A House for Mr. Biswas by V. S. Naipaul

 

This book does a quite a fair job in yelling out to its readers why owning a house for many mostly remains just a dream. If you have a dream of maybe finding that diamond in the coal mines, or traveling to moon or mars or walking around the world, you might still achieve those, or hope to. But if you dream about owning a house, you might as well just dream.

It is not just inexhaustibly difficult today but was nearly equally impossible even in those days when people earned $10/month(as Mr. Biswas did) and strived for a living.

This is the central idea of the book.

The struggle of a Mr. Mohun Biswas for a house he can call his own.

The book spans across almost 46 years of Mr. Biswas’ life.

Mohun Biswas is an ill-omen right from his birth given he’s born ‘the wrong way’ and with an extra finger. Born in a rural family in Trinidad to parents from Indian origin, Mr. Biswas has had to face unfortunate days since childhood. But the real trouble starts after his father’s death. Owing to unscrupulous neighbors, they have to sell their house. The family disintegrates and scatters to live with relatives.
Later, as he grows, he is denied education and is pushed stead-first into the ‘pundit’ business which he realizes is not made for him and ventures into a sign-painting business with his friend’s advice and support. He falls in love with a wealthy client’s daughter Shama and before he knows he is already married to her, a member now of the enormous Tulsi-household.
The plot after that drags through Mr. Biswas’ struggle for economic independence and break-free of the Tulsi dominance.
As days and years pass, he grows increasingly sad and depressed and leaves the Tulsi house with his wife and four kids. He gets into depression, faces constant rebuttals from Shama and her family, becomes a journalist, educates his kids, changes several jobs, stays and moves from various places, in search of that one place that he can call home.

Although this is a slow book that drags you through the tiresome 600 some pages, the witty humor in the prose helps you enjoy the otherwise painful book. At times, it is full with saturnine descriptions and at times, dripping with worthwhile thoughts.  I would like to share this quote from the book,

“Without difficulty he transferred characters and settings to people and places he knew. In the grotesques of Dickens everything he feared and suffered from was ridiculed and diminished, so that his own anger, his own contempt became unnecessary, and he was given strength to bear the most difficult part of his day: dressing in the morning, that daily affirmation of faith in oneself, which at times for him was almost like an act of sacrifice.”

Mohun Biswas is a perfectly compelling character with an unsympathetic-to-the-point-of-being-utmost-rude demeanor, easily-affected-by-incidents-and-gibes, prone-to-be-overly-provoked even with the tiniest effort, grudges-held-to-the heart-and-never-to-be-forgotten man, determined-upto-eternity for a house of his own.

Even though the plot wasn’t out-of-the-way appeasing, the overall description of the places, the community, the people, adversities and afflictions right from the oldest to the youngest character, their ideologies and struggles through the tryst of times is utmost engrossing and compelling to keep you turning the pages one after the other, even if that has to be followed by long drawn sighs.

This is not the typical running-on-fast-track with uncountable twists-and-turns book, but if you are Godly-patient with massive bland stories, this might just be the book for you!!

Well, whether it is worth the effort or not is something I am going to leave upto you to decide .

I still remember, the first time I’d read about this book, I so wanted to read it that not finding it for almost a year was driving me insane.
Now that I’ve found and have read it, I don’t know if I like it really.
Well, to be honest, I did like it but not just as much I’d expected thought I would.

Maybe I was obsessed with the book because alike Mr. Biswas, I too am invariably obsessed about owning a house that I can call ‘A House for Asha’. Hopefully someday…

-Asha

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