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Reflective Moods in The Inheritance of Loss

Article by Dr. Shaleen Kumar Singh

The Inheritance of Loss by Kiran Desai recently won the Man Booker Prize 2006 is a story of Sai and her grandfather. Sai is a young girl who takes refuge at Jemubhai Patel, the grandfather, a retired judge residing at the foot of Mt. Kanchanjungha in his home Cho-Oyu, – which at present shows the little sign of its former glory. The judge wishes to lead the remaining days of his life in seclusion and stoicism obliterating the past and even the existing today but as the ill luck would have it or say fortunately, his grand-daughter is shattered completely by the sudden intrusion of his granddaughter Sai. The relation between Sai and grandfather is very typical for both of them do not know any thing about each other. As the judge or the grandfather was leading life full of isolation and seclusion, he has to accept the girl after the tragic accident of his son and bride. ‘In a crumbling isolated house at the foot of Mt. Kunchunjanga where the judge is residing in a disciplined and tight- scheduled life, the girl Sai tries to adjust her frequencies. Sai is a Westernized Indian girl brought up by English nun and so she is well-acquainted with the discipline of encroaching others personal zones.Kiran Desai remains meditative from the beginning, the delineation of situation, the weaving of the plot and the infusion of ‘thought’ make her exquisite. Sai is the key-figure of the novel who narrates the reflective mode of the novelist. “No human had ever seen as big as apples to scope the dark of the ocean, theirs was a solitude so profound they might never encounter another of their tribe. The melancholy of this situation washed over Sai” (20)And he continues:”Could fulfillment ever be felt as deeply as loss? Romantically she decided that love must surely reside in the gap between decisive and fulfillment in the lack, not the contentment. Love mar the ache, the anticipation, the retreat, everything around it but the emotion itself.”(20)Like Hardy’s novels fate plays a dominant role in the Desai’s novel. Sai’s father becomes the victim of fate, though he was one of the candidates and the first Indian to be chosen beyond the gravity. Here we can again see the author musing:”………the fates decided otherwise, and instead of blasting through the stratosphere, in his life, in this skin, to see the world as gods might, he was delivered to another vision of the beyond when he and his wife were crushed by local bus wheels,……….Thus they had died under the wheels of foreigners, amid crates of babushka nesting dolls. If their thoughts were of their daughter in St. Augustine’s, she would never know.” (27)A close affinity gets developed between Sai and the cook of the house who is associated in the company of Jemubhai Patel, the grandfather for quite a long period, so she (Sai) tries to enquire much about her grandfather’s past life. Sai comes to know about cook’s personal life and love also whose only son. The cook says at first:I may be as well be dead. If not for Biju………”

The author introduces Biju adding:

Biju was his son in America. He worked at Don-Pollo- or was it the The Hot Tomatos? Or Alibaba’s fried chicken? His father could not remember or understand of pronounce the names and Biju changed jobs so often, like a fugitive on the run – no papers. (35)Biju the only son of the cook who somehow manages to send him to unknown land for better future, reflects the shadow of long line in him and the hard life of the foreign country is experienced by the one among the many whose parents and their sums for the foreign country and pine for the love of motherland. Kiran Desai’s portrayal of Biju reflects the loveliness of such persons, who runs to and fro in his struggles for existence on account of undocumented immigrant and stumbles from one low paid job to mother. His fantasies about the life full of facilities luxuries that each man aspires to have and we frantically wishes purchase everything for the same.Life, in reality, is full of strife and dreams can do nothing except shielding contemplation. Contrary to this the arrival of Sai in the life of the retired judge makes him forcibly to ruminate about the past when he left his house at Pilphit to commence his journey overseas. After a bright career of joining the Indian Civil Services, he flew to England and returned home to a pampered survival, banishing a kind of royal verdict over his country. He is unfortunately one of those ‘ridiculous Indians’ who is incapable to come out of the strong clutches of foreign exposure. He leads a busy life totally devoted to work and work only, thus ignoring his family and children. His wife becomes the target of his frustration and anger. Kiran Desai presents him before as an introvert personality who is more at ease in the company of his pet dog Mutt than his family and his children. The portrayal of judge is done by Kiran Desai as an eccentric character totally disciplined man doing everything at sharp time. For example, ‘ At 6:30 he would bath in water’, ‘at 8:30 he’d rode into the fields, with local officials and everyone else in the village’, ‘at 2:00 after lunch the judge sat at his desk under a tree to try cases usually in a cross mood’, ‘at 4:30 he had to be perfect, at 5:30 out he went into the country side with his fishing rod and gun, at 8:00 saved his reputation cooked a chicken and at: “9:00 sipping ovaltine, he filled out the registers with the days gleanings. The patromax lantern would be lit – what a noise is made – insects fording the black to dive-bomb him with soft flowers (moths), with iridescence (beetles), lines, columns and squares. He realized truth was best looked at in tiny aggregates, for many baby truths could yet add up to one big size unsavory lie. Last, in his diary also to be submitted to his superiors, he recorded the random observations of a cultured man, someone who was observant, schooled in literature as well as economics: and he made up hunting triumphs: two partridge……one deer with thirty inch horns……..”(63)

Sai falls in love with Nepali boy Gyan who is appointed as the tutor of her. Gyan gets involved in the Gorkha Separatist Movement with a obscure motive behind him as Gyan is portrayed as the victim of circumstances who cannot but join the liberation army forcibly:’as he floated through the market, Gyan had a feeling of history being wrought, its whets churning under him, for the men were behaving as if they were being featured in a documentary of war, and Gyan could not help but look on the scene already from the angle of Nostalgia, the position of a revolutionary. But then he was pulled out of the feeling by the mansoon – stained grottos. Then he shouted alone with the crowd and to create a relevancy, an affirmation he had never felt before, and he was pulled back into the making of history.’ (157)

