Such a Long Journey by Rohinton Mistry Plot Summary



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Chapter 5 Analysis
Chapter 5 reintroduces the taxi driver who, nine years earlier, injured then rescued Gustad. Gustad is unable to help the poor man, still unnamed. Ghulam Mohammed will soon play a major role in the novel. Dinshawji's life is complicated by lust for a beautiful typist in the bank, later to become a major issue for them and Gustad, but shows himself not only a joker but a profound thinker. Another neighbor is introduced, Mr. Rabadi, whose long-standing feud with Gustad is intensified by Darius' behavior towards his daughter Jasmine. Khodadad Building is not a happy community. We receive additional insight into Parsi religious practices and the opposition they face from the Hindu majority. As we will learn in detail later, the Parsis consign their dead to the Tower of Silence, where vultures consume the flesh off corpses' bones. A retired Parsi priest is shown offering advice and incantations on such matters as the purchase of replacement pets.
Chapter 6 Summary
Two weeks later, Roshan asks to enter a school raffle for a beautiful doll. Proceeds will go towards support of the refugees from West Pakistan. The daily mail brings no reply from Bilimoria, but includes a response from the education trust fund that Gustad groveled before on behalf of his ungrateful son. Dilnavaz's nightly lime ritual has accomplished nothing beyond ending the father-and-son shouting matches. Gustad is perpetually enraged by the combination of his son's betrayal, Bilimoria's silence, and the mosquitoes and stench emanating from the wall. He and Bilimoria had watched the wall being built to isolate their building from the heavy traffic introduced when tall office building were constructed around it. The friends had prayed together behind it, sheltered from non-Parsi eyes. Now people urinate on it every night.
The children's schools organize newspapers collection drives to aid the refugees. Gustad sells old copies to afford ongoing subscription, but agrees to provide a few. Darius decides to turn to the neighbors for donations, but is forbidden to approach Kutpitia and Rabadi.
A week later, the Nobles' mail includes merely an announcement that Roshan won the lottery. The family must pick up the large prize at school. Roshan is sent to Miss Kutpitia to ask if Gustad may use her telephone to arrange a Saturday pick-up. She is the only tenant who can afford a phone. Miss Kutpitia allows others to use it for a price. The phone sits, locked, two steps inside her doorway. No one intrudes deeper into her apartment, which is rumored to contain embalmed relatives or perhaps just the bones left after the vultures got done. Roshan is afraid, but wants her dolly.
Heading to the phone, father and daughter encounter Tehmul in the compound. In perpetual agitation, he holds a sheaf of papers he wants Gustad to examine, probably just more Shiv Sena propaganda. Police Inspector Bamji arrives home and frightens Tehmul away.
Miss Kutpitia gives Roshan a large pile of newspapers for her school and asks to see the dolly when it arrives. Tehmul has disappeared, but old Cavasji is standing in his second-floor window, as usual lamenting his fate to the heavens.
The next day, Tehmul approaches Gustad again, and begs to touch the beautiful bridal doll Gustad carries. Gustad forbids this, but then gives in to Tehmul's piteous begging and allows one touch. Tehmul breaks into tears and hobbles away. Dilnavaz frets over the doll's expensive white clothing getting dirty and makes Roshan remove it for storage until a proper showcase can be built. Tehmul rings the bell and begs to touch the doll again. Gustad allows one more touch, then studies the documents Tehmul bears. They are the landlord's petition to the municipality to drop plans to widen the road. Tehmul is collecting residents' signatures. Tehmul cannot keep his attention on the petition until the doll is packed away.
Gustad finally receives a letter from Bilimoria. The major is working for the Research and Analysis Wing (RAW) in the northwest frontier area, where Pakistani butchers are running amuck. He asks Gustad to go to the Chor Bazaar, find a bookstall displaying the Complete Works of Shakespeare, and search for a particular passage underlined in red. The vendor will hand him a parcel containing instructions. Gustad will recognize the vendor, and must trust Bilimoria for now. One day Gustad and Bilimoria will be reunited.
Dilnavaz is impatient to learn what Bilimoria has written, and is concerned by Chor Bazaar, 007-like RAW, and the Shakespeare business. Sohrab observes that the prime minister uses RAW like a private police force to do her dirty work. Gustad's temper flares and he argues politics with Sohrab. Gustad threatens to close the "genius's" mouth. Sohrab stalks off. Gustad thrusts the IIT financial papers at Sohrab, but the "shameless dog" throws them in the trash. Dilnavaz retrieves them and realizes the lime treatments are not working.
