Connecting through Ideas Beats and Pieces of Kiran Desai’s The Inheritance of Loss

This chapter talks about the “crystallization” process and the confusion this process creates. And most of all what is takes to be civilized, how much it cost to be accepted by the white society. Also, how love and beauty is mediated by the color line and the rejection of it.
Fanon notes, “he is a European. But he is Black; so he is a Negro. There is the conflict. He does not understand his own race, and the whites do not understand him” (64). We also find that because of these circumstances, Veneuse feels lonely and has developed into what many would call an introverted bookworm. While we might be led to think that Veneuse’s desire is to prove to his white counterparts that he is their equal, Fanon believes that Veneuse himself is the man that has to be convinced.
Another point Fanon talks about is how a black man need for validation by the whites. He always needs an European friend for authorization. Also Fanon talks about “abandonment neurosis”.
Fanon also believes that Veneuse’s problems cannot be extended to all black people simply because Veneuse is black (this would risk losing objectivity). He is simply suffering from basic and universal symptoms of the psychoanalytic problem of being an abandonment-neurotic.To conclude, Fanon reminds us once more that such problems cannot be solved by buying into color hierarchies and alludes to another solution which he will reveal later.
Fanon points to a passage by Louis T. Achille which posits the idea that whereas most interracial marriages are arranged so that one of the spouses is of a lower economic or cultural standing than the other in order to achieve the “deracialization” of both partners, when a white spouse is chosen by a black person, the black person’s motive seems to be one of establishing equality with whiteness. But in “Inheritance of Loss” we see that one of the main characters Jemubhai Patel rapes his wife because he did not marry a white or a westernized woman.
As Fanon says it “however, he concludes that know nothing. I have no wish to know any more except one thing: that the Negro is a man like the rest, the equal of the others, and that his heart, which only the ignorant consider simple, can be as complicated as the heart of the most complicated of Europeans. (66)”
Inheritance of Loss is the title of the second novel of Kiran Desai.In this novel, she raises a question such as “how can loss be inherited?” In the book, Kiran Desai flashes back and forth, between Kalimpong and New York and The inheritance of loss focuses not only on individual stories of the characters themselves but also describes how several people make sense to themselves, view the world abounds them and deal with the difficulties they have with contradiction. The writer stated that she was writing to portray the reality, the truth in this novel. ……So the characters starting from the retired judge, his granddaughter Sai, his cook Panna Lal, are described with every single details of their daily life, they are not caught in any situation but are judged by their moment of impulse. So the readers get the idea of the character’s whole inheritance- their loss, the pain which they carry , and also the urge to get out of it. India, with a colonial history and the world going through phases like globalization, modernism, the novel also speaks about how it effects every corner of the people’s life in this text. The major theme running throughout is one closely related to colonialism and the effects of post-colonialism: the loss of identity and the way it travels through generations as a sense of loss. Individuals within the text show snobbery at those who embody the Indian way of life and vice versa, with characters displaying anger at the English Indians who have lost their traditions.
As Kiran desai explains “What happens when you take people from a poor country and place
them in a wealthy one? How does the imbalance between these two worlds change a person’s thinking and feeling? How do these changes manifest themselves in a personal sphere, a political sphere, over time?”
“These are old themes that continue to be relevant in today’s world, the past informing the present, the present revealing the past.”

