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A House for Mr Biswas

If you ever come across a scene, where the members of a family are falling head over heels for someone, running around that person, trying to please and appease him. Know that the creature in front of you is the Son-In-Law of that family. This is an Indian cultural thing that is quite common here in India, though this status and prestige of the Son-In-Law depreciates over the years, the rate of depreciation depends on how he treats his wife and her family members.
The sad part is that Mr Biswas didn’t even receive the above mentioned honour when he married into the Tulsi Family.

Having purchased the paperback in August’2013, I picked it up last week. I don’t remember from where did I came to know about this book, but I am thankful that I did, for it is an excellent read, beautifully written by  V. S. Naipaul.

‘A work of great comic power qualified with firm and unsentimental compassion’ -Anthony Burgess

I couldn’t agree more.

The book is about the life of Mohun Biswas and his yearning to own a house.

How terrible it would have been. . . to have lived without even attempting to lay claim to one’s portion of the earth; to have lived and died as one has been born, unnecessary and unaccommodated.

The story is setup in Trinidad and major characters are Indo-Trinidadians. It begins with telling you that Mr Biswas is living in his own house, he is forty six years old, and he is to die soon. What follow is a journey that takes you back in time, to his birth, in the ‘wrong way’, in a village that is uniquely Indian. Most of the Indians living in urban India do have some connection with the villages and small districts because of family and friends though that connection is getting weaker by the day, and if not, most Indians have watched enough Bollywood to feel as if the the opening chapter is going on in some village in India itself.

While reading most books there are moment you pass a smile or have a chuckle, this one is different. I couldn’t help myself laughing out loud through out the book and the last time that I remember having such an experience was when I read Catch- 22.

As the story develops, you start feeling for Mr Biswas, his struggles, his troubles, his fears, his triumphs, all feel real, and you connect with him and other characters in the book. It all feels real.

‘When you sick you forget what it is to be well. And when you well you don’t really know what it is to be sick. Is the same with not having place to go back to every afternoon.’

Roti Kapda aur Makaan (Food, Clothing, and Shelter). These are the key struggles of many Indian and for the fact, Humans around the world. People who have the above should be grateful to God, be more humble and charitable.

Above I mentioned the Tulsi Family. Mr Biswas marries one of the daughters of this family, though the circumstances in which the marriage takes place, are quite hilarious for the reader, but surreal for Mr Biswas.

Mr. Biswas has no money or position. He was expected to become a Tulsi.

 From the ultimate low, Mr Biswas pulls himself up, and makes something out of his life.

He was going out into the world, to test it for his power to frighten. The past was counterfeit, a series of cheating accidents. Real life, and its especial sweetness, awaited; he was still beginning.

I wouldn’t divulge anything more from the story because I want to you read it for yourself. I had a great time reading this book, laughed a great deal, grew solemn in certain sections of the book, especially when the book was nearing it end.

Some of the quotes from the book:

He has begun to wait, not only for love, but for the world to yield its sweetness and romance. He deferred all his pleasure in life until that day.

There is, in some weak people who feel their own weakness and resent it, a certain mechanism which, operating suddenly and without conscious direction, releases them from final humiliation.

For Shama and her sisters and women like them, ambition, if the word could be used, was a series of negatives: not to be unmarried, not to be childless, not to be an undutiful daughter, sister, wife, mother, widow.

Father and son, each saw the other as weak and vulnerable, and each felt a responsibility for the other, a responsibility which, in times of particular pain, was disguised by exaggerated authority on the one side, exaggerated respect on the other.

PS: I did find out from where I learned about this book, TIME’S ALL-TIME 100 Novels.


About Mohammad Kamil Nadeem

Peace Be With You. Space is less, check this=> https://plus.google.com/+KamilNadeem/about

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