House Of Mr Biswas

I read this book on the recommendation of my friend. It is amazing how some books can help you draw parallel in your life.


The author writes the book inspired by his own life .The main protagonist of the book is Mr. Mohun Biswas who is in quest to get his own house made; this character is based on his father. Biswas is born in not so well off family but marries into a big-shot family of the region. His wife is among the 9 sisters and 2 brothers, there is constant collision between the husbands of the wives for all kinds of superiority, not to mention the sisters themselves have issues with each other.


In the beginning of the book, Mohun Biswas is shown as a baby born with 6 fingers, the sixth finger comes off when he is still 9 days old, considered unlucky child for his sneezing and bringing bad luck to those around him. Later he works as a painter for signs which leads him to his wife Shama’s place. There he paints for the shop’s sign board. Mrs. Tulsi gets his daughter married to him, then there is Seth a trusted advisor of Mrs. Tulsi who treats Biswas pretty much like shit and good for nothing lad. Seth has authority over everything, till the two masters (read Mrs. Tulsi’s sons grow up and take the mantle)


Biswas starts from being a guy who stays at his wife’s place Hanuman House, to one being given menial jobs for survival (in the process being ridiculed) and trying to get the elusive house build. Later in life, he writes as Journalist for Sentinel, A Trinidad Newspaper. This was a job he cherished the most in his life and which gave him a sense of respect (even though the in-laws might not believe so).


The story does gives a good insight into an Indo-Caribbean family where the protagonist is married to socioeconomic better of family, he has to deal with a wife who worships this family and her brothers. Biswas has 4 children, 1 son and 3 daughters. There are some hilarious typical Indian scenes, which I think are implanted in every Indian family. There is a scene where Biswas is being beaten by his rival that is his wife Shama’s brother-in-law, then Shama’s attempts for status but fear of loathing from her sisters. The pick of them all is sisters trying to score brownie points with their ‘Lord brothers’  by over-weeping when the younger one comes from England, in short attention seeking behavior. The brothers who act like masters in their own right, the Tulsi Family also has a fall out with Seth their administrator guy.


There is one instant, when the youngest brother returns from England (apparently after many years in England) and talks fashionably about Russia, Socialism and Communism, but barely tries to practice the leftist ideas at home or his surroundings. A typical trait in self proclaimed Leftist, who are educated in big shot foreign universities who then proclaim themselves as Liberal voices of the world. During the last chapters this exhibitionist “Lord brother” Owad talks about ideas and all, showing off his so-called intellect, in the process ridiculing Biswas, slapping Biswas’ son and showing superiority to others in presence of his cheerleader sisters, who loved each and every act of his. You can easily find such characters in every Indian family, whom you feel repulsed from, the over pretentious ones aka jackass.


Mr. Biswas also sets in motion the desire to get his children educated in England, the eldest daughter and son gets into the UK university.  Eldest daughter comes back and helps Mr.Biswas financially when his health is crumbling  and he is let go from Sentinel , the newspaper he works for. He is also able to get a new house, which he renovates after being duped to buy it. Not to mention in the process fending off the first owner/ builder from his veranda.


The book was all in all an Indian family drama, recommended for patient readers only. It took a while for me to get it completed though. Since, I got frustrated reading about some ‘real’ life characters and had other commitments too. Looking forward to read more Naipaul’s works, this time I think I will go for Non-fiction books, the Indian Trilogy which he wrote.

VS Naipaul