Together Mr and Mrs. Jha and their adult son, Rupak, are experiencing a windfall. Anil Jha has worked his entire adult life in computers and his wife has worked with craftswomen, helping them secure markets for their local products. Now both those pursuits have paid off. Their adult son, Rupak, has devoted himself to getting a good education and is now pursuing an MBA in New York. When we meet the family, Rupak has returned to Mayur Palli for his parents’ impending move from the lower class housing complex of his childhood to the upper class home they can afford now that his father has sold a website to a big American company. It is the stuff of dreams. In fact, it is the American dream, except that they are in Delhi and this success, their windfall, is the result of technological work, instead of the manual work everyone else might have preferred to see them struggle through.
At once, however, we see the problems that the family is facing. Their friends and neighbors with whom they have spent the past two and a half decades, are jealous, suspicious and resentful. The son they think will return home to India after acquiring an enviable, and thus marketable, American education, and marry a woman his parents have chosen and continue their tradition, well he has found an American girlfriend – blond haired, blue eyed, who favors cropped shirts that expose her skin in a way traditional Indian saris don’t. And speaking of the son, Rupak’s experience in America is not the struggle typical of many immigrants and the thousands of international students who arrive in the US every year, scrimping and saving every dollar, eating ramen noodles in their dorm room to afford textbooks. No, Rupak has the benefit of a bank account that his father replenishes, he has been seduced by overnight success and so he is living the results without having put in the work, buying all the technological gadgets America has to offer, enjoying a life of leisure with the toys that make it even more pleasurable, and failing out of school in the process.
The first few chapters of the book illustrate what happens when you upset the natural order of things – when children don’t obey their parents, when a husband dies and leaves a young widow and society doesn’t know what to do with her, when adults start their lives over and when people, in general, don’t think highly enough of themselves to be comfortable in their own skin. Further, The Windfall is a study of contrasts and the effect of success on the different groups in a society – the ones who have achieved it and the ones who haven’t.
The author, Diksha Basu, an Indian woman herself, offers a comparative look at the treatment of women in the different groups of this multilevel society and over the course of two generations, and forces the reader to wonder whether wealth offers women more or less freedom in that culture. The uncomplicated language of the novel makes it very readable and the local geographic and cultural references she sprinkles through the narrative, validates this as an international setting but one that is not too foreign.Initially, I wasn’t sure what about this book made it satirical – the setup felt like a normal story of a family who advances in life and a traditional boy struggling to fit into his new life without upsetting his parents by what he fears they might see as his rejection of their ways. But the constancy with which the characters compare themselves to the people around them, always finding themselves wanting, the self flagellation they indulge in, each one torturing themselves with wanting to be like everyone else, not realizing that at every turn, every other person is also thinking the same thing, the playful way in which the author moves back and forth between each character’s experiences but also their thoughts as none of them, regardless of their success and elevated positions experiences comfort, invites mocking. In fact, Basu begs you to laugh at these comical characters, burning themselves out, searching for things they already have or that they have already rejected.
Read this book! There is much to love about it. And if you’re looking to broaden your horizons by reading some fiction set in another part of the world but that still has familiar, domestic scenes, this one does the job well.
- Title: The Windfall
- Author: Diksha Basu
- Format: Hardcover
- Pages: 294
- Available at: Amazon | Book Depository
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Note: I received a free copy of The Windfall from Blogging for Books in order to complete this review