Hope and Despair - A Fine Balance | Skillshare Projects

Barbara Fillip

Mapping Maven



Hope and Despair - A Fine Balance

A Fine Balance, by Rohinton Mistry, is a sweeping narrative that covers the lives of four individuals in India during the 70's (including a period of intense political upheaval known as The Emergency).  The first half of the book provides the backstories of the four individuals, the second half of the book is about what happens to them after their paths merge. When I first read it the first part of the book felt like four distinct short stories. They are essential caught in the political turmoil of the times and being members of the lower class (with the exception of Dina, who is technical from a higher class, but reduced to poverty as a widow who refuses to remarry), their options are very limited. The book definitely has some political undertones, highlighting many of the abuses that occured during that time.   

I never owned the book.  I read a copy borrowed from the local library. There are a number of covers, but most appear to be derivatives of the original, which shows a little girl balanced on a pole, the end of which rests on a thumb.  

It appears that the picture was taken by Dario Mitidieri (more research needed). The original photograph can be found here, with the following caption:

Savita, a two and a half years girl from North Bombay, performs for Arab tourists near the Taj-Mahal Hotel, from the Children of Bombay series, 1992.

The balance feat is rather common among India's street acrobats.  There is a scene in the book depicting such a balance act.

I personally didn't remember the thumb and didn't make the connection to the title.  The phrase, a fine balance, is also found in the text: ".. a fine balance between hope and despair."  Perhaps naming the book "a fine balance between hope and despair would have given away too much of the story. It's a very dark story with a very unhappy ending, yet a beautiful story.  So, how can the cover reflect that without using the image of the balancing act.

Some key words:  Crossroads, inequalities, poverty, fate, inevitability, corruption, whirlwind, State of Emergency, abuse, hope, despair, resilience, status.

Individual lives caught in the whirlwind of history (tourbillon de l'histoire).  I don't think the image used on most of the existing covers captures that important aspect of the book. 

Balance is a very delicate state.  It can shatter at any time.

Initial Idea to explore in images:

  • Four paths leading to a crossroad of some kind.
  • Black and white photography, with a contrasting color (red/orange).
  • How to depict changes, a path leading to The Emergency.
  • Violence, forced sterilization, destruction of the slums.
  • Shadow of Indira Gandhi's face or sylhouette.

There must be some meaning to the black and red on some of the covers (research needed). The flag of India is orange and green.

To do:  

  • Look at photographs of India in the 70s, especially during The Emergency.
  • Find images of tailors at work, of large quilts with no patterns.
  • Contrasts of poverty and happiness/smiles of hope.
  • Look for covers of Novels about India.

A couple of covers are completely different:

One shows a red sewing machine on an orange background. I like the four threads (paths) of the four main characters.  At least that's my interpretation.  And the colors on this cover are better representations of India.


“…God is a giant quiltmaker. With an infinite variety of designs. And the quilt is grown so big and confusing, the pattern is impossible to see, the squares and diamonds and triangles don’t fit well together anymore, it’s all become meaningless. So He has abandoned it.” 
― Rohinton MistryA Fine Balance

Looking for quilt ideas


This one would probably work best as a cover.  The colors are light enough to accomodate dark wording on top. 

I like this last one because of the lack of pattern. In the story, they start with patterns but as the pieces of left-over material become scarce, they give up on keeping up with the patterns.


12/10/2013 - Snow Day, Time to Play

The cover cannot be "covered" with a quilt, but I'm not giving up on the quilt idea entirely.  I don't know how I'm going to create the image because I have neither the skills nor the tools but I'm thinking of an image that would take about a third of the cover, leaving enough clear space for the title and author.  It's a rectangle laying on its longer side, with diagonal paths cutting it into four triangles (each representing one of the four main characters).  The diagonal paths are marked by a double set of stitches (perhaps they can even be made to look like railroad tracks in some way.  It's a quilt, with pieces of fabric that don't match at all, and the color starts bright at the edges and fades to gray in the middle, or some other variation of fading out.  I can sketch this out but that may be it in terms of actually producing a cover.  

Another idea is to have the words "hope" and "despair" vaguely appearing in the quilt pattern.  It's probably better to have hope and despair represented by the fading of color than actual words. 

And here is what I ended up with after a couple of hours of struggle.

Obviously different from what I was initially thinking of, and partially the result of a mistake.  The dark outline is the shape of India...perhaps not obvious.

I probably went too far.

And here's an improvement (?)


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