Such a Long Journey by Rohinton Mistry Plot Summary



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Chapter 16 Analysis
Chapter 16 deals with religion and death. We finally meet Dinshawji's "Domestic Vulture" and can appreciate why he spoke of his wife this way. Gustad, guilty about letting his friend die alone, finds himself responsible for mediating between the unsympathetic widow and her equally unsympathetic, sniveling, childlike nephew. Having just seen Gustad imitating Catholic rituals, hoping for a miracle, we see him in his more familiar Parsi environment after no miracle occurs. A hint is given that Parsis are divided over the suitability of some ancient practices in a modern age and the power that rituals hold, even when the words are incomprehensible. Gustad had been struck by the sea of candlelight at Mount Mary's and now is amazed at how a single oil lamp can put a smile on a corpse's lips. A lifetime of rituals cheerfully performed is elevated to true awe as Dinshawji's passing is marked.
Chapter 17 Summary
Bank manager Madon assigns which employees will attend the Monday funeral and which will attend the Uthamna Ceremony on Tuesday. Only Gustad is given a choice. Gustad chooses the funeral. Madon offers him a ride. Few relatives, but very many colleagues and friends attend. Non-Parsis are segregated. Gustad thinks about all the laugher Dinshawji has provided. Alamai takes advantage of the moment to tell Madon that her late husband had hoped Nusli would one day work beside him. Nusli is like a child, watching the char-chassam dog circle the bier, sniffing in silence. Alamai wails at the proof her husband has truly left her. Gustad shakes his head at this orthodox performance by a modernist woman, as other women restrain her from rushing to the bier. The dustoorjis wait patiently for pious phrases to calm her. The Ahunavad Gatha prayers proceed without interruption. Final obeisances are made and the nassasalers arrive to carry the body to the well of vultures. Gustad wishes he could help, but professional pallbearers are the rule. They are treated as outcasts and untouchables. Dinshawji's face is covered. The white-clad men carry him out. Only the men are allowed to line up for the march to the Tower. Gustad takes charge of Nusli. They leave Alamai, who stands with dignity, finally weeping silent, sincere tears. Gustad wonders about the strange couple's love and life.
The procession leaves the paved road, and Gustad is struck by the crunching sound of footsteps on the gravel path. It is a fitting sound, he thinks for death. He remembers hearing it on past funeral walks for grandparents and parents, whose stories still live in his mind. At the Tower, last farewells are made, and then the nassalers carry the body inside and close the door. All know Dinshawji will be stripped naked as the day he was born. Vultures circle overhead, and Gustad comforts Nusli that all is well. The mourners move to a terrace and are given prayer books. On signal, they begin praying for Dinshawji's ascending soul. The vultures descend, grim and silent. The prayer books are collected. The mourners wash, do their kustis, and rejoin the world of the living. Impulsively, Gustad tells Madon he needs Friday and Saturday off work.
Rail workers have gone on strike when Gustad reaches the Victoria Terminus, and crowds of delayed travelers are making do. Malfunctioning loudspeakers garble announcements. Armed soldiers patrol the tracks. The government has promised essential services will be maintained, so Gustad still has hopes of reaching Delhi. He enters the swarm of people. Red-shirted coolies hawk reserved seats for ten rupees on the officially unreserved train. Gustad purchases one and is admitted to a packed compartment. A porter finds Gustad's seat. A well-dressed man in his 30's lies above, stretched out on the luggage rack. Gustad smiles politely.
As the 24-hour trip begins, the travelers' mood becomes lighter, now that territorial rights are no longer in question. The luggage rack man asks if this is Gustad's first trip to Delhi. The man in the luggage rack is going there to select a wife at his parents' request. Gustad dislikes be taken into the man's confidence. Dinshawji fills Gustad's mind, random thoughts about how the man had helped him adjust to bank life, about how he had made people laugh, about the long, worthwhile journey Dinshawji had taken. Gustad falls asleep in his seat.
Dilnavaz is worried about Gustad, but knows he must learn the truth in order to find peace. Although Roshan is felling much better, Miss Kutpitia continues warning Dilnavaz she must complete the exorcism. Dilnavaz knows Sohrab's absence is troubling Gustad, although he will not admit it. Why is that spell not yet working?
