Reading Group Discussion Questions
View printable versionPDF

  1. Why has Mistry chosen not to name the Prime Minister or the City by the Sea, when they are easily identifiable? Does this affect your attitude toward the story? 

  2. Is Nusswan presented entirely as a villain, or does he have redeeming features? What are his real feelings toward Dina? 

  3. How does Dina's position within her family reflect the position of women in her culture and social class? What sorts of comparisons can you make between the roles and functions of women in India (as represented in this novel) and in America? 

  4. Post-Independence India has seen much religious and ethnic violence. How much of this hatred seems to be fomented by political leaders? Dukhi observes bitterly "that at least his Muslim friend treated him better than his Hindu brothers" [p. 115]. What does this say about ethnic and religious loyalties, as opposed to personal ones? 

  5. Most people seem indifferent or hostile to the Prime Minister and her Emergency policies, but a few characters, like Mrs. Gupta and Nusswan, support her. What does the endorsement of such people indicate about the Prime Minister? Can you compare the Prime Minister and her supporters with other political leaders and parties in today's world? 

  6. When Ishvar and Om are incarcerated in the labor camp, Ishvar asks what crime they have committed. "It's not a question of crime and punishment—it's problem and solution," says the foreman [p. 338]. If it is true that there is a problem—the vast number of homeless people and beggars on city streets—what would a proper and humane solution be? 

  7. Why does Avinash's chess set become so important to Maneck, who comes to see chess as the game of life? "The rules should always allow someone to win," says Om, while Maneck replies, "Sometimes, no one wins" [p. 410]. How do the events of the novel resemble the various moves and positions in chess? 

  8. Why do some, like Dina and Maneck, refuse to involve themselves in politics while others, like Narayan and Avinash, eagerly do so? Which position is the better or wiser one? 

  9. After Rustom's death, Dina's primary goal is self-reliance. But as the novel progresses, she begins to change her ideas. "We'll see how independent you are when the goondas come back and break your head open," Dina says to Maneck [p. 433]. Does she find in the end that real self-reliance is possible, or even desirable? Does she change her definition of self-reliance?   

Questions 10 through 18

More from A Fine Balance