Home Bound

By Dr. Selwyn R. Cudjoe
December 30, 2010

Dr. Selwyn R. Cudjoe[This essay was written by Joy Clarke, a student at Wellesley College. I thought I would share it with my readers. It has been edited for purposes of length]

If literature is a signification of the emotional conscious of a people then V.S. Naipaul’s A House for Mr. Biswas is a literary masterpiece. It traces the life of Mohun Biswas, a man of East Indian descent living in Trinidad following the end of Indian indentured servitude. Mr. Biswas’ life is one of struggle, pain and his longing to find a place to call home. The reader is taken on a journey to locate home on several levels. On the surface is Mr. Biswas’s profound desire to own a home while the subtext suggests that a search for a national homeland for a people who were removed from their natal homeland of India.

The importance of homeland is a central theme throughout the novel. Initially, Trinidad and its sister island Tobago, provided a temporary home for East Indian indentures. Lionel Seukeran observed: “the early settlers had no intention to settle on in this land and to make it their home. They had a contract to do a job of work, and the great majority fondly dreamed of the day when they would return to their native land.” When Kamla Persad- Bissessar became the first East Indian woman Prime Minister of Trinidad and Tobago in May 2010, the notion of home changed for East Indians. Her decisive victory marked a significant transition for T&T, firmly establishing East Indians as proud citizens of the country.

A House for Mr. Biswas illustrates East Indians’ transition out of indentureship to citizenship. This was captured by Mr. Biswas’ journey from the rural trace of his birth to the religious home of Pundit Jairam to the stifling home of the Tulsi family and finally to his own home on Sikkim Street. This journey from dependence to independence begins with his inauspicious birth just after the end of indentureship.

Born with six fingers the “wrong way,” our first impressions of Mr. Biswas are dismal. According to the pundit, fate has dealt Mr. Biswas, and subsequently his family, an unlucky hand. The sense of fate—that everything is predestined—permeates the first part of the novel. This belief weighs heavily on Mr. Biswas who must live knowing he will have an unfortunate life because of an unlucky sneeze. It also underscores the outlook of East Indians who saw their displacement from India as a matter of fate. Unlike his grandfather, Mr. Biswas is not easily persuaded about fate’s hold on the future. Instead, he believes in the power of self-improvement and independence, thus his desire for a home.

As he searches for home and independence, we see a change in the culture of the overall East Indian population as tradition clashes with modernity illustrated most effectively in the Tulsi home. After several unsuccessful attempts of living with well-to-do family friends, Mr. Biswas strikes out on his own as a sign painter. One day, while working in the Tulsi family store he writes a love note to Shama, one of the Tulsi daughters. Immediately, the family calls him to discuss the possibility of marriage to Shama, to which he agrees. This marriage introduces us to the Tulsis, who Naipaul uses to illustrate the “solidity and continuity of the East Indian community in Trinidad.”

The status of Tulsi family is located in a famous ancestor, Pundit Tulsi, “the founder of the family,” which maintains the traditional Hindu caste system. Unlike many East Indian families, the Tulsis managed to maintain a connection with their family in India, another source of their status. Their Indian identity and their devotion to traditional Hindu values are also sources of great pride. A part of the house is dedicated to Hinduism and is reserved only for Mrs. Tulsi, her two sons and her brother Seth.

While he lives at Hanuman House Mr. Biswas comes to the conclusion that “in none of these places he was being missed because in none of these places had he ever been more than a visitor, an upsetter of routine.” While many East Indians saw Trinidad as a temporary home, Mr. Biswas’ desire to find a permanent house on the island indicates a desire to make Trinidad home.

While working at the Green Vale estate as an overseer, Mr. Biswas sets out to build his own house. Lacking sufficient funds, his house is shoddily built. Despite his best intentions, the house is more temporary than any of his previous homes. The eventual destruction of this house coincides with his severe mental break down. He is taken back to Hanuman House to “the warmth and reassurance of the [blue] room.”

The comfort Mr. Biswas feels at Hanuman House is outweighed by his desire to paddle his own canoe and to build a solid home of his own. After more struggles, Sikkim Street becomes that place. The house, a large squat box, could be seen from two or three streets away. It is not until the end, while talking to a neighbor, that Mr. Biswas learns that his new house is not as solid as he thought. Regardless, he is satisfied. Mr. Biswas and Shama slowly improve the house covering up its shortcomings with gardens and orchards.

