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

I wanted to read ‘A House for Mr. Biswas’ for quiet a long time. One of the primary reasons for my interest was that I found the title intriguing enough. My speculation was that it is a story about a home less wanderer or a perennial tenant, who is made to shuttle from one house to another and who desperately wants to settle down in life.

However, once I started reading the novel, I found I was only partially correct. It is indeed a story about a homeless man, Mr. Mohun Biswas, whose only consolation in life was that he died in his own home! In fact, the story begins with the death of the sacked journalist, Mr. Biswas and bit by bit, the reader is given a flashback of his arduous life.

As the story progressed, I realized that Biswas’ yearning for House is just a metaphor. In essence, it reflects his unending quest for a good life, a stable relationship, a little love and sympathy, which is lacking in his life ever since he was born as the youngest son to a poor couple. He is branded as unlucky at his very birth by a Jyotishi. Especially, his sneeze is suspected to be really inauspicious for the family. And, as luck would have it, Mohun loses everything by the time, he becomes an adult.

He is angry with his fate, desperately wants to change his life for the better and is again and again beaten to dust by destiny. His life is like a desert, where one can only find mirages, not the real pleasure. And by and by, he becomes so used to the ill fate that he is not able to see good qualities in anyone, be it his mother, aunt, wife or mother-in-law.

He becomes more and more sarcastic and lives like a cynic his entire life. In short, this novel traces the journey of a man, who is ill treated by not only destiny, but his people as well and in return, he becomes so bitter that he erases all the sweetness of his life by his own thoughts and actions. The story goes round and round and I was confused as to whether hate Biswas for his dry nature or sympathize with him for his continuous sufferings. And in the end, I could not just love or hate him, but really wanted him to settle down in life and let him have a slice of goodness and joy.

The only thing that I could not really appreciate in this novel was the slight non grammatical English used by the characters, and passing it off as Hindi! It would have been better if Naipaul used real Hindi words. It would have given the novel a local flavor and enhance its genuineness.

Other than this slight niggle, I liked the novel, despite its cynicism and gloominess.

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