A House for Mr. Biswas Part I, Chapter 2 Summary

V. S. Naipaul

Part I, Chapter 2 Summary

After Mohun Biswas moves to Pagotes with his mother and sister, he finds out that he must have a birth certificate to continue taking classes at the Canadian Mission School. His mother and aunt take him to see the solicitor F. Z. Ghany, who completes the necessary paperwork and allows Mr. Biswas to return to school.

As a student, Mr. Biswas learns a number of speeches in English as well as geography, arithmetic, and history. He befriends another boy at school, Alec, from whom he learns the art of sign painting.

Although no one in his family is very well off, Mr. Biswas is treated quite well whenever his aunt, Tara, has a feast for one of the many religious festivals. As a Brahmin, he is waited on by his sister (who works as a servant in Tara's house) and given gifts of money. As soon as he leaves the feast, though, he immediately returns to the small shack he shares with his mother.

At this time, Biswas also begins to read a weekly newspaper column to Tara's husband, Ajodha. Tara sees that he shows promise as a potential pundit, a kind of Hindu wise man, and takes him out of school to apprentice him to Jairam, the local pundit.

As Jairam's assistant, Mr. Biswas helps him with the various duties involved in his office, including assisting in the religious ceremonies, counting the gifts given to Jairam, and doing the puja for Jairam's household.

On one occasion, Jairam is given a large bunch of bananas. Mohun is unable to resist the temptation and one day while Jairam and his wife are out, he eats two of the bananas. When Jairam notices, he teaches Mohun a lesson by making him eat every last one of the bananas, which results in a swelled stomach that troubles him for the rest of his life. 

Not long after that, Mr. Biswas completely destroys his relationship with Jairam by improperly using and then disposing of an unclean handkerchief, which results in Jairam chasing him away.

After Mr. Biswas returns to Pagotes in disgrace, Tara finds him a job working in a rumshop owned by Ajodha's brother, Bhandat. Before long, Bhandat accuses Mohun (who is innocent) of stealing from him and strikes his face with his belt. Although Bhandat apologizes, Mr. Biswas refuses to return to work at the rumshop and decides he will set out on his own and look for a job.

At first, he is unable to locate any work and becomes discouraged. One day, however, he runs into his old friend Alec, who convinces Mr. Biswas to come and work with him as a sign painter, the one trade for which Mohun has shown a real aptitude.