Rabadi rings the doorbell after reciting Dustoorji Baria's latest "Prayer to Strengthen the Righteous." Relieved that Gustad is not home, he asks to talk to Dilnavaz. Rabadi demands she stop Darius from touching his daughter's buttocks. The whole building is watching. Darius checks to see if his mother needs help, and forces the door closed in the crazy man's face. Rabadi trips over Dimple, and stalks off, threatening to lodge complaints for assault and molestation. Darius explains to his mother that Jasmine wants to learn to ride her bicycle, but needs help balancing. None of the other boys have enough stamina. Dilnavaz orders Darius to stay away from the girl because Jasmine's crackpot father is capable of anything. Dilnavaz suddenly understands the alum blobs. Roshan has been growing thinner while Jasmine grows fatter. Dilnavaz has a potion to prepare and then must find some way to wet Rabadi's scalp with it.
After midnight, the luggage-rack man wakes Gustad and offers to trade places. Gustad thanks him and crawls into the rack. Gustad dreams about the honeymoon trip he and Dilnavaz had taken, impatient to begin their intimacies. Dilnavaz had stroked his thigh, then his crotch, and then had fumbled with his fly buttons. Gustad realizes he is not dreaming and lashes out with his elbow. In the morning, the luggage-rack man has a black eye. Gustad buys him a cup of tea, feeling sorry for the wife he will select.
Chapter 17 Analysis
Chapter 17 describes the Parsi funeral rituals, culminating with the descent of vultures to strip the corpse's bones bare of flesh. Gustad is put on a crowded train to Delhi, showing slices of life in an Indian rail station and passenger car. A confrontation with the crazed Mr. Rabadi confirms Dilnavaz's hunch that he cast the evil eye on Roshan. We see that Miss Kutpitia has given Dilnavaz a new potion. The community's two mystics are again pitted against each other through warring intermediaries. Darius explains the innocent story behind Rabadi's ravings.
Chapter 18 Summary
Gustad is happy to get off the train. It is invigoratingly cold in Delhi in December. Gustad takes a rickshaw to the nondescript grey prison, and enters the reception area, feeling nauseated. He asks for Mr. S. Kashyap, as instructed. The thickset, smiling official tells him that Bilimoria has been moved to the hospital section, suffering jungle sickness, and leads Gustad there. Kashyap's cleated heels bring back memories of the loss of the bookstore. Another official leads Gustad upstairs, explaining that Jimmy Bilimoria is sometimes delirious and is allowed only 30-minute visits. Since Gustad has come all the way from Bombay, however, he may stay until his return train leaves at 3 PM.
Bilimoria's room has an armed guard. The room is stifling. Bilimoria is asleep, breathing with difficulty. The sight makes Gustad want to weep. His friend is a shadow of the powerfully built man he had known a year and a half earlier. Jimmy's eyes flutter open and he tries to speak Gustad's name. Gustad instantly forgets and forgives everything, and feels guilty for wanting this enfeebled creature to explain himself. After 30 minutes, Bilimoria recovers his speech. He explains that he receives regular injections to fight whatever tropical disease he contracted in Sundarbans. The injections are terrible, debilitating him for about an hour. Learning they have four hours together, Bilimoria says they must hurry. He feels no peace. He asks about Gustad's family. Gustad chooses his words carefully, omitting the rat and cat, Sohrab, and Roshan's illness. Bilimoria misses Khodadad Building and wishes he had never accepted the job in Delhi. He will be allowed home after serving his four-year sentence. From Ghulam, Gustad knows better, but says nothing. Bilimoria talks about joining RAW as a management consultant, meeting the prime minister, and being surprised and sickened that she was using RAW to spy on everyone. He had applied for a transfer.
Bilimoria shifts to events in Pakistan and the army's slaughter of Bengali demonstrators. A superior had told him the prime minister was interested in having him help the guerrilla movement. Bilimoria's mind shifts to Sohrab and Darius, but Gustad wants to keep him on the political topic. The prime minister had put Bilimoria in charge of training and supplying the tough and able Mukti Bahini fighters. Jimmy recalls the ceremonies attending the birth of Bangladesh and the Pakistani air force's brutal response.
A sinewy, sharp-faced nurse enters at 1 PM and administers an injection. Jimmy fades, talking about how the prime minister had appeared to lose interest in the guerrillas, but then gave him instructions to withdraw funds from the State Bank in her name. The monies would be replaced once direct support is authorized. He was told to identify himself as Bangladeshi Babu. She was protecting herself and trapping him. Jimmy falls into restless sleep. Gustad takes a break, exhausted.
