Weeping, I sombrely turned the last page of my book. My face was burning from the heat of the curious and intense stares from every one of my fellow train passengers. The intention had been to get lost in the novel and shut out their glances, but instead I had become so overwhelmed by the emotion of the book, the resulting tears only proved to highlight my oddness.
I had discovered a Fine Balance by Rohinton Mistry on the overflowing shelves of my Goan beach accommodation. The whole accommodation complex was a temporary construction that the owner rebuilt for the tourist season each year. Painstakingly, he had also built a robust library in the beachfront reception, and the shelves were brimming with donated books. Armed with a completed novel to swap, I browsed the shelves for several minutes, looking for nothing in particular. Being in India, and soon to be continuing my travels in the country, I was drawn to Rohinton Mistry’s hefty tome with a small Indian boy struggling to survive on the cover.
A few days later, I take the novel out of my backpack and used it as a visual shield from the staring crowds on the train from Cochin to Varkala. I’m transported to impoverished Indian cities and rural towns in conflict. I’m on the streets with the deformed beggars and in factories with skilled workers.
The central story of the novel is spun around the lives of two desperate tailors who move into the house of a proud widow, unwilling to admit she needs the financial help and appreciated the company. Their three lives become as intricately woven as the tapestries they work on, and the readers heartstrings get pulled deep into the fabric. Exploring the concept of family and love in extreme hardship, A Fine Balance is a heart-breaking book I could not put down.
As I finished the story on that packed train where I felt so alien, my guard began to dissolve. I realised that, just as I had formed an affinity with the characters in this novel, I will likely find common ground with these people to whom I look so different. I smile, I offer to share my food, and the conversation begins.
This post is my entry to the Works ‘On the Road’ Travel Writing competition – you can find more details here. I’d like to nominate some of my fellow Travel Read friends to share their On the Road stories:
Jailan Yehia from Savoir There
Neil from Backpacks and Bunkbeds
The ladies from the Lazy Travelers