Archive for January 4th, 2011


Book Review: Such A Long Journey

Oh, look! It’s the critically acclaimed novel which became even more famous when someone raised a hue and cry about it without actually reading it! Pulled out of the college syllabus and bookstores across the state of Maharashtra, this book has become much sought after with full credit to the controversy surrounding it.

Such A Long Journey is about how a Parsi man named Gustad Noble is taken on a politically thrilling ride thanks to a letter from his absconding neighbour Jimmy Billimoria.

Rohinton Mistry begins his story with Gustad’s family and their domestic squabbles, occasionally throwing in Parsi/Gujarati words… the cutest one being matloo. For those who don’t know, Parsis (all sixty of them) are a lovable people for several reasons – the main ones being that they almost always sound chirpy, and eating meat and drinking alcohol isn’t a taboo with them.

Gustad has issues with a few things like his son not wanting to go to IIT and people peeing on his building compound’s wall, and these are problems he has no solution to. Set in 1971, Such A Long Journey is about how the dark times India faced during Indira Gandhi’s term as the Prime Minister affect the Noble family.

Anyway, let’s cut all this out and get to what you’re reading this review for – here’s a sampler:

‘Believe me,’ said Dinshawji, ‘she is a shrewd woman, these are vote-getting tactics. Showing the poor she is on their side. Saali always up to some mischief. Remember when her pappy was Prime Minister and he made her president of Congress Party? At once she began encouraging the demands for a separate Maharashtra. How much bloodshed, how much rioting she caused. And today we have that bloody Shiv Sena, wanting to make the rest of us into second-class citizens. Don’t forget, she started it all by supporting the racist buggers.’

Rohinton Mistry throws in humour that makes you laugh aloud; Gustad and his Parsi colleagues cracking jokes about every community including their own – the laughter it evokes is truly something that would make people divided by religion come closer. At some point, a man they’ve nicknamed ‘Goover-Ni-Gaan’ is brought up, and I just can’t get over it.

Here’s another attack on the Shiv Sena:

‘It’s the time of dubbawallas. They are supposed to use only the luggage van, but some got in the passenger compartments. Jam-packed, and what a smell of sweat. Toba, toba! I began to feel something wet on my shirt. And guess what it was. A dubbawalla. Standing over me, holding the railing. It was falling from his naked armpit: tapuck-tapuck-tapuck, his sweat. I said nicely, “Please move a little, my shirt is wetting, meherbani.” But no kothaa, as if I was not there. Then my brain really went. I shouted, “You! Are you animal or human, look what you are doing!” I got up to show him the wet. And guess what he did. Just take a guess.’


‘He turned and slipped into my seat! Insult to injury! What to do with such low-class people? No manners, no sense, nothing. And you know who is responsible for this attitude—that bastard Shiv Sena leader who worships Hitler and Mussolini. He and his “Maharashtra for Maharashtrians” nonsense. They won’t stop till they have complete Maratha Raj.’

Call it funny or sad, but these words ring true even today. As loud as back then. The anger every community that is considered a minority or happens to be non-Maharashtrian feels comes alive in the words of Gustad Noble’s friend Dinshawji. It is something everybody closely associated with Bombay feels, and it definitely should make at least some sense to the literate ghatis (all eighteen of them).

Here’s one more:

‘Wait till the Marathas take over, then we will have real Gandoo Raj,’ said Dinshawji. ‘All they know is to have rallies at Shivaji Park, shout slogans, make threats, and change road names.’ He suddenly worked himself into a real rage; there was genuine grief in his soul. ‘Why change the names? Saala sisterfuckers! Hutatma Chowk!’ He spat out the words disgustedly. ‘What is wrong with Flora Fountain?’

‘Why worry about it? I say, if it keeps the Marathas happy, give them a few roads to rename. Keep them occupied. What’s in a name?’

‘No, Gustad.’ Dinshawji was very serious. ‘You are wrong. Names are so important. I grew up on Lamington Road. But it has disappeared, in its place is Dadasaheb Bhadkhamkar Marg. My school was on Carnac Road. Now suddenly it’s on Lokmanya Tilak Marg. I live at Sleater Road. Soon that will also disappear. My whole life I have come to work at Flora Fountain. And one fine day the name changes. So what happens to the life I have lived? Was I living the wrong life, with all the wrong names? Will I get a second chance to live it all again, with these new names? Tell me what happens to my life. Rubbed out, just like that? Tell me!’

That he started off by following his fascist family’s footsteps when he could’ve begun by rectifying several of their wrongs might be Aditya Thakeray’s biggest mistake, and it should be his greatest regret.

Such A Long Journey is a book every Mumbaikar Bombayite should read.

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