V. S. Naipaul’s post-colonial fiction “A House for Mr. Biswas” (drawn from his own father’s life-story) looked too fat with pages to be squeezed into that one month before my M. A. exams, along with Alice Walker’s “Color Purple”, Salinger’s “Catcher in the Rye”, Rushdie’s “Midnight Children”…to name a few from what retains in my memory! After browsing through the ‘Preface’ of Mr. Biswas, I settled happily for a summary and felt... ‘done’ to sit for my papers. My pre-exam cramming has always been scary and uninspiring, and perhaps a comfort for the likes of those who still hope they’ll not flunk, because I never have, so far. And from the little that I read, Naipaul’s phrase – “How terrible it would have been…to have lived without even attempting to lay claim to one’s portion of the earth…” – set me meditating…
For those who didn't read the book, didn't click on the link (too lazy / disinterested, here goes a little synopsis: “A House for Mr. Biswas” talks about how a certain Mr. Mohun Biswas spends his life shuttling from one house to another and how he constantly craves and pines to purchase a house of his own. He ends up buying one and the way Naipaul winds it you just realise it is but a man’s primal need to claim his “portion of the earth”, to be able to call a house his home, not just because he loves to come back to it every evening, but because he owns it.
What follows is partly fictitious and inspired by “A House…”.
A Home for a Vagabond
“This is huge!” I gasped, as I walked into the second room. Balmy sunbeams etched the window panes on the white tiled floor, and imagining all those languid, frosty noons this ‘roomscape’ must have, and will continue to witness, I almost felt my eye-lids droop.
One entire wall was embossed with wooded wardrobes. A small door led to a balcony that jutted out over a garden-turned-dusty-playground, fringed with malnutritioned trees. It would be colourblind to consider it ‘green’ per se, but it made-up for my ‘I want a little greenery around the house’. Another door led to the bathroom, so spanking clean that it can be passed for a mirror-house (hyperbole, obviously!). The first room door’ed the kitchen – petite, but well-shelved, well-ventilated.
By the time I was done inspecting the house, I had already visualized which of my belongings would stand where and rearranged that arrangement at least thrice.
“Jst wot i alwys wntd: a white house” – I sms’ed Don.
Like most expats, I have spent my life (dated to begin on day I landed in Delhi) shifting from one house to another to ease commuting from college and later from office; shared my space with others and even compromised on the “quality” everytime I chose to stay alone. Money so conditions our lives!
Eye widen, still, and my most used swear hushes out as my slacking jaws counting my ex-houses.
First House: Kamrupa Girls Hostel, Shakti Nagar
Second House: Sardar Uncle’s PG, Hudson Lines
Third House: The PG next door, Hudson Lines
Fourth House: Raju Bhaiya’s PG, Outram Lines
Fifth House: Dingy one room, Maharani Bagh
Sixth House: Burhe Uncle’s House, Old Double Storey, Lajpat Nagar
Seventh House: Tarun ke samne wala Ghar, Old Double Storey, Lajpat Nagar
Eight House: Billu Bhaiya’s House, Munirka Market
Ninth House: Baa’r Ghor, Noida
Tenth House: No-Light-No-Sight House, Munirka Market
Eleventh House: Sandeep Asshole’s House, Munirka Market
Eleven houses in 5 years? Dang!
How promptly and unabashedly have I exercised my right to choice – selecting one, dumping another! No, packing and unpacking a whole house did not appear in my list of hobbies, neither was I fascinated about draining my wallet at the Property Dealers. The thought of a new space, new corners, new wall paint, new kitchen, and a faint hope that I might finally find my kind in my new neighbourhood - did occur. But these were never reasons enough to turn me into a happy vagabond for five long years. Everytime I shifted, I thought "this is the one", till it groomed in me a taste for the best. And fortunately, or else the feel of ‘this is it’ on seeing the ‘white house’ couldn’t have been so profound!
(Few years hence…)
Stretched on my mattress, I lazily counted the winters me and my home saw together.
“More to come”, I whispered to myself and slept off contentedly, as the balmy sunbeams etched the window panes on me and the white-tiled floor.