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Inheritance irks Nepali readers

Kiran Desai's novel has created a hullabaloo in Nepal with readers calling her insensitive, colonial and prejudiced.

india Updated: Dec 04, 2006 12:43 IST

Indian-origin author Kiran Desai's bestselling novel The Inheritance of Loss, that won the Man Booker prize for fiction this year, has created a hullabaloo in Nepal with readers calling her insensitive, colonial and prejudiced.

The 34-year-old's second novel moves from Kalimpong, a sleepy town in east India, to Britain and the US, recording racism, the plight of the Asian illegal immigrant in the west and the insurgency spearheaded by the Gorkha National
Liberation Front in eastern India.

A large number of the characters in the novel are people of Nepali origin and their depiction has angered Nepalis, who accuse her of having a warped vision.

A strong protest came from Nepali author and educator DB Gurung, who was educated in eastern India.

While reviewing the Inheritance for the Kathmandu Post last week, Gurung came down heavily on the portrayal of the Nepali diaspora, calling it the result of "living a bastardised life inside and out of India that Desai seems unable to acclimatise herself (to) either in the western milieu or her own home".

The Nepali author says Desai has portrayed the Nepali inhabitants of Kalimpong as "crook, dupe, cheat and lesser humans" while the "truth" is that the hill community still retains its language, culture and dignity despite exploitation by the "hungry jackals from the plains of Calcutta".

Gurung has also taken exception to Desai's creation of Biju, the son of a Nepali cook, struggling as an illegal immigrant in New York.

"I have seen many Indian engineers and executives doing the same sort of job or selling hotdogs in the streets of Los Angeles, New York, Chicago and Washington," he wrote scathingly. "They would perhaps make more poignant characters than Biju."

Letters from enraged readers began pouring in, agreeing with Gurung.

Calling Desai "schizophrenic", Dinesh Kafle said contrary to her "prejudice-ridden characterisation" of Nepalis, the community had been able to preserve their dignity at all times.

"Had any Nepali writer written the same about Indians, it would have been a political issue," Kafle added. "Her book is a direct attack on the dignity of the Nepali people."

Nepalis are also expressing anger at Desai's reference to Mohammad Ali Jinnah and Buddha.

"Desai thinks of Mohammad Ali Jinnah only as a pork eater and states that Lord Buddha died (due to greed) for pork. She has a chronic deficiency of an adult perspective," said one letter.

Nepali readers are also protesting the "de-consecration" of Mt Kanchenjunga, the third highest peak in the world, and Bhairav, one of the most-revered religious icons in Nepal.

Desai writes of the Kanchenjunga "glowing a last brazen pornographic pink" while the Hindu icon is described as a demon with hungry fangs, brandishing an angry penis.

Gurung also takes to task Hermione Lee, chair of the Booker judges, asking her to "wake up" and realise that the novel she praised for its humanity is a "slander and brazen attack on the Nepali community and their dignity".