Chapter 6 Analysis
Chapter 6 shows how war relief is burdening the Indian population. The schools are collecting scrap newspaper. Roshan's school sponsors an auction. Roshan wins a beautiful imported doll, which attracts Tehmul's demented attention. We see the poverty of the Khodadad Building. Only one resident owns a telephone, and charges neighbors to use it, despite her affluence. Tehmul is distributing a petition to protest the municipality's plans to widen the road, and is collecting tenants' signatures. We glimpse another resident, a crazy old man who screams protests at the Almighty for His mismanagement of the world. The old man superstitiously depends on wearing herbs to control his high blood pressure. Gustad's receipt of a letter from Bilimoria, which gives cryptic instructions about picking up a parcel, sets up the action to come.
Chapter 7 Summary
On Monday, claiming he needs to see a doctor about his hip, Gustad asks his boss, the kind hearted, finicky Mr. Madon, for half a day off on Friday. Gustad worries the white lie will anger the Almighty and imperil his family. Returning to his department, Gustad sees Dinshawji clowning around Laurie's desk. What could have come over him, Gustad wonders, particularly since Laurie's desk lies in full view of bank customers? Laurie struggles to keep her composure. Gustad warns his friend she might complain. Madon will not be amused. Dinshawji grows indignant, for he feels the Catholic girls are all hot-blooded, not like the repressed Parsi girls. Dinshawji jokes that Gustad is trying to move in on Laurie.
Crowded Chor Bazaar confuses Gustad as he strolls about, seeing worthless junk side by side with valuable objects. Seeing a Meccano set like one he owned as a child stirs memories of his father. Gustad bargains for it. He also remembers how Pappa put off surgery too long, entrusting his drunken younger brother with the bookstore just before being anesthetized. The younger brother frittered away the business' assets at the race course. With the Nobles' heavy medical bills, 17-year-old Gustad's college funds dried up. Pappa's tears begging forgiveness made Gustad resolve never to cry over anything or anyone. Young Gustad took satisfaction in the hated uncle's passing. Gustad resented his father's voluntary impoverishment.
Gustad finds a lane of bookstalls. One has a respectable collection of English titles. He buys three that catch his eye, dickering down the seller's price. At a second stall, he sees an ornate Shakespeare, and finds Jimmy's underlining of "Put money in thy purse."
A man in a white turban speaks. Gustad recognizes the clean-shaven face of the tall taxi driver. The turban is actually surgical gauze. They chat about their traffic accidents and Gustad's son. Ghulam says that Bilimoria talks about Gustad and his family often. Any friend of "Bili Boy" (Jimmy Bilimoria's army nickname) is friend of his. Ghulam has followed Bili Boy into RAW. The scooter incident was no accident, but an occupational hazard. Ghulam reveals nothing about his friend's activities, but hands Gustad a parcel and an address where he can be reached, the House of Cages, a brothel located near Gustad's family doctor. Peerbhoy Paanwalla will pass messages to Ghulam. Gustad has heard the pimp's colorful stories and has seen the ladies trying to lure customers inside.
Arriving home happy, Gustad learns from Tehmul that Roshan is sick and is sleeping.
Chapter 7 Analysis
Chapter 7 takes Gustad to the Chor Bazaar on Friday, its busiest day, after the Muslims complete their mosque prayers. A favorite childhood toy brings back memories of how Gustad's father allowed his drunken brother to take control of the bookstore and reduce the family to penury. Bankruptcy forced 17-year-old Gustad to finance his own education, fueling his current rancor at Sohrab's ingratitude. The tearful repentance of Gustad's father made Gustad resolve never to weep. Gustad finally meets Ghulam Mohammed, a closed-mouthed and somewhat menacing man, who arranges a train of communication with Bilimoria. A brothel, the House of Cages, will be featured for the rest of the novel. We also learn that Dinshawji's behavior has grown blatant enough to concern Gustad.
Chapter 8 Summary
Dilnavaz asks Miss Kutpitia why the lime spell is not working on Sohrab. The old lady orders a modification. Someone must drink the limes' juice. She suggests using Tehmul; who has so few brains he will not even notice. Dilnavaz obeys, follows the recipe, and hopes Tehmul will wander by before Gustad arrives. Roshan sees the glass when she comes home from school, complaining of diarrhea all day, but is forbidden to drink it. Instead, she is given some pills and is put to bed. As Tehmul hobbles by, Dilnavaz offers him a drink. The limejuice is very tasty. Tehmul wants more. Dilnavaz says that she will call him when more is ready, then dismisses Tehmul.
