Such a Long Journey by Rohinton Mistry Plot Summary

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Chapter 20 Analysis
Chapter 20 focuses on Gustad's discovery of what happened to Roshan's beloved doll. The breaking of the blackout, indeed, provides the occasion for it. Spurned even by prostitutes, Tehmul had stolen the long-admired object to help him gain relief in masturbation. First shocked and angered, Gustad realizes the tragedy of this child trapped in a grown man's body and lets him keep the doll. His wish that a miracle could restore poor Tehmul to human dignity runs counter to Dilnavaz's using Tehmul as a vessel for drawing the dark spirits out of Sohrab. War has brought prosperity to the sidewalk artist and responsibility as guardian of this new sanctuary. This surely is too good to continue. Ethnic tensions rose during the brief war, Bilimoria has died in prison, and Dr. Paymaster's neighbors have run out of patience with the municipal authorities.
Chapter 21 Summary
Peerbhoy's followers are ready to march on the municipal offices to demand action. They want to march in their work clothes and display their work implements. They recruit a reluctant but prestigious Dr. Paymaster, who is convinced the suffering cutting out the gangrenous infection at the local level can save body politic of India. The doctor will march in white coat and stethoscope and carry his distinctive black bag. Four handcarts of gutter filth and other debris are gathered to illustrate the neighborhood's plight. The group has prepared banners and placards are prepared has rehearsed slogans. The police mobilize to control traffic and to make sure non-violence will prevail. Mistry portrays Paymaster and Peerbhoy as Don Quixote and Sancho Panza sallying forth. They are invited to the head of the cheering column.
Dilnavaz finds J. Bilimoria's funeral listed in the paper, and shows it to Gustad. Jimmy has no known relatives, so Gustad wonders who might have made arrangements. Gustad heads to the Tower of Silence, not raging at the heavens like Cavasji, but wishing he could. Had Dilnavaz not happened upon the obituary, Jimmy would have had no one to pray for his passage. So many had walked the gravel path for Dinshawji, yet Gustad walks alone for Jimmy. Tower employees are so often put upon by survivors that they routinely refuse special requests, so Gustad is unable to learn who made arrangements for Jimmy.
Residents of the luxury high rises around the Tower have been protesting the vultures dropping tidbits on their balconies. Reformist and traditionalist Parsis have been debating whether to cave in to Hindu demands that they switch to cremation. Ornithologists weigh in on vulture behavior. No scientific analysis has been made of the offending dropping to determine whether they are human, and sensationalists have suggest hired pilots might be throwing meat to put pressure on the "vulturists." Clerks are trained to avoid saying anything that might feed the controversy. Gustad gives up and heads home. At the gate, he sees a taxi driven by someone with a moustache just like Jimmy's.
Malcolm has a new demolition project beginning today. Working for the municipality is boring, but provides a regular paycheck, unlike trying to teach music to spoiled children. A colleague lost his pension for demolishing a wrong structure, so Malcolm pays attention to plans. The work site, Khodadad building, is familiar but strikes no vital memory.
As usual, Sohrab arrives during banking hours, hugs his mother, and dismisses her pleas that he return for good. Gustad will be home soon. Sohrab is surprised to hear that his father is taking off time from work. Dilnavaz fills her son in on everything that has been happening. Sohrab is shocked, but is convinced it will do no good to talk to his father; as he has spoiled all of Gustad's dreams. Sohrab agrees stay and talk, to make his mother happy.
Gustad recognizes the taxi driver and realizes he paid for Jimmy's funeral. Ghulam admits it, emotionally. As a non-Parsi, he had been not allowed to attend. Ghulam had not contacted Gustad because he had been determined to keep his promise never to bother him again. He drives Gustad home, gratis. Ghulam is still working in RAW. He feels he is safer inside than out. Ghulam swears that someone will pay for killing Bilimoria. Ghulam will be patient. Gustad is frightened by such talk. When a police officer diverts them to a detour, Gustad shakes hands and walks the rest of the way home. He knows he will never meet Ghulam again.
Chapter 21 Analysis
Chapter 21 shows the working classes preparing to march on city hall to publicize their sewer problems. When Mistry characterizes their leaders, Dr. Paymaster and Peerbhoy, as Miguel Cervantes' Don Quixote and Sancho Panza, it indicates the quest is futile and illusory, however well-intentioned. Gustad's friend Malcolm, having accepted a municipal job, is dispatched to demolish something at Khodadad Building, but doesn't realize what it is. Gustad is Bilimoria's sole mourner, and meets for a last time their intermediary, Ghulam, who is intent on revenge. Ghulam implicitly admits carrying out the rat, cat, and bush incidents. Sohrab makes objections about waiting for his father's return home, but seems ready to try for rapprochement.
