The House at 43, Hill Road: A Review

The Fruits of Prayers and a Steadfast Spirit

 Iris CF Gomes

There are times when non-fiction books read like fiction, only because of the incredible events that unfold in them. The House at 43, Hill Road, written by Brenda Rodrigues, is one such book that hits home with its forthright and visceral description of matters. It offers insight into the abyss of corruption that prevents India from progressing in anyway.

In Goa, it is difficult to find anyone who is not embroiled in a legal case dealing with property. As commonplace as property disputes are, the level of corruption exposed is astonishing and unspeakable. Brenda reveals an insidious rot within our legal system and the nexus between builders, the police and politicians without mincing her words.

The first part ‘Early Days’ takes us back to the history of the house at 43, Hill Road and traces the ancestry of Brenda’s husband, Joe Rodrigues, with family stories thrown in. The plot (number 36) that was originally purchased by the prosperous Braz Rodrigues (great grandfather of Joe Rodrigues) in the 19th century eventually proved to be an albatross around the Rodrigues’ necks. Brenda recounts the progression of house No 43 at Hill Road from the single storey house to the Lydia Cooperative Housing Society, which set them up against the owners of the Celect Corner shop. The shop owners progressively schemed and used violence, their political links and bribery to extend their premises illegally.

The legal battle, or battles rather, that ensued might have brought down the most tenacious of individuals. With the BMC (Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation, formerly the Bombay Municipal Corporation till 1996), the police, the BSES (Brihanmumbai Suburban Electric Supply), and various government officials acting against the Rodrigues’ interests, it was certainly a heavily one-sided battle. Even the Rodrigues’ slew of lawyers, who began representing them enthusiastically and then vanished owing to threats or perhaps monetary gifts, left them disappointed but not bereft of hope.

More than a tale of corruption, The House at 43, Hill Road is a story of resilience, courage, integrity and an unwavering faith in God. Brenda writes of a physical assault on her and Joe, threats to the safety of their two daughters, and the mental harassment to her mother-in-law, Lydia, of the famous Lydia Dressmakers (refer to ‘The Legend of Lydia’ in the first part of the book). Having named and shamed individuals in the book, some who have gained a reputation of respectability in public but display quite a different attitude face to face, Brenda is willing to take on any repercussions without fear:

When we kept making calls to PD Jadhav, the Deputy Commissioner of Police, he put his phone on hold with music playing. Later he kept his phone off the hook. (Interestingly, this same PD Jadhav was later awarded the President’s Medal for distinguished or meritorious service).’ (pp 116-117)

When the reader has given up hope of justice for the family, an unexpected turn of events presents an alternative and promising scenario with foes turning friends and staunch allies.

Brenda’s obvious grasp of the English language simplifies a narrative that could have possibly descended into a labyrinth of incomprehensible legalistic jargon for the common man. The book is much like a fast-paced thriller, sometimes almost unbelievable. The writer’s own emotions and the trauma experienced can be felt as she describes the harrowing times the Rodrigues’ family went through.

This book is a must read for anyone losing hope in the grind of an unsympathetic legal system. Brenda and Joe Rodrigues’ refusal to give in to illegalities, their faith, and prayers – not just for themselves, but their enemies as well, are attributes well worth emulating. It is these very same attributes that brought about a victorious ending to this tale. I leave you with this line from the book:

…had developed a tremendous respect for Joe, and it had grown at every turn, not just because he was able to counter their every move, but because in all the dealings they found he was an upright person whose word could be trusted implicitly.’ (p 244)

*The book is available at Rs 550 and is published by Bombaykala Books.