Dahanu Road: A Novel by Anosh IraniDahanu Road: A Novel by Anosh Irani

Dahanu Road: A Novel

byAnosh Irani

Paperback | February 15, 2011

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“The only statement of revolt the poor could make was to put an end to their own misery. It happened all the time—men lay themselves on train tracks, hanged themselves from trees, consumed rat poison, and women set their kerosene-soaked bodies alight in front of their husbands. These were blazing ends to insignificant journeys. But in all this, there was always one man who, in that final gush of blood, in that final breaking of neck and bone, set things in motion.” 
 
Zairos Irani, a young man of inherited leisure, is meandering through his family’s lush chickoo orchards near Mumbai when he comes across a distressing sight: Hanging from one of the fruit trees is the lifeless body of Ganpat, a worker from the indigenous Warli tribe. Ganpat’s ancestors once owned the land, before his father’s alcohol debts caused the deed to be transferred to Zairos’s grandfather Shapur. The two family destinies have been entwined ever since, ancient grudges once again awoken by Ganpat’s final desperate act.
 
Zairos feels obliged to notify Ganpat’s family before the authorities come to ask needless questions and extract bribes. A tractor bearing Ganpat’s sister and anguished daughter Kusum soon trundles into the orchard, and when Kusum alights, Zairos’s curiosity is piqued. As a landowner, he knows that he is well above her station, and yet her dignity and beauty lead him to cast aside taboos and risk the wagging tongues of neighbourhood gossips. Though wary at first, the grieving Kusum comes to return his affection, asking only that he assist her in achieving what her dead father could not- by putting an end to the violence she has endured at the hands of a drunken husband.
 
Zairos cannot get advice from his father Aspi, whose clownishness masks thinly-veiled nihilism. Nor can he confide in his beloved grandfather Shapur, whose massive hands planted the chickoo trees that he adores as much as his own sons. Shapur built the family empire from a desperate start as an orphaned refugee, and any act that might threaten the delicate legacy spawned by his sacrifices would only provoke rage in the old man, who increasingly dwells in memories. So Zairos whiles away his time at Anna’s, the local haunt for the male leisure class, dreaming of a future with Kusum. There, with the support of some equally underemployed sidekicks, Zairos hatches a scheme to scare Kusum’s husband into releasing her, while keeping his own moral integrity intact. But alas, Zairos’s scheme will not unfold as planned, and along the way he will unwittingly expose family secrets that may well be better left buried…
 
With brilliant gusto, Irani has built his Dahanu Road upon the pathways forged by authors of tragicomic romance spanning centuries and continents, from the Persian classic Layla and Majnun, to Romeo and Juliet or Wuthering Heights. Dahanu Road is a suspense-filled family saga, a sprawling romantic epic in which the delineations between the oppressor and the oppressed, or between love and hate, are demonstrated to be maddeningly deceptive.




From the Hardcover edition.
Anosh Irani was born and raised in Bombay, India. He moved to Vancouver in 1998, and received his Masters in Creative Writing from the University of British Columbia in 2004.  First published in 2004, The Cripple and His Talismans was Irani’s first novel, earning him critical acclaim and a spot on Quill & Quire’s “writers to watch” lis...
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Title:Dahanu Road: A NovelFormat:PaperbackDimensions:320 pages, 7.97 × 5.1 × 0.89 inPublished:February 15, 2011Publisher:Doubleday CanadaLanguage:English

The following ISBNs are associated with this title:

