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Shortly be­fore he was born, there had been an­other quar­rel be­tween Mr Biswas’ mother Bipti and his fa­ther Raghu, and Bipti had taken her three chil­dren and walked all the way in the hot sun to the vil­lage where her mother Bis­soon­daye lived. There, Bipti had cried and told the old story of Raghu’s miser­li­ness: how he kept a check on ev­ery cent he gave her, counted ev­ery­bis­cuitinthetin,and­how he would walk 10 miles rather than pay a cart a penny.

Bipti’s fa­ther, fu­tile with asthma, propped him­self up on his string bed and said, as he al­ways did on un­happy oc­ca­sions, ‘Fate. There is noth­ing we can do about it.’ No one paid him any at­ten­tion. Fate had brought him from In­dia to the sugar es­tate, aged him quickly and left him to die in a crum­bling mud hut in the swamp­lands; yet, he spoke of Fate…as though, merely by sur­viv­ing, he had been par­tic­u­larly favoured.

While the old man talked on, Bis­soon­daye sent for the mid­wife, made a meal for Bipti’s chil­dren and pre­pared beds for them. When the mid­wife came, the chil­dren were asleep. Some time later, they were awakened by the screams of Mr Biswas and the shrieks of the mid­wife. ‘What is it?’ the old man asked. ‘Boy or girl?’

‘Boy, boy,’ the mid­wife cried. ‘But what sort of boy? Six-fin­gered, and born in the wrong way.’ The old man groaned and Bis­soon­daye said, ‘I knew it. There is no luck for me.’ At once, though it was night and the way was lonely, she left and walked to the next vil­lage, where there was a hedge of cac­tus.…

From “A House for Mr Biswas”

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