A Fine Balance by Rohinton Mistry, dramatized by Ayeesha Menon and Kewel Kariim

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A Fine Balance by Rohinton Mistry, dramatized by Ayeesha Menon and Kewel Karim. Dir. John Dryden. Perf. Shemaz Patel, Kenneth Desai, Anand Tiwari. BBC Radio 4, 22 Mar - 5 Apr. 2015. BBCiPlayer

Set in 1975 in an unidentified Indian city, "A Fine Balance" focuses on the experiences of refugees Ishvar (Kenneth Desai) and Om (Anand Tiwari) who have been fleeing all their lives; they have escaped caste and communal violence, and have to run away from the institutional violence of Indira Gandhi's emergency rule. The two protagonists' histories are seemingly intertwined by misfortune: living from hand to mouth and entirely at the mercy of the endless social upheavals, they are repeatedly beaten down and have to rise up again like the proverbial rubber ball.

In John Dryden's atmospheric production, with a haunting score by Sasha Putnam, the protagonists were at once attractive yet lost; we understood and sympathized with their plight, yet felt that they would always remain victims of an uncaring society, whose authorities seem more concerned to introduce sweeping measures, designed to "clear" the cities of the underclass, rather than worrying about trying to alleviate poverty or introduce measures designed to promote social equality.

This "Classic Serial" production offered an interesting corrective to the seemingly endless media images of India as an economic powerhouse, rife with economic and social development and full of investment potential. This might certainly be the case, but there exists a seamy underbelly too; a world whose inhabitants have to scrimp and save to eke out a living with absolutely to help from anyone. The story might have been set in the past, but it commented trenchantly on the present as well, prompting us to wonder whether things have actually changed much over the last four decades.