The Unadorned

My literary blog to keep track of my creative mood swings with poems n short stories, book reviews n humorous prose, travelogues n photography, reflections n translations, both in English n Hindi.

Sunday, January 27, 2008

The Segue

In my blog I have done only a few book reviews in the past. I've not attempted this for all the books I've read. Partly it's due to my laziness. The two of them I've attempted are available at these links: "Beyond Belief" By V. S. Naipaul "The Red Earth and Pouring Rain" by Vikram Chandra.

"The Inheritance of Loss" by Kiran Desai
ISBN 9780143101987 Page 324 Penguin Books India 2006, Price INR 395

If I'm told to mention just one thing remarkable about Kiran Desai's "Inheritance of Loss", I'd say it's the mood of pessimism it portrays. Rather it is the ambience of despondency in the crumbling old order the book so accurately captures.

The British are gone and we're well into the intensive phase of Indianisation, thanks to the momentum released by social re-engineering. But those who had once invested their lifetime for learning, implementing and loving British ways find themselves suddenly out of place. They vainly try to cling on to their old ethos. After all, what was the colonial way? It's the way of the Baboos known as ICS, trained to be isolated and abhorring their compatriots, isn't it?

That is one aspect. The other one is the resurrection of the old love of things foreign, the xenophilia: the lure of earning in dollars, come what may. Don't we find it in every corner of our society NRIs flaunting their wealth, electronics and thingies? So, you've people here ever ready to rush to the US with or without passports, to endure life of neglect and deprivation there on the other side of the globe.

The third aspect. It is about the integration of India in the first fifty years of its life as an independent nation. Three wars could not complete the task. Green revolution could not do it, either. So we had to face the fissiparous tendencies, Khalistans and Gorkhaland, and fight them out.

All these three aspects converge into the creative brief of Kiran Desai and "The Inheritance of Loss" is born.

Jemubhai Patel, the judge is the living specimen of the old order. Wife long gone succumbing to his abject torture, he does not think his native place would accommodate his large-size ego and gets himself perched at a quaint little cottage at Kalimpong. He tries to find out his old comfort in his English tea and his expensive pedigree-certified pet Mutt. He has a cook representing the other world, the Indian world of slow but definite change, and the limited connection between these two realms is only for sake of convenience. Jemubhai, already a seasoned hater of the other world, finds every change around as a definite sign of decadence.

Biju represents the impatient but inadequate world of changing India. He goes to the US with a traveller's visa, overstays and endures the misfortune of an illegal migrant. He lives there and his motto is: "Chalo, chalo, another day, another dollar". While some of his smarter friends arrange to marry for green cards, Biju lingers on and his life of suffering continues. One day his endurance gives way and he returns leaving his dream unrealized.

Gyan represents the aspiring world, but in a different way. He is swept by the fissiparous undercurrent, leaves his study and joins the movement for Gorkhaland. The movement matures or rather degenerates into its sanguinary phase. He has also his share of ambivalence, caught between the pulls of a settled life with his sweetheart agreeing to all his moves and those of a life charged with ambition to be a part of the history in making.

And we have Sai, the orphan girl, the grand daughter of finicky judge Jemubhai, who is eager to get out of her solitude. She gets in Gyan, her tutor, a person to flirt with, but then there was a vast difference between her status as a sophisticated girl groomed under meticulous demand of an old-timer, and Gyan the poor raw numskull of the hillside. Gyan smoulders with inferiority complex. He finds the local leaders of Gorkhaland movement in Kalimpong more appealing, their pronounced highhandedness notwithstanding. At one point of time, he blurts out that the judge, the grandfather of his sweetheart, possesses a gun and this sends the Gorkha fellows to rob at Sai's house. This was quite a treachery and Sai comes to know of it. Then the lovers fall out with each other.

In the meantime the situation at Kalimpong deteriorates with every other day a bandh being observed or an economic blockade being enforced. At that crucial time Mutt, the pedigree-certified pet bitch of the judge disappears. Rather it is stolen and the judge goes paranoid about it. People do not understand such unusual attachment of the old man with the dog, but Gyan does. He applies himself to search out the pet and brings her back to the aggrieved judge. He does something remarkable to qualify for the pardon of his sweetheart.

"Inheritance of Loss" is a mine of narratives whose depth is simply incredible. Whether it is the daily routine of an ICS officer or the scenic beauty of Kanchenjunga or the culinary details of restaurants run by Asian Americans, Kiran Desai does not leave out the necessary details. In just about 10 pages of her book, she achieves the tone and then carries it through the development of the plot till the very end. One cannot leave it in the midst of one's reading; it's truly a page-turner. Everything in it has the authenticity, as if a first-hand reporting is made with minimal adornment. The characters are well-explored, especially the one portraying the judge. One cannot help feeling pity about the poor old soul.

As one approaches the final segments of the book, one feels as if the author is in hurry to finish the writing within a pre-specified word length. As if a student writing her exam tries to finish the last few questions touching the barest points of her answer.
A. N. Nanda