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The Inheritance of Loss by Kiran Desai

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Topic: Irony and humour in the novel
“The Inheritance of Loss” by Kiran Desai.

Irony and humour in the novel “The Inheritance of Loss” by Kiran Desai.
The Inheritance of Loss, written by Kiran Desai is a grand narrative which encompose the socio- cultural milieu of India and Nepal. The novel discusses various numbers of themes from love to insurgency of youth. Through this novel, Kiran Desai tries to portray the inherent contradictions of desires of individuals and the society in which they live. This novel excels due to the Desai's endeavor to depict the harsh realities in its true colors with a touch of irony and humor. Dealing with all levels of society and many different cultures, Desai shows life’s humor and brutality, its whimsy and harshness, and its delicate emotions and passionate commitments in a novel that is both beautiful and wise
Irony in the novel The Inheritance of Loss:
Irony is a figure of speech in which words are used in such a way that their intended meaning is different from the actual meaning of the words. It may also be a situation that may end up in quite a different way than what is generally anticipated. In simple words, it is a difference between the appearance and the reality.
Irony In the title of the novel
The title of the book is so intriguing. When one hears of an inheritance, it is usually something so precious, so cherished that the next generation anticipates it to be bequeathed with pride and honor. Desai's Inheritance of Loss truly reflects her adeptness for irony. True, the pathetic state of loss can be inherited and may be passed on to future generations, but how can anyone anticipate such a dreadful fate? The story is delivered in such a compelling way that the reader understands the process of loss of cultural identity being passed on from the elders to the young.
Portrayal of irony through characters

Irony overcomes the whole novel through its characters. Characters belong to india but it is ironical that they dislike the culture of their roots and admire the culture of west. Characters in the novel are Jemubhai Patel, Panna Lal, Gyan, Biju, Saeed-Saeed, Sai Mistry, Haresh-Harry and the two sisters, Lolita and Nonita.
They effectively depict varying kinds and levels of discontent at their own personhoods. It is a mix of pathetic illusions of being part of a culture that does not acknowledge them, hypocritical snubbing of one's own culture and journeying into knowing one's real self and true roots.
Jemubhai Patel is an Anglicised Gujarati judge is disgusted with human beings, after bitter racial experiences during the Cambridge days but ironically throughout his latter life he identified himself with British because of his desire to mimic the English colonial identity.
Upon contact with a foreign culture, he ironically grew stranger to himself than he was to those around him:

He forgot how to laugh… he held his hand over his mouth, because he couldn‟t bear anyone to see his gums, his teeth… he began to wash obsessively, concerned he would be accused of smelling, and each morning he scrubbed off the thick milky scent of sleep, the barnyard smell that wreathed him when he woke and impregnated the fabric of his pajamas. To the end of his life, he would never be seen without his socks and shoes and would prefer shadow to light, faded days to sunny, for he was suspicious that sunlight might reveal him, in his hideousness, all too clearly. (40)

He was married with the girl name Nimi even before he goes to Cambridge.His relationship with his wife is fraught with contradictions and triggers off extreme emotions of hatred and violence towards the simple-minded unsuspecting girl because of his hatred with his culture.
He returns to India with his Cambridge degree as an educated man to a wife who has not progressed from where he left her five years before:
She came toward him with a garland. They didn’t look at each other as she lifted it over his head. Up went his eyes, down went hers….
“So shy, so shy” – the delighted crowd was sure of having witnessed the terror of love. (What amazing hope the audience has – always refusing to believe the non-existence of romance).
What would he do with her?
He had forgotten he had a wife.
Well, he knew, of course, but she had drifted away like everything in his past, a series of facts that no longer had relevance. This one, though, it would follow him as wives in those days followed their husband.
All these past five years Nimi had remembered their bicycle ride and her levitating heart – how lovely she must have appeared to him…. (165-66)

“His hatred was his own creature; it rose and burned out, reappeared of its own accord, and in her he sought only its justification, its perfection. In its purest moments, he could imagine himself killing her” (305).

