Anosh Irani Dahanu Road: A novel

ISBN 13: 9780385667005

Dahanu Road: A novel

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9780385667005: Dahanu Road: A novel

“The only statement of revolt the poor could make was to put an end to their own misery. It happened all the time—men lay themselves on train tracks, hanged themselves from trees, consumed rat poison, and women set their kerosene-soaked bodies alight in front of their husbands. These were blazing ends to insignificant journeys. But in all this, there was always one man who, in that final gush of blood, in that final breaking of neck and bone, set things in motion.” 
 
Zairos Irani, a young man of inherited leisure, is meandering through his family’s lush chickoo orchards near Mumbai when he comes across a distressing sight: Hanging from one of the fruit trees is the lifeless body of Ganpat, a worker from the indigenous Warli tribe. Ganpat’s ancestors once owned the land, before his father’s alcohol debts caused the deed to be transferred to Zairos’s grandfather Shapur. The two family destinies have been entwined ever since, ancient grudges once again awoken by Ganpat’s final desperate act.
 
Zairos feels obliged to notify Ganpat’s family before the authorities come to ask needless questions and extract bribes. A tractor bearing Ganpat’s sister and anguished daughter Kusum soon trundles into the orchard, and when Kusum alights, Zairos’s curiosity is piqued. As a landowner, he knows that he is well above her station, and yet her dignity and beauty lead him to cast aside taboos and risk the wagging tongues of neighbourhood gossips. Though wary at first, the grieving Kusum comes to return his affection, asking only that he assist her in achieving what her dead father could not- by putting an end to the violence she has endured at the hands of a drunken husband.
 
Zairos cannot get advice from his father Aspi, whose clownishness masks thinly-veiled nihilism. Nor can he confide in his beloved grandfather Shapur, whose massive hands planted the chickoo trees that he adores as much as his own sons. Shapur built the family empire from a desperate start as an orphaned refugee, and any act that might threaten the delicate legacy spawned by his sacrifices would only provoke rage in the old man, who increasingly dwells in memories. So Zairos whiles away his time at Anna’s, the local haunt for the male leisure class, dreaming of a future with Kusum. There, with the support of some equally underemployed sidekicks, Zairos hatches a scheme to scare Kusum’s husband into releasing her, while keeping his own moral integrity intact. But alas, Zairos’s scheme will not unfold as planned, and along the way he will unwittingly expose family secrets that may well be better left buried...
 
With brilliant gusto, Irani has built his Dahanu Road upon the pathways forged by authors of tragicomic romance spanning centuries and continents, from the Persian classic Layla and Majnun, to Romeo and Juliet or Wuthering Heights. Dahanu Road is a suspense-filled family saga, a sprawling romantic epic in which the delineations between the oppressor and the oppressed, or between love and hate, are demonstrated to be maddeningly deceptive.


From the Hardcover edition.

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About the Author:

Anosh Irani was born and raised in Bombay, India. He moved to Vancouver in 1998, and received his Masters in Creative Writing from the University of British Columbia in 2004.
 
First published in 2004, The Cripple and His Talismans was Irani’s first novel, earning him critical acclaim and a spot on Quill & Quire’s “writers to watch” list. The novel has also been published in the United States, Germany and China.
 
Irani’s second novel, The Song of Kahunsha, was published in 2006. It is a tale of children in Bombay struggling for survival amidst the violence of the 1993 racial riots. It became a Canadian and Italian bestseller, and was a 2007 CBC Radio “Canada Reads” selection. Dahanu Road, Irani’s most recent novel, is an epic love story about three generations of the Irani clan: Zoroastrians who fled from persecution in Iran to Bombay.
 
Irani is also an award-winning playwright. His first full-length play, The Matka King, premiered in Vancouver in 2003. His 2006 play Bombay Black won four Dora Mavor Moore Awards including Outstanding New Play. He was a 2007 Governor General’s Award nominee for Drama for The Bombay Plays. His most recent play is My Granny the Goldfish.
 
Irani divides his time between Bombay and Vancouver.
 
Of the setting of this novel, Irani writes: “Dahanu is the place of my childhood, and I truly love the town and its people. But plot always comes from the internal desires of the characters. What happens in a story is the result of what characters want, and these characters are fictitious. So reading the novel, people might ask, ‘Did this really happen?’ That question is natural. But one must remember, fiction is about possibility. Through story and history, a novelist digs for truth. I took the history of the Zoroastrians and the Warlis, and this novel is what I found.”


