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A life: an epic
Oct 12, 2003 05:05 AM 7066 Views
(Updated Oct 12, 2003 05:05 AM)



A house for Mr. Biswas tells the tale of one Mr. Biswas (he is called by his second name, even as an infant), who is born ''unlucky'' and proves to be so when he fails in almost everything he does.

The plot is simple. Mr. Biswas, since early childhood, has the misfortune of depending on people other than his parents, for a roof over his head. He lives, in quick succession, in the house of his aunt, a pundit, and a rum-shop keeper, but is unable to merge well with any of his caretakers.

He has a gift (one of his few) of lettering, and he takes up sign painting. This brings him to a chance visit to the Tulsi's shop, where he ends up giving a ''love note'' to a Tulsi girl. The note lands up in Mrs. Tulsi's hand, and she proposes, nay, forces, him to marry his daughter. Mr. Biswas is thus married ''into'' the Tulsi family, which is a microcosm, teeming with life, with laws of its own.

And so begins Mr. Biswas' journey in search of space that is his own. The book has this journey as its central theme.

Mr. Biswas is not your regular hero - far from it. He is not even a regular guy. He is what you can safely call a loser. He fails in whatever job he takes up, and manages to lay the blame on someone else. He is prone to mood swings, and is an escapist.

Yet, you can't help but feel sorry for him, and wish him luck for his next venture. For he is full of hope, and through the fog of bitterness that clouds him all his adult life, he radiates expectation and promise.

The book is set in Trinidad of the first half of the twentieth century, and is a telling description of the lifestyles of the Hindu immigrants. Nothing escapes Naipaul's eye. Not the setting, nor the action. The most mundane of human activities has been given a meaning, and a subtlety. The simplest emotions have been portrayed the best.

The book begins at the end, soon goes back to the birth of the protagonist, and culminates in his death. In between, it sees the world with a totally fresh perspective, the eye of the loser, the view from the bottom.

A treat for the senses!

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House For Mr Biswas, A - V S Naipaul