As Miss Kutpitia has instructed, Dilnavaz prepares a fine paste of lime, chilies, and milk, adds a variety of ground seeds. Lifting Gustad's blackout paper, she finds mouse droppings and a spider, whose egg case she must carefully remove. She adds these ingredients and warms the mixture, then adds the alum pieces. Her potion is ready for the dogwalla idiot. Dilnavaz knows that on Saturdays, Rabadi treats Dimple to an extra midday walk, and she waits for him upstairs. She empties the saucepan and hears Rabadi's resounding roar, but dares not look down. When the potion reaches his eyes, Rabadi shrieks that he is dying. He calls down curses on the building's residents as Dimple leaps about him happily. Dilnavaz returns to her kitchen and scrubs the pan, knowing Miss Kutpitia will be proud of her. Roshan wonders why the idiot dogwalla is shouting. Dilnavaz admonishes her language, but rejoices that her daughter is tired of sleeping all day. Is this coincidence or miracle?
Dilnavaz presses Miss Kutpitia for a final remedy for Sohrab. The old lady understands a mother's sorrow over a lost son and relents, after warning that the consequences are on Dilnavaz's head. Dilnavaz shudders, but accepts. Miss Kutpitia fetches a lizard and ties it in a box. Dilnavaz is to hide it under Sohrab's bed until morning. Bring it and Tehmul to her apartment tomorrow. Rabadi glares at Dilnavaz as she returns to her home and does as she is instructed.
Jimmy awakens and resumes his story. The prime minister, fearing her many enemies, had come up with a cover story. She had asked Bilimoria to sign a confession for her to use in Parliament in case of repercussions. Foolishly, Bilimoria had trusted her. Gustad is baffled by such naivety. Jimmy struggles to smile, thinking of the Sundays he had spent with the Nobles, then resumes the narrative. Guerrilla operations had been going well when funding suddenly ended. He and Ghulam both nosed around too much, which is what had brought Ghulam to his Lambretta "accident" They had discovered the prime minister's office had rerouted the money to a private account, to finance her son's factory or to fund an election. Jimmy realizes now he should have alerted the press.
Suddenly, Jimmy screams and thrashes around, flashing back to the prison beatings he endured. He had decided that if the dishonest politicians could bleed India dry for their own profit, he and his friends should also enjoy some comfort, so he set up the Chor Bazaar scheme. He would resign and return home to divide the money Gustad deposited. Two wrongs, he knew, would not make a right. Still, he was disgusted and was sure it would work. How would the prime minister's office miss 10 million rupees out of 50 million? The officials discovered Jimmy's scheme and arrested him, demanding the 10 million back. Jimmy had refused, to protect Gustad and Ghulam. He had been promised proper treatment once the money was back.
Gustad is appalled at the sufferings Jimmy has endured, and wants to go to lawyers and the newspapers. Jimmy says that everything is in their pockets. He will just serve his four years quietly. Gustad sees his friend needs absolution, and tells him there is nothing to forgive. They talk on about the old times until another injection is administered. They say goodbye before the drug silences Jimmy. Gustad kisses his friend's forehead and heads to the train station. While Gustad sleeps on the crowded train, the prime minister announces to the country that Pakistan has bombed multiple targets in India and that the nation is at war.
Chapter 18 Analysis
In a Delhi prison hospital ward, Gustad confronts the shrunken shadow of his once-powerful friend and learns the truth about the money he and Dinshawji had manipulated in and out of a fictitious bank account. The depth of corruption in Indira Gandhi's government is laid out. A disenchanted war hero decides he and his friends deserve a piece of the proverbial pie. Underestimating the accuracy of the official thieves' accounting leads to Bilimoria's downfall. Loyalty to his friends lands Bilimoria the hospital from which he naively believes he will emerge alive. At home, Dilnavaz completes one spell, apparently curing her daughter, and prepares for another, intended to return her son back to the nest. The novel is now set during war conditions. The prime minister announces that Pakistan has launched an unprovoked attack.
Chapter 19 Summary
Dilnavaz must finish her sorcery while Gustad is away. She collects the lizard and summons Tehmul, who expects his daily limejuice. Miss Kutpitia has something for him instead, Dilnavaz promises, and he sets off grinning. The old lady hurries them through the outer door, and then unlocks an inner door no one has seen. The dimly lit room is shrouded in cobwebs and dust. Dilnavaz realizes that this was nephew Farad's bedroom, left untouched after his fatal car accident 35 years ago. Everything was as Farad left it. The adjoining room is open too, the law office of Farad's father, likewise enshrouded in webs and dust.
