A Fine Balance
Goodreads ratings
4.35 / 5

"A Fine Balance" Summary

By Rohinton Mistry

fiction | 624 pages | Published in 2010


Estimated read time: 5 min read

One Sentence Summary

The lives of four strangers in 1970s India intertwine in a tumultuous tale of love, hope, and resilience against the backdrop of political and social unrest.


In the novel "A Fine Balance" by Rohinton Mistry, we are transported to 1970s India, where a diverse group of characters come together in an unexpected way. This emotionally gripping story delves into the lives of four individuals from different socio-economic backgrounds and explores themes of hope, resilience, and the inescapable realities of life in a tumultuous society.

Brief Synopsis

Set against the backdrop of Indira Gandhi's State of Emergency, "A Fine Balance" takes place in an unnamed Indian city. The story follows the lives of four characters whose paths intersect amidst a world of political unrest and social inequalities.

Plot Overview

The novel revolves around Dina, a widowed seamstress struggling to make ends meet, and her two boarders – Ishvar and Omprakash, who are tailors from untouchable castes. As fate would have it, they are forced to share a cramped apartment due to economic circumstances. The fourth character, Maneck, a young college student from a wealthy background, joins them as a paying guest.

As the characters navigate through their daily struggles, a sense of camaraderie and unlikely friendships slowly develop. Dina finds solace and purpose in her work, while Ishvar and Omprakash seize every opportunity to escape the cycle of poverty and discrimination. Maneck, on the other hand, battles with his own identity and reevaluation of his privileged upbringing.


The story is set in an unnamed Indian city during the 1970s. Through vivid descriptions, Mistry portrays the bustling streets, the crowded slums, and the stark contrasts between the wealthy and the destitute. The city itself becomes a character, reflecting the complexity and contradictions of Indian society during that time.

Main Characters

DinaA widowed woman who works as a seamstress to support herself. Despite her struggles and losses, she remains strong-willed and seeks independence.
IshvarA tailor from an untouchable caste, who, along with his nephew Omprakash, faces extreme discrimination and poverty. They seek to overcome their circumstances.
OmprakashIshvar's nephew and fellow tailor. He is young and full of hope, despite the harsh realities of his life.
ManeckA college student from a privileged background who becomes a paying guest at Dina's apartment. He is confronted with the harsh realities of the world.

Themes and Insights

Resilience and Hope

One of the central themes of the novel is resilience in the face of adversity. Each character faces their own set of challenges and hardships, yet they persevere and find hope in even the bleakest of circumstances. Their ability to endure and maintain hope becomes a testament to the strength of the human spirit.

Class and Caste Divide

Mistry tackles the prevalent issues of class and caste divide in Indian society through the experiences of the characters. The stark differences in their backgrounds highlight the inequalities and discrimination deeply ingrained in the social fabric. The novel sheds light on the devastating impact of these divisions and the struggle to break free from the limitations imposed by society.

Power and Corruption

The political backdrop of Indira Gandhi's State of Emergency serves as a catalyst for exploring the theme of power and corruption. The characters become caught up in a web of political turmoil and its inherent corruption, leading to devastating consequences. Mistry portrays the abuse of power and its far-reaching effects on individuals and society as a whole.

The Illusion of Stability

The novel challenges the notion of stability and the fragility of life. Maneck, who comes from a privileged background, initially believes in the stability of his world. However, as he immerses himself in the lives of Dina, Ishvar, and Omprakash, he realizes that stability can easily be shattered. The novel delves into the concept of stability as an illusion and the vulnerability of human existence.

Reader's Takeaway

"A Fine Balance" is a hauntingly beautiful and poignant novel that offers a deep exploration of the human condition. It celebrates the resilience and hope that can arise even in the most challenging circumstances. The characters and their struggles will stay with readers long after they have finished the book, provoking reflection on themes of power, social injustice, and the strength of the human spirit.


Rohinton Mistry's "A Fine Balance" is a masterfully crafted novel that transports readers into the heart of 1970s India. Through the lives of Dina, Ishvar, Omprakash, and Maneck, Mistry paints a vivid picture of a society grappling with political turmoil, inequality, and the quest for stability. It is a thought-provoking and emotionally charged story that exposes the realities of life while offering glimmers of hope amidst adversity. "A Fine Balance" is a testament to the power of storytelling and its ability to shed light on the complexities of the human experience.

A Fine Balance FAQ

  1. What is the genre of 'A Fine Balance'?

    A Fine Balance is a historical fiction novel.

  2. Who is the author of 'A Fine Balance'?

    The author of 'A Fine Balance' is Rohinton Mistry.

  3. When was 'A Fine Balance' published?

    'A Fine Balance' was published in 1995.

  4. What is the story about?

    The story of 'A Fine Balance' is set in India during the mid-1970s and follows the lives of four main characters - Dina, Ishvar, Omprakash, and Maneck. It explores themes of social and political unrest, poverty and resilience, and the pursuit of happiness.

  5. Is 'A Fine Balance' based on true events?

    No, 'A Fine Balance' is a work of fiction. However, it portrays a realistic and historically accurate representation of the social and political climate in India during the 1970s.

  6. What are the main characters in 'A Fine Balance'?

    The main characters in 'A Fine Balance' are Dina, a widowed seamstress; Ishvar and Omprakash, two tailors from a lower caste; and Maneck, a college student. The story revolves around their interconnected lives and struggles.

  7. What are some key themes explored in 'A Fine Balance'?

    Some key themes explored in 'A Fine Balance' include survival in challenging circumstances, social inequality, the power of friendship, and the resilience of the human spirit.

  8. Is 'A Fine Balance' a sad book?

    'A Fine Balance' contains moments of both joy and sadness. While it addresses harsh realities and challenging situations, it also highlights the strength and determination of its characters.

  9. Has 'A Fine Balance' won any awards?

    Yes, 'A Fine Balance' has received several awards and accolades, including the Giller Prize, the Commonwealth Writers' Prize for Best Book, and the Los Angeles Times Book Prize for Fiction.

  10. Is 'A Fine Balance' part of a series?

    No, 'A Fine Balance' is a standalone novel and is not part of a series.