This anger and physical violence is reflected also in his reaction to the cook’s confession that mutt was lost because of his carelessness.
The judge was beating with all the force of his sagging, puckering flesh, flecks of saliva from his slack muscled mouth, and his chin wobbled uncontrollably. Yet that arm, from which the flesh hung already dead, came down, bringing the slipper upon the cook‟s head. (321)
It is ironic how much love he can shower on an animal, his pet dog, while he regards other people with distrust.
The opening page of the novel presents the judge “with his chessboard, playing against himself” (1). The judge is his own intimate enemy, caught in a liminal spatiality which continually challenges his sense of himself
Desai expertly presents ironies in vivid detail that at times, it seems hilarious. The strange and creative interplay of the image projected and the message delivered makes the readers ponder on the depth of the author's points. One example is the supposedly elitist upbringing of Sai, but in reality, she lives in poverty. She has never mastered her native tongue, as it is assumed by her grandfather, Patel to devalue her person. She projects the image of being a part of a rather genteel class, but at the end of the day, she literally sleeps under a table cloth! Such a pity for a young lady to be surrounded by such manly mess! she is a misfit in both the East and the West, and life at Kalimpong fills her with the fear of being left on the shelf.
Though Sai’s romance, at sixteen, with Gyan, her tutor, provides her with an emotional escape from Kalimpong, it soon becomes complicated by Gyan’s involvement with the Gorkha National Liberation Federation, a Nepalese independence movement which quickly becomes violent. Gyan’s commitment to the insurgency offers an ironic contrast with the commitment of his family to the colonial British army in earlier times, just as the judge’s hatreds, learned in England, are ironically contrasted with his British affectations in later life.
It is also ironical to observe often that love takes place amidst unequal partners. The result of this love also is unequal. Their bash-up adds to her loneliness too. The extremist rebellion has dented their kinship and spurted out the repressed differences. Both Sai and Gyan suddenly start becoming aware of the class of each other. The turmoil of the public agitation seems to unearth many truths about the characters. The revolution acts symbolic here.
Their cook, Panna Lal, grudgingly works for the judge and waits to be liberated by his son, Biju, who, he believes, will make it big in America. However, Biju fails to become a successful immigrant worker in US restaurants and returns home to further disappointments in Kalimpong.
The life of Biju can be compared and contrasted with his father. Both remain labourers. It is ironical that the cook is nationless inside the nation. His son, Biju, is nationless outside. Both are suffering from their own sense of loss, truth, untruths, and loneliness. cook’s boast about his son in America and biju’s pathetic condition are also provides an ironic touch to the novel. He promise others that his son will help them in getting visa although his own son was an illegal immigrant. He also boast that his son is manager in restaurant while Biju was living hardly on ordinary jobs.
There are several other minor characters who represent a cross-section of society such as the elites, Nonita and Lolita, who obsessively cling to their past upper-class lives of languor and refinement, the Swiss Father Booty who settles in Kalimpong in order to open his dream dairy farm, and his companion Uncle Potty, with whom he drinks every evening; on the other hand, there is Mrs. Sen whose life‟s only hope is her daughter Mun Mun, who has managed to get a green card in America; and the Afghan princesses who have tragically lost their royalty owing to a English political maneuver in Colonised India. All these lives are complexly enmeshed in the quagmire of the fluid Nation-space orchestrated by Gorkha National Liberation Front (GNLF) leader, Pradhan. Despite his brief appearance in the novel, Pradhan leaves the reader with a clear sense of strong undercurrents that threaten to uproot lives and cultures from the loose soil of the hilly Kalimpong. The young insurgents exemplify an early instance of such a threat to the judge and his family in the opening chapters of the novel.
Irony can also be seen in believes of the people of Kalimpong, for example in chapter 2 it has describe that they believe on the snakes as their protectors. Policeman said “pray to them and they will always protect you” but the incident of robbery ironically proves that “they had not protected them from the robbery”
Humour in the novel
Definition of humour:
“The ability to perceive, enjoy, or express what is amusing, comical, incongruous, or absurd”
Humour plays important role in the structure of the novel. The comic element, always riven through with irony, is most often to the fore, as characters grapple with a world much bigger than themselves, a world that only ever seems to admit them partially, and rarely on their own terms. Amidst its despair, sorrow, grief, and pain, The Inheritance of Loss is still, in many ways, a novel of humour, and joy, subtly but effectively ridiculing globalisation and its consequences, not just as pernicious and horrible and oppressive, but also as laughable, absurd and incomprehensible.

Some examples of Humour from the novel:
It should be mentioned that the judge also has another side to his personality. In particular, this is visible in his relationship with Sai Trying to keep a distance towards her, he still tries to be as friendly as he can. When they meet for the first time, a fraction of their conversation is like this: "Your dog is like a film star," said Sai.
"Maybe an Audrey Hepburn," said the judge, trying not to show how pleased he was at this remark (33).
This quote suggests that he tries to be friendly, and also that he has a sense of humour.
Example no 2
Once when travelling in a court district, the cook had prepared a chicken. He “brought it forth, proclaimed it “roast bastard,” just as in the Englishman’s favourite joke book of natives using incorrect English. But sometimes, eating that roast bustard, the judge felt the joke might also be on him, and he called for another rum, took a big gulp, and kept eating feeling as if he were eating himself, since he, too, was (was he?) part of the fun…” (62-63).
The tone is light and amusing in this quote.
Example no 3
Saeed Saeed caught a mouse at the Queen of Tarts, kicked it up with his shoe, dribbled it, tried to exchange it with Biju, who ran away, tossed it up, and as it came down, kicked it squeaking up again, laughing, "So it is you who has been eating eating the bread, eh, it is you eating the sugar?" It went hysterically up until it came down dead. Fun over. Back to work. (ch 17)
Example no 4
Desai does add a bit of humor to the escapade of the robbery in the form of the judge’s dog’s reaction:
“Mutt began to do what she always did when she met strangers: she turned a furiously wagging bottom to the intruders and looked around from behind, smiling, conveying both shyness and hope.”
The judge, however, is deeply humiliated and even has to serve tea to the intruders who stole his possessions. Both Sai and the cook are so embarrassed and afraid for him that they avert their gazes.This humor in the midst of melancholy, found throughout, elevates this book beyond a merely “good” book
Example no 5
He covered his timidity with manufactured disgust: "How can you? Those, those women are dirty," he said primly. "Stinking bitches," sounding awkward.
"Fucking bitches, fucking cheap women you’ll get some disease . . . smell bad . .
. hubshi. . . all black and ugly . . . they make me sick. . . ."
"By now," said Romy, "I could do it with a DOG!—Aaaargh!—" he howled, theatrically holding back his head. "ArrrrghaAAAA . . ."
Then later, Biju blushed to remember what he had said in his hot dog days. "Smell awful. . . black women. . . . Hubshi hubshi."
"It’s too hot," he said, "for me to go."
They laughed.
Other images which make a mockery of modernity abound throughout the novel:
Lola imagining “tikka masala whizzing by [the English countryside] on buses, bicycles, “Rolls-Royces” as the equivalent of a scene from To the Manor Born; her ability to “purr with pride” over the “sanitized elegance of her daughter’s voice, triumphant over any horrors the world might thrust upon others”; Saeed describing the ridiculousness of the American habit of “everyone go[ing] shopping separately”.

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