House of the Sun

Synopsis

‘In March Saturn is coming into the House of the Sun. Saturn is strong and will bring trouble,’ Bhai Sahib the priest warns Mrs Hathiramani, reading her horoscope in his temple on the second floor of Sadhbela, a Bombay apartment block. Mrs Hathiramani hurries up to Mr Bhagwandas the jeweller on the third floor, to buy a sapphire with which to protect herself. Returning to her own home on the fourth floor, she must face the ridicule of her husband whose excessive education has, in Mrs Hathiramani’s opinion, blinded him to all reality.

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House of the Sun

Forty years before, at the time of Partition, the residents of Sadhbela were Hindu refugees who fled Sind into India from a newly Moslem Pakistan. Most came from Rohri or Sukkur, towns either side of a bridge across the Indus River. In Sadhbela now these Sindhi exiles live as one family, fortunes drastically changed. Those who remember speak of their homeland nostalgically. Their children shrug and turn away; they know nothing but Bombay, sinful, lusty and full of the excitements desired by the young.

After Bhai Sahib’s dire announcement, life is tense for Mrs Hathiramani. Before finally blown out of the House of the Sun in a monsoon squall, the planet has influenced some lives irreversibly. Sham Pumnani, the embezzler, finds a new, unexpected future. His sister, Lakshmi, experiences the worst cruelties of womanhood in a traditional society. Rani Murjani learns from Lakshmi’s sad fate to stand up for herself and reach out to a new age. As old Lokumal Devnani prepares tremulously for his precisely predicted death, his daughter-in-law, Jyoti, finally counts her blessing in life. So too in the end do the aging, unmarried Watumal sisters. And through it all Mr Hathiramani writes furiously against time, to complete a translation of Shah Abdul Latif, immortal poet of medieval Sind, so that in Sadhbela a proud past and a dying identity will not be entirely forgotten.

Reviews

‘…her descriptions storm the senses…with its unexpected vein of humour and skilful intermeshing of many lives, it is .. splendidly successful …’

Times Literary Supplement, 21st July 1989.

‘Vibrant, emotional, crowded…a colourful soap opera, its character broad, its crisis prolific…’

Sunday Times, 2nd July 1989

‘..a sensitively crafted exploration of a community…individuals emerge from the action, and it is to these credible and three dimensional characters that we respond’

The Independent Sunday, December 1989

‘…a richness in the storyline and in the telling.  In all ways a revealing book.’

Glasgow Herald 24th June 1989

‘renders complexities with superb craftsmanship.’

Yorkshire Evening Post 27th July 1989

Excerpt

From Chapter One

Bhai Sahib examined Mrs Hathiramani’s horoscope.  He sat cross-legged on the stone floor in a once white vest and dhoti.  The vest had a hole and a remnant of his lunch, eaten hurriedly to the sound of Mrs Hathiramani’s arrival in his temple, had left a deep yellow stain upon it.

Mrs Hathiramani had arrived out of breath after the climb dowstairs from her home on the fourth floor, two stories above Bhai Sahib in the building they called Sadhbela, and shouted, ’O, Bhai Sahib.  Anybody there?’  She carried a plate of cashew nut sweets covered by a yellow checked cloth.

Behind the faded curtain dividing his living quarters from the front room of his home, set aside for use as a temple, Bhai Sahib stopped eating.  His wife frowned and rested a spoon in a pan of dal before continuing to serve her husband.  She gave him a meaningful look.  Neither replied to Mrs Hathiramani’s loud summons.

‘Do as you wish then.  I know you are there.  I am waiting,’ Mrs Hathiramani threatened.  Her voice was gruff and masculine.  She removed the cloth from the plate of sweets and put it on the altar beneath a picture of Guru Nanak, beatific and serene.  Then she lowered herself awkwardly onto the floor, placed the red cotton-bound horoscope before her and stared grimly at the curtained doorway, beneath which she cold see Bhai Sahib’s bare, sandaled feet, and the legs of a table and chair.

Bhai Sahib returned with a sigh to his lunch.  Soon Mrs Hathiramani heard him hawk and rinse out his mouth.  He appeared from behind the curtain, wiping his nose on a small blue towel.  He was a corpulent man with protruding eyes, cheeks of grey stubble, and a coarse moustache…

…Bhai examined the close lines of faded blue script, written down long ago at the time of Mrs Haathiramani’s birth, and the symmetrical designs in the worn booklet.  At a page with a drawing of a sun surrounded by lotus petals he paused.  The sun, besides long rays emanating from it, had a human face with large sober eyes and a heavy moustache.  Within each of the lotus petals was more blue script that Bhai Sahib read with a serious expression.

‘What is it?’ Mrs Hathiramani asked, leaning forward.  She was alarmed, not so much at what might be written in the horoscope, but at the change in Bhai Sahib’s expression.  She sensed already it would be difficult to dilute the course of whatever destiny was in store for her…