A Fine Balance uses a straightforward third person omniscient narration. A style that has become suspects and largely outmoded in this postmodern period. The question is why did Mistry choose to write in such a mode? Now an analysis of the narrative style of a text will necessarily involve a close scrutiny of the intention of writing it.
In the novel the text as such, basically the descriptive part other than the character's conversations or their thoughts, stands out for its stark factuality and linearity of time. The text is just a long list of all the events and various descriptions. It doesn't probe at all the intentions or the mental make-up of the characters. We are left to make out whatever of their psychological make-up from their conversations or actions. In other words the text is non-intrusive.
At a cursory glance the novel fits in very nicely as a typical Bollywood masala movie. With its stereotyped characters: a widow on her own, a student far away from home and an uncle-nephew duo struggling against caste prejudices and all of them struggling to survive under Emergency's shadow. Lots of cliched relationships and a whole slew of amusing coincidences make it up. Many really tragic events take place like Om's family burning away In caste violence, Dina's husbands death, Maneck's father passing away in his absence, losses of jobs, losses of homes, people without legs, Om's castration, building up of emotional bonds between characters and then these being sundered apart. An easily digestible potboiler kind of story taking the readers along on an emotional roller coaster.
But this kind of interpretation is what Mistry is cautioning the readers against by raising various questions in his epigraph and in the novel itself. To proceed further we need to differentiate between the narrator and the author. In a third person narrative the relationship between the narrator and the author is somewhat blurred, the narrator getting mixed up with the author. Now the present text is factual and comments in it are scarce, the narrator is being deadly serious, therefore the author can make use of a prop character to speak for him. We can also make out that the narrator is favoring a Realist point of view. A third person kind of narrative that is used here was also the narrative style used by the English Realist's.
A character like Vasantrao Valmik, who himself is a bunch of idiosyncrasies and coincidences, serves as the medium for the author. Valmik invokes the names of both the novels written by Mistry, bestowing a kind of authenticity on his words. Besides Maneck talks of his Quilt maker God, who is churning out the events of their lives, just as the author is. And Dina in her meeting with Valmik considers him as making Oral quilts. So Valmik is put on a pedestal equivalent to that of the author. Valmik in his first meeting with Maneck says, "You cannot draw lines and compartments and refuse to budge beyond them." Its like the author is giving Maneck a glimpse of the mantra of survival.
Maneck on the other hand is a Rationalist, the kind of characters that exist in the English Realist novels. Good-natured persons but who are caught with a single lens to view the whole world. If we look at Maneck's life in comparison to others in the novel, his is the most idyllic life, a good well to do family. But inspite of that he is unable to adjust to the fact that his parents deprived him of the good times at home. Not even his father's death could assuage the grudge he held the closest to his heart.
But ultimately Maneck fails. He fails to maintain the balance and falls more and more into despair as events unfold around him. But Om and Ishvar inspite of the most harrowing experiences hang on to their balance. The English Realist's debate on the influence of heredity and environment surfaces here in favor Om, Ishvar and Dina.
Mistry is again and again banging in the fact that the world is ever changing. Its relationships, its equations, its very laws change. It's somewhat like balancing yourself on a sphere or like for the Monkeyman to balance his two cousins on the long bamboo from his forehead. It's a fine balance. In a way Mistry is very deliberately at the very bastion of realism. The idea that you can constrain the world within a compartment, the idea of rationalism where everything goes according to a fixed set of rules.
In fact he renders the whole debate of the English Realists about the influence of heredity and environment on the formation of an individual as being totally irrelevant. The human spirit is boundless. It will overcome the difficulties no matter how oppressing the condition. Om, Ishvar and Dina exemplify his. Each time they lose all they have it seems they will fall apart. But then they spring tenaciously to move on to the next thing.
Maneck, synonymous with the rational thought process, on the other hand is unable to rationalize the reality as it is. And all the years he has spent away from home haven't mitigated his conflict. His mind is the compartment that Valmik refers to. And the narrative, which is churning out the sequence of events, reflects the intense conflict in Maneck's mind and comes to a very abrupt pause with Maneck's suicide. The event is jarring precisely for the reason that the narrative gets out of control being forced to constrain within a rational framework, and culminates in a disaster.
The ending on the other hand is a very mundane description of the continuing life of the other three characters, not knowing the fate that has befallen Maneck. The day could have been any of their day for the rest of their lives. They are cracking jokes and are in balance. Dina though bound to her brother is still living life on her own terms. This kind of ending is just what a Realist novel wouldn't have ended with. It almost always ends in a decisive finale not in ellipsis...
This clinches the fact that he presents his novel as an expose of the fallacy of the cardinal principle of Realism. It asserts that there is no such thing as an absolute interpretation that laws of the world vary. You need to juggle out your survival.
It is interesting to see how Mistry presents his novel rooted very much from within a Realist framework and yet he strives to undermine it. He being very much a part of it deems it fit to attack it from within and in a way questions himself. At the end of the novel we see Valmik churning out fiction after fiction and being very content with it. Now if we see Valmik as representing the author in the novel, then the author is very much contradicting himself from what he says at the very outset in the epigraph that, "All this is true." But this is more in the nature of a self-questioning spirit than an inadvertent overlook.