Rohinton Mistry’s first volume, a collection of linked short stories was published in the United States as Swimming Lessons and Other Stories from Firozeshah Baag and in Canada and the United Kingdom as Tales from Firozeshah Baag. It is a collection of eleven interrelated stories that explore the lives of several residents in “a Bombay apartment complex Firozeshah Baag”. Firozeshah Baag is a locale-a place in each story like R K Narayan’s Malgudi in ‘Malgudi Days, John Steinbeck’s Cannery Row, or V S Naipaul’s Mignel Street. In the post-colonial period especially the Parsi community feels its vantage point threatened, it’s cultural importance challenged even it’s economic superiority eroded. In this context, the baag becomes the community refuge, a bulwark against a fast changing city which appears increasingly menacing, within the Baag are the ties that bind –the common language, common customs-without is the deluge. Mistry does not endorse this exclusiveness often he is seen to laugh at it but he understands the need for it, even while he shows it’s stultifying effects. ‘Baag’ is a regimental world within a world, which provides security. It is cut off from the harsh realities of Indian life
The stories in Tales from Firozeshah Baag describe a sequence of events, medicated through a shuttling temporality, taking place over the space of several years in the 1960s,during which the main recurring protagonist Kersi Boyes-who also turns out to be the narrator who assembles the stories and effectively ‘writes’ the book we are reading-grows from youth to maturity. Thus the stories describe and enact the sometimes-uncomfortable journey from innocence to experience as well as, in the later tales from Firozeshah Baag to Canada. In true short story cycle fashion the volume is constructed in such a way as to show how the lives of the Baag residents are connected beyond the individual narratives in which they may be personally involved. Each tale contains references to other characters and their experiences in other stories in the volume, experiences we have read about previously or will encounter as we read on. This adds resonance and contributes to that sense of a larger, unifying pattern. Characters seem to stroll through each other’s stories as easily as if they were strolling through the apartment block itself. In effect, we have a series of linked stories which taken together create a kind of novelist super structure as no individual story is 100% forestanding.
A compendium of eleven interesting tales of residents, Mistry’s first full – fledged fiction commences with ‘Auspicious Occasion’ where Rustomji, an old lawyer and his wife Mehroo. The story begins as the couple Rustomji, an old lawyer and his wife Mehroo prepare for their visit to the fire temple. It introduces us to the insular, tradition- bound world of Bombay’s Parsi community as Rustomji and his wife Mehroo prepare for the important Behram Roje celebrations, a Zoroastrian holy day. The day is even more auspicious for Mehroo as she was on that day; her navjote was performed on this day and her marriage also on the same day. She is twenty years younger to her spouse. The writer underlines the incompatibility between this couple. Mehroo is a stunning beauty and full of youthfulness in contrast to Rustomji’s non-existent physical appeal “no one had anticipated that he would be wearing dentures by the time he was fifty”(line11-12). She was a traditional and affectionate wife who, inspite of Rustomji’s haughty nature conceded to all his demands running about to and fro fulfilling each and every petty errand. While he treats his wife like a gunga or servant. The reason for this is to show of his dominance and masculine superiority. It also reflects his fear and anxiety, as his wife is young and beautiful. He however thinks of Gajra as a gunga, the generic and somewhat patronizing name bestowed by some Parsis on some non-Parsi servant, a...