An old retired judge from the pre Independence era, a granddaughter mired in her past and unsure about her future, a cook and his disillusioned son, trying to make ends meet in the capital of the world and a beleaguered Nepali; all come together in this novel which is more a celebration of life than a work of prose.
Kiran Desai weaves the lives of such starkly different characters all into one thread at the foot of the glorious Kanchenjunga in the Himalayas. Sai, the grand daughter of the embittered retired judge, is suddenly sent back from her boarding school in Dehradun to her only relative, her grand father. The disgruntled judge sees flashes of his deeply buried past through the life of her grand daughter. Between the two of them lies a chemistry that attracts and repels at the same time.
The post colonial hangover is distinct in the neighbours of Cho Oyu – the Oxford educated Uncle Potty, Father Booty with his obsession for his home grown cheese, the Afghan sisters and the English broccoli growing Noni and Lola. Kiran Desai paints the perfect class distinction even in the idyllic town of Kalimpong, with the disgruntled Nepalis seeking for a separate land, the migrant cook and his tribe of people whose only idea of a well settled life is to get their sons to the land of dreams, America, and then of course the inhabitants of the decadent British bungalows with illustrious pasts but not so sure future.
Every character is carved in its own idiosyncrasy.
“Don’t be scared, puppy dog, little frog, little duck, duckie dog. It’s just rain.” – The silly endearing of the grumpy judge towards his pet dog Mutt is probably the only active conversation that he has. His love for all things colonial and his despise for all Indianness bred perhaps from his service in the ICS and was a silent retribution for his own treatment during the British rule.
When Biju, the cook’s son, says ‘Above the restaurant was French, but below in the kitchen, it was Mexican and Indian.’, the emotion was that of an enervated man resigned to his fate. His search for the American way of life took him across the dirty underbelly of the restaurants in the Big Apple without so much as a decent place to sleep.
“Why couldn’t she be part of that family? rent a room in someone else’s life.” Sai’s desolation for having no one to call her very own rings through the entire novel like a reverberation of the church tower bell. Her indifference and longings are juxtaposed at all junctures of her life and do not leave till the very end.
Life gingerly moved on in the hills amidst the upsurge of the nationalistic Gorkha movement, with its morbid sensitivity of lost colonial grandeur until one day the valley crumbles to the pressures of the persistent strife.
The book appropriates its name throughout the narrative. But may be what the prose lacked a little was the intense characterisation and the flow of the story that often transports the reader into the pages of the book and brings them heaving back, sighing at the loss of a part of their lives.
My rating 3.9/5
Buy it here Inheritance of Loss