Miss Kutpitia pulls out the lizard and kills it on Farad's desk. She snips off two inches of wriggling tail. Dilnavaz blanches. Tehmul is fascinated. She inserts the tail into a wick holder, dips it in oil, and floats it in a lamp glass. Miss Kutpitia asks Tehmul if he wants to have some fun, and instructs him to pay close attention to the glass. Tehmul giggles at the still squirming, floating tail. Dilnavaz leaves the room before Miss Kutpitia strikes a match and flees. It is very dangerous to see the flame, she explains to Dilnavaz. Tehmul giggles for ten minutes before he is called out and sent to play in the compound. Miss Kutpitia tells Dilnavaz that it will take a few days before Tehmul begins to change. Miss Kutpitia does not know that the wriggling tail has escaped the glass and set fire to Farad's desk.
Gustad returns to see the last vacant spots on the wall filled in. The aroma of floral offerings sweetens the air, relieving Gustad's exhaustion. What a contrast to the stench of old! The black wall has become a shrine for all races and religions. The artist commends Gustad's vision, but Gustad gives all credit to the artist's talent. The new oil paintings are even better than the original crayon renderings. The artist is planning to build himself a small shelter by the wall. He gives Gustad a careful tour of recent work. Even Yellamma is depicted, the Hindu protector of prostitutes. So too, is the wall of Khodadad Building, intricately detailed: wall within wall within wall. The wall is sacred like the other places portrayed on it. One last figure remains to be rendered, suggested by Rabadi. He produces a photograph of Dustoorji Baria, a miracle-working Parsi holy man. The artist has begun rendering his portrait when Inspector Bamji sees it and begins ranting that the man is a charlatan. Policeman and dog-walker argue. Bamji gives up. Rabadi tells how the priest's framed photograph had wept tears after Tiger died, sure proof of his saintliness. The artist does not know what to believe about Dustoorji Baria. Gustad is certain pilgrims to the wall will become more numerous, now that war has come.
A fire engine races into the compound and Tehmul runs out, babbling. All reminders of Miss Kutpitia's nephew and brother had been reduced to ash, but the rest of the apartment was divinely spared from the flames. Some people ascribed the good fortune to the prayers rising at the wall. Miss Kutpitia accepts the loss matter-of-factly, even cheerily, enjoying people's sympathy. Only she understands the mystery of the benign fire.
Dilnavaz listens to Jimmy's story between her chores and helping Miss Kutpitia clear the mess. Dilnavaz is happy for the first time in months, all her shame, terror, and guilt having been consumed in those flames. She is certain Jimmy will come home in four years. Only Sohrab's absence concerns her, and she is sure this will turn out well. By contrast, Gustad is concerned about the war, and enlists Darius to help to seal any cracks in the old blackout paper. Gustad sees his powerful, gentle, and just grandfather in Darius as the young man wields the inherited hammer. Holding the hammer, Darius understands the old family stories, told anew. Father and son shield the light bulbs, position the heavy four-poster bed optimally to serve as an air raid shelter, and stow emergency provisions beneath it. Gustad is as excited as a child, and Dilnavaz seizes the moment to enlist him to prepare Miss Kutpitia's windows for blackout conditions.
Gustad steps out into the night to inspect the building for light leaks. Bamji is also inspecting, and exudes confidence over how the Indians will alienate the Pakistanis. The building is well-prepared, but Bamji remembers '65. People will get careless soon enough.
Chapter 19 Analysis
Gustad returns from Delhi exhausted, but is exhilarated by the nearly finished wall of holy images. The transformation has been amazing. Pilgrims will grow in numbers now that war has begun. The only blot is the inclusion of Mr. Rabadi's beloved Dustoorji Baria, whose photography, Rabadi alleges, shed tears at the passing of his first dog, Tiger. The ecumenical artist refuses to pass judgment on any holy man's authenticity. A fire in Miss Kutpitia's apartment interrupts the conversation. The flaming lizard's tail had ignited a dried out composition book. Tehmul had mentioned this, but in his incomprehensible manner, the fire consumes all of Miss Kutpitia's 35-year-old artifacts, but causes no other damage. This liberates the old woman from past grief. She is transformed into a happy lady.
