A Fine Balance equals Slumdog Millionaire minus the joyful singing and dancing at the end.
Dina Dalal, a strong-willed widow, defies her bother by living in her dead husband’s flat and refusing to get married.
Omprakash and Ishvar, nephew and uncle, have broken the bounds of caste to become tailors and are in the city looking for work.
Maneck Kohlah, a boy from the country, has been sent to school by his parents as the success of their family store is threatened by larger, multi-national chains.
These four lives converge when Dina hires the two tailors to perform the sewing she can no longer see well enough to do. In order to keep the landlord off her back she also takes in a boarder. Proximity to each other, the State of Emergency in 1975 India, and their reluctant dependence on each other forces cooperation, and later understanding; ultimately friendship.
Be warned, there is no happy ending here. The oppressive sorrow that steadily builds throughout the story will not be alleviated. You will, however, gain an appreciation of how difficult making change on a national level must have been.
Readers who liked Kahled Hosseini will find a similarly moving and intimate portrait of India.