From the Hardcover edition.

Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:

ONE
India, 2000
 
The smell of mosquito repellent pervaded Zairos’ small room, but he was used to it. Each night his father, Aspi Irani, would come into the room, shut the door and windows, and spray the repellent with great flourish as only an artist would. His father was obsessed with mosquito repellents and owned every brand on the market, from Baygon to Killer. He treated his array of repellents with the kind of passion usually reserved for record collections.
 
Zairos scratched his thigh and realized that he had been bitten by a monster. A few mosquitoes lay on the ground, some flat on their backs, some sideways, giving the impression that the place had been bombed. But these mosquitoes were part of the everyday death toll in the coastal town of Dahanu. In Dahanu, old-timers high on snuff reminisced about their childhood days in Iran and spoke to themselves in Farsi and Dari; tribal fishermen drowned in the sea, possessing neither the strength nor the will to prevent their boats from capsizing; retired schoolteachers drank country liquor until their livers understood their plea and put them out of their misery: and the young women who worked in balloon factories became balloons themselves, puffed up, bloated with the air of disappointment.
 
The bed creaked as Zairos rose from it. He crossed to the porch door and swung it open. His room was on the first floor of his family’s home, Aspi Villa, and the branch of a coconut tree reached for him, as it did every morning. The higher branches caressed the red tiled roof, and their leaves always made Zairos think of large eyelashes, as though the tree and the tiled roof were lovers.
 
Zairos put on jeans and a blue T-shirt and went down the stairs to the living room. His father was seated at the table, cutting an apple, his belly protruding from underneath his white sudreh. The sacred vest had a red blotch, most probably ketchup, on the small pouch at the V that stored the good deeds of the wearer. Zairos smiled at how devout a Zoroastrian his father was—instead of good deeds shining through, there was a blaring ketchup stain.
 
Knife in hand, Aspi Irani was painfully systematic in the cutting of the apple, accurate in the size of each piece, and not once did he even look at the fruit. An unlit cigarette dangled from his mouth. He used to be a chain-smoker, but when Zairos was a year old, Aspi Irani had dozed off while smoking his last Capstan of the night, and in a stupor flicked his burning cigarette into Zairos’ cot, and the horror of the flames was enough to make him quit forever. Zairos was told this little detail when he was ten with the lightness of a fairy tale. “Thank God it happened,” said his father. “Otherwise I would be smoking till today.” Although he had given up smoking, Aspi Irani had been unable to stop holding a cigarette. That and constantly running his fingers through his salt and pepper hair.
 
As soon as Zairos was downstairs, Aspi Irani started singing. His songs were a strange concoction indeed, a blend of three languages, Hindi, English, and Gujarati. Zairos always compared his father’s songs to country liquor: Use anything you can find—orange peels, battery acid, even leather slippers. Then squeeze hard and let its juice make your head spin. This morning, Aspi Irani’s song included two main ingredients— tennis and his old Morris. The two rhymed, and as he sang, the cigarette fell out of his mouth. Then he stopped abruptly and said to Zairos, “I think your mother is having an affair.” He said this every other day, whenever Mithoo went to the bazaar.
 
Theirs was an odd pairing. Mithoo was calm and soft spoken, with a perpetual smile on her face. She spent her time looking after stray dogs and teaching English to just about any child who wanted to learn. As a result, books were strewn all over Aspi Villa, from Wren and Martin’s thick dossier on English grammar to books for five-year-olds such as The ABC of English. There were times when Aspi Irani would come home and find strange children in his living room, sitting at the dinner table with colouring pencils in their hand and chocolate milk on their lips. “Is this an orphanage?” he would ask his wife. “Can we please give them back, my dear?” Mithoo would pout and wink at her husband, and Aspi Irani would melt, but only for a bit. The moment it got dark outside, he would turn off the lights in the living room, bring out an old rubber skeleton, and shine a flashlight on it, thus ensuring that his wife’s students would be terrified of English for the rest of their lives.
 
Aspi Irani loved the idea of sabotage. He yearned for a situation to ruin, as long as there was no permanent damage. No matter where he went, be it marketplace or wedding hall, he was an imp straight from the underworld, full of guile and mischief. Of course, with his thick forearms and massive calves, he was too large to be an imp, but he had an imp’s demeanour, from the sleazy to the sublime. When he was in action, his eyebrows arched like a piece of Mughal architecture; it was the arch of knowing that came upon the countenance of only those who knew secrets, of men who found beauty in the orchestration of disaster.
 