Dilnavaz is angry that Gustad has bought more books, and asks what is in Bilimoria's package. Gustad focuses on Roshan. He keeps a good supply of Sulpha-Guanidine pills on hand, because Darius earlier suffered the same malaise. The amusing family physician, Dr. Paymaster, has not kept up on current medical literature. Gustad cannot see paying for prescriptions, so the Nobles have stocked up on popular pills and syrups to treat all minor ailments.
Tehmul is waving outside, requesting the neighbors to circulate the petition. When Gustad delivers it, Tehmul is babbling about "verytastyjuice." Dilnavaz brushes this aside and waits to look inside Bilimoria's package. All three gape at the stacks of bundled new currency notes that tumble out. Gustad roars at Tehmul to leave, before realizing he must make the babbler keep the secret. He gives him two rupees, which Tehmul folds into his sock. For good measure, Gustad threatens to slit Tehmul's throat if he talks. Gustad is sorry about frightening the simpleton, but believes only fear will assure Tehmul's silence.
Dilnavaz restacks the bundles and is rewrapping the plastic. Gustad must send the money back to the taxi driver before he gets into trouble. When Gustad counts the bundles that hold one million rupees, Dilnavaz grows more nervous. Bilimoria's brief letter thanks Gustad for visiting the bazaar and asks him to use his position to get around regulations on large bank deposits and to put this government money into an account in the name of "Mira Obili." The money will fund guerrilla operations. Dilnavaz warns Gustad that he could lose his job and starve. Gustad insists that he has given his word. Dilnavaz urges him to say he has transferred departments and cannot make deposits. Sohrab laughs that Daddy robbed his bank, reads the note, and informs them that "Mira Obili" is a childish anagram for Bilimoria, and recommends they spend the money on municipal projects. Gustad slaps his son and demands he leave his house and his life. Gustad intends to hide the money until Ghulam returns in a week.
Darius and the mosquitoes return at dinnertime. Darius is carrying a pile of newspapers, which Jasmine gave him. Gustad is furious that Darius is still talking with her. A swarm of insects occupies Gustad's attention. He remembers an old remedy. Gustad sets a shallow dish of water beneath a bare light bulb, and the mosquitoes dive after the reflection. The family eats in peace, with Sohrab refusing to leave his room. Two days later, Sohrab packs and leaves home, promising to visit his mother once a week when Gustad is at work. Gustad is surprised and hurt, but maintains, "What is it to me?"
Chapter 8 Analysis
Chapter 8 marks a turning point in the story. It includes the final break between father and son. Sohrab can no longer endure being treated like a child. Gustad and Dilnavaz are at odds over the enormous sum of money Bilimoria has passed to Gustad for deposit.
Chapter 9 Summary
Roshan's diarrhea, the hidden money, and Sohrab's departure trouble Gustad's daybreak prayers. He ignores the third concern. Inspector Bamji is leaving for work, so he and Gustad chat briefly about the municipal proposal and about passers-by urinating on the wall. Bamji asks what Tehmul might have been talking about regarding a mountain of money in the Nobles' apartment. Fortunately, no one takes Scrambled Eggs seriously, although Gustad worries that thieves might want a look. Tehmul is absent from the compound all evening. Gustad watches for Tehmul to warn him again.
Cavasji is railing against the monsoons that will soon ruin people's lives. His daughter-in-law, Mrs. Pastakia, requests fresh mint leaves to calm him. Gustad dislikes the inquisitive, short-tempered, demanding woman, but obliges. Gustad brings in some flower spikes to prepare one of Miss Kutpitia's brews to administer to Roshan. Gustad next prepares a note for delivery via Peerbhoy.
Weeks pass without word through Peerbhoy. The newspapers tell of refugee caps swelling to 7 million in the monsoon season. Gustad wishes he could have helped Bilimoria's guerrillas. Rain and thunder keep Gustad awake at night. He remembers his school years and how Bilimoria had carried him into Bonesetter's crowded, fragrant clinic. Bonesetter is revered for miraculous cures of people on whom Western doctors have given up. He uses his bare hands, herbs and bark, and his right foot. He tells no one his secrets.
Gustad had seen people injured in his grandfather's workshop, but sensed nothing like the agony he endured in Bonesetter's clinic. Gustad remembers his leg being moved in a peculiar way and the pain decreasing. A specially made paste had to be applied, and Dilnavaz had worked non-stop and very hard for three months to get her husband back on his feet, making and applying the paste according to Bonesetter's prescription.
Gustad falls asleep and dreams about finding a 10-rupee bundle, then being pelted by many more. He asks his tormenters why they are doing it, since he does not want their rubbish. Inspector Bamji appears, to defend him. Then Madon appears, to dismiss him. Dilnavaz shakes Gustad out of his dream. Gustad sleeps soundly the rest of the night.