A House for Mr Biswas gives the reader an image of East Indians embracing Trinidad, represented by the house on Sikkim Street, as home. That Mr. Biswas’ children will never think of Hanuman House, The Chase, Green Vale or any other place as home is profound. It suggests a distinct break with the past, with India as the homeland, and an acceptance of Trinidad as their home.

Kamla’s Swearing- in Speech encapsulates this new period of T&T’s history. She claimed victory in the name of all people of T&T, regardless of the specific prefixes such as Afro or Indo that previously distinguished the islands’ multiracial, multiethnic citizenry. She is confident that East Indians can “integrate without losing our unique identity because we are a confident, resilient, and strong people.”

Kamla’s victory firmly establishes the identity of that subset of the population and gives them even more reason to call T&T home. It also demonstrates that East Indian and Trinbagonian identities are not mutually exclusive. They can coexist harmoniously together. It can be argued that Kamla completed the journey that Naipaul sketched in A House for Mr. Biswas.

12 Responses to “Home Bound”


  • Mr.Codjoe, you are a very sick man. Now you are dabbling in fiction to bolster your racist views. Imagine your insight into the life of an Indian family is based on a fiction novel. I could not relate to most of the characters and their life experiences in that novel, I bet most Indians don’t. Yet you seem to able to make parallel lines intersect, almost at a point of insanity. Unless you realize that we are no longer living under the whip of Massa and the time has come for you to abandon the struggle for freedom, you would keep having these delusions.

    Indians are not 2/3 Trinidadian, they are 100% Trinidadian. Until you can accept this fact, you will keep on having these obsessive delusional rants on Indians that never seem to end. You are heading down the same road as Panday who squandered the last of his integrity bases on ego, self-interest and bitterness. You will now establish a place in our island’s history as a racist bigot. What a sad way to end your carrier, walking into the sunset of your life carrying a bag full of hatred and contempt for your fellowman.

    • You come across as being a very angry person, and angry over what?

      A commentary by a writer who is of African heritage and in your opinion, dares to have the temerity to write sensibly about an Indian; one who pointed his supine face towards England and his hoisted ass against the Caribbean.

      Can you think of another author, others more esteemed than he who has done likewise, especially those of African heritage?

      I wouldn’t say you are full of hatred since such an accusation as made by you–especially if one is intent not so much as accusing as enlightening someone else–must be arrived at with much perspicacity and even more prudence

      Yet you make these accusations willynilly against others.

      What are your intentions, to improve yourself and others, or to vent and vamp?

      In the meantime, take my advice that you are sure as hell one angry person, and immature, also. God help them if you have a family.

  • “When Kamla Persad- Bissessar became the first East Indian woman Prime Minister of Trinidad and Tobago in May 2010, the notion of home changed for East Indians. Her decisive victory marked a significant transition for T&T, firmly establishing East Indians as proud citizens of the country.”

    As someone looking in from the outside, like this student, the above statement might be a reasonable conclusion.The literary analysis of A House For Mr Biswas conveniently fits the comparison between the emergence of Kamla as PM and Mr. Biswas” search for a”house”.The student,Joy Clark,presents an analysis which is purely literary, abstract and well written. However,the reality in T&T is vastly different.
    Joy Clark’s thesis can be compared to the distorted view held by those on the other side of the racial divide in T&T.The assumption that Indians are a recalcitrant minority which really does not belong to the main fabric of the culture of T&T, has been used by certain politicans to rationalize their branding of T&T and to justify the distribution of its largesse.
    Indians have long felt that they found a welcoming home in T&T, especially since Independence.
    Kamla’s comment was misinterpreted.She was referring to all the people in T&T, “integrating without losing our unique identity because we are a confident, resilient, and strong people.”
    Political power for Indians is not and was not a primary goal of the Indian community. Education, personal, family and financial success have been and will always be primary in the lives of Indians.
    To suggest that Indians are only now proud citizens of T&T is to admit a complete lack of knowledge of the people and how they live their daily lives. The analysis of A House For Mr. Biswas is purely theoretical and reasonably interpretative but far from the practical reality of life in T&T.

