BY Vani IN Book Reviews

Book Review: ‘The Glass House’ is a Simple Tale of City Life, Told Splendidly [Quint]

Years ago, having moved houses about six or seven times in London, all I dreamt about was owning a patch of land that I could call my own. I’d often picture myself – in fact, I still do – stretching my legs out on an easy chair, a cup of tea in my hand with no one to worry about, a pokey, badass landlord the least. And in that way, I pretty much sound like the Bungali professor of Chanchal Sanyal’s debut novel, The Glass House (published by Rupa); albeit, unlike me, Sanyal’s protagonist, Mr B much prefers India and has even put his investment down on a yet unconstructed flat in Gurgaon. The book chronicles Mr B’s journey from a resentful, landlord-hating tenant (sounds familiar?), to an ever more resentful flat-owner (well, we never actually come to know what happens to his flat).

While comparisons of The Glass House with V.S. Naipaul’s seminal work, The House of Mr Biswas are inevitable, the two novels are as different as chalk and cheese. Sanyal, an entrepreneur and an advertising professional with decades of experience behind him, infuses life into the most prosaic day-to-day activities with his satirical wit and incandescent humour. Here’s an excerpt from the book:

It’s a bright Delhi end-of-January morning…or as bright as Delhi mornings now get. The sun is bravely battling the fumes of the millions of vehicles that rampage up and down the city’s roads every day and its light is reflecting off the glossy real estate brochures I am studying. Propped up on two pillows, I am the lord and master of my rented two-bedroom second- floor flat and like the Emperor Alexander, I am surveying what frontiers I can conquer next. Rosewood, Greenacres, Richmond, Fairydale, Glenmont—all smile at me from brightly coloured and expensively printed brochures. All these are of course located in the middle of Haryanvi villages which means that beyond the walls of Richmond are the slums of Rasoolpur and the view from Fairydale Views is actually of Fazilpur’s fields. Wow! This can certainly be a business school branding case study—Fairydale in Fazilpur!

Though the narrative of The Glass House follows an interior monologue format, generally considered tedious and boring by literati – Sanyal’s prose expertly weaves fiction with reality and manages to keep things light, tight and interesting. Truth be told, for a first-time author, the author does a good job of breaking away from conventions of commercial fiction by creating a hero who is as limp-wristed and unheroic as Mr B. In a candid exchange over the email, this is what Sanyal had to tell me about his protagonist:

“I was uncomfortably familiar with the danger of writing a character like that, especially as people want to read of heroes – want to see a Vijay Dinananth Chauhan – want to cheer the underdog who emerges victorious. Mr B was unlikeable – perhaps too much like too many of us, also running in this race of life – just another mediocre person, another unknown citizen. Which reader would like to have his sense of largeness punctured by reading of someone who in the stillness of the night and the solitude of the mirror is just like him? But then, I was not writing a formulaic bestseller – not a campus rom-com or anything like that. So I just wrote out the character as he emerged.”

An excerpt would perhaps put Mr B’s character into perspective:

“…While the sisters were ticking off and moving down their lists of ‘types’, I, along with five other oily-haired boys of similar age, was standing around Budoda, our Para’r Kewda (the locality wastrel), who, with due ceremony, would produce from his pockets six precious heavily folded yet coloured pages of a five-year-old Penthouse magazine. In college, our idea of a sinfully good time in the hostel was drinking old Monk rum and watching the blue films that our Bihari hostel president would play on the common room’s VHS player. The closest we got to actual female flesh, in the flesh so to speak, was when we would sit next to some female classmate in a lecture hall…

Further spicing up the novel and adding a distinctly “Dilli-Shilli” flavour to it are a wide array of characters mostly described with hyperboles – Mr B’s bottom heavy landlord FatBum, for instance, or his colleague who is the resident bitch of the staffroom; if Rocky is tall, muscular and rocky just like his name, Tubluda, is quite the opposite of the Bengali word Tublu which is immediately reminiscent of short pants, sleeveless vests and grubby palms clutching marbles. Moreover, each character has his or her own rule book regarding all things “property” and they seldom shy away from sharing theirgyan on the subject with poor Mr B. That too sounds pretty familiar, doesn’t it?

In the end, I’d just say that The Glass House is no doubt an ordinary story but it has been most extraordinarily told. A fantastic debut, no less, and we hope it resonates with millions of readers who have invested their millions to live in our metropolises.

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