In this book the portrayal of human soul is bare and naked. The novel depicts very well in Jemubhai the dilemmas of post colonialism and his loyalty for the lost British kingdom. He after training himself to be a colonial tool finds it hard to move on with time. The former judge, with his beloved dog Mutt lives in Himalaya with a cook. His personality and behavior is so determined by the English ideology and etiquette that he is unable to find his own self or to be the person he was before he went to Cambridge University. He masks his black face with a’ pink powder puff.’ Unfortunately his judgment for natives and poor people makes the reader wonder about his loss. Until his only companion, his pet dog Mutt is lost; he is depicted as rather an unkind bitter old man who is living in the past. He is very strict about his fixed routine about tea, food, and pet, other like British behaviors. His idea of civilization is based on white aesthetics and it alienates him from the whole world, sometimes even from himself. He keeps on reminding himself that human beings are capable of forgetting but he can hardly forget his past. Fanon in his Black Skin White musk states,
“We must see whether it is possible for the black man to overcome his feeling of insignificance to rid his life of the compulsive quality that makes it so like the behavior of the phobic. Affect is
exacerbated in the Negro, he is full of rage because he feels small, he suffers from an inadequacy in all human communication, and full these factors chain him with an unbearable insularity.”
“Ego-withdrawal as a successful defense mechanism is impossible for the Negro. He requires a white approval.”

When he goes abroad for higher education, to be “somebody” as expected by every one from his community, he faces extreme racist behavior from the white people. He becomes so self-conscious under the white gaze that he even finds it difficult to expose his teeth.
“He was hated and made fun of by the English who said, “Phew, he stinks of curry” (45)
To be accepted by the whites and their civilization he goes through a whole transformation and “crystallization”. But in the process of being approved by the white, being powerful like the white, he had to drop his own culture and way of life that he had learned from his forefather. Facing hatred throughout the process of being like a white man, he starts projecting his sense of insignificance and hatred towards the Indians. Probably the sense and acceptance of white man’s superiority is so deeply ingrained in him because that he fails to return his hatred towards the whites………( whites are too powerful to consider as hateful)l. So ironically Desai shows that in the process of civilization Jemubhai Patel drops the things that made him a human too. His idea of time and space fixed in that particular time even when he gets back, all of a sudden he feel hatred towards his whole family and their’ stupidity. He rapes his wife Nimi because she steals his powder puff and despite of his white education he almost beats wife to death and then leaves her. Ironically Nimi’s father provides the money for his higher education as a bribe of the marriage. He hates his wife because she is a constant reminder that he is not White.
He feels “barely human at all” and leaps “when touched on the arm as if from an unbearable intimacy.” On his return to India, he finds himself despising his culture, family and inadvertently attempting to “colonize” his backward wife. “’Take those absurd trinkets off,’ he instructed her, annoyed by the tinkle-tonk of her bangles. ‘Why do you have to dress in such a gaudy manner? Yellow and pink? Are you mad?’ He threw the hair oil bottles away and her long hairs escaped no matter how tidily she made her bun.”
His personal experiences are full of hatred and resentment and also that defines his relation with time and space which is fixed. But all the loss come out from the unconscious in the moment of losing Mutt. Patel’s beloved dog Mutt can represent many things: his love for white culture, his fixation and need for approval from something that is white, his wife’s replacement and the justification of his action, that this animal loves him the most. He is capable of loving. He begs God for sending Mutt back , when he thought God is just a superstition of the “stupid” natives, at the same time he wants to kill his faithful cook.
As Fanon says it “however, he concludes that know nothing. I have no wish to know any more except one thing: that the Negro is a man like the rest, the equal of the others, and that his heart, which only the ignorant consider simple, can be as complicated as the heart of the most complicated of Europeans. (66)”

