The Glass House: All About the Dream of Owning a House

by October 21, 2018 0 comments

The Glass House talks about young professionals chasing goals of house ownership. Ronica Wahi states that  this novel provides consideration-worthy, interesting perspective.

The dream of owning a house for those who do not is a dearly cherished one. But since there is no gain without pain, the dream, usually, is hardly accomplishable without hardships. The gain of a house is fraught with multiple challenges, stressful factors, and even nightmarish uncertainties. Chanchal Sanyal, in his debut novel The Glass House, takes a keen look at the house-owning dream — its difficulties, its fragility that is indicated by the title itself, and even its necessity.

The protagonist couple — college lecturer M.B. and his wife, fashion designer Roshni — are young urban Indians, living in Delhi and seeking to gain a house in Gurgaon, part of the National Capital Region of India. As the subtitle to the novel — A Year of Our Days — aptly indicates, the story stretches to about a year in the lives of the protagonists and relays accounts of everyday struggles of contemporary urban living. The narrative charts the frustrations associated with the protagonists’ house-building, including politics, legal stays, unkept promises of the builder, charges added at a later stage, and risk of having invested years of savings and of having taken on the additional burden of EMIs. M.B.’s successful NRI elder brother Tubluda justly comments, “This middle-class housing game in India is not liberation, it is enslavement.” (p.103)

Besides, thwarted ambitions, relationship matters, extramarital affairs, misplaced suspicions and misunderstandings, prejudiced notions that steer relationships the wrong way, and workplace politics all form part of the narrative, making it a complex and therefore, fitting — in view of what life for many is today — portrayal. Sanyal employs his acute observation and his wide-ranging experience of dealing with people in different capacities, having gained exposure to varied domains professionally, to shape his characters. Although he plays with stereotypes often, there is no ringing of a jarring note. His understanding of the intricacies of relationships and the cracks that lie beneath smooth surfaces of relationships is sharp, and so is his understanding of perspectives and motivations of people in distinct stations of life.

Among the most interesting aspects of the novel is Sanyal’s discussion about Delhi-NCR. His portrait of Delhi is accurate, not only because it has factual correctness, but also because it is unbiased; this portrait lays bare the city’s faults and evils alongside its merits. The portrait is also powerful since it shows the love of its creator despite such absence of bias. The truth of the claim in Sanyal’s short biography that greats the reader on the first page of the book — “The city and its peoples are of endless fascination to him” — is revealed as the reader progresses through the book.

M.B., also the novel’s narrator, is a lecturer in History and he, fittingly in view of his inclinations, reveals fascinating aspects of the history of the city’s geography and popular places. Imagination of what life would have been at a particular place for some individual in times past adds a different dimension to and as if brings alive mere historical facts. He comments on the resilience of Delhi, despite the destructive “development”, failed key infrastructural projects, and pollution in and around it, though as he feels despondent in a later portion of the narrative, he imagines Delhi finally surrendering. He particularly dwells, with wit and sarcasm, on the haphazardness of the development in Gurgaon where he and his wife invest all their money for a flat.

The novel takes the readers through the happenings of one year — the point of beginning being the first month of the year and the initiation of the buying process. Events and emotions are recorded in intervals of twenty-one days that make up the parts of the whole up to “Day 379”; just “Day 337” gets three parts — the space accorded sufficiently indicates that multiple important bits are discussed in these. With such division of intervals, the story progresses at a good pace, with recollections making up a major chunk, recollections of the preceding three weeks to the day discussed as well as of occurrences from the past years of the characters’ lives.

With recollections mesh in thoughts, imaginations, and asides of the male protagonist-narrator, and charted are also journeys of learning, growth, hope, and realisations, all gained through happenings and conversations. Despite the gloom over the fate of the flat, hope lingers and the reader wishes for a happy closure as M.B. comments and voices the ardent hope of so many to be able to claim, “This is the permanent address that all government documents keep asking for.” (p. 148). The novel says that with the uncertainty of life, getting bogged down by situations is ill. Though certainly important to lead meaningful lives, goals must not determine whether we remain happy. Insights about many aspects of life are also thrown in — for instance, M.B. says for decisive leadership, “Clear instructions with no options, yet, delivered as a request.” (p.161)

While the dream, challenges, hesitations, and fears are identifiable, so is M.B. for young urban professionals and particularly for those with academic pursuits. Even the “inverted snobbery of the intellectual for the materially successful” (p.4) that makes M.B. call his rich and imposing landlord “FatBum” is not alien.

The language, wordplay, imagery, and metaphors are vivid and colourful. One interesting comparison is of the “rivers of traffic” in Delhi to those natural streams of water that are referred to as rivers. There are meditations on how English is used by Indians, and the mutated, amalgamated language that many Indians use in their individual ways. Though the text is produced well overall, there are some punctuation errors and typos.

The house-owning dream, despite its fragility, has power enough to keep people ensnared. The novel compels a close look into what must truly matter, ending on a strong note that demands some introspection.

Writer: Ranica Wahi

Courtesy: The Pioneer

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