One could live with chronic water shortage, load shedding, adulterated milk still same same! Sleep was no longer a happy thing for him then, but a time when all anxieties intensified, and anger grew-a strange, unfocussed anger-and helplessness; and he would wake up exhausted to curse the day that was dawning. The pieces stood like parentheses around his entire life, the sentinels of his sanity. Initially the war is there only as grim headlines, the refugee relief tax- something that Gustad consistently ignores -the fellow has enough on his plate but the war catches up with him in a totally unexpected way!
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The facts that Mistry has appropriated for his novel relate to one of the most bizarre scandals in Indian politics-the Nagarwala case. In May , the chief cashier of the Parliament Street branch of the State Bank of India in New Delhi received a telephone call ostensibly from prime minister Mrs Gandhi, instructing him to hand over Rs 60 lakh, which were urgently needed to fund a secret operation in Bangladesh, to a courier, Sohrab Nagarwala. The chief cashier complied but then in a chain of events which still defies any satisfactory explanation, Nagarwala was arrested, tried in a highly dubious fashion, and sentenced to four years in prison, where he died the following year.
Excerpt Gustad sat with the scrap of paper before him, seeing not words or calligraphy, but an incomprehensible betrayal, feeling that some vital part of him had been crushed to nothingness. Years of friendship swam before his eyes and filled the piece of paper; it taunted him, mocked him, turned into a gigantic canvas of lies and deceit. What kind of world is this, and what kind of men, who can behave in such fashion? He knew he must arise and go now to the coal-storage alcove. Jimmy Bilimoria had trapped him, robbed him of volition.
If 1 could let the rotten world go by, spend the rest of life in this chair. What a wonderful world, amid the din of hammering and sawing, the scent of sawdust and sweat and polish. Time and the world stretched endlessly then, before the bad days came and everything shrank. And this is how my father must have felt, in this very chair, after the profligate brother had destroyed all, after the bankruptcy, when there was nothing left.
He, too, must have wanted not to move from this chair, just let what remained of time and the shrunken world go by. The front of her nightgown was soaked as usual. But the habit of twenty-one years, to share all with her, was too powerful. He could not block out of his voice or keep from his face the brokenness he-felt. The place is Khodadad Building, a Parsi enclave in Bombay.
Ironically, the first link in the chain that will scourge Gustad comes camouflaged as a happy tiding. Gustad one morning, waking before the crack of dawn, finds to his utter happiness that his oldest son Sohrab has cracked the Sesame code to success in life: the boy, brilli ant at everything he chances attention upon, has been selected for admission to IIT. But the euphoric vindication for a hardworking life takes no more than a couple of days to be swallowed by a raging sense of betrayal as Sohrab declares his intention to forego IIT, in preference for an ordinary B.
Father and son clash; inevitably the son leaves home as a prelude to redefining his relationship with his father. The second link in the flagellant chain is contributed by Major Bilimoria, one-time resident of Khodadad Building, and virtual member of the Noble family, who disappeared from the enclave suddenly one night, leaving Gustad incalculably bitter with a friendship that could so evanesce without trace.
Unable to spurn a friend, Gustad acquiesces, and soon finds himself the custodian of Rs 10 lakh that he has to somehow deposit in a bank under a fictitious account.
The terror of the unlawful and unknown begins to claw mortally at the heart of Gustad and his wife, Dilnavaz. The corruption and canker of the times, at the very highest echelons of power in the country, enters their house uninvited. Bringing his cup of woes to brimful is the chronic diarrhoea of his daughter, Roshan, which no number of Entero-Vioforms can staunch.
But Gustad and Dilnavaz will not be so easily vanquished, possess as they do the extraordinary resilience of the ordinary: order will replace chaos; time will salve deep wounds; the old order will yield to a new. He gives his characters space and time to develop, and they pulsate with life. They are idiosyncratic, memorable, lovable,, and as they die spawn a melancholia. The only passage that has a slightly inauthentic ring is the Bilimoria-Gustad meeting in Delhi. Get real-time alerts and all the news on your phone with the all-new India Today app.
Such A Long Journey