Gyan is pain-stricken because of his unrequited love for Sai on one hand and his hatred for everything that Sai mirrors in Indian society. When the Kalimpong was burning under the fire of separation, the GNLF fighting for the separatist state, the police were hiding their own identity rather than protecting the common mass. Kiran Desai broods over the whole traumatic situation and portrays all in the novel. She makes affine balance between the portrayal of the grand and saintly Kanchanjangha and the state of fear, terror and death. Both the plot and the thought are clearly portrayed by the novelist. Jemubhai Patel is also panic-stricken and grief stricken but he is sullen for his dog Mutt who goes missing. The situation makes us think the cold temperament of the high class society towards the ongoing situation. Nandoo, the cook admits his guilt that he committed in his life and holds himself responsible for Mutt’s disappearance. In the meantime Biju his son gets non existent. Here Kiran Desai makes us again think about the philosophy of life and death. She writes as:”The cook did’nt mention his son…. He had none….. he’d never had one….. it was just his hope writing to him…. Biju was non-existent.”(321)

Off and on the author makes us realize the truth of terrestrial life and the satiric situations. Even the judge who tortures the cook for a dog remains silent at a critical crisis hovering over the nation. Sai watches everything and makes us think about the negligent attitude of the judge even who can keep the calm at the wrong happening in the society but cannot pardon his cook for a petty mistake.Sai remains a thoughtful character throughout the novel. She desires love from Gyan but in vain. Desai portrays their relations vividly and compares and contrasts the both. Finally she writes:As she saw her recast her eyes and mouth remembered that he abandoned her, not the other way around and she was bitterly angry.Dirty hypocrite.Pretending one thing, living another. Nothing but lies through and through. (257)

The absurdity of Gyan and pure feelings of Sai makes us think again the traumatic result of true love and Sai’s renouncement makes us again to ruminate when Sai feels a vacuum all around and finds herself unable to overcome the situation. Sai thinks:She thought of her father and the space program. She thought of all the National Geographics and books she had read. Of judge’s journey, of the cook’s journey, of Biju’s. Of the globe twirling on its axis.And she felt a glimmer of strength. Of resolve, she must leave. (323).

Again Biju comes back alone and stands at the gate of Cho Oye. Father and son meet and embrace each other and the son feels comfortable in father’s shelter. Desai here again makes us realize the truth of blood relations can never be a lie or blood is thicker than water. Situations, places or incidents may vary, complexities may crop up and overpower man’s mentality but the relations can never be changed. Sai, on the other hand realizes:Life was not single in its purpose……..or even in its direction. The simplicity of what she’d have been taught would’nt hold. Never again could she think, there was but one narrative and that this narrative belonged only to herself, that she might create her own tiny happiness and live safely within it.(232)

Love is the strongest thing in life and the golden peaks of Kanchanjungha can only be overcome by firm determination, faith and zeal:

The five peaks of Kanchanjungha turned golden with the kind of luminous light that made you feel, if briefly, that truth was apparent. All you needed to do was reach out and pluck it.(324)

Thus Kiran Desai in her novel muses over the various aspects of life as well as make the readers think over the eccentricities and paradoxes of life. She continues her reflective mood from beginning to the end. With instruments of humour and irony, Desai explores the inexplicable and mysterious world. Dr. Shubha Mukherjee observes:With a touch of humour and irony, Kiran Desai explores into the inexplicable and mysterious world their beauty and truth lie within reach but invisible.Dr. A.K. Chaturvedi raises the issue of tribal marginalization in the seventeenth chapter of the novel in which the young boy of town Sayeed who is a worker at the Queen at Tart’s Bakery in America. He is landed into an unexpected trouble by the presence of some poor boys (the very tribal of his native town who having no source of livelihood in their own country visit America for finding employment.) at the gate of Bakery. Nobody in America is ready to help the tribal in realizing the aim for which they left their country. They are neither helped nor even sympathized. The gates of Queen of Tort’s Bakery are close to them, so is the gate of fates to him. Desai raising the issue if tribal’s marginalization presents the picture of globalization and urbanization in modern India. The tribals are desperate and hapless. Dr. Chaturvedi observes: Thus, like in Kamla Markandaya;s The Coffer Dam. The tribal in The Inheritance of Loss represent a marginalized community facing the challenges and problems that have no easy solutions. In the present age of globalization and urbanization the tribal are desperately trying to break out of their traditional boundaries so as to search for the opportunities to ameliorate their hopeless condition. (9)

Works Cited:* Anita Desai, The Inheritance of Loss. New Delhi: Penguin Books, 2006. (all the quotations are culled out from this edition)* Shubha Mukherjee, ‘The Inheritance of loss: Comedy blended with contemplation,’ Hindustani Innovator. Kullur Nagappa Vol. III – No. 1, 2007.* Chaturvedi, A.K., ‘Kiran Desai’s The Inheritance of Loss: The Issue of Tribal’s Marginalization’, Indian Book Chronicle. Ed. P.C. Mathur, Feb. 2007, jaipur,

About the Author

Born on 28th July 1979 at Budaun(U.P.), India, Shaleen Kumar Singh after his post-graduation in English did his doctorate on ‘Panorama of Mahashweta’s Indo-English Verse- A Critical Evaluation.’ He is a poet, critic, reviewer and translator. He has several research papers, articles, poems and reviews published in esteemed journals, magazines and news papers of India and abroad. Currently He is editing an ezine http://www.creativesaplings.com

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