- People at the bottom of the economic heap frequently blame so-called middlemen: people like Dina who makes her living through other people's labor, or like Ibrahim the rent collector. Do such middlemen strike you as making money immorally? Who are the real villains?
- How would you sum up Beggarmaster? Is he ruthless, kind, or a bit of both? Does he redeem himself by his thoughtful acts and responsibilities? In a world this cruel, are such simple categories as "good" and "bad" even applicable?
- When Beggarmaster draws Shankar, Shankar's mother, and himself, he represents himself as a freak just like the other two. What does his vision of himself tell us about him?
- Dina tells Om, for example, "Two children only. At the most, three. Haven't you been listening to the family planning people?" [p. 466]. The government's birth control program is enforced with violence and cruelty, with sterilization quotas and forced vasectomies. Is a birth control policy a bad thing? How might family planning be implemented in a humane fashion?
- It is not until her year with the tailors and Maneck that Dina again comes to know what a family might be. What constitutes a family? What other examples of unconventional "families" do you find in the novel?
- Why do Ishvar, Om and Dina survive in their diminished ways while Maneck finally gives up? Is it due to something in their pasts, their childhoods, their families or their characters?
- "People forget how vulnerable they are despite their shirts and shoes and briefcases," says Beggarmaster, "how this hungry and cruel world could strip them, put them in the same position as my beggars" [p. 493]. Does A Fine Balance show people's vulnerability, or their fortitude?
- What effect is achieved by the novel's mildly comic ending, with Om and Ishvar clowning around at Dina's door? Is the ending appropriate, or off-balance?
- The novel gives us a vivid picture of life for members of the untouchable caste in remote villages. Why might such an apparently anachronistic system have survived into the late twentieth century? Does it resemble any other social systems with which you are acquainted? Why do so few of its victims fight the system, as Narayan does? Why do so few leave the village: is it from necessity, social conservatism, or respect for tradition?
See how Oprah's Book Club group discussion answered these questions.
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