People are willing to see the wall as offering miraculous protection to the building. War is at hand, however. Government regulations require strict blackout measures. Gustad enlists Darius to help check his old preparations and prepare a sound air raid center. Gustad sees his grandfather in Darius, and is happy that the family building legacy will continue, even if not through Sohrab, the first born, as would have been fitting. Inspecting the building's outside that night, Gustad is happy to see that Tehmul's brother has secured the windows of his apartment before leaving on business.
Chapter 20 Summary
Mr. Madon issues prim air raid procedures. Employees discuss how the Pakistanis' debauched, alcoholic, and syphilitic president will lead his country to defeat. The Indian army is doing brilliantly in Bangladesh, supported by the selfless Indian population. Mother India and Mother Indira are being blurred in the media. Shiv Sena patrols are patriotically roaming the city looking for improperly secured windows and anyone who might be portrayed as enemy agents. Six days into the conflict, the U.S. Seventh Fleet is ordered into the Bay of Bengal. Nixon and Kissinger are universally reviled. Their pictures are cut out of newspapers as a target for defecation. The Soviets, bound to India by a Treaty of Friendship, dispatch an armada of their own. The Americans back down.
Cavasji is ranting at the heavens about the bombs certain to come and cuts off further offerings of sandalwood to God. His son pulls him inside.
By the third night, Gustad and Dilnavaz ignore the midnight air raid siren, but this time Indian anti-aircraft guns are heard opening up on what must be Pakistani bombers. Dilnavaz hopes aloud that Sohrab is safe. Gustad is uneasy as he steps outside to make sure no idiot lets light escape from a window by looking out. Searchlights crisscross the sky. Tehmul's window is lit. Gustad storms up to Tehmul's apartment to scare him. Letting himself in with they key that had been entrusted to him, Gustad hears panting, heavy breathing, and moans. He pushes a threadbare curtain aside and enters a stinking room. Tehmul's back is to the door, so Gustad's yell frightens him more than was intended. He spins to reveal an enormous erection that he does not stop stroking until he ejaculates with a whimper. Gustad sees his daughter's doll, as naked as Tehmul, lying in the apartment's clutter. Its clothing is draped neatly on a chair. Gustad, embarrassed and enraged, orders Tehmul to stop immediately and flings him filthy pajamas lying on the floor. Tehmul begins to blubber. The doll is spattered with many nights worth of dried semen, easily cleaned off. Gustad cannot think about returning the doll to Roshan. He decides to donate it to an orphanage.
Eventually Gustad understands that Tehmul took the doll after the prostitutes had turned him down. Gustad feels sorry for the child's mind dealing with a man's urges. Gustad returns to the open window shades, wishing he had the power of miracles to heal Tehmul's ills and restore him to normal human dignity. Gustad cannot bear to take away the doll. Someday he will explain the loss to Roshan. Gustad warns him to keep the window shut at night and tells him to keep the dolly. Tehmul slobbers a kiss on Gustad's knuckles. Gustad pats Tehmul's shoulder.
Gustad is relieved when he gets back into the fresh night air. The guns are silent. Gustad will not explain in front of the children why it took so long to secure Tehmul's window.
Gustad goes to the dispensary to tell Dr. Paymaster the good news that Roshan is well now and to ask if the medications can be discontinued. The doctor uses medical images to talk about Bangladesh and the unresponsive municipal authorities. People in his neighborhood are fed up. Peerbhoy's brass tray sounds outside like a gong. Gustad is curious. A crowd larger than usual has gathered outside the House of Cages, enduring dreadful sewer smells. Peerbhoy is exhorting them action for the common good, railing colorfully and suggestively at the profligate Pakistani leadership. The prostitutes object that he is ruining their business, but Peerbhoy presses on. He has invented and is now selling a new product, "Patriotic Paan." Gustad tears himself away, knowing Dilnavaz will be fretting since he is out after curfew. He finds Tehmul in the compound, on hands and knees, rooting in the dust for the dolly's bracelet.
Patriotic euphoria follows the unconditional defeat of the Pakistanis, but quickly fades. Once again, Gustad refuses to take down the blackout paper. The air raid shelter is dismantled, however. The pavement artist has finished his lean-to at the far end of the wall and moved in. He is now kept busy serving as the shrine's custodian. Victory in Bangladesh has been profitable. Dilnavaz scans the obituaries in Miss Kutpitia's copy of "Jam-E-Jamshed" every morning, fearing she might miss the funeral of some relative. Gustad reads the paper during lunch. He is taking pride in stories of the national victory when a tiny notice catches his eye. J. Bilimoria, former RAW officer, has died in a New Delhi prison. Gustad pockets the page.
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