Friday, June 8, 2012

Family Matters by Rohinton Mistry

"A splash of light from the late afternoon sun lingered at the foot of Nariman’s bed as he ended his nap and looked towards the clock. It was almost six. He glanced down where the warm patch had lured his toes. Knurled and twisted, rendered birdlike by age, they luxuriated in the sun’s comfort. His eyes fell shut again. By and by, the scrap of sunshine drifted from his feet, and he felt a vague pang of abandonment. He looked at the clock again: gone past six now. With some difficulty he rose to prepare for his evening walk. In the bathroom, while he slapped cold water on his face and gargled, he heard his stepson and stepdaughter over the sound of the tap. ‘Please don’t go, Pappa, we beseech you,’ said Jal through the door, then grimaced and adjusted his hearing aid, for the words had echoed deafeningly in his own ear. The device was an early model; a metal case the size of a matchbox was clipped to his shirt pocket and wired to the earpiece. It had been a reluctant acquisition four years ago, when Jal had turned forty-five, but he was not yet used to its vagaries. ‘There, that’s better,’ he said to himself, before becoming loud again: ‘Now, Pappa, is it too much to ask? Please stay home, for your own good.’ ‘Why is this door shut that we have to shout?’ said Coomy. ‘Open it, Jal.’ She was two years younger than her brother, her tone sharper than his, playing the scold to his peacemaker. Thin like him, bit sturdier, she had taken after their mother, with few curves to soften the lines and angles. During her girlhood, relatives would scrutinize her and remark sadly that a father’s love was sunshine and fresh water without which a daughter could not bloom; a step-father, they said, was quite useless in this regard. Once, they were careless and spoke in her hearing. Their words had incandesced painfully in her mind, and she had fled to her room to weep for her dead father. Jal tried the bathroom door; it was locked. He scratched his thick wavy hair before knocking gently. The inquiry had failed to elicit a response. Coomy took over. ‘How many times have I told you, Pappa? Don’t lock the door! If you fall or faint inside, how will we get you out? Follow the rules!’… He dried his face while she continued to rattle the knob. ‘Pappa! Are you okay? I’m going to call a locksmith and have all the locks removed, I’m warning you!’ His trembling hands took a few moments to slide the towel back on the rod. He opened the door. ‘Hello, waiting for me?’ ‘You’ll drive me crazy,’ said Coomy. ‘My heart is going dhuk-dhuk, wondering if you collapsed or something.’ ‘Never mind, Pappa is fine,’ said Jal soothingly. ‘And that’s the main thing.’ Smiling Naiman stepped out of the bathroom and hitched up his trousers. The belt took longer; shaking fingers kept missing the buckle pin. He followed the gentle slant of sunlight from the bed to the window, delighting in its galaxies of dust, the dancing motes locked in their inscrutable orbits. Traffic noise had begun its evening assault on the neighbourhood. He wondered why it no longer offended him… ‘I’m not going trekking in Nepal. A little stroll down the lane, that’s all.’ Relenting, Coomy knelt at her stepfather’s feet and tied his laces as she did every evening. ‘First week of August, monsoon in fury, and you want a little stroll.’ He went to the window and pointed at the sky. ‘Look, the rain has stopped.’"

Nariman Vakeel, his step-son, and step-daughter share a apartment in Bombay. Advancing Parkinson’s Disease and a broken ankle dispatch him to his daughter, Roxana's, more crowded and loving home. However, Roxanna’s husband has financial woes that spur him to deceive his family and set in motion a worrying series of events.

Family Matters is a beautiful portrait of family life and all its complications: its treasures and its heartaches. A crowded home, in modern-day Bombay, plays host to this warm and tender tale of love and redemption. Shortlisted in 2002 for the Man Booker Prize. 

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