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Book Review: A House for Mr Misra by Jaishree Misra

by Ananya Sarkar
(Kolkata, India)

A House for Mr Misra
Westland Publications Ltd. 2017
ISBN 978-93-86850-48-5
Pages 199. Price Rs 399

An Engaging Tale on Building a House

Jaishree Misra’s latest book A House for Mr Misra is like a whiff of fresh air in the regular monotony of life. Its plot basically revolves around the writer and her husband, the phlegmatic and somewhat stubborn Mr M’s venture to build a beachside home in Kerala.

The couple’s task in itself turns out to be more gruelling than it initially appears. This is caused by people trying to take advantage of Mr and Mrs Misra being non-resident Indians, the writer not being fluent in Malayalam in spite of being a Keralite, the particular house being embroiled in legal hassles and its location in the Coastal Regulation Zone that is governed by a strict set of rules and regulations. However, the writer narrates her tale with tongue-in-cheek humour that makes the book an enjoyable read.

In the process, Misra sheds light on the social milieu of Kerala – ostensibly known as God’s own country – as well. For example, she states how most women in Kerala, especially the poor, earn their own keep. But this is followed by her lament on how this act of empowerment has emasculated certain men to the point where they shy away from taking any responsibility. With equal frankness, she describes the rash and unapologetic driving of government bus drivers and the garbage disposal problem in Trivandrum.

The language is lucid and engaging, with the use of words such as “fuck” and “bloody” that make the tone conversational. Colloquial words and phrases such as “lungi” and “nokku kooli” help to Indianize the book appropriately.

Specific names of organisations and institutions are taken, which helps the reader understand the context better. Misra addresses the reader as “you” and seems to take him or her into confidence, which is endearing.
The most outstanding feature of the book is its infusion of humour. Indeed, it is this that makes even the narration of ordinary events delightful. For instance, the writer describes the hospitable customer service of a particular private bank thus: “Mother went to this bank with the air of a woman going to the beauty parlour, in the mood for a bit of cossetting and pampering. I suppose it was cheaper, and took less time than beauty parlours would have done.” Similarly, the writer’s description of the relationship between her widowed mother and her long-serving maid is hilarious: “...although Mother complained about her too, I got the distinct impression that, in the event of a serious falling-out and parting of ways, Mother would actually find it easier to do without me than Maid. Over their years of enforced togetherness, they had become almost like an old married couple and I was sure it would take a crowbar to separate them, much as they hated each other on most days.”

With the help of a few well-meaning friends and an honest official, the couple finally succeed in building their dream home. The book ends in an endearing manner, on a note of people’s love for the sea.

At two points, there are grammatical errors. On page 99, the phrase “decades-old practice” is used where it should have been “decade-old practice” and on page 196, in the sentence “Your man is no different to ours, you know” the preposition “from” should have been in place of “to.” However, these minor slips do not interfere with the quality of the book.

Overall, this autobiographical novel deals with a topic that is offbeat and refreshing. It is the perfect book for entertainment during the weekend or a train journey.

This book can be bought at Amazon.


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