  • “To suggest that Indians are only now proud citizens of T&T is to admit a complete lack of knowledge of the people.”
    You are correct T-Man, for they were equally proud when Basdeo Panday became the first Hindu PM outside of India in ‘Sweet sweet,T&T, aka Rainbow Country.’ Glad to see you did read Geoffrey Chaucher’s Cantubury Tales , and remember the story of the Chanticleer ,in the Cock and the Fox, about the evils of falling prey to outlandish flattery. The Doc bless his soul , is not onl in the book selling business, but with the seeming death of real PNM leadership , has plans of his own. 🙂 😉
    Oh yes,the frictional character Grandpa Biswas, wanted a house of his own , and was perhaps prevented from realizing all his dreams due to the subtle efforts of his British lords , and maybe the limited ambitions of the lower caste early arrived, indentured settlers , who back then T-Man ,were mealy contented to have a job,food on their plate, and loving wives ,capable of keeping them comfortable , and producing ,numerous kids to work the fields.
    It took succeeding ,educated generations that grew up and was nurtured under a more inclusive African led , post British T&T , to break the cycle. It is why we are all overjoyed with the victory of Queen K, as she too is a byproduct of women’s freedom and limitless opportunities under our sometimes threatened democracy.
    Their failure to achieve greater political dreams ,had absolutely nothing to do with Afro Trini discriminations, gerrymandering, politically orchestrated electoral impropriety and such foolishness,that many tribally insular, socially divisive , intellectually lazy , suspect leaders, and pseudo experts ,likes to claim.
    Each time starting in 1986 , and what was it 99, and now 2010, that said Indo Trini leaders choose to as the cliche goes, ‘think outside the box,’ by embracing the other, we saw the wonderful results.
    Likewise , after assuming power , on each occasion , there has been a squandering of opportunities , partly due to foot in mouth disease, and socio-economic com political Faux paus,but that’s forgivable, for it is almost impossible for spotted Tigers to learn new tricks , or suddenly change into regal lions, yes?
    It is my hope however, that you and other ardent , ecstatic, fans, would one day have the ability to give gratitude where it is due, as it can go quite a long way towards nation building.
    Speaking of which , we are still awaiting ,any symbolic gesture by globally exalted ,Papa V.S Naipaul ,towards his country of birth ,and cross section of people , for helping to put him on the grand international stage , what say ye, ehh? Oh I forgot ,but you morougamax, and khem would surely remind us that “everything that him , and every other Indo Trini, achieved in this country ,or anywhere else across the globe , it was solely due to their own personal drive,and initiatives, as played out by a sterling culture brought over from the motherland.
    Therefore ,any who dares questions this, is nothing but an envious , party pooper.” eehh T-Man? In contrast ,to continue, “all Africans are closet criminals, crooks and bandits, and so their successes , are mere aberrations, and especially in the case of T&T were all gotten at the expense of others more deserving.”
    So ,in ending ,you think that Joy Clark’s thesis was a distortion of reality , and perceptions huh, since contrary to popular opinions , particularly yours- today – “Indians have long felt that they found a welcoming home in T&T, especially since Independence?” Well, some like Dr Whahid Ali would agree with your astute conclusions of your country, but the folks in the Canadian, US , Australian , British Embassies ,and UN Human Rights , anti genocidal Criminal court investigative agencies, would beg to differ T-Man,based on the types of accusations they have been bombarded with by prospective Trini refugees,some that in comparison , were capable of making Rwanda ,Burundi , Congo, Darfur, and former Yugoslavian Balkans atrocities ,look like kindergarden child’s play , yes?

    http://www.trinidadandtobagonews.com/forum/webbbs_config.pl/read/3974

    And dey want us to hate this loving Twin Republic of ours T-Man , but you and I know ,that the people who are so capable , ain’t born yet , eennt ?
    Your call.

  • Well anyone reading the comments of the ethnic affiliates of Kamla will draw the conclusions arrived at in the thesis. The only difference is that her win was not the origin of the “our home finally” epiphany. Like in Guyana, it becomes thus when one of “our own” is in charge, when “our own” holds the reigns of power.

    Manning is criticized over the assemblage of a spy agency, but “our own” who was in Panday’s Government when that agency was materially equipped, and in a high legal authoritative position at the time gets a pass. Give me a break!

    The Tman, Khem’s and Moru somethings of this world are just replications of others in the black historical experience who attempt to conceal their mens rea by cunning art, but never really accomplish that obsessive feat. Revision of reality is their causa celebre, and they will barefacedly stare you in the face while engaging in such revisions. However, when people plead with the leaders of the nation from which their ancestors came to return them there during the periods when T&T has a black leader, it is not difficult to image the appearance they perceive as home linkages. And anyone who read the interview given by Dookeran while he was in India can draw their own conclusions about how deep this feeling reside.

    So spare us your feigned outrage please. It is equivalent to a mongoose becoming offended reading a piece that says his greatest pleasure is to be locked in a chicken coop with its inhabitants.

