Category: Fiction Format: Hardcover, 320 pages Publisher: Doubleday Canada ISBN: 978-0-385-66699-2 (0-385-66699-3) Pub Date: March 30, 2010 Price: $29.95
The Iranis are also Zorastrian community living in India and Anosh Irani's "Dahanu Road", does for the Irani community what Mistry did for the Parsis in some of his books - presented us with a look into the lives and sensibilities of the Irani community- many of whom live in an area called "Dahanu", a town on the outskirts of Bombay.
Many of the early Irani migrants to India settled in the area and bought up a lot of fruit farms (Dahanu is well known for its bountiful chickoo crop) from the indigenous people called "Warlis". Warlis were the original farm owners (tribals) but drinking debts (and confiscation of their land by the British) forced many of them to sell their land to the Iranis and who in turn made the Warlis work for them.
"Dahanu Road" is based, in part, on Anosh Irani's ancestors. Through the two main characters, Shapur Irani and his grandson, Zairos Irani, Anosh is able to tell us, the readers, the story of how the Iranis came to be in India . Shapur arrived in India as a kid with his father from a place called Yazd in Iran. His father loved Iran but decided to move because of religious persecution. In India, not only did they find refuge but also a way for them to put their business skills to good use. Many, like Shapur, bought fruit farms in Dahanu and became land owners, but a large majority moved to the city (Bombay) and became hoteliers (the Irani cafes of Bombay are world famous), confectioners/bakers and liquor retailers.
So the story goes back and forth (seamlessly I will add) between the 1940's when Shapur was in his prime to the early 2000's when Zairos comes into his own. Shapur is representative of the old generation where the landowner was Lord and quite literally King of all he surveyed. The Warlis possessed little or no say and were no better than slaves on the land that was once theirs.
Zairos represents the new generation. Not only is he uncomfortable with being lord and master of the Warlis but it's come to a point where the Warlis do not revere him as they once revered his grandfather. Also, in Shapur's day if the Boss wanted to sleep with one of his workers' wives, he could just "take" her. But Zairos was not like that...he wanted Kusum one of the Warli girls that worked on his farm and instead of taking her in secret he had an open love affair with her which made him a laughing stock but which also brought him grudging respect.
To me, this is an ideal book...it is a love story, it has history, great storytelling, wonderful characters, an unusual plot, and best of all, it is set in a locale not familiar to too many people and in a community that is slowly becoming extinct - the Zorashtrian Iranis of Western India. Reading this book provides the reader the opportunity to discover another culture altogether, with its different rhythms, tastes, smells and ways of being human.
Anosh Irani's writing sparkles as usual (he is also the author of "The Song of Kahunsha" which I enjoyed tremendously). The prose is animated, lyrical and has such a meditative quality to it that very often I'd put the book aside and reflect on a statement that I'd just read.
Also, I love how he captures the Irani community at play and at work, I especially loved the gatherings at Anna's place which is where the Irani men would gather together...just like an old boys club.
Irani also has a very strong feel for relationships and such a poetic way of describing moods: