There’s a Woody Allen movie that uses the phrase “an indifferent universe.” Funnily enough, I’ve found that this observation often perfectly sums up the universe of modern Indian novels. The new cities and the old villages of India teem with life, and inevitably the desperate need to survive brings out the worst in everyone.
A Fine Balance is an “intersecting lives” novel. Four protagonists, four life stories, one small apartment, and the world descending into chaos in Emergency India. Everywhere the characters turn, they find themselves beaten down, humiliated, harmed. What’s interesting, thus far, is how they view each other. In this indifferent universe, people develop self-centered views of other people. If someone is more or less privileged, their personalities do not matter as much as their status. Once an idea of a person has been established, there is no changing it. And one person’s wealth is another person’s poverty.
All this takes place against the Indian backdrop of indifference, corruption, greed, and crime. The human story, in a place where all that is good and hopeful about humanity seems to be daily spit upon.
Please don’t think I’m trying to sum up the country like this. I’m just making an observation about the setting of modern Indian literature.