This Booker Prize winning novel puts together the story of three typical Indian characters: Patel, a retired judge and settled in Kalimpong with his dog and servant; Sai, his grand daughter, the convent-educated girl who comes to live with him and falls in love with Gyan the Nepali; and Biju the son of the servant who goes to United States, struggles there and comes back disillusioned. The three main characters have one thing in common. They are misfits in the place they live. The judge, after his British education and Colonial service becomes unIndian, after having alienated himself consciously from native Indians. The convent-educated girl and the rich retirees inKalimpong are foreigners, talking a foreign language and living in another world amidst the poverty and backwardness of Kalimpong. Biju is a misfit in USA caught between the illegal immigrants who confuse him and the Americans whom he does not understand.
The dilemma and internal conflicts of westernised Indians in India caught between the Gymkhana club culture and the poor folk who steal the dog of Patel is a continuing reality. The story of Gorkhaland struggle in the region which disrupts the life of all the characters is a reflection of what one sees in the television news in India day after day. I do not remember watching Indian TV news without strikes, agitations, burning of buses, demonstrations, clash with police, insurgencies, problems of Kashmiris, Maoists, Dalits, Muslims and political party workers. What Naipaul calls as the land of million mutinies ! Disruption goes on every day in some part of India or other in the name of religion, language, region, caste and culture.
Kiran Desai's story-telling is natural and her characters are unforgettable. In the clash of cultures in Kalimpong she lets even love end up unromantically after confusing and contradictory emotions which collide innocently and unintentionally. The India, which comes out from the novel is the unvarnished,uninterpreted and unromantic country of dilemmas and contradictions for the Indians who outgrow India.
Only an Indian could fully understood and appreciate the novel with its typically Indian situations, language and even jokes. It is, therefore, interesting that the Booker prize selectors had chosen this for the international audience. May be the world is trying to understand the India of what it actually is, rather than for the BPOs and IT strength ! Why not? We, in India have been reading and understanding the local cultures and customs of England, Europe and USA.
It is amazing that Kiran Desai has captured the Indian spirit and struggle although she has been living in England and USA since the age of 14. And she is said to be the youngest woman writer to win the Booker at the age of 35.
I was disappointed with the " Goddess of small things" for which Arundati Roy got the same Booker prize. Her book did not appeal to me at all. That is why I started reading Kiran Desai with skepticism. Kiran Desai deserves the prize and she is promising.