(Shortlisted for the 1991 Booker Prize and the winner of the 1992 Commonwealth Writers Prize)
Anita Desai and Rohinton Mistry are my favourite Indian authors. Mistry is actually diasporic and he seems to have an addiction towards the Emergency era which is the background to this novel and also to 'A Fine Balance'. The other book 'Family Matters' looks different; I have to lay hands on it too sometime.
We do not hear much about Parcys nowadays except in the business arena. Here in Southern India they are almost extinct. So a wonderful novel like this is always welcome. Books on Emergency period are also scarce.
In 2010, the novel made headlines when it was withdrawn from the University of Mumbai's English syllabus after complaints from the family of Bal Thackeray. Well, its still in our syllabus here. There is also a film version of the same name directed by Sturla Gunnarsson.
Novel is set in Bombay against the backdrop of war in the Indian subcontinent and the birth of Bangladesh, telling the story of the peculiar way in which the conflict impringes on the lives of Gustad Noble, an ordinary man, and his family.
Gustad is a Parcy. He works in a bank and the family includes his wife Dilnavaz, sons Sohrab and Darius and daughter Roshan; they live in Khodadad Building. When Sohrab passes the entrance exam to IIT, the father is overjoyed. But contrary to his expectations Sohrab is determined to continue his BA; this pains Gustad and an angry Sohrab leaves home. (No wonder he is pissed off, IIT is the dream of every parent in India. Or do they tend to forget that parents are just keepers, not the owners of their children?)
Dinshwaji is his best friend in the bank. Outside it is Jimmy Bilimoria who once helped him in an accident. He was a retired Major and had once lived in the building. But one day the place is suddenly vacated without any word; nobody has seen or heard of him since then.
Then out of the blue a letter arrives announcing that Jimmy is working in RAW (Research and Analysis Wing) and he advises Gustad to take a parcel from his friend Ghulam Mohammed which contains ten lakh rupees. Jimmy wants that to be deposited in the bank secretly. He hesitates but Dinshwaji is there to help and they do it in parts.
News comes that Jimmy is arrested in Delhi for stealing sixty lakhs and so the ten lakh has to be withdrawn. Gustad is angry at having been involved in a theft business and he won't listen anymore to Jimmy's news. Money is taken back with great difficulty; time passes and Dinshwaji dies of cancer.
After the persistant requests he visits Jimmy in Delhi. He is in the hospital wing of the prison and the real story unfolds. Prime Minister Indira Gandhi has tricked him to take the sixty lakhs convincing him that it is for the army in Bangladesh borders; but it goes to her private account. So Jimmy steals the ten lakhs hoping that they won't find out as leakage is common in goverment channels. Obviously the plan failed and he has a prison sentence of four years. He dies of heart attack and Ghulam brings the body to Bombay to give him the customary Parcy burial.
Along with this main plot there are stories of all people connected with Gustad - Tehmul, Miss Kulpitia, Dr. Paymaster, Inspector Banji, Mr. Rabadi, Malcolm Saldanha. They are all unforgettable.