, and Mistry does full justice to the axiom. He is fully in avtar here, sparing no opportunity to crack a joke or indulge in crude indecency. Here, I got a glimpse of Mistry of ‘Such a Long Journey’, only he is far more unrestricted and yet sensitive enough to create a genuine Parsi world, dwelling on their unique customs, exotic cuisine and choicest abuse!

Rohinton has written all the stories in a humorous vein, yet is able to do justice to emotions of each character. The themes varied, showing a new side of Firozsha Baag residents, as the time passed. I am quite tempted to do separate reviews for each story, but I think it would destroy the superb effort made by Rohinton, which I found lacking in One Amazing Thing or Between the Assassinations. So, I am just going to give a sneak peek into some of my favorite stories.

And, the foremost among equals is ‘Squatters’, a funny yet satiric tale about a young man, who goes to America and is forced to come back, as he is unable to adjust to the toilet arrangements available there, struggling each day to perform ablutions, we take for granted!

I found the story quite similar to the predicament suffered by the Judge in Inheritance of Loss. Had good sense prevailed upon the Judge, perhaps Kiran Desai could never complete the story. But, Mistry’s story is similar yet different in approach, it is funny on surface, yet grounded in grief.

The formidable portrait of Firozsha Baag continued with ‘One Sunday’, another hilarious tale on neighbors and their bitter sweet relations. Then came ‘The Ghost’, a funny story about how a maidservant sees a spirit and unwittingly falls in love with it. ‘The Collectors’ exhibited easy relations between a shy child and a jovial adult who are joined by the single thread of a common hobby of stamp collection. In short, there is no dearth of comedy, mirth and joy peppered with just the right amount of sorrow and emotions.

Though, I am still, at times, irritated by Rohinton’s extra play on physicality and vulgarity, but his jest for life overcomes the annoyance quite easily. Add to it, a flowing narrative sprinkled with juicy colloquial Parsi words, ensuring Mistry stays on top with a much louder version of Narayan’s docile Malgudi, with the innocence of Malgudians changing hands with conniving Baagers!

Another winner from the writer of Such a Long Journey and A Fine Balance!

Title: Tales from Firozsha Baag
Written by : Rohinton Mistry
Published by : Penguin Books
Price : 6.99 UK $
Edition: 2002
No. of Pages : 250

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