And it was the arch of his eyebrow, he claimed, that had made Mithoo fall in love with him. Mithoo’s parents had died in a car accident when she was fourteen, and she had responded with a bout of silence that lasted four years, until the moment she met Aspi Irani at Café Military in Bombay. “I was so handsome that your mother just had to open her mouth and say something,” Aspi Irani told Zairos. But then one day at a party, while his father was telling this story for the hundredth time, Mithoo whispered to her son, “I did open my mouth, but only because I was in pain. Your father had worn pointy boots and he stepped on my toe and I howled. But he prefers his version.” In any case, they were married six months later. At eighteen, Mithoo was a radiant bride, and Aspi Irani, seven years her senior, continued wearing pointy boots.
 
In later years, the boots gave way to moccasins. Whenever Aspi Irani went abroad, he came back with five pairs of brown moccasins, “One for each year, until our next holiday in five years’ time.” At the moment, the moccasins were neatly tucked away in a corner of the living room, while his face was buried in The Times of India. “The rupee has hit an all-time low against the U.S. dollar,” he grumbled. “What a wonderful way to start the new millennium.”
 
Then he looked up at the silver-framed portrait of Zarathushtra on the wall. “You should become finance minister,” he said. “Only a miracle can save us.” But the prophet remained unmoved. In his soft and luxuriant beard, a burst of light around his head, palms facing upward, Zarathushtra seemed preoccupied with matters celestial; the plummeting rupee or a foray into Indian politics failed to rouse him.
 
Aspi Irani turned his affections to the apple he was cutting.
 
“This apple is raped,” he said, pointing to a tiny, almost invisible rotten patch.
 
The word rape was a staple in Aspi Irani’s vocabulary. If his wife did not make the scrambled eggs soft enough, he would say, “Mithoo, these eggs are raped.” If his back hurt from the long hours of shuttling by train between Dahanu and Bombay, he would say, “My back is raped.” Everything was raped. The trees were raped, the walls were raped, the curtains were raped, the shower was raped, the whiskey was raped, the wedding was raped, and finally, if some unfortunate soul made the mistake of asking Aspi Irani for a loan: “Do I look like I want to be raped?”
 
He offered his son a slice of apple, but Zairos shook his head.
 
The first thing Zairos did every morning was smoke. He did not smoke at home. At twenty-five he was old enough, so that was not the reason. It just felt awkward, blowing smoke in front of his parents; it took the joy out.
 
When Zairos was out of sight, he lit up.
 
The horn of a train echoed off the walls of the bungalow, the sound like a jazz trumpet. It was 8 a.m.—the Gujarat Express had just come in from Bombay, and even though the coconut, mango, and gulmohar trees around Aspi Villa provided it with much-needed privacy, the train station was, as Aspi Irani said, “only a hop, step, and jump away.”
 
“Dahanu Road” read the yellow sign on the station. At one point, that’s all that might have existed. A single road. But now coconut sellers in cream dhotis lined the platform, sickles in hand, a pyramid of coconuts in a cane basket by their side. Toddy booths offered salvation to the dry throats of passengers, the palm wine adding sweetness to a sour journey. Vegetable vendors squatted on the ground, cucumbers, brinjals, and cauliflowers sprinkled with water, ready to be cooked at home amidst the chitter-chatter of housewives. Just as fresh as the palm wine and vegetables were the newspapers in the A. H. Wheeler stall. Wafer crisp, the headlines were scoffed at by the drifters, rickshaw drivers, factory owners, and farmers who paraded up and down Dahanu station as though it were a holy ritual.
 
Soon Zairos would reach his grandfather’s bungalow, where he would have his morning tea. But first he had a cigarette to finish, and, more importantly, he had to pay homage to the fruit that had fed his family for three generations. He blew smoke towards the chickoo trees that his grandfather, Shapur Irani, had planted decades ago. It was Zairos’ way of greeting the trees. It was the smoke of affection; it was like dew, a first kiss, one he blew their way every single morning.
 
 
Sapota. Sapodilla. In other words, the chickoo. Brown in colour, it looked like a potato with a shape so round it reminded Zairos of a woman’s bottom. When he bit into it, there was a sweetness that made him want more before he had finished eating what was in his mouth.
 
The wily chickoo had travelled far and wide. Born in Mexico, it found its way to India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh (it was a third world fruit), Venezuela, Thailand, Vietnam, Indonesia, Malaysia, and even Brazil and the West Indies. This fruit liked its sunshine and tanned women. It had no patience for snow.
 
