The last time I tried reading Kiran Desai was when I made multiple attempts at her first book Hullabaloo in the Guava Orchard and failed due to boredom. So, it was with apprehension that I picked up The Inheritance of Loss, though the Man Booker did egg me on.
It is the story of an orphaned girl, Sai, who goes to live with her maternal grandfather, a retired Judge, Jemubhai Patel, who has more affection for his dog Mutt than others. Another story, that runs in parallel, is that of their cook, and his son Biju, who goes to the United States as a cook to make his elusive fortune. This story interleaved with the main story shows us the dilemmas faced by immigrants.
Set in the 80s, in an isolated crumbling house, Cho Oyu in Kalimpong, at the foothills of Mount Kanchenjunga, in the backdrop of the Gorkha revolution, the story explores the class differences and western influences of the above period, through the eyes of these characters and others — like Sai’s romantic interest and Nepali tutor Gyan, the sisters Lola and Noni – Afghan princesses, Uncle Potty, Father Booty and Mrs Sen.
+ + +
- I love the characterization of Jemubhai Patel — a person from an impoverished background, yearning to make it big in the colonized India, striving for greatness with the only weapon of academic excellence, that some Indians were equipped with during that period; his inferiority complex that manifests as the rage that tortures his wife, and which eventually turns into bitterness; his unconditional love for Mutt; his western-influences and pretences; the class attitude that he shows towards his cook.
- The flashback story of Jemubhai Patel’s relationship with his wife has been narrated realistically — I have heard of similar stories during this period. A sorry tale, but not one that could not have happened.
- Familiar landmarks in Darjeeling and Kalimpong are referred to in the book; we had visited Darjeeling earlier this year I could relate to the places referred to – like the century-old Glenary’s restaurant, where we had a few meals – this added to the reading experience.
- The language is exemplary; the feelings and reactions of the characters have been described with great detail, and I found myself being able to relate to them. The never-ending struggle for pride / superiority between the sister duo and Mrs. Sen on whether CNN, where Lola’s daughter Pixie works, or BBC, where Mrs. Sen’s daughter works, is better, and in turn whether the US or Britain is better, brought a chuckle, because we too indulge in such arguments and can relate to them.
– – –
- Gloomy is the word that comes to my mind when I reflect on the story. The dismal atmosphere starts right from the title. A crumbling isolated house, set in the rainy hill station, with people having sad pasts and uncertain futures, in an air of revolution makes it a gloomy read. I don’t prefer gloomy stories.
- I felt that Sai’s character was not fully developed. What she feels about her orphaned status, and her feelings towards her grandfather have not been explored.
? ? ?
- Even now, in Darjeeling, we found groups of people marching up and down the busy streets crying about Gorkhaland. This book set in the 80s also talks about it. Two and a half decades later, the problem still seems to continue! In fact, the description in the book closely aligns with what we saw.
- These words about the plight of children going abroad in search of a living and their parents here being torn between love and hope struck a chord in me.
A gloomy read for a rainy day!