Poetry

In this beautiful world, I have no desire to die,

I wish to live in the midst of men.

In this sunlight, in the flowering forests

In the heart of all living things may I find a place

Incessant is the play of life across the earth

With its perennial waves of union and separation, laughter and tears.

Weaving songs from the sorrow and happiness of man

I wish I might build an immortal realm.

Or failing this, I hope I can claim a seat

Amongst you for as long as I live

Composing songs like flowers that blossom ever afresh

For you to gather in the morning and noon.

Accept these flowers with a smile, and then alas!

Cast them aside as they fade and die.

Rabindranath Tagore





Saturday, May 11, 2013

A House for Mr. Biswas


He thought of the house as his own, though for years it had been irretrievably mortgaged. And during these months of illness and despair he was struck again and again by the wonder of being in his own house, the audacity of it: to walk in through his own front gate, to bar entry to whoever he wished, to close his doors and windows every night, to hear no noises except those of his family, to wander freely from room to room and about his yard, instead of being condemned, as before, to retire the moment he got home to the crowded room in one or the other of Mrs. Tulsi’s houses, crowded with Shama’s sisters, their husbands, their children. As a boy he had moved from one house of strangers to another; and since his marriage he felt he had lived nowhere but in the houses of the Tulsis, at Hanuman House in Arwacas, in the decaying wooden house at Shorthills, in the clumsy concrete house in Port of Spain. And now at the end he found himself in his own house, on his own half-lot of land, his own portion of the earth. That he should have been responsible for this seemed to him, in these last months, stupendous.
A House for Mr. Biswas (1961) is V.S. Naipaul’s third novel and deals with the life of Mohun Biswas, an Indian settler in Trinidad and his struggles to have a house of his own. Born the wrong way and considered to be unlucky by his parents, his prank leads to the death of his father. His mother and the four children are separated, Mohun taken into the care of his aunt Tara and her husband Ajodha. To earn a living, he works as a painter of signs and falls in love with Shama of the Tulsi family.
The Tulsi family is a joint family with the mother Mrs. Tulsi, her two sons, her sister and family, her fourteen daughters, their husbands and children, all living under the same roof. He longs for a house of his own and builds two, one of which blows off in the storm and the other catches fire. His struggles to have a house of his own that be “unaccomodated and unhoused” is the theme of the novel.
After years of poverty and humiliation, Biswas gets a job as a news reporter and his fortunes change. He saves money and when his son Anand is humiliated by Owad, the present Tulsi patriarch, he buys a house and takes Shama and his four children there. The house has so many faults that he did not notice but then it is his own and he dies there.
The novel portrays the lives of Hindus in the West Indies and the joint family system is humorously portrayed especially the nicknames that Mohun Biswas devises for his mother-in-law and his brother-in-laws. At the same time, there is pathos in the rootlessness and humiliation that a poor migrant has to suffer in an alien land. A House for Mr. Biswas combines both laughter and tears to depict a man’s attempt to find his self and his own "privacy and space" as Naipaul himself says in his BBC Interview.

1 comment:

Priya said...

I have only read one book by Naipaul, The Mystic Masseur, but I've heard a lot about this one. The book I read had a lot of very witty humour and wonderful characterization and what you've written convinces me that this might have some of that too. Can't wait to get my hands on this. Thanks for the lovely review!