The Song of Kahunsha

The Song of Kahunsha
by Anosh Irani

Paperback, 308 pages, $19.95

Anchor Canada, Random House

When 10 year old Chamdi runs away from the orphanage, bits of glass from the spiked wall and the street get stuck in his feet. From that moment, I carried on with the shards stuck to my heart. We follow the idealistic Chamdi’s hopeless quest to find his father, and ending up starving on the streets of Bombay instead.

It is within a good writer’s power to bring to life what everyone has seen but no one has observed, and Anosh Irani is good. Extremes of social inquality and poverty are a sad and visible fact of urban life, and more so in the megapolis of Bombay. The Song of Kahunsha is a painful experience, and one that is guaranteed to refresh the conscience which has become inured to the plight of children forced to live and beg on the street.

Chamdi falls in with a young brother-sister duo who are planning a heist to escape from the poverty, filth, and the gangster Anand Bhai who controls a network of beggars by ruthlessly maiming them. Needless to say, the plan explodes in their faces, and Chamdi becomes embroiled in Anand Bhai’s part in the wave of communal violence that descends upon Bombay in the wake of the demolition of the Babri mosque.

The one thing that you cannot do with Irani’s offering is to hype it up. This is a text that does not lend itself to symbolism or mysterious interconnections. It is a realistic, straight-talking and incisive look at street children. The array of characters like the armless and legless Dabba, the fleabitten “Handsome” and the toy-boy Khilowna, and polio-ridden Sumdi himself are reminiscent of the Beggarmaster’s entourage in the incomparable Rohinton Mistry’s opus about Bombay, A Fine Balance.

Chamdi’s dreams are innocent and precious. He conjures Kahunsha – a place of magic and beauty, full of words that are positive, that can only soothe, never hurt, a place where people are of all colors…He will create a language that “does not have the word ‘No’ in it. Then his request for food will always have the desired outcome.” Who is to say to a boy who believes that imagination has the power to transform all things that his dreams are going to be squashed by the sordidness of reality?

UNICEF estimates that India has 11 million street children, the largest in the world. They are part of organized gangs, they beg and perform, clean trains, pick pockets, steal, or peddle drugs. They sell flowers or other small goods, work as ragpickers, at tea stalls, as porters, hawkers, for as long as 10 to 12 hours daily. There are ways to help them.

The Song of Kahunsha has been chosen as one of the five books that Canada Reads in 2007. Here is the author’s interview with the CBC. 


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10 Responses to “The Song of Kahunsha”

  1. Sweet Anocturne!

    As always this is a beautiful and insightful review.
    I read “…Kahunsha” a while back and remember being so moved by it. Your wonderful review has helped revive all those touching moments for me. Thank you so very much!

    It was so wonderful to see you today! I wish I could have stayed longer…I really wanted to, but with the family in tow it was hard to. Next time we have to go out for lunch, OK?

  2. Thats a neat review. I can see how a well written review can make a huge difference in how a book is perceived. Thank you for distilling it down to the essence of it all.

  3. dear Lotus, stop, stop – let’s just agree that we are henceforth not going to say how much we like the reviews and take each other for granted a little – or folks other than your cricketeer half are going to say we have a mutual admiration society going on! it was equally wonderful to see you, and your lovely family too in one fell swoop. and next time, i’m totally in your beautiful hands.

    Karmicjay, hey, i know you – you’re Sanjay – habitually the first to comment upon our abovementioned prolific friend’s blogposts! thanks for visiting.

  4. Prolific? Who me??? I have blogger’s block – haven’t been able to post anything for a week!

  5. I am the first to comment on Lotus’s blog? I am gonna add you to my newsreader too, if it’s ok? 🙂

  6. @Lotus: ha, and you call that a block?!

    @Sanjay: well, i’d say that most people who write prefer to be read, so i’ll happily hop on to your newsreader or feedburner or whatever else you choose to add me to.

  7. Anosh Irani Says:

    I just wanted to thank you for providing the link “ways to help.” It is very satisfying when a book is able to do that. That is the best review for me as a writer. Thank you, Anosh.

  8. No – thank you, Anosh. Will be rooting for Kahunsha through Feb to March 2.

  9. this book was very interesting and i would like to read other books like this. This book had very sad parts but i was satisified with the ending. Thanks for such a great book! 😀

  10. what is the tone of this novel?

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