Novel: A House for Mr. Biswas
Author: V.S Naipaul
First published in: 1961
It is a story about ‘Mr. Mohun Biswas’ who throughout his life attempts to make a house which he could call his own. Born to an Indian family based out of Trinidad, Mohun was termed ‘unlucky’ as soon as he arrived in the world. His father dies looking for him in the pond where villagers feared Mohun had wound up while grazing a neighbour’s cattle. Mohun, still a child has to leave the village along with his mother and siblings. From that time on starts his struggle to get his own house.
While still young, working as a painter he gets attracted to the employer’s daughter and before he realizes he is married to her and starts living with her family (The Tulsis). This family which is headed by his wife’s mother and uncle houses all the daughters and their families who help the Mother and uncle in running the house and businesses in different ways. Mr. Biswas who feels that he was duped into getting married and was not given the respect he deserves, wants to leave the place and settle with his family elsewhere but his meagre earning doesn’t allow him to take such a step till quite long. He unlike other sons-in-law, usually speaks his mind and vents out his frustration in front of whole family usually targeting the head of the house and her two sons who are treated highly in the house. Even after moving to different places, each time he tries to do something to get his own house, somehow he ends up with his wife’s family. Its only at the end that he is able to get his house built where he breathes his last.
The whole story though sad for Mr. Biswas makes for a comic read. Sometimes, I sympathized with Mr. Biswas, sometimes thought of him as a maniac and sometimes was impressed by his pitiful determination. There are other facets to this novel apart from Mr. Biswas’ story like power struggle in the ladies of a joint family or issue of limited privacy between own sub-families, peer-pressure between children of the joint family.
The whole story seems very much possible and in fact true to the word but the novel is huge (more than 600 pages) and gets a bit stretched out in between. It is not a book where I was eager to see how the story unfolded, it was quite predictable. I felt that maybe if the book had wound up in 400-450 pages it would have been flawless.
In the introduction to the novel, the author reveals that the protagonist, Mr. Biswas’s character is inspired by author’s father who in fact lived in Trinidad with his wife’s family. On some research on the internet I even found a picture of the actual Tulsi family. Check it out here: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/V._S._Naipaul#/media/File:Sogee_Capildeo_Maharaj_with_9daughters_2sons.jpg
Fact: ‘A house for Mr. Biswas’ was the first acclaimed novel of V.S Naipaul who later went on to receive the Nobel Prize in Literature in 2001.