FALL OF HOUSES
House of Discord
Review: Anjana Basu
One of those huge old bungalows that are becoming rare in Mumbai. Barrot House or Bat House as its young inmates refer to it as. Filled with the silence of Aiyee and her spineless husband’s marriage and the varying noise levels of Rajan, Ricky, Vijoo, Sarita and Lily Deshmukh. Rajan is the eldest son and he and his mother are at loggerheads over what to do with the house. Aunt Pammi who is co-owner is bed ridden upstairs and Aunt Nimmi who died young makes her presence felt through the plunk plunk plunk of a piano played in the dead of night or a wisp of smoke in the branches of the neem tree.
Sadiqa Peerbhoy opens House of Discord dramatically with Ricky stumbling home and finding his aunt’s spirit flitting through the trees. He is convinced that there is something bad afoot – the last time the ghost appeared was before Sarita’s car crash, a crash that scarred her face and put a spanner in her marriage plans. However, nothing particularly bad happens except that Rajan marries his long-time girlfriend, the ethereal Salma who comes from a conservative Bohri Muslim family. Like a soap opera and deliberately so, Peerbhoy shifts the narrative from story to story as she describes the interlocking tensions in the house.
There is Aiyee’s story and her clash with her elder son, Sarita’s worries about finding a husband, the beautiful Lily’s brief flirtation with Bollywood and then the fall out from the destruction of Babri Masjid which results in the Mumbai riots. Members of the aggressive Hindu Shakha start banging on the front door of Barrot House because they are aware that a Muslim girl is in the house and this brings Aiyee out in defence of the daughter in law she never wanted.
While the novel is set in the time of Babri Masjid and the Mumbai riots, much of it reflects the current scenario in India. Muslim vs Hindu and the accusations thrown by fanatics on both sides, not to mention kidnapping and the terror of those caught in the middle. The city of Mumbai has its own role to play as a character in the script, a city of tolerance that is suddenly transformed by violence, broken apart and then brought together by trust, much like the Deshmukhs.
Some of Peerbhoy’s stories remain unfinished – Lily’s career in films for example and Sarita’s wedding. Sensible or satisfactory endings are implied but not spelt out in so many words. Also implied is the fact that the English Deshmukh relative may involve himself in building a new property for the family.
Peerbhoy fills her canvas with entertaining characters, like the driver who stakes his claim to his quarter at the back despite the lack of any written evidence and the resident policeman who sits smoking on the steps at night and refuses to accept the presence of the ghost.
Ultimately, House of Discord reflects the impossibility of living in yesterday’s grand old mansions if one lacks the funds – something that those in favour of preserving the built heritage of cities need to find a solution to – making it a metaphor for today’s family schisms and divided lives.