House of the Sun

Published by Hutchinson on 1st February 1998

“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.

Forty years before, at the time of the 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 Saturn is 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 blessings 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.

Meira Chand has written four novels set in Japan, but with House of the Sun she returns to her roots, to India, where tragedy and comedy are closely entwined, and where the old order is perpetually at war with the new.