Being a Malayalee is a lot of work. If nothing else, the language itself is difficult. ‘Malayalam’ is a palindrome, and has an alphabet for almost all sounds… almost! (My Ammama says there are 56 alphabets.) For the rest, they just join up whatever consonants and vowels are appropriate. And being a Malayalee living outside of Kerala is a tough job. We have to bear with the ignominy of the glib tongue, and live up to the expectation that our homes have a never-ending supply of banana chips.
Having lived most of my life in Chennai, I am more fluent in talking Tamil than I will ever be with Malayalam. My mother tongue is an acrobatic exercise for my own tongue and very often I get a condescending look at my accent from my family. (Point of note – my family is from Kannur and Telicherry and they look down their patrician noses on any dialect/accent not their own.) With all this background, Dear Reader, you can imagine how much I enjoyed reading Jaishree Misra’s A House for Mr Misra. It doesn’t hurt that she is my namesake.
A House for Mr Misra is the Misras journey from London, the global melting pot of cultures, to a quaint seaside house in the city of Trivandrum. It reads perhaps a bit like a journal and actually was a very cosy read. Not to mention that it had everything I would expect if I were to look beyond the confines of our ancestral home and into the surrounding neighbourhood in Kerala. Strikes and hartals, KSRTC buses that still give me nightmares, communism and garbage, chauvinism and nosiness… all of it.
For a Marunadan Malayalee like me, settling in Kerala sends a chill down my spine. This is why I think the Misras were very brave and I am happy that they succeeded in their venture. I applaud their courage and their perseverance. Even more, I thank Jaishree Misra for her cosy and warm little book. I am glad that we got A House for Mr Misra as a result of their efforts. Just 200 pages of delightful text and you are done. I would advise caution if you were to find yourself reading this with company around, for many a time there might be a silly smile creeping onto your face.
Every character in this book is un-named. An architect is Architect, and the builder is Builder. Then there are Mr CS, or Mr CRZ… and our beloved Mr Misra, or Mr M, himself. Somehow the lack of such a personal pronoun does not seem remotely detached and manages to endear all characters to the readers. (Yes, even Maid with her cribbing cannot be ignored.)
If you are a Malayalee, especially a Marunadan Malayalee, or even know one, this is a book that you can relate to. If you do not fall into any of the above categories, you can still enjoy this book for its portrayal of life as many of us know it. A quick read, and one you probably will look back upon with a smile.
Although A House for Mr Misra managed to bring up a lot of memories (fond and otherwise) of vacations and life as we know it in MotherLand, I am surprised that the book doesn’t emit the smell of the ultimate calling card – banana chips and Cuticura talcum powder
I would definitely recommend A House for Mr Misra. Go read!
My rating: 4 of 5 stars