The Two Views of the History House

By: Nishi Patel and Rachana Mallavarappu

Introduction: What is the History House?

"Kari Saipu’s house had been renovated and painted. It had become the centerpiece of

an elaborate complex, crisscrossed with artificial canals and connecting bridges. Small

boats bobbed in the water. The old colonial bungalow with its deep verandah and Doric

columns, was surrounded by smaller, older, wooden houses-ancestral homes-that the

hotel chain had bought from old families and transplanted in the Heart of Darkness. Toy

Histories for rich tourists to play in. Like the sheaves of rice in Joseph’s dream, like a

press of eager natives petitioning an English magistrate, the old houses had been

arranged around the History House in attitudes of deference." (Roy 120).


  • The History House originally belonged to Kari Saipu, a man whose ghost was found by Vellya Paapen and struck by a sickle. This house was originally abandoned when Estha and Rahel were children, but then turned into a showcase by Hotel managers by the time Estha returned.

Aspect 1 of the History House: The Present

Quote 1:

"What Vellya Paapen (who knew most things) didn’t know was that Kari Saipu’s house

was the History House (whose doors were locked and windows open). And that inside,

map-breath’d ancestors with tough toe-nails whispered to the lizards on the wall. That History used the back verandah to negotiate its terms and collect its dues. That default led to dire consequences. That on the day History picked to square its books, Estha would keep the receipt for the dues that Velutha paid." (Roy 190).

  • The main events of Velutha's capture and Estha and Rahel's adventures occured in the back verandah of the History House. The other significance of the back verandah is the suspicious and secretive nature in which things are done in the "back of the house". As to what the explanation is for Estha to keep the receipt for the dues that Velutha paid, the decisions that Estha made, eventually led up to the capture and death of Velutha.


Quote 2:

"The History House.

Where, in the years that followed, the Terror (still-to-come) would be buried in a

shallow grave. Hidden under the happy humming of hotel cooks. The humbling of old

Communists. The slow death of dancers. The toy histories that rich tourists came to play with." (Roy 290).

  • The Terror described in this quote refers to what is to happen on the night Estha, Rahel, and Sophie Mol leave the Ayemenem house for the History House. The Terror is the scene that the twins must face when they wake up to see policemen hurting Velutha.


Quote 3:

"the History House—so much closer at hand—that really fascinated them. They thought about it often. The house on the other side of the river. Looming in the Heart of Darkness.

A house they couldn’t enter, full of whispers they couldn’t understand.

They didn’t know then that soon they would go in. That they would cross the river and be where they weren’t supposed to be, with a man they weren’t supposed to love. That they would watch with dinner-plate eyes as history revealed itself to them in the back verandah.

While other children of their age learned other things, Estha and Rahel learned how history negotiates its terms and collects its dues from those who break its laws. They heard its sickening thud. They smelled its smell and never forgot it.

History’s smell.

Like old roses on a breeze.

It would lurk forever in ordinary things. In coat hangers. Tomatoes. In the tar on roads. In certain colors. In the plates at a restaurant. In the absence of words. And the emptiness in eyes.

They would grow up grappling with ways of living with what happened. They would try to tell themselves that in terms of geological time it was an insignificant event. Just a blink of the Earth Woman’s eye. That Worse Things had happened." (Roy 53-54)

  • A complicated description of the house explains the complicated emotions behind the events that occurred there. The smell of History to the twins is important. Keep it in mind. The twins would end up grappling with the events that they believe they made happen. The main event, would be Velutha's death.


Quote 4:

" The back verandah of the History House (where a posse of Touchable policemen converged, where an inflatable goose was burst) had been enclosed and converted into the airy hotel kitchen. Nothing worse than kebabs and caramel custard happened there now. The Terror was past. Overcome by the smell of food. Silenced by the humming of cooks. The cheerful chop-chop-chopping of ginger and garlic." (Roy 121).

  • The present History House is now a place of "leisure". It is the workplace of those that take care of the tourists that visit the place now. The Terror has already happened and now, the History house doesn't have any more terrible memories being created.




Aspect 2 of the History House: The Past

Quote 1:

"In the back verandah of the History House, as the man they loved was smashed and

broken, Mrs. Eapen and Mrs. Rajagopalan, Twin Ambassadors of God-knows-what,

learned two new lessons.

Lesson Number One:

Blood barely shows on a Black Man. (Dum dum)

And

Lesson Number Two:

It smells though.

Sicklysweet.

Like old roses on a breeze. (Dum dum)" (Roy 293).


  • The smell of History that the twins mentioned earlier has to do with the sickly-sweet smell of blood. The blood of a dying man. The death of a man they loved caused by their actions. This is what they must grapple with as they grow older and discover the truth of their actions.


Quote 2:

"Estha who had made the back verandah of the History House their home away from home, furnished with a grass mat and most of their toys—a catapult, an inflatable goose, a Qantas koala with loosened button eyes. And finally, on that dreadful night, Estha who had decided that though it was dark and raining, the Time Had Come for them to run away, because Ammu didn’t want them anymore." (Roy 250).

  • These are the decisions that Estha made that forced him to accept the receipt for Velutha's dues. Unknowingly, Estha's choices walked Rahel and him into the exact location and time of Velutha's capture.

Quote 3:

" They went to Kari Saipu’s House, Vellya Paapen said. The white man’s demon had entered them. It was Kari Saipu’s revenge for what he, Vellya Paapen, had done to him. The boat (that Estha sat on and Rahel found) was tethered to the tree stump next to the steep path that led through the marsh to the abandoned rubber estate. He had seen it there. Every night. Rocking on the water. Empty. Waiting for the lovers to return." (Roy 242).

  • This part of past refers to the things Velutha did that resulted in the dues he had to pay. The history house is the setting of the most important parts of the book. One more thing to add to those parts is that it is the location where the affair between Ammu and Velutha took place.


Discussion Questions

1) Why is Estha the only one to be blamed for what occurred at the History House? Is Rahel not guilty at all? (In fact are either of them to blame for what occurred that night?)


2) What part does Baby Kochamma play in the story the History has planned. Does she deserve some of her own guilt for her actions?


3) Who might have been the ones that made Velutha pay his dues to History? (Why?)


4) Do all the actions that occur in this book deal with the dues that each person must pay to History? (Why or why not?)


5) What can the History House represent for anyone not part of the events that occurred there?


6) Is there such a thing as a History House that makes us pay our dues in each of our lives?