Much of the chapter is given over to describing battles between vulturists and reformists over Parsi funeral practices that many find macabre in the modern age. There is more than a touch of humor in the description, couched in the context of harried clerks not wanting to get involved in anything not in their job description.
Chapter 22 Summary
Seeing the painted wall as he drives up tells Malcolm why Khodadad Building sounded familiar. The artist crumbles when he learns his work will be destroyed and is unable to summon the strength that earlier had allowed him cheerfully to move on when rousted. The neem tree in the compound must be removed. The marchers bound for the municipal office turn noisily into the lane, wearing their work clothes, bearing their work implements (allowed after a police attempt to forbid them carrying potential weapons), and voicing both clever chants and hackneyed slogans. The column halts before the wall and chants, "Will not do!"
Malcolm and his crew line up at the curb. All work ends in the neighborhood. A march leader declares they will stop at this sacred wall to pray for blessings on their future endeavors. Marchers queued up before favorite deities and performed the gestures appropriate to their cult. Many leave a donation. One of Malcolm's workers advises them to save their money, since the wall is coming down. The marchers cannot believe this. Emotions quickly elevate to outrage. The marchers intend to thwart this Satanic scheme. Malcolm is uncomfortable, but orders are orders. Not only will the monstrous municipality not fix their sewers, it now wants to take away their sacred wall. Malcolm's crew members are torn between religion and paychecks. Fearsome Hydraulic Hema stands before Yellamma's image and threatens to castrate the crew if they harm the wall.
Gustad is in a hurry to change out of his prayer garb and get back to the bank. He arrives at Khodadad Building in time to see Hydraulic Hema take her stand. Malcolm spots Gustad and waves him over. The police are trying to stay out of the matter until reinforcements arrive. Gustad wonders what Malcolm is doing in a rowdy march. Gustad sees the woebegone artist and the elated Tehmul. Gustad warns Tehmul to stay safely inside the compound. Gustad tries to console the artist. Seeing Dr. Paymaster in high spirits and acting like a rebel general, Gustad asks him what is going on. The doctor says that this stop is unplanned and that it is "an act of God." Denizens of the building are debating the outcome at the gate, and Gustad joins them. Inspector Bamji refuses to step into the fray. When Sohrab steps out, father and son see one another for the first time in seven months. Malcolm returns from phoning the municipality for instructions. He tells Gustad that he is in charge of the project. The city will not yield to mob rule. Gustad cannot convince his friend to seek safety in the compound. Malcolm returns to the trucks. Cavasji rails at heaven, but his words are drowned out as savage street fighting begins.
The construction workers are outnumbered but are well armed with pickaxes and crowbars. Police stand back. The flight of many objects intrigues Tehmul, and Gustad orders him inside. Tehmul sees it as a giant game of catch, like he plays with the teasing compound children. What fun it would be to catch something for once. As Gustad yells, Tehmul tries to catch a sailing brick, but misjudges and is hit on the head. Gustad hears the crack as Tehmul drops without making a sound. Gustad sends Sohrab to fetch Dr. Paymaster. Miss Kutpitia leaves to phone for an ambulance. Gustad tries to stop the blood. Tehmul's skull is caved in. A subdued Paymaster arrives, shakes his head, and goes through doctorly motions. Tehmul whispers, clearly, "Gustad. Thank you, Gustad," and expires. Perhaps the ambulance should be canceled and a hearse substituted? Bamji says that ambulances will be needed for the many wounded. The neighbors debate what to do with Tehmul's body, but Gustad picks him up, alone, ignores everyone, and without faltering, carries Tehmul across the compound to the stairs. He pauses to look at the crowd, then climbs to the dead man's apartment.
Gustad lays Tehmul on his bed, after pushing the naked doll aside. Gustad dresses the doll and lays it beside his friend. He removes Tehmul's shoes and socks and finds the two rupee notes. He folds up Tehmul's pajama top to serve as an interim prayer cap so he can offer prayers. As he recites the prescribed words, over and over again, touching Tehmul's bloodied head, Gustad allows his tears to fall for Tehmul, for himself, for Jimmy, for Dinshawji, and for his parents and grandparents. How long Gustad prays and weeps he does not know. Sohrab stands behind him in the doorway. Gustad goes over to hug his son tightly.