The cook and the judge have a master-slave relationship. And the cook’s only son Biju, an illegal immigrant of USA is struggling with the direct colonizer. Almost the same kind of relationship but each has its own complexity. The notion of double consciousness is apparent with Biju as illegal Indian immigrant in New York. Sai is in the middle of all the Western and Eastern learning and just like her mixed language, torn. Lola and Noni the two rich women, with their polished life generalize and criticize everything with their prejudice and ideas borrowed from white intellectuals. Other two neighbors- Uncle Potty and Father Booty( foreigner) enjoy their bachelor life. And a Nepali graduate fell in love with Sai while teaching her Science subjects.
Loaded with their own complexity these characters also often mirror each other in term of prejudice and judgment. The judge is angry with his wife and beats her because she is the prove that he is not white and she is a typical Indian girl.
“they belonged to this emotion more than to themselves, experienced anger with enough muscle in it for entire nations coupled in hate.”
Gyan blames Sai for being so westernized because she reminds him the height he can never touch.
Fanon points out “we shall observe the development of an effort to understand the black-white relation. The white man is sealed in his whiteness. The black man in his blackness” (9)
While Lola and Noni both are terrified of the idea of Nepali watchmen, they have thse thrilling ideas that the watchman can rob and kill them anytime. Lola, a character who does not develop throughout the time is so full of prejudice that she beside the higher class society finds all the people wicked, uncivilized and greedy. The superiority she feels is because of her husband’s property and her daughter’s job, also her love for white aesthetic and Old England. Now all the white man look for black girl she claims, forgetting that they are still an exotic, forbidden fruit from their lost kingdom. But her loss is there too, her loss of youth and her husband strikes out when a Gorkha leader harass her about her body, she call her husband by the name.
Throughout the text we can see that all the people who have power and money find the native and marginalized people useless, ignorant, stupid, at the same time dangerous. Even cook declares that Nepali’s are not smart enough to teach science.
And Gyan and his nationalist friends find the Judge, his fake accent, his powered face, and the whole idea of pet hilarious.
Gyan wants to be a part of the national movement, but he is scared. He just like his friends could not find the reassurance about the movement. But just be part of the bigger picture he breaks up with Sai. Later finds out that was his loss because he misses Sai. By trying to return Mutt he tries to balance his sin.
Everyone inherited their own loss, but they call Mutt to come back, while thinking of their own loss, the judge thinking of his family and wife, Sai about Gyan, cook about Biju. Mutt interconnects them with all their loss. At the end as Biju comes back to come, because he with losing his American dream realize where he truly belongs.
“The five peaks of Kanchenjunga turned golden with the kind of luminous light that made you feel, if briefly, that truth was apparent. All you needed to do was to reach out and pluck it.”
As Desai suggests, people are very much a product of their environment; how they were brought up and the cultural identity they were trained to know is constantly carried with them. Globalization today brings cultures together, encouraging ideas and traditions from one culture to meld and blend with others. Although there are many aspects of this mixing that are positive, it can also stir up old hatreds, causing new troubles and resentments. Most of the characters in Desai’s novel, including the Judge, Sai, Gyan), Noni and Lola and Biju, all have experiences where their identity comes in contact with a foreign culture. Unfortunately, each of these experiences results in a strong negative reaction, illuminating the division between cultures that still exists today.
We see the crumbling dreams of Sai’s neighbors, Swiss Father Booty and his alcoholic friend, Uncle Potty, still trapped in an older era when colonialism was for the best.
We can question the writer beginning with a poem about homeland. All the character here trying to gain their loss, their security, their innocence and their home. Everyone is generalized, judging, falling in love, falling out of love, dueling with hatred and cruelty, justified their action because they are trying to find a place to belong, their home. The way Biju comes back to his home.
Desai’s comment about this theme was complex and indefinite: “That is a very difficult question. Home is a place we choose. Nowhere is pure. The idea is a simplification. There is no pure location – there’s no returning to a firm place.”
We all have our own inheritance and belonging.
Work Cited
Fanon, Frantz. Black Skin, White Mask.

Spielman, David. “Solid Knowledge and Contradictions in Kiran Desai’s The Inheritance of Loss”. Shroff, Satis.  “Kathmandu Blues: The Inheritance of Loss and Intercultural Competence”.

Jessica Islam Lia

ENG 452, Contemporary Literature
Spielman, David. “Solid Knowledge and Contradictions in Kiran Desai’s The Inheritance of Loss”. Shroff, Satis. “Kathmandu Blues: The Inheritance of Loss and Intercultural Competence”.


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