This one was an adorable read and I would've absolutely loved to devote more time to writing a more detailed piece on my view of Kiran Desai's Man Booker prize winning novel.
But alas! The Ibis beckons.
One must leave all else and head for port this instance, where lies that magnificent ship, waiting for this humbled reader to be transported back to the China of 18th Century that I last had the opportunity of visiting nearly four years back- thanks to the spectacular storytelling ability of a certain white-haired Bong.
So I'll keep it short and sweet, just like Desai's writing.
The book reminded me of Ruskin Bond. It reminded me of a certain short story that I had read of his as a kid- about another kid living at the foothills of the Himalayas who sows peaches and then sees a peach tree grow from his sowing over the years as his own self transforms first into a teenager and then into a sturdy young man.
While there is nothing common between Desai's book and Bond's short story (if you ignore the similar setting, that is), there is still that special sort of innocence that both seem to radiate onto the audience from start to finish; an innocence that generally does not come so naturally to most writers and hence that remains, in turn, a rare experience for the readers to find and cherish.
Of course I would be doing the authoress a great dishonour if I stopped here, at the comparison of her full-fledged novel to a shortie- no matter how good the latter happens to be. So, I must elaborate a little further- Desai manages to bring to the table a heck lot more than just innocence. Her scope is wide and the span of her tale long, even if sequenced in a non-linear fashion.
Her backdrop is not only the beautiful physical setting (a crumbling house at the foot of Mount Kanchenjunga is where the story begins) but also the spurt of a movement in Darjeeling and surrounding areas demanding a separate state for Gorkhas. Trouble is brewing in this paradise. The kind of trouble that can bring down both nature and men alike.
'The Inheritance of Loss' addresses issues of different scales with great poise such that even when the conflict between people for and against Gorkhaland becomes much more overt in the third act, the main ensemble of characters that include a lovelorn teenage girl, her Nepali tutor cum lover, her grumpy grandfather who has a history of bottled-up rage, their eccentric cook, his son living abroad as an illegal immigrant and the other residents of Kalimpong always occupy centre stage. There is emotional heft in their dialogue with each other (a disrupted telephone conversation between the cook and his son calling from abroad was such a tearjerker, I had to just put down the book for lack of a more isolated milieu) The characters and their varied points of view are what make the backdrop- both natural and human- come alive so effectively.
And the writing... like a gentle breeze that plays at your nape as you sit under a hot afternoon sun, praying to all three hundred and thirty million gods for respite from the heat.
Such natural elegance!
A special mention for Desai's loving portrayal of Mutt, the Judge's pure-bred pet dog and Mustafa the cat. How I wish atleast one of them was lying next to me right now, grrrrring, meowing, staring languidly at my moving fingers as they type these final words of a review that, I am aware, has failed miserably in doing justice to the book that is nothing but a product of immense love and much more immense literary talent; a book that I will certainly be revisiting shortly.
Verdict: I will thoroughly recommend Kiran Desai's The Inheritance of Loss to anyone who enjoys his or her food warm and his or her drink cold. All others, if any, are exempted.