The marchers have overturned a barrel of sewage onto the street. Gustad invites Malcolm in to wash up and have some tea. Malcolm declines. Someone had thrown a dead rat in Malcolm's face. He will visit his doctor and plans to light a candle at Mount Mary against plague. Now, he must wait for replacement workers and carry out the project. Gustad hears boots crunching in gravel. The sound freezes him. A first huge block of the wall is removed and demolished. The artist thanks Gustad for his hospitality and decides to move on, he knows not where. He leaves behind his oil paints, preferring to return to crayons. Gustad finds his lost prayer cap. The neem tree is coming down. Still hearing the crunch of gravel outside, Gustad stands on a chair to begin tearing down the blackout paper. A frightened moth flies out and circles the room.
Chapter 22 Analysis
The protest marchers come upon the painted wall and pause to pray for success. They learn the municipality has ordered the sacred site demolished. A fierce battle results. Innocent Tehmul, playing childish games, falls mortally wounded on the street. His last words make it obvious his mind has been cleared. The artist, who had begun to put down roots for the first time in his life, sees the foolishness of the quest for permanency in life as the Trimurti image is destroyed. He leaves behind the oil paints that were to have ensured his artwork would be waterproof. It is not government-proof, he realizes. There is little doubt he will bounce back. The reader may wonder if Sohrab and Gustad, so very alike in temperament, return to normal after their embrace or how Dilnavaz will take Tehmul's tragic death. These questions lie beyond the scope of the novel, though. Gustad is clearly changed by the long journey he has taken, and begins taking down the blackout paper.
Gustad Noble
The protagonist of the novel, Gustad Noble is a devotee of the Zoroastrian god Ahura Mazda. Nearing 60, Gustad's hair and beard are whitening, but his moustache is thick and black. Tall and broad-shouldered, he is the envy of relatives and friends. A slight limp recalls a serious accident nine years ago, suffered saving his son from a speeding car. Gustad loves to sing, modifying the verses of popular American songs. He has been married for 21 years to Dilnavaz, and they have two teenage sons, Sohrab and Darius, and a daughter, Roshan, who turns nine years old during the course of the novel.
Gustad feels obliged to keep some things secret from his outspoken wife. Gustad's early life has been scarred by the bankruptcy of his father's bookstore, which forced him to pay his own way through college. He has worked nearly 20 years in a bank, and wants more for his sons. He is determined Sohrab will attend IIT, followed by an American graduate school. He wants Sohrab to be successful, and will not accept opposition. Gustad has idealized his childhood and often links current events with images of the past.
Gustad is a natural leader, thwarted in the official bank hierarchy, but not in his limited community. People like him and seek him for advice and help. He is deeply sentimental but careful to hide this beneath gruffness. Gustad is stubborn, stereotyping people quickly, is willing to appreciate qualities he has earlier failed to perceive. Only Sohrab, so like him in temperament, is unforgivable and must make the first move for reconciliation to occur. The death of two friends affect Gustad greatly. It takes a third death before Gustad can shed tears and embrace his prodigal son.
Dilnavaz Noble
Gustad's outspoken wife of 21 years, age 52, Dilnavaz is superstitious, and is a slight woman with dark brown hair bobbed short, and hands that have aged too fast. Dilnavaz works from before dawn until bedtime and receives no help from her husband or strong sons. This has made her resentful. Dilnavaz has a sharp tongue that spares not even invited dinner guests. She is superstitious and perseveres in her beliefs even when Gustad mocks them. She has learned to work around problems. Her greatest concern is the conflict between Gustad and their son Sohrab. She is also very concerned about daughter Roshan's recurrent diarrhea. Dilnavaz fights down trepidation and allows a mysterious upstairs neighbor, Miss Kutpitia, to provide recipes for potions that will heal her two children. Dilnavaz never believes that their old family friend, Major Bilimoria, has abandoned them. While fearful that trouble could befall them, helps Gustad keep to the path fate has decreed he must follow.
