In the novel Such A Long Journey, Rohinton Mistry explores the nostalgia and grief experienced by characters of Gustad Noble and Miss Kutpitia. He talks about both the sweet reminiscing of the past, as well as the dangers of nostalgia that accompany it. Mistry’s protagonist, Gustad, struggles to understand the dynamic relationship that has evolved between him and his son, Sohrab.
Gustad remembers the relationship he used to share with Sohrab as a child and frequently reminisces the day he had risked his own life to save him.
However, when Sohrab refuses to live Gustad’s dream and attend the prestigious Indian Institute of Technology, their ideal relationship is under stress. Mistry uses the motif of the bookshelf throughout the novel as Gustad thinks about his son and the various dreams he had from him. He reminisces and relives the past as the bookshelf reminds him of the furniture shop his ancestors owned and his attachment to it: “How nicely all these would have stood in the bookcase Sohrab and he were planning to make.
Not now. The boy is nothing to me now” (Such A Long Journey 71). The symbol of the bookshelf and other furniture is how Gustad defines his own identity. This is seen as the motif reoccurs in the book several times. He had always expected his son to live in a way Gustad had dreamt of, carrying his family legacy forward. When Sohrab refuses to conform to Gustad’s wishes for him, Gustad is dejected and travels through the journey of despair hope as he states, “And my plans for the bookcase–turned to dust.
Like everything else” (Such A Long Journey 129). Through Gustad and Sohrab’s relationship, Mistry explores the disappointment that accompanies expectations. Gustad wants Sohrab to achieve what he couldn’t and in hopes of a better life for Sohrab, Gustad provided him with everything he was deprived of as a child. However, as he went against the ideal son that Gustad had dreamt of, their relationship went through a strain. Gustad is disappointed that Sohrab is unwilling to consider the bright future that lays in front of him. Thus, the memories of the past and the losses Gustad suffered as a child significantly impact his relationship with his son. Another example that Mistry uses to display the dangers of nostalgia and past intruding the present is Miss Kutpitia, an old woman, living in the Gustad’s building. Seen as a mad woman, she has gained the reputation of being a witch among young children. She never got married as she dedicated her life to helping her widower brother to raise her nephew, Farad. However, when they died in an accident, Miss Kutpitia sealed off their rooms as a shrine for thirty-five years. Mistry also hints at her sanity as he writes about how she has been waiting for her nephew’s return even after thirty-five years of his death:
Miss Kutpitia had been trying to mend and fix, ever since, in her own peculiar way. Her three and a half decades of reverently observed isolation had allowed the tropical climate to work its rot and ruin… But the sheet and the blanket were neatly arranged, the pillow in position, awaiting the occupant’s return. (Such A Long Journey 354)
Mistry evokes the feelings of sympathy and empathy towards Miss Kutpitia as he reveals the tragic journey of her life as she lives in isolation, grieving over the death of her loved ones. Miss Kutpitia lives caged by the past which affects her ability to interact with people. The despair that accompanies the death of her family makes her turn to the practice of white and black magic. This makes the readers realize that loneliness and grief coupled with nostalgia cause a person to drive to extreme ends, even losing sanity. It is evident that Miss Kutpitia has been in the grasp of past events and is driven by her grief to an extent where she shuts the world out and is on the brink of insanity. Mistry hints at the fact that while it is often pleasant to relive old memories and events, those memories if preserved for an entire life, can govern a person’s ability to live his life to the fullest. The effects of grief and nostalgia, in both novels, are exemplified by the social and political circumstances that the characters are placed in.