“To have lived and died as one had been born, unnecessary and unaccommodated”
A story set up in the colonial era, of an Indian family settled in Trinidad. Parents who only want their children to become what they aspire to be. Children, who continue being children, running in the green fields, getting flogged for a misdeed, on-and-off relationship with education. And gradually children becoming parents and continuing to play their role in the setup.
A dream of most middle-class families at that time – Getting a pukka house of their own. This is the main theme of this story. The main theme of the life of Mr. Biswas – moving from place to place, house to house, dreaming of one day when he can sit back and relax in a house of his own.
“Between clumps of bamboo the stream ran over smooth stones of many sizes and colours, the cool sound of water blending with the rustle of the sharp leaves, the creaks of the tall bamboos when they swayed and their groans when they rubbed against one another.”
“Outside, from an unknown direction, a frog honked, then made a sucking, bubbling noise. The crickets were already chirping. Mr Biswas was alone in the dark hut, and frightened.“
“Far away the low trees were black against the fading sky; the orange streaks of sunset were smudged with grey, as if by dirty thumbs.“
Mr Biswas grew up running around in te fields, going through family crisis, finding his vocation – painting signs.
“He thought R and S the most beautiful of Roman letters; no letter could express so many moods as R, without losing its beauty; and what could compare with the swing and rhythm of S?”
Mr. Biswas got married and suddenly found himself in shackles. The story slowly builds up his character, strengths, and weaknesses. Aspirations and downfalls.
“There is, in some weak people who feel their own weakness and resent it, a certain mechanism which, operating suddenly and without conscious direction, releases them from final humiliation. Mr Biswas, who had up till then been viewing his blasphemies as acts of the blackest ingratitude, now abruptly lost his temper.”
And this is not just a story about Mr. Biswas. It is a story about his family – where characters came in different shades, everyone had a story. No one was a hero, and no one was a villain – You need to look at things from the lens of each of these character, especially Mr. Biswas’ wife – Shama.
“Shama expected from life: to be taken through every stage, to fulfil every function, to have her share of the established emotions: joy at a birth or marriage, distress during illness and hardship, grief at a death. Life, to be full, had to be this established pattern of sensation. Grief and joy, both equally awaited, were one. For Shama and her sisters and women like them, ambition, if the word could be used, was a series of negatives: not to be unmarried, not to be childless, not to be an undutiful daughter, sister, wife, mother, widow.”
Mr. Biswas kept moving form a village o another. Description of each of these villages keep taking you back in time – to your own village, to your own country.
“in the village like this, in a yard like this, in a bonfire like this: bringing sensations, not pictures, of an evening meal being cooked over a fire that shone on a mud wall and kept out the night, of cool, new, unused mornings, of rain muffled on a thatched roof and warmth below it: sensations as faint as the scent of the poui itself, but sadly evanescent, refusing to be seized or to be translated into a concrete memory.”
“WHENEVER AFTERWARDS MR BISWAS thought of Green Vale he thought of the trees. They were tall and straight, and so hung with long, drooping leaves that their trunks were hidden and appeared to be branchless. Half the leaves were dead; the others, at the top, were a dead green. It was as if all the trees had, at the same moment, been blighted in luxuriance, and death was spreading at the same pace from all the roots. But death was forever held in check. The tonguelike leaves of dead green turned slowly to the brightest yellow, became brown and thin as if scorched, curled downwards over the other dead leaves and did not fall. And new leaves came, as sharp as daggers; but there was no freshness to them; they came into the world old, without a shine, and only grew longer before they too died“
Time goes on, and Mr. Biswas slips into depression, a madness which strikes those who turn their face away from reality, keep thoughts bogged down, refusing to talk to themselves. The roller coaster ride – Sunshine and Darkness. And then one day you realize that your life is passing by and you are wasting your time preparing for it, rather than experiencing it.
“Living had always been a preparation, a waiting. And so the years had passed; and now there was nothing to wait for.“
“He put his feet down and sat still, staring at the lamp, seeing nothing. The darkness filled his head. All his life had been good until now. And he had never known. He had spoiled it all by worry and fear.”
“Already yesterday, last night, was as remote as childhood. And mixed with his fear was this grief for a happy life never enjoyed and now lost.”
“Then, as he cycled, he discovered a new depth to this pain. Every object he had not seen for twenty-four hours was part of his whole and happy past. Everything he now saw became sullied by his fear, every field, every house, every tree, every turn in the road, every bump and subsidence. So that, by merely looking at the world, he was progressively destroying his present and his past.”
“Every morning the period of lucidity lessened. The bedsheet, examined every morning, always testified to a tormented night. Between the beginning of a routine action and the questioning the time of calm grew less. Between the meeting of a familiar person and the questioning there was less and less of ease. Until there was no lucidity at all, and all action was irrelevant and futile.”
Then comes the Time Turner. Mr. Biswas’ children take us back to the start of story. Everything appeared to be the same – just the character switching places. Mr. Biswas start seeing his aspirations in his son, Anand.
“Anand was content. Darkness at four o’clock was an event, romantic, to be remembered.”
“Anand listened, trying to pick up the component parts of the din: the rain, the wind, the running of water, the trees, the rain on walls and roof. Talk, indistinct, a bumble, rising and falling.”
Stronger the storm, the clearer is the sky that follows it. Mr. Biswas had experienced the darkest patch of his life, and things could have only improved from this point. The bond between the father and son grew, something Mr. Biswas missed with his father.
“The darkness, the silence, the absence of the world enveloped and comforted him. At some far-off time he had suffered great anguish. He had fought against it. Now he had surrendered, and this surrender had brought peace.”
“So later, and very slowly, in securer times of different stresses, when the memories had lost the power to hurt, with pain or joy, they would fall into place and give back the past.”
“He was going out into the world, to test it for its power to frighten. The past was counterfeit, a series of cheating accidents. Real life, and its especial sweetness, awaited; he was still beginning.”
“On a Sunday afternoon, when shadows had withdrawn to under the eaves of houses, when the city was hard and bright and empty, with doors closed everywhere, and the glass windows of shops reflected only those opposite, Mr Biswas took Anand on a tour of Port of Spain.”
“The promise of the evening; the expectation of the morning.”
And then Books came to the rescue of Mr. Biswas. I totally understand how this would have shaped things. Discovering that the things you are going through aren’t new, and someone sometimes has been through the same. You understand that you are not alone and suddenly you find yourself full of energy, the source of which you do not know.
“Then it was that he discovered the solace of Dickens. 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 with the most difficult part of his day: dressing in the morning, that daily affirmation of faith in oneself, which at times was for him almost like an act of sacrifice.”
“The wind never ceased to rage through the trees; above the swaying bush, the dancing plumes of green, the sky was high and open. From time to time they had glimpses of the sea: so near, so unending, so alive, so impersonal.”
“Wind and sea welcomed them in the morning. Light showed them where they were. The wind and the sea raged all night, but now they were both fresh, heralds of the new day. The children walked about the shining wet grass on the top of the hill; the sea, glimpsed through the tormented coconut trees, lay below them; their hands and faces became sticky with salt.”
So how does the story end? Did Mr. Biswas build a house? Was it a happy ending? Read for yourself 🙂 Anyways, the story is hardly about how it ends. It is about how it happened. And this is a beautiful and colorful story. Read it for Mr. Biswas. Read it for yourself. Read it for your memories.
“How ridiculous were the attentions the weak paid one another in the shadow of the strong!”
“Communism, like charity, should begin at home.”
“When you sick you forget what it is to be well. And when you well you don’t really know what it is to be sick. Is the same with not having a place to go back to every afternoon”