LOVE THROUGH A SEARCH FOR IDENTITY – a book review

Jackie Kabir

I started reading The Inheritance of Loss with a lot of enthusiasm as Kiran Desai became the Man Booker winning writer of 2006. The book has in some ways reminded me of Arundhati Roy’s God of Small Things. This is another story set in the backdrop of a troubled community of Kalimpong, a small town of India on the Himalayas. The fight for independence, the processions of the GNLF (Ghorkha National Liberation Front) resonate the Marxist revolution depicted by Arundhati in her novel.
The Inheritance of Loss unfolds the story with the arrival of a young girl named Sai at her anglophile grandfather, a retired judge Jemubhai’s house in Cho Oyu. Jemubhai who has rejected everyone and everything precious in life is very disturbed by his granddaughter arrival at Cho Oyu. Not only does it bring back the painful memories of his past which was in oblivion for so long, the past starts glaring at him with accusation.
Set in the 1980s, Desai’s novel depicts the post-colonial dilemma shown by characters like Jemubhai, Lola and Noni of the neighbouring house Mon ami. Lola is proud to have a daughter working for the BBC and has irrational admiration and love for the English way of life. Mrs Sen’s daughter’s CNN job is a kind of counter-balance to Noni and Lola who have always held the air of superiority towards her.
Jemubhai’s cat Matt is the embodiment of all his emotions. The adolescent love affair of Sai with her mathematics tutor Gyan is the theme on which the story evolves.
Gyan is an active member of GLFA who later sends some miscreants to rob Jemubhai Patel’s house one afternoon. The parallel story is of Biju, Son of the cook of Cho Oyu, an illegal immigrant to the US. Biju has a lot of difficulties in immigrating in a land which he can never call his homeland so the immigrant theme is woven in ‘inheritance of loss’. During Biju’s stay in the US, a number of other immigrants are portrayed such Saeed Saeed who believes that the west lawfully owes Indians food and shelter. He gets married to a westerner in order to get the legal papers.
“It was horrible what happened to the Indians abroad and nobody knew about other Indians abroad. It was a dirty little rodent secret. But Biju wasn’t done. His country called him again….”
So Biju gets back home where he really feels that he belongs but as soon as he comes near Kalimpong and is robbed off all his belongings does he realise that the imaginary homeland he had dreamt of no longer exists. Biju’s state of mind may remind the readers of Chanu in Brick Lane by Monica Ali. Ali’s Chanu is an English Literature graduate from the University of Dhaka (compared to Biju who is ill-educated being the son of a cook) has always wanted to go back to Bangladesh rejecting all the facilities of the western world.
Kiran Desai addresses issues like multiculturalism, the act of terrorism with a question mark. She tries to show the feeling of negligence by the upper class as being the main cause for the not so rich to revolt. Jemubhai’s love for his dog but total lack of interest in his family members, especially his wife, is somewhat reflection of Asian feeling of awe for the westerners in comparison to their fellow countrymen.
The parallel portraiture of both these narratives, one in the US and other in Kalimpong are drawn with superb dexterity by this award-winning young writer. The immigrant society’s plight and their eagerness to gain the green card are aptly portrayed.
The town of Kalimpong was virulent with slogans and posters demanding a home land for the Gorkas. Gorkha Land for the Gorkas. The novel about love and passion turns to the demand of the Nepalis to have their own homeland, their right to teach Nepalese language in schools.
“The Neps have been encouraged by the Sikhs and their Khalistan, by ULFA, NEFA, PLA, Jharkhand, Bodoland……”
Kiran Desai has drawn both the narratives in Kalimpong and New York with unflinching details. The tragedies and pain of class distinction leading to the betrayal of love, pain of exile, urge to have a homeland within the homeland all these titbits are sewn together with extraordinary expertise, making The Inheritance of Loss a must read.

Jackie Kabir teaches English language and currently is doing her M।Phil. in Diaspora literature. She can be contacted at jackie.kabir@gmail.com.

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