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'The Inheritance of Loss': How many Indias do you know?

Imagery plays a big role in Kiran Desai's book, unfolding each scene before your eyes like a holographic image. You can feel the wet mist at Kalimpong and the moist earth beneath your feet as you climb the hills. At first, you would think that The Inheritance of Loss is the love story of a girl with strong ideals and her Maths tutor, rudely interrupted by the Gorkha insurgency of 1986. The characters are all etched in what seems their own perspectives of themselves. What each of them lacks is the ability to look beyond themselves. The sadist judge, the hopeful cook (who is never named) and Sai with her ideals acquired from convent school.

But you would be wrong to limit yourself to this view of the novel. For, I think, The Inheritance of Loss is all about being Indian. Not the Indians you and I know - the blooming middle class with one foot in the past of Indian tradition, and the other in an optimistic future.

There are Indians for whom India is the final homecoming. Like for Biju, the cook's son, who is forced to work in the U.S. to pacify his father who dreams big. Thrown against the reality that America is, he sees the filth beneath it all. Yet, he is appalled by the desperation of the people who still think that immigrating will solve all their problems. These are not the stereotype NRIs, but the Indians who are almost invisible, who work in the dark recesses of dirty hotels, gas stations and fast food outlets. All with their eyes on the 'green card'.

There are people like Father Booty who gives his whole life to India, only to be told that he does not belong here anymore - and sent back to an England he does not recognise.

There are people like Sai (the lady in love) who harbour the vision of an India - of cheese toast and rum cake - that seems so out of place in the violence of the times. Similarly, sisters Lola and Noni lead a life of seclusion from what is really happening in the country. When Lola is humiliated by the chief of the rebels, she realises:

It did matter, buying tinned ham roll in a rice and dal country; it did matter to live in a big house and sit beside a heater in the evening, even one that sparked and shocked; it did matter to fly to London and return with chocolates filled with kirsch; it did matter that others could not.
Then there's Gyan, the gulity Maths teacher. Only, what is his guilt for? Falling in love with Sai with all her ideas, or partaking in the rebellion because of his Gorkha blood? It is this conflict which tortures him.

There are many others - all open for observation at the Calcutta airport where Biju lands on his return. There's "the yuppie who had taken lessons on wine", the hippie with tie-dyed motifs of Hindu religion, "computer boys who'd made a million", "young straight-laced businessmen", the "Indian student bringing back a bright blonde" and of course, "all the NRIs holding their green cards and passports" looking "complacent and civilized".

This is India outside the periphery of our everyday vision. One that exists in the hearts and minds of Anglicised Indians, foreigners who have adopted it, legal and illegal Indians abroad and even the rebels who want to break away from it. Sai best describes this when she muses:

What was a country but the idea of it? She thought of India as a concept, a hope or a desire. How often could you attack it before it crumbled?
When the people of Kalimpong witness the rebellion, they finally see beyond their own concepts of India and that of others. Indians who are heir to an India that does not really exist. An India they have lost, keeping it alive only in their thoughts. Yet, for millions of Indians, there are still many Indias they have no knowledge of.

Think of the North-East. Forever relegated to its fate. Think of the Andaman & Nicobar islands, still recovering from a horrendous natural calamity. Think of the Indians on foreign land, doing menial jobs, yet revering a vision of India that soothes their frayed nerves.

More than anything, Kiran Desai deserves applause for bringing all these hidden Indias before our eyes.
Book Review 3593260732617820302

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3 comments

junkunlimited said...

hi!!

could have written better to make it sound more like a book review!!

gugan!

Tarana said...

Gugan,
Thanks for your feedback! The collage of images that I got from reading this book is what I have tried to put in this post.

Adonis said...

An expression is an expression is an expression -- there is no scope for the adjectives like, better, simpler or uglier.

Literature is not a handicraft, it is the transmission of feeling this writer has experienced.

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