Gustad cannot go outside for prayers in the drizzly morning. Crows are cawing wildly. Gustad finds a decapitated, crow-eaten bandicoot beneath his vinca. The Gurkha night watchman is fetched for an explanation. The Gurkha claims he made regular rounds throughout the night and saw and heard nothing.
Sunday dawns clear, but Gustad prays indoors. The cawing resumes. Gustad finds crows fighting over a decapitated cat, which reminds him of childhood fantasies about St. George. Tehmul appears for the first time since before Gustad went to the Chor Bazaar. Gustad coaxes him close. Tehmul laughs at the cat. The Gurkha is reprimanded again. Inspector Bamji is shown the carcass. Bamji observes that the knife was skillfully wielded and suggests that Gustad must have an enemy, or perhaps that the secluded compound is just a good place for lunatics to dispose of their handiwork. Watching Tehmul chase a butterfly, Gustad sadly remembers Sohrab, but shrugs off Dilnavaz's suggestion she invite Sohrab to return home. The Rabadis walk by with Dimple, complaining about people using fundraising as an excuse for getting close to their daughter. The Nobles ignore them.
In the morning, the Gurkha is guarding the vinca bush, but Gustad inspects it and finds a note inserted in its branches. It contains two lines of Gjarati verse, "Stole the rice of Bilimoria, we'll take a stick and then we'll beat ya." Gustad understands the decapitations.
Chapter 9 Analysis
Chapter 9 fills out the story of Gustad's broken hip, describing Bonesetter's unorthodox methods, which confound Western practitioners. The monsoon season arrives, deepening the plight of East Pakistani refugees. Gustad wants to help Bilimoria's cause, but is afraid to make the bank deposits. The appearance of a skillfully decapitated rat and a cat, plus a cryptic note in Gustad's native tongue lends an ominous air to the story.
Chapter 10 Summary
The note is a crushing, incomprehensible betrayal of years of friendship. Its tone is taunting, mocking, and deceiving. Gustad knows Bilimoria has trapped him and robbed him of choice. Dilnavaz is surprised Gustad has finished his prayers so quickly, and catches the trouble in his voice and on his face. Reading the note, she wants to turn everything over to Inspector Bamji. Gustad objects that the police have no power over RAW. Roshan and Darius could be the next victims of these heartless people. Gustad withdraws one bundle of bills for a first deposit. Ten thousand rupees a day will not be suspicious. It will take 100 days to deposit the whole. He will tell them that is the best he can do.
Air raid sirens sound every day at 10 AM, perhaps to familiarize people with the sound, people think; the government has never offered an explanation. Gustad is tense carrying the money. He passes the pavement artist, whose creations appeal to all faiths. This morning, someone has accidentally stepped on a holy visage, so the crowd demands reparations. Gustad is in a hurry to get to the bank, but realizes these holy drawings could be useful. He will speak with the artist one day. Gustad asks Dinshawji to meet him outside at lunchtime.
Gustad explains everything to Dinshawji, omitting only the rat, cat, and note, in order not to frighten his friend away. Together, they will help the liberation struggle. Gustad feels badly about jeopardizing Dinshawji's job and pension. Dinshawji loves intrigue and is eager to participate. He rails against CIA activities in East Pakistan. Dinshawji accepts the money and makes a suggestive pass by Laurie's desk on his way back to work. Gustad is worried. Dinshawji's eyes betray constant pain, and he puts great energy into abandoning his self-respect. Gustad winces when Dinshawji takes advantage of the girl's ignorance of Parsi slang to make a pun on her name. Lorri in Gjarati means "penis." Laurie smiles, but looks puzzled.
Every day Gustad hands Dinshawji a new packet, and receives a receipt. Gustad suggests that Dinshawji refrain from carrying on with Laurie while they are helping Bilimoria. Dinshawji maintains his usual behavior is the best cover-up, which makes sense. Gustad prays that nothing will go wrong with the deposits and wonders what more Bilimoria will demand once the money is in place.
The doorbell rings one morning in August, after Gustad has left for work and Tehmul has consumed his limejuice. A kindly nun delivers Roshan home, sick. Dilnavaz puts her to bed, then goes to Miss Kutpitia's apartment to phone the doctor. At the door, Dilnavaz hears conversation inside and a door slam. The old lady overhears the conversation and suggests Roshan's problem lies in the evil eye. Dilnavaz must thread a yellow lime and seven green chilies together and hang them over the door for protection. Sohrab's cure will require patience, but can be sped up if Dilnavaz adds clippings from Tehmul's nails to the remedy. It will drive him mad.