    • “However, when people plead with the leaders of the nation from which their ancestors came to return them there during the periods when T&T has a black leader, it is not difficult to image the appearance they perceive as home linkages.”

      This is a gross generalization, bordering on exaggeration to revise history, which ironically this writer complains about in his piece above.
      Do you really believe that Indians have been clamouring for a return to their “homeland” over the last 40 years when T&T has had Black leaders? Keith Williams, and you complain about revision of reality?

  • Yes I can claim that “Indian TriniTobagians have been making that call, asking Indian visiting officials to save them. The fact that such calls only erupt during periods when their is an African Trini/Tobagian Prime Minister suggests that the discomfort is not with the land of their birth per se, but with the ethnicity of who leads the nation.

    One only has to peruse these pages to get the drift of what is going on. This little Twin Island Republic in the Caribbean belongs to all who were here before, were brought here in chains, or arrived here under other circumstances. But we who were brought here in chains need to cease apologizing for how God made us, and to approach the issue of divisions in our nation without being influenced by political correctness.

    Again, racial prejudice in all of its historical manifestations arrives on a foundation of religious and cultural inferiority/superiority belief systems. Doctor Cudjoe perspective is not hampered or influenced by that legacy, thank God!

  • “When Kamla Persad- Bissessar became the first East Indian woman Prime Minister of Trinidad and Tobago in May 2010, the notion of home changed for East Indians. Her decisive victory marked a significant transition for T&T, firmly establishing East Indians as proud citizens of the country.”

    Prior to Kamla’s victory we were aliens in our own land. The PNM began a systematic program to “deconstruct” the indo population in T&T. Starting with attacks on Indo businesses and basic marginalisation of Indo population, Mugabe style. However, the doc must understand Indians do not want more than anyone else, we are a fair people whose desire is only that all should prosper and the benefits of good citizenry a product of equitable governance.

    As Sir Ellis said good bye to us it can be said that the PNM fear of indo leadership was reflected when Kamal and Errol was shunted aside for Chambers (a man with no formal education)by Ellis in collusion with PNM heirachy. The PNM could have been the party to break down ethnocentric ideology by simply putting Kamal a founder of the PNM cult as their leader, but that was not be, as I am sure Kamal was deeply insulted by his peers. Kamal did not succeed but Kamla did, however Kamal in some ways laid the foundation for Indo leadership. The PNM factoid on nationhood was only possible because of divided Indo leadership and Eric’s ability to fix boundaries. It can be said that Eric never really won an election but stole all the elections, knowing a crapaud in the party had more rights than Indos in that party.

    Today way into the future with Guyana, Trinidad, Surinam experiencing a renewal in Indian ideology, the future I must say is brighter for all. Kamla’s biggest danger is taking her support base for granted. Roads long neglected in Opposition areas must be built and traffic congestion dealt with. The PP cannot focus all it’s effort on the nation at large while those who suffered under the might of the PNM years are ignored. My advice to Kamla, fix long neglected Opposition area first, do not make the mistake Bas made. People’s patience can wear thin very quickly.

  • “People’s patience can wear thin very quickly.” Speaking about political correctness mantra , pray tell us what would occur in T&T, when such patience wear thin khem?
    Please do not say , another 1986 refugee exodus, as you folks would now become the laughing stock of the world.
    You said khem,”It can be said that Eric never really won an election but stole all the elections, knowing a crapaud in the party had more rights than Indos in that party.”
    Now if you , could figure this out, then how come it took all these decades for the ULF/ Club88/COP/UNC/com PP ,to fully recognize this ,and was that the reason why Basdeo Panday ,destroyed ‘Ah we Tobago Bouy,’ ANR ,and his NAR party, as well as demanded his own disgruntled constituency members ,to flood foreign -mainly white European/ Norte Americana Embassies -with erroneous cries, of African discriminations ,and genocides?
    Tell me folks , with citizen like these , who needs enemies, ehhhh khem ?
    Him and numerous others remain silent like a lamb ,when Canadian, Brits, Australians , and white South Africans ,are treating your folks like 10th class citizens, but ready to jump to the high heavens ,at any signs of a slight, from the very gentle , and accommodating ,kinky head, tick lips , big butts ,and some say sexually insatiable peoples, yes?
    I luv this land .