Sohrab Noble
Gustad and Dilnavaz's 19-year-old son is shortly destined to begin studying at the Indian Institute of Technology (IIT). Sohrab is an outstanding student. His father consistently supports his inquisitiveness, even when Sohrab decides to collect butterflies. Sohrab gave up this hobby out of pity for the creatures he was capturing and killing. Mechanical hobbies were better. Every one Sohrab succeeds with convinces his father he will turn it into a profitable career. Sohrab is as stubborn as his father, however, and leaves the family house rather than submit to demands he enroll in IIT.
Sohrab promises his distraught mother he will visit weekly, but during banking hours, so as to avoid his father. These visits grow less frequent as Dilnavaz keeps nagging Sohrab to give in. Surprisingly, Sohrab submits to one of her superstitions, circling a lime above his forehead to cast out the evil spirit that is keeping him away from home. Two months pass between visits when Sohrab finally arrives again. Dilnavaz fills him in on recent tragic events that have affected his father greatly. Sohrab agrees, with less resistance than usual, to stay and talk to his father. Sohrab follows Gustad to the apartment where Gustad bears the body of his slain friend, and accepts his father's bloody embrace.
Darius Noble
Gustad and Dilnavaz's 15-year-old son once collected tropical fish and bird. Later, Darius turns to body-building, like his grandfather had. Darius is a shorter reflection of his muscular father. A neighbor whom Darius' parents hate in general, Mr. Rabadi, charges that Darius is molesting his daughter, Jasmine. Darius explains to his mother that he is merely trying to help a shy girl learn to ride a bicycle. She has trouble with balance. None of the other boys have the stamina to run along side for long, steadying the seat. Darius lusts for her at night.
Roshan Noble
Gustad and Dilnavaz's laughing, fragile 9-year-old daughter, Roshan's ninth birthday is celebrated by serving a chicken fattened at home. Her great joy is a large, beautiful doll, imported from Italy, and clothed as a bride. She won it in a lottery. It is so valuable that her parents demand it be locked in a suitcase until a suitable display case can be prepared.
Like Darius when he was younger, Roshan suffers intestinal problems, which her parents treat without ongoing medical advice. Finally, Gustad takes her to see Dr. Paymaster. Roshan is put through painful tests and treatments, to no avail. Hospitalization is prescribed but put off. Roshan is allowed to have her dolly keep her company in her sickbed. Dilnavaz is so concerned about her daughter's continuing decline that she consults Miss Kutpitia and carries out a magic spell that appears to work.
Major Bilimoria
Gustad's former friend and neighbor, virtually a brother, has disappeared without a word, but has recently written asking a favor. Bilimoria had been a hero in the struggle for independence from Britain in 1948 and the war between India and Pakistan that followed. During the war he saves the life of a comrade, Ghulam Mohammed, who becomes his devoted follower ever after. While living in Khodadad Building, Jimmy Bilimoria became "Uncle Major" to the Noble children, to whom he was held up as an example of strength and integrity.
Dilnavaz refuses to believe evil about Bilimoria, even after reading his request that Gustad rendezvous with Ghulam, accept a package, and follow instructions without question. The package contains a large sum of cash. The request is that Gustad illegally deposit the money in his bank. Later, Ghulam reveals that "Bili Boy," the major's army nickname, has been arrested by the government and needs the money returned in full. Despite bitterness and suspicion, Gustad travels to Delhi to visit Bilimoria to learn the full truth. Now a forgiven friend, Jimmy tells how he realized he had been enlisted to help the rebels in Bangladesh, but was tricked by Indira Gandhi to laundering money. , Bilimoria had decided to provide for his friends from the ill-gotten gains. He has endured torture and prison to protect his friends. He has been injected with a debilitating drug regularly. Later, it is curtly reported that Bilimoria did of a heart attack in prison. Gustad is the lone mourner at his funeral.
Ghulam Mohammed
The taxi driver rescued Gustad after his accident. Gustad and Dinshawji witnessed Ghulam's own collision with a hit-and-run car. Ghulam turns out to be an assistant to Bilimoria, who saved his life in combat in 1948. Ghulam's head is still bandaged from his accident, when he poses as a bookseller to rendezvous with Gustad at the bazaar and deliver Bilimoria's package. Ghulam can be reached at the House of Cages. He confirms that he and Bilimoria both work for RAW, but nothing more. Ghulam appears once more, bearing train tickets to Delhi, with a request from Bilimoria that Gustad not fail to come and learn the truth. Ghulam is more forceful the second time he delivers the request, visiting the Nobles' home and revealing that their mutual friend is doomed. Ghulam keeps his word never to bother the family again, but waits for Gustad outside the Tower of Silence after Bilimoria's funeral. As a non-Parsi, had not been allowed to attend. Posing again as a taxi driver, Ghulam reveals that he is still serving in RAW because that will best serve his purpose of finding out who is responsible for Bilimoria's death so he can it. He finally admits responsibility for the little acts of terrorism at the Khodadad Building that Gustad had been accusing him of committing.
