A House for Mr Biswas‘ does quite a fair job in demonstrating to its readers why owning a house for many mostly remains just a dream. It is difficult not just today but was equally impossible even in those days when people earned meagre $10/month (as Mr. Biswas did) to make ends meet.

Spanning across almost 46 years of Mr. Biswas’ life, the book focuses on his labors for a house he can call his own.

Mohun Biswas is an ill-omen for his family right since his birth given he enters the world of the living ‘the wrong way’ and with an extra finger. Born in a rural family in Trinidad to parents of 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 meant 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. He marries her and becomes a member of the enormous Tulsi-household.

The plot, for the most part, drags through Mr. Biswas’ struggle for economic independence and to break-free of the Tulsi dominance. As the years pass, he grows exceedingly depressed and leaves the Tulsi house with his wife and four kids. He suffers constant rebuttals from Shama and her family, becomes a journalist, educates his kids, skips jobs, moves places, in search of that one place he can call home.

Although this is a slow read, the witty humor sprinkled with intellectual bits make the prose enjoyable. At times, it is full of saturnine descriptions and at times, dripping with worthwhile thoughts.  Read this quote here and you’ll get a taste of 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, a man easily provoked by scorns and gibes, a grudges-held-to-the-heart-and-never-to-be-forgotten man, and determined-with-lasting-paranoia for a house of his own.

Even though the plot isn’t out-of-the-way appealing, the overall description of the places, the community, the people, adversities and afflictions right from the oldest to the youngest character, their mirths and miseries, make the book a gripping melodramatic page-turner, even if that is punctuated with long-drawn sighs.

This is not the typical run-on-fast-track with an extraordinary-twists-and-turns book, but if you are good at being godly-patient with lengthy stories that don’t promise much, this might just be the book for you!

I’ll be damned if I say I didn’t like the book because I did. Because just like Mr. Biswas, I too am invariably obsessed about owning a house that I can call my own. So, if this has/had been your dream too, you’ll love the book.

If you happen to read ‘A House for Mr Biswas’ or have already read it, do share your thoughts below.

Asha Seth