A House for Mr Biswas

“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.

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A web of memories

A good memory is like a gush of fresh air that feels smooth and pleasant against your skin, completely engulfs you in a blanket of thoughts and you find yourself smiling at the very touch of it.

But when a bad memory visits you, it doesn’t visit you alone. It brings with it all the interconnected memories that creep up your mind and pull you down. You keep trying to escape from this quicksand, but the more you move, the more you inch towards drowning.

What is it about bad memories that make them so powerful? I had been thinking a lot about this. Opening my arms and mind to all the memories that visit me – Experiencing them, studying them. Can we cut emotions out of these visits? Can I invoke my emotions when a happy memory visits, while behaving like a spectator sitting in a farm house, watching cars running across the newly built highway when it’s turning for a bad memory.

When I say ‘good’ or ‘bad’, it’s all about perspective. A memory which could have been haunting you some time back, suddenly transforms into something good, which you embrace whole-heartedly. Thereby meaning that memory in itself is not good or bad. It is just a reminiscence of a time gone by, child of random circumstances. It is not real. A ghost from the past which has settled in your subconscious and refuses to budge. It is how we decide to face these memories when they momentarily jump to your conscious, that makes them good or bad.

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Lucknow

The first thing I noticed post leaving the airport was the sign “Towards Metro Station”. Amidst cab drivers trying to catch your attention, the sign was a breath of fresh air. I moved towards it, negating all the efforts made my cab drivers to convince me that the new Metro is not worth it and the technological growth is only for our demise.

The station was clean as a whistle. The ticketing completely automated. And the word “rush” non-existent – Advantage of having Metro in a non-Metro. Metro saved me few bucks and more importantly, a lot of time. I de-boarded at IT College [Isabella Thoburn and not Info Tech], and came across a new branch of Dastarkhwaan near my home. Good vibes already 😀

If you are an alien to your State and visit your home only on a bi-annual subscription, you would connect with what I have to say. In my earlier trips, the entire auto journey that lasted from station to home was marked by a basket of sweet and bitter memories.

Bara Imambara – Lucknow

The Gun market near Charbag always made me wonder who buys these guns. I have never seen any civilian with a gun in Lucknow. We fire bullets with our tongue and that too starting with “Aap”. Sikander Bag, the coaching Mecca of Lucknow. 2 years of cycling from Aliganj to Hazratganj is bound to leave a permanent mark in your memory. So does the trips to CCD [which, in hindsight, might cost you few marks :P] Smriti Vatika, with statue of Nehru and Gandhi, and Gomti flowing under the bridge. Gol Market, which used to host discounted sale every Wednesday. The list goes on and on.

Now, with metro making in roads, all these chapters will be skipped. May be this was what cab driver was talking about. Quite visionary. Is this the way things are supposed to be? Make way for new, while trying to hold on to as much of old as possible. I guess I got to learn from this – See how things shape out.

Lucknow is my rehab. My spiritual retreat. My temple. Whenever I am stressed out and none of my techniques seem to work, I always have Lucknow as my last resort. Memories, like Hermione’s time turner, has a magical healing effect. I am not saying that all memories are happy memories. The bitter memories, too, have their use. They have helped me much more than happy memories, in finding closure.

My city is voting tomorrow. I am here to join my people in this festival of democracy. Someday, the journey that I am on is going to bring me back here. I look forward to that day.

This is my mental detox week. For me, this week is just about reminding myself the things that I already know. The things that, at times, get lost in the hustle and bustle of city. At other times, you intentionally block them out for a larger purpose. Either way, you lose the grip. It is so difficult to attain a calm state of mind. And so easy to lose it.

I am looking forward to get back on that life frequency that I have been seeking of late.

Grandmother, tell me another story

Passing between lips, an ancestry reminiscent of
the chewed betel-nut grandmother transmitted
from recesses of her stained teeth onto palm of an
unlettered hand And again to my mouth.

Many years later I found myself teaching tradition
handed down by word of mouth. A cane basket we
put our socks in was stuffed with her stories.

It suddenly became a nest and
I flew with unknown birds, giddy and half asleep
seeking blankets of cloud in the maize field of the
mythical cat who sometimes ploughed the sky.



The cane basket disappeared when
a wooden cabinet took up residence
in our three-room house. Socks found a nest
and I began writing
the first few letters of the alphabet.

Myiem, where my ancestors prayed for their
deliverance from bitter winter,
where they wrestled with earth and stone
to script remembrances.

Today, lost and approaching fifty,
surrounded and imprisoned by books,
I sometimes murmur a prayer:
“Grandmother, tell me another story”



– I read this poem in the village of Nongriat, Meghalaya. These words took me back to my village of Ghazipur. The days when stories were an integral part of our life. Why did we stop telling stories?I could not find this poem online. I am looking for this book – Do let me know if you know this book. Thanks.

Of Trains & Tracks

I have always been fascinated by trains. The image of the red serpent rushing across the fields, in my village in Ghazipur, is still very much ingrained in my memories. I never quite understood what captured my interest more – The Train or The Track? While I explored the whereabouts of the track, chasing birds and rodents around, the train was the last thing on my mind. And when it did arrive, it was the only thing I cared about.

The blurred vision of the carriages rushing along, while I kept count of the number of cars attached to engine. I used to always lose count. Thinking about the same, I cannot help asking this question – Why did I count the number of cars? Why did this exercise still pops up in mind when I see a train?

I believe it has to do with the time and culture of our times. The internet had not shortened the world and there were so many things we knew so little about. Things to do were limited but interesting. It was the time when you didn’t lose interest in a toy after playing with it just once. We had few needs and fewer wants. Train ride was one of those interesting things I used to look forward to all the time. And getting through to the window seat was one of the featured ambitions.

I think the pure joy that I experienced in those train rides has become a part of me. This interest was coupled with another important aspect of our life – Mathematics. I used to count everything – it was one of my favorite past-time. Have you noticed the numerical codes that you sometime see on television. Whenever that used to flash on TV, my mind used to rush off to another tangent altogether – I would add all the digits and check if it is a multiple of 3. I believe it was just practicing the computational capability of the brain. Anyways, this also stuck in and before I realized, I was checking if the trains have number of cars which are a multiple of 3 or not.

So, this is the story. Try thinking back yourself. And see if one of your childhood activities has been hitchhiking along with you, all this time, in your subconscious.