Gustad arrives as Dimple is taking her walk. Dustoorji Baria has given Rabadi a prayer to safeguard Jasmine against the savage lust of boys like Darius. The prayer makes Rabadi feel invincible confronting Gustad about newspapers. Gustad is preoccupied with Roshan and passes by angrily. He fetches two thick stacks of papers and deposits them on Rabadi's doorstep.
While Gustad takes Roshan to the doctor, Dilnavaz makes the talisman and conceals it behind the blackout paper. She summons Tehmul for his limejuice and remarks on the length of his fingernails. She refuses to let him drink until she trims them. Although Tehmul's nails are filthy and disgusting, Dilnavaz does her work, loathing herself for what she is doing to the innocent man. She continues with his toenails. Dilnavaz follows Miss Kutpitia's detailed instructions for burning the clippings on a coal fire. The stench is horrifying. She adds spices to open Tehmul's "channels," and allow his spirit to yank the evil out of Sohrab's brain.
Chapter 10 Analysis
Chapter 10 is set against the worsening political and military situation in the Indian subcontinent. The U.S. and the Soviet Union are vying for control. Open war between India and Pakistan is eminent. The refugee crisis in East Pakistan (Bangladesh) is growing. Bilimoria and the RAW appear ominously outside police control. Gustad obeys Bilimoria's instructions. Gustad recruits the ailing Dinshawji to deposit the cash gradually, in order to skirt detection. Unfortunately, Dinshawji's lust has made his joking so blatantly sexual Gustad fears it will unravel the plot. We will ultimately see that Gustad is correct. At this point, though, he accepts that acting normally is their best protection. The two Parsi mystics, Dustoorji Baria and Miss Kutpitia, both contribute to the Nobles' home drama. Poor Tehmul appears destined for a terrible ending. His burning nails bring tears to Dilnavaz's eyes and trouble her conscience. However, she must save her eldest son, who now rarely visits the house.
Chapter 11 Summary
Dr. Paymaster's dispensary is located in a miserable, crumbling neighborhood. The doctor caters to local workers who injure themselves on the job, people injured or who have taken ill in the movie theaters, the House of Cages' ladies who require periodic check-ups for licensing purposes, and families like the Nobles who have always looked to Paymaster for routine health care. The last group has been dwindling, but is Paymaster's favorite. He does not care for the prostitutes, who make him feel like a building inspector.
Gustad hates coming to the dispensary, but has no choice. He remembers the House of Cages from childhood visits to the doctor. The House of Cages is a full-service brothel catering to everyone's wallet. Peerbhoy still sits in a stall outside, looking like a swami or sage guru and, he proudly explains the benefits of the health products he sells. His premier offering is palung-tode paan, a powerful aphrodisiac known as the "bed-breaker." Peerbhoy tells stories from ancient days about rajas and emperors who benefited from the product. His most vivid story is about Shri Lokhundi Lund, "Mister Iron Cock," who wears out the brothel's employees to collect the money-back guarantee. The first contestant takes him on again and brings him to a shrieking, moaning climax. Peerbhoy had laughed 15-year-old Gustad and his schoolmates away when they had tried to get inside. Since then, illness and forbidden pleasures have entwined in Gustad's mind, causing him profound disgust. A sick child, of course, makes him overcome this and visit Dr. Paymaster.
Dr. Paymaster happily waves the Nobles in, glad to see them after so long an absence, but sorry Roshan is unwell. The doctor is exasperated to learn how long the diarrhea has been going on, and that Gustad has been medicating her independently. Paymaster determines Roshan needs an injection, and talks about her new doll to distract her. As he writes a follow-up prescription to treat an intestinal virus, the doctor talks about East and West Pakistan, India, and America in medical terms. The little green bottle is expensive. "Refugee tax," the pharmacist apologizes.
Heading home, Gustad blames himself for trying to treat Roshan. She tells her mother about the plans for the doctor to marry her dolly. Then the inevitable parental battle begins over blame. Like his forefathers, Gustad thinks it unnecessary to boil water, and neither he nor his two big sons ever help Dilnavaz with the heavy chores. The fight turns to Sohrab's disobedience, and how the Gustad has always spoiled the children. Roshan cries and refuses to be comforted until they exchange a real Mummy-Daddy kiss. Then she goes to bed.
Rabadi gathers the newspapers dropped outside his door, determined to get even with the Nobles. After complaining to Bamji, he piles them beside Gustad's bushes and sets them on fire. Bamji does nothing. Gustad hears shouts and sees only Tehmul and the dying blaze. Maddened by the smoke, the mosquitoes swarm and will not be trapped. Odomos is the only relief that night.
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