Gustad's balding coworker at the bank and friend, who has recently been hospitalized and who still appears sickly as the novel begins. Dinshawji suffers intermittent halitosis, which can serve as a barometer of his moods, since it is intensified by stress. An inveterate joker - some would call him a buffoon -- Dinshawji refers to his wife Alamai as his "Domestic Vulture." Dinshawji enjoys reciting poems and calls himself Kavi Kamaal, the Indian Tennyson. Colleagues also label him the "Casanova of Flora Fountain," because of the lewd comments he makes about women, beautiful Laurie Coutino in particular. Dinshawji cheerfully accepts the risk of helping Gustad put cash into a secret account, and then to remove it again. Along with escalating his sexual innuendoes towards Laurie, Dinshawji boasts about having become a secret agent. Laurie asks Gustad to intervene before she has to quit her job and explain her reason for quitting. Dinshawji accepts the reprimand and vows to change. His sense of humor vanishes. His physical strength quickly fails. Dinshawji accelerates the pace of closing out the illegal account and collapses. Gustad accompanies him to the hospital and watches his rapid decline during frequent visits. Dinshawji dies alone when Gustad goes to the Mount Mary shrine to pray for his recovery. Dinshawji's funeral is attended by a massive number of mourners, and appears to be sincerely missed by the cold Domestic Vulture. His sunken face smiles in death before he is consigned to the Tower of Silence.
Miss Kutpitia
The Nobles' well-to-do, busybody second-floor neighbor, in her 70's, Miss Kutpitia rarely leaves her apartment. She has gained a reputation among the children as a witch. Dilnavaz is perhaps her only friend, accepting her idiosyncrasies, which include dealing in black and white magic and divination. Miss Kutpitia declines an invitation to Gustad's celebration after taking a lizard's wriggling tail as an evil omen. The lady never married, but dedicated herself to helping her widowed brother raise her nephew, Farad. When they died in an accident, Miss Kutpitia sealed off their rooms as a shrine for 35 years. Miss Kutpitia advises Dilnavaz on how to extract the evil eye from Sohrab and Roshan. In setting up a cure, she leaves Tehmul alone in Farad's room to watch a flaming lizard's tail. Miss Kutpitia does not understand Tehmul's warnings of fire, so the two rooms are destroyed. The rest of her apartment is left untouched. The accident frees Miss Kutpitita's spirit. She becomes a joyous woman once again.
A childish, rapid-talking resident of Khodadad Building who adores Gustad, Tehmul spends his days in the compound. As a child, Tehmul broke his hip in a fall from the compound's solitary neem tree. At 30 he is still cared for by his older brother, a traveling salesman, often absent. Tehmul, cruelly nicknamed "Scrambled Eggs," loves to follow grown-ups, scratches constant in public, which sometimes turns to caressing himself, and speaks so rapidly no one can understand him. Gustad is one of the few who can decipher his speech and tolerate his presence. Tehmul used to collect rats for the municipal bounty paid, but residents will not provide him any, after learning he tortures the ones taken live. Tehmul regularly appears in the novel, assigned minor tasks, and drinking limejuice provided by Dilnavaz as a magical means of diverting evil spirits from her son Sohrab. Tehmul takes a liking to Roshan's bride doll, but is forbidden more than a quick touch. One night, the prostitutes at the House of Cages refuse him their paid service for their services. In frustration, Tehmul steals Roshan's doll. He needs something to help him masturbate. Forbidden light from Tehmul's window during wartime blackout leads Gustad to discover Tehmul's filthy fetish. From pity, he allows Tehmul to keep the defiled toy.
Dilnavaz and Miss Kutpitia expose Tehmul to a lethal magical light. A few days later, while enjoying the excitement of a street fight outside the wall, Tehmul tries to catch a soaring brick, which crushes his skull. Before he expires, Tehmul is freed of his speech impediment and thanks Gustad. Gustad carries the corpse to his bed, lays the dolly beside him, and recites prayers over Tehmul's body. Then Gustad weeps for all the people he has loved and lost to death.

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