The success of a book reading depends on the book and equally on the reader – in this case it was a double whammy: a book we can easily identify with and a well-loved baritone conveying it to our ears. Author Chanchal Sanyal and arguably India’s best actor, Naseeruddin Shah came together to share excerpts from the former’s The Glass House: A Year of our Days. Pegged as a darkly comic take on the monstrous megapolis of Delhi and its many moods and characters, The Glass House presents a look into the ideals of middle class urban happiness, its link to home ownership, and the pitfalls and prices that come along with its pursuit… None of which we are a stranger to in urban India.
In between reading aloud portions specifically selected by Shah himself, Sanyal shared insights into his book and the reality it portrays. “Last week I was watching a TV debate where a BMC corporator claimed the pot-holed roads were not his responsibility and walked out of the studio. Unfortunately, cities seem to have become nobody’s responsibility. It’s the same story in Gurgaon, Mumbai, Kolkata, Chennai. Our cities are becoming more and more unliveable and yet we are forced to live in them.”
The Glass House quickly yanks you into the travails of “college professor MB and his designer wife, Roshni, a yuppie couple living in the ever-expanding, smog encrusted, roiling city of Delhi. They have finally achieved their dream of buying their own apartment—in an an up and coming builder complex in Gurgaon. The problem is, it looks like it’s going to be up and coming for a while.”
Adds Chanchal, “In a very simple sense, the book is about a middle class man trying to build his house in Delhi and what he goes through. In the process, he is on the verge of losing his home because the kind of pressures he faces causes him to question his relationships with everybody – his wife, his colleagues, people around him, and eventually his own existence. If you step out of where you are and what you are, you will question your own sanity.”
The grimness of the premise is lightened by the tone that makes you chuckle out loud ever so often – laughter perhaps is the best revenge for anger, after all. There are opportunities galore, as MB “must deal with his wife’s growing distance and disaffection from him which has less to do with the stalling on the house front, and more because she is finding solace in the arms of Rocky, the stud son of their Punjabi landlord.” There’s also the landlord, ‘Fatbum’ Khanna, “who is greasing his way further into his tenants’ lives, filling their ears with advice on how to navigate the growing mound of bank papers, loan agreements and, of course, building jargon.”
Naseer shows us his brilliance as he nails Fatbum’s dialogues and also those of the Bong neighbour, with fabulous ease. The acting legend later shares his own resonance with the story, sharing, “What appealed to me was this whole business of a house. I lived in hostels all my life until I came to this city and ended up as a paying guest in a room with five people, and then graduated to a room with three people, then two, and then a room of my own. It used to be a re-converted kitchen. I can never forget the sensation I had when I got my first apartment. I remember buying a Godrej cupboard and mattress, which was all the furniture I had in that apartment. I just lay on that mattress and stared at myself in the mirror of that Godrej cupboard for half an hour. I could not believe my good luck! This desire to have a space you can call your own has always been very close to my heart because it took me a long time before it could happen.”
Sanyal nails that feeling.