    • “Please do not say,another 1986 refugee exodus, as you folks would now become the laughing stock of the world”

      Laughing stock of which world??? Most who have left T&T have done extremely well in foreign lands. They have built houses, work hard and save their money and live relatively good lives. They are the ones who are NOW laughing Nealos. They laugh all the way to the bank, they laugh all the way to their jobs, in fact when they return to T&T they have a good laugh with their Trini family.

      They had no choice back then but to cut their navel strings and journey into unkown territory. There the stories of hardship, determination and brokeness can be retold a thousand times. Despite the testing of the human spirit many prevailed. Today, they form a large diaspora of true Trinis whose love for Trinidad have only grown in absentia. No they don’t look to mother African or mother India, for them Trinidad will always be home. Many dreams of coming back into retirement and contributing to national development. The only problem is those gun tooting boys in Murdervant and Laventy. I tell you the future is brighter for T&T except for the criminals imported “en masse” by fadder of nation Eric Eustace Williams. Those imports are the prime cause of moral deviation, Nealos.

      I say send them back to the back waters of their homeland and crime will disappear, pronto!!!

  • “They don’t look to mother African or mother India, for them Trinidad will always be home.”
    Very astute of you khem. The only problem is those gun tooting boys in Murdervant and Laventy… did not acquire the guns , and drugs -you forgot to mention -on their own, as many came into our country in the unchecked (due to bribe payments)containers of your high end business pals ,that choose to still remain here.
    Many of the folks you lament about, just like their former slaves , Favela dwelling , under class ,bothers and sisters in emerging Industrial giant Brazil , have looked on in horror , and saw where opportunities eluded them ,due in great measures to the cross party , conniving , neo tribal , competing elitist leaders, divisive actions – if you care to catch my drift.
    Most today ,that cared to still engage in our political system , are revolted at yours, and other national ingrates , who at every opportunity possible ,instead of pushing socially progressive ideas ,for sustainable development ,and concrete change , prefer to pass blame , and point fingers at them and national heroes,as to the cause of every ill that afflicted our beloved country in the past since Massa Europe departed , and is naturally still taking place.
    Hey Khem buddy, your PP politicians have as good a chance ,of sending back any former immigrant from Guyana, Grenada, St Vincent, Nigeria , Bangalore Kamataka, or Peshawar Pakistan , as any still remaining Norte Americana , Native Red Indians ,Bantu ANC/Zulu,South African , or Black Australian Aborigine, of deporting a single European invading ,genocidal settler , to their country of origin.
    It just ain’t happening my friend, so we might as well just get used to it.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=W05DLMBmv34

    We being down this road before my friend, so don’t get your jockstrap into a twist. Do you think anyone with any commonsense ,dare leave this country permanently,or relish the idea to end up like you ,driving smelly, rickety taxis ,in Toronto , or selling news papers in Zoo York ,and have European skin heads ,spit on them khem ?
    Keep drinking your imported Mountain Dew my friend. Crime? Trinis love this khem, as some of our so called level headed ,intellectual gurus, even sees it as a mere purge of useless elements.
    You keep planning to wait until 65 years, when the wife retires from cleaning old folks at the Toronto Suburbs home for the age , and worry about Trini illiterate , high school drop out losers , com criminals Khem ,I will beat you to the gun,as someone must keep dem , self serving, big wig ,political and economic barbarians, at the gate , so that they don’t eventually destroy our lil Twin Republic, yes?
    Remember my admonitions, “Luv country over tribe,” for failure so to do can have -yes , yes, you learning- dire consequences . You got it!
    Best wishes for the New Year my friend.

  • Nealos said “The only problem is those gun tooting boys in Murdervant and Laventy… did not acquire the guns , and drugs -you forgot to mention -on their own, as many came into our country in the unchecked (due to bribe payments)containers of your high end business pals ,that choose to still remain here.”

    My understanding is the Betham gang was paying $1 million U.S. for info on the person who directed the police to find a U.S. army gun hidden under the dirt in Betham. Gangs are more well organised today, because Manning did not end their career soon enough, they are now performing the high end job of importing sophisticated weaponry.

    Containers of weapons came in from Florida to assist the Muslimeen in their plan to take over Trinidad. So it is no problem for the gangs to import these weapons into the nation, all it takes is few contacts in certain places and a couple thousand dollars to bring in weapons that can cause massive pain.

    Recently AK47s were used to execute a man in Marabella. So quit blaming the businessmen, sure some of them have their hands dirty but Nealos if there is money to be made all kinds of man-rat come out for their share, even politicians and URP workers.

    Until then keep looking behind you because you never know who is looking at you my friend.

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