When I first laid my hands on this book and checked out the story plot, I was intrigued. I did a little more research on the author and was even more intrigued. To be honest, my expectations were skyrocket high. Somehow, I had this strong instinctual ´feel good´ emotion about this book.
The great news is that the´House of Discord´ is a marvel. Sadiqa Peerbhoy doesn´t fail to stun her readers. She takes her readers on one spellbinding literary ride riddled with disillusioned couples, star-crossed lovers, bastard children and ghosts. Yes, you read that right – Ghosts! And, the bizarreness doesn’t just stop right there. The story is set against the controversial backdrop of the 1992 Babri Masjid riots. Could it get any more dysfunctional (or may I add a more non-politically correct adjective, gimmicky) than that? I think not!
Let´s take a quick peek on what the book feels like. How does the ethos of the book shift from an erotic beginning like this:
´The hero was a stud beyond compare. He needed no downtime. He went from one sultry blonde to another panting brunette. The women stripped off their garments in a frenzy of screaming sexual excitement the minute he sauntered into a room and looked…..merely looked at them. Off went their clothes, flung into the air in wild abandon.´
To a zen conclusion like this?:
´But a city, again, is an extended metaphor for family. At last, we must turn to trust the inner energy of things and feel the tug of the planet as it swings on and carries us all relentlessly forward. Trust will someday prevail. Inevitably as it it must.´
Ms.Peerbhoy pulls off this outrageous feat with aplomb style. A style that comes so easy and effortlessly to her. The story is very unique and yet so relatable. It felt like home sweet home honestly. Every home has a unique story and yet so similarly bonded by the universal qualities of love, respect, forgiveness and trust. Every family (even the seemingly picture perfect ones) is dysfunctional and at discord at some level or point in time. In the bigger picture, this book feels like home sweet home because it is quintessentially as Indian as it can get. You can literally whiff the smells and hear the sounds of India while reading this book.
The author does a brilliant job with the small and big details.There are many elements or cooks to this heady broth which could have easily gone wrong otherwise. The multifaceted story keeps getting meatier as you peel one layer at a time.
The characterisation was spot on for me. At many junctures, I kept thinking how Loki is exactly like my aunt XYZ or Sari is so my cousin ABC. Or how eerily similar was the relationship dynamics between Loki and Rajan to these two relatives of mine. I am pretty sure you will be able to make similar familial dots and connections when you sink your teeth into the pages. Another aspect is that every character is endearing in their own way – Be it Loki, Rajan, Dhondubhai, Vikram, Pammi, Salma, Sarita, Lily, Ram, Adam, Vijoo, Ricky or for that matter, even Nimma, the ghost. My two favourite characters were Loki for her inner strength and Dhondubhai for his obnoxiousness and loyalty. It´s interesting to read the subplots of each character as well. I enjoyed Lily´s tryst with Bollywood, the inter-community love marriage saga between Rajan and Salma, Vikram and Loki´s troubled marriage, Sarita´s angst, Adam´s homecoming and Nimma´s ominous piano performances.
The burgeoning turmoil within the Deshmukh family is perfectly complimented with the raging aftermath that strikes the ´post Babri Masjid riots´ Bombay. It´s frightening to realize how relevant this story is, given the underlying pathos that has gripped the nation, even more so today than it did in 1992. The political juntos, the bloody massacre riots, the families shredded by hate speeches and rumours were particularly difficult to read in such evocative terms.
´It emerged with a backlash that set Bombay reeling under its cold blooded virulence. This time it was initiated by politicians. Poisonous, haranguing speeches that set the youth stomping the ground and baying for blood, which divided its people neatly into two factions and set them at each other´s throats with a blood thirst that could not be denied.’
´….Like a forest fire, bringing the city to a shocked and stunned awareness. Were these the same people who lived in each other´s homes and shared their poverty like wealth?´
I liked the way the chapter on the matriarch Lokeshwari´s sombre introspection was handled in particular. It was raw, sensitive and mature.
‘Did she make him the way he was? Had she by her own dogged aggression, battered his will down and made him even more of a weakling than he was?’
Or did she become what she was because he was who he was?’
As a reader, one cannot but feel a flurry of emotions for Lokeshwari – admiration, contempt, pity and love. For she is one character where her goodness far outweighs her flaws and is sure to win over the reader´s hearts. But as mentioned before, every character is just as endearing and striking.
For me, the biggest winner of the book is undoubtedly the author herself. It´s one thing to let your imagination soar and let your creativity take charge. And it´s another thing to pin down those wispy myriad thoughts, flesh it into relatable characters and breathe it to life with words that form an instanteous emotional connect with its readers. She strikes a beautiful balance flighting from ´play´ to ´serious´ mode when the situation demands it. Ms.Peerbhoy has this innate quality to welcome her readers to being much more that just that. As you read this book, you feel like you are an intimate part of the Deshmukh household and not merely a reader or bystander.
´House of Discord´is a wonderful reminder of how it takes all kinds to make a family and similarly, the world at large. And how the most complex problems and situations often have the simplest answers! If only we sincerely want to find that sweet spot of love, peace and heaven on earth…….
All in all, Ms.Peerbhoy has penned a riveting must-read book which has a timeless quality to it!
Before I conclude, I cannot resist sharing my strong personal conviction about this. The interesting fusion of the seen reality and unseen supernatural forces in the story plot makes for a perfect movie screenplay. I do hope some producer or director takes note!