Book Review: House of Discord

Religion has always created a divide amongst Indians that love and humanity can never fill up. Rationality, what’s what?

The Babri Masjid demolition is seared in Indian history as one of the most devastating events that caused largescale destruction and deaths, an incident that sparked subsequent tragedies and terrorist activities.

But Bombay, as it was called then, is immune to communalism, right? Bombay is a city that embraces ‘live and let live’ mantra and is unflappable no matter what. In fact, that exactly what one of the characters also says: ‘We are all Mumbaiwalla first and Hindu, Muslim or whatever afterwards. Nobody cares about what God you worship. Your God, your business.’

So Bombay would remain unaffected, right? At least that’s what you hope despite knowing the actual history.

Set during the communal rights that followed the Babri Masjid demolition, Sadiqa Peerbhoy’s House of Discord, published by Readomania is the story of a dysfunctional family living in Bombay and explores the impact of the violence and hatred that erupts around them.

House of Discord.jpg

The novel starts innocently enough – introducing the various characters that inhabit Barrot House, slowly revealing their eccentricities, relationships, and the animosity within the family – until it takes a drastic dangerous turn. The previously random incidents and seemingly disconnected events click into place. This is far deeper than what had initially seemed, and very relevant to what’s about to happen.

The multiple layers start to reveal themselves. Because you already know what this is leading to, a fear grips your heart about the impact the impending events may have on the already-falling-apart Deshmukh family you’ve grown to like so much. That’s when suddenly the tension cranked up for me. Once I reached that point I just couldn’t put the book down.

The build-up to the actual catalytic events is very cleverly done and presented to the reader through intelligent dialogues and story-telling. What impressed me most was that the tone of narration is languid and relaxed, and gives no inkling of the events that are about to occur. You read on with a feeling of dreaded anticipation for Peerbhoy manages to keep you in the moment without racing ahead. The narrative keeps you in the moment of action and yet the subject of Babri Masjid keeps rearing its head.

They go on about living their normal lives- searching for a groom for Sarita, Lily chasing her dreams, Ricky agonising over his first heartbreak- all under the shadows of threat and violence that lurk menacingly. The undercurrents of the impending tragedy are evident and yet you’re made to feel as if something that may happen far away in another world. That’s how it is for a large part of the book – that something is about to happen far away- until the author takes the story right into the thick of things. Once the violence actually breaks out, you know it’s not for long that the residents of Barrot House will manage to remain unaffected. And, indeed the violence comes knocking at their doorstep. Images of a riot-torn city grip your heart and shred it through the author’s words.

The language is powerful and evocative. The use of dry humour, at the unlikeliest of places, adds to the story and makes one break into a wry smile. The book is peppered with wonderful writing and expression. Some of my favourite lines were:

  • ‘As if no drunk, no thief, no rapist would be able to touch her in the new empowerment she wore like a robe of office.’
  • ‘…blinking owl-like at reality that had a bad habit of intruding into his detachment.’
  • ‘…. whisper-wilted like a dry leaf…’
  • ‘…butter yellow streaks of a new day…’
  • ‘Tension stretched like a spider’s taut web…’
  • ‘…a smoke-curl of warmth spreading in her heart’

I thought there were strong undertones of sarcasm and feminism in the narrative, and I found them appealing.

I also loved how the story is narrated through the perspectives of different characters. The author deftly ties in the various perspectives, and presents their individual rationales, inner turmoils, and sometimes, flawed reasoning for behaving the way they do. This provides an insight into who they really are. It allows the reader a higher involvement with the story.

Often I wondered why a character behaved in a certain way and that question was answered soon when the narrative shifted to their POV. It not only gave a deeper understanding of the story but also connected me, the reader, to the characters and the Deshmukh family better. It helped make the transition from reading a book about characters, to getting to know a story about real people. The characters are distinct and remain with you long after the book is kept aside.

Reading Lokeshwari’s perspective was such a mix of shock and surprise, and it explained her angry woman stance. Rajan seemed the sensitive but wronged child who had grown up to form his own set of principles and ideals. Sarita’s story brought not one but many lumps in my throat. I could well empathize with Salma for her dislike of the grooms she was forced to meet. And later, felt bad for the position she was put in for daring to follow her heart’s desires.

Another thing, that’s an indicator of a good book, in my opinion, is if the reader knows far more than the characters. With House of Discord, I wanted to be able to talk to the characters – warn them, scold them, laugh with them. I wanted to enter the book and hold their hands during the crisis, or whack them on their heads and tell them to get their life together. The moments of joy or humour amidst unending miseries for the characters cheer you up too.

The story moves forward in a natural but unpredictable manner and manages to completely take you by surprise. It’s a smooth engrossing read, and I didn’t want the book to end.

Some powerful lessons I (re)learnt from House of Discord –

  • ‘to be weak was to invite the world to walk all over you.’
  • Physical disabilities in a person need us normal people to treat them with sensitivity and empathy, not pity or disrespect.
  • That sometimes there’s a lot more a person is going through than what is visible on the surface. Don’t assume a person is bitter or angry because they got up from the wrong side of bed. It’s possible that they’ve been dealt a deeper blow than you could have withstood.
  • ‘Everything goes, everything changes. . .we have to keep flowing with the river of life.’
  • ‘Human beings were so complex and their emotions so entangled, that they themselves seldom knew what was driving them.’ And although this is directly from the book, the events that unfold, the decisions that Loki, Rajan, Salma, and even, Adam take reiterate this saying strongly.

I absolutely loved reading this one and would strongly, strongly, (and again!) strongly, recommend it if you’re looking at reading a book of hope, love, and survival, and trust against a backdrop of human incited violence.

They say tragedy either brings people closer or drives them apart completely.  The Deshmukhs already have enough tension simmering under the surface. Would they survive this?

There is no doubt that you must visit the ‘House of Discord’ and meet the Deshmukhs to find out for yourself.

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