Apart from sapota and sapodilla, it had a bevy of names. In Sri Lanka it went by the name rata-mi; sawo in Indonesia, lamoot in Thailand, nispero in Venezuela, naseberry in the West Indies, sapoti in Brazil, and Zairos’ favourite, sugardilly, in the Bahamas.
 
As he walked the pebbled earth, he threw his cigarette into the cactus fence. His grandfather’s bungalow was in view. Even though it had been painted cream only two years ago, heavy rains had lashed the walls, and certain parts were bare again. It had an odd shape, two rectangular blocks at right angles with each other, like displaced train bogies.
 
His grandfather was on the porch in his rocking chair, still as ever. Even though he sat in his rocking chair all day, he never moved. Movement was the enemy, a thing of the past. And because Shapur Irani rarely moved, he remembered everything. How many trees he had, how old they were, how crisp the air was fifty years ago. More than anything he remembered the love he had for his wife, Banu. He once told Zairos, “If you took an army of starving young men who had not seen their wives for years, and you measured their longing for their wives against mine, it would still come nowhere close to what I felt for your grandmother.”
 
But neither love nor medicine could save his wife. Banumai died of a fever when she was in her late twenties. Zairos wished he could have known his grandmother. His grandfather did talk about her, but he presented her in pieces: she liked to read, she had two younger sisters, twins, she had fair skin, she loved Bombay more than Dahanu, she could bear the pain of childbirth like a tigress, she loved the feeling of morning dew on the soles of her feet, she had once seen a goat being slaughtered and could not eat for three days after that.
 
Apart from these snippets there were strange utterances, spoken in a haze, phrases such as “Banu, make the water hot,” “The gun stays on the bed,” “We are not moving to Bombay.” Zairos was careful not to let his grandfather know that he heard all these reminiscences, but he put together an image of Banumai; he could smell her bottle of eau de cologne by the bed, he could see strands of her black hair caught in the hairbrush that lay by the mirror, or the sweat on her neck and the paper fan she used to drive the heat away. When it came to Banumai, Zairos was like a thief: he took whatever he could when his grandfather was unaware. But the one thing he did not need to steal, the one thing that was obvious and as deep as the lines that criss-crossed on his grandfather’s face, was the love between them.
 
Zairos climbed the three steps up to the porch. His grandfather called him Zairos the Great. Shapur Irani gave his grandson that name when he saw him walk for the first time.  “He is a conqueror like Alexander,” he had said. From then on, whenever Shapur Irani saw little Zairos approach, he would go to the nearest chickoo tree and shake it with all his might. “Be careful,” he would say, as sparkly green leaves fell on him, “your strength is making the trees tremble.”
 
But the name had meant something else to Zairos when his Navjote ceremony was performed. On the day of his initiation into the Zoroastrian faith, the head priest, in a white robe and prayer cap to match, admonished the nine-year-old Zairos for using that name, even if it was in jest with his friends.
 
“Alexander is an enemy of the Zoroastrians,” said the priest. “He murdered dasturs like myself and destroyed our holy scriptures.”
 
Shapur Irani was quick to knock some sense into the priest.
 
“By walking the farm with his head held high, Zairos is reclaiming what Alexander stole from us,” he said. “That is a sign of greatness.”
 
Then he bent down and placed his hand on Zairos’ head.
 
“Remember, it is our enemies who make us conquer fear.”
 
 
Shapur Irani’s eyes were closed.
 
Even though he was ninety now, he was still a big man. Over six feet five, he did not have the hunched look of a person who carried his ninety years in a dhobi sack on his head. He had his teeth, his strong legs and bushy eyebrows, the hair on his chest was white and long, and he shaved every morning at five, even though he never went anywhere.
 
“Pa,” said Zairos as he sat on the porch steps.
 
Shapur Irani did not respond. His eyes were still closed and his lips revealed the faintest quiver, a ghost language of sorts, which only the dead could decipher. Zairos stared at his grandfather’s thick head of hair—slicked back and silver.
 
“Pa,” he said again.
 
Shapur Irani opened his eyes slowly. If there was one thing that unnerved him, it was light. He did not want the light of the sun to gain entry through his eyes and illuminate the parts of him that were dead and gone. “To look at the past,” he once told Zairos, “is like shin...

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Irani, Anosh
Verlag: Anchor Canada
ISBN 10: 0385667000 ISBN 13: 9780385667005
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