ISBN - 10:0385667000

ISBN - 13:9780385667005

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ONEIndia, 2000 The smell of mosquito repellent pervaded Zairos’ small room, but he was used to it. Each night his father, Aspi Irani, would come into the room, shut the door and windows, and spray the repellent with great flourish as only an artist would. His father was obsessed with mosquito repellents and owned every brand on the market, from Baygon to Killer. He treated his array of repellents with the kind of passion usually reserved for record collections. Zairos scratched his thigh and realized that he had been bitten by a monster. A few mosquitoes lay on the ground, some flat on their backs, some sideways, giving the impression that the place had been bombed. But these mosquitoes were part of the everyday death toll in the coastal town of Dahanu. In Dahanu, old-timers high on snuff reminisced about their childhood days in Iran and spoke to themselves in Farsi and Dari; tribal fishermen drowned in the sea, possessing neither the strength nor the will to prevent their boats from capsizing; retired schoolteachers drank country liquor until their livers understood their plea and put them out of their misery: and the young women who worked in balloon factories became balloons themselves, puffed up, bloated with the air of disappointment. The bed creaked as Zairos rose from it. He crossed to the porch door and swung it open. His room was on the first floor of his family’s home, Aspi Villa, and the branch of a coconut tree reached for him, as it did every morning. The higher branches caressed the red tiled roof, and their leaves always made Zairos think of large eyelashes, as though the tree and the tiled roof were lovers. Zairos put on jeans and a blue T-shirt and went down the stairs to the living room. His father was seated at the table, cutting an apple, his belly protruding from underneath his white sudreh. The sacred vest had a red blotch, most probably ketchup, on the small pouch at the V that stored the good deeds of the wearer. Zairos smiled at how devout a Zoroastrian his father was—instead of good deeds shining through, there was a blaring ketchup stain. Knife in hand, Aspi Irani was painfully systematic in the cutting of the apple, accurate in the size of each piece, and not once did he even look at the fruit. An unlit cigarette dangled from his mouth. He used to be a chain-smoker, but when Zairos was a year old, Aspi Irani had dozed off while smoking his last Capstan of the night, and in a stupor flicked his burning cigarette into Zairos’ cot, and the horror of the flames was enough to make him quit forever. Zairos was told this little detail when he was ten with the lightness of a fairy tale. “Thank God it happened,” said his father. “Otherwise I would be smoking till today.” Although he had given up smoking, Aspi Irani had been unable to stop holding a cigarette. That and constantly running his fingers through his salt and pepper hair. As soon as Zairos was downstairs, Aspi Irani started singing. His songs were a strange concoction indeed, a blend of three languages, Hindi, English, and Gujarati. Zairos always compared his father’s songs to country liquor: Use anything you can find—orange peels, battery acid, even leather slippers. Then squeeze hard and let its juice make your head spin. This morning, Aspi Irani’s song included two main ingredients— tennis and his old Morris. The two rhymed, and as he sang, the cigarette fell out of his mouth. Then he stopped abruptly and said to Zairos, “I think your mother is having an affair.” He said this every other day, whenever Mithoo went to the bazaar. Theirs was an odd pairing. Mithoo was calm and soft spoken, with a perpetual smile on her face. She spent her time looking after stray dogs and teaching English to just about any child who wanted to learn. As a result, books were strewn all over Aspi Villa, from Wren and Martin’s thick dossier on English grammar to books for five-year-olds such as The ABC of English. There were times when Aspi Irani would come home and find strange children in his living room, sitting at the dinner table with colouring pencils in their hand and chocolate milk on their lips. “Is this an orphanage?” he would ask his wife. “Can we please give them back, my dear?” Mithoo would pout and wink at her husband, and Aspi Irani would melt, but only for a bit. The moment it got dark outside, he would turn off the lights in the living room, bring out an old rubber skeleton, and shine a flashlight on it, thus ensuring that his wife’s students would be terrified of English for the rest of their lives. Aspi Irani loved the idea of sabotage. He yearned for a situation to ruin, as long as there was no permanent damage. No matter where he went, be it marketplace or wedding hall, he was an imp straight from the underworld, full of guile and mischief. Of course, with his thick forearms and massive calves, he was too large to be an imp, but he had an imp’s demeanour, from the sleazy to the sublime. When he was in action, his eyebrows arched like a piece of Mughal architecture; it was the arch of knowing that came upon the countenance of only those who knew secrets, of men who found beauty in the orchestration of disaster. And it was the arch of his eyebrow, he claimed, that had made Mithoo fall in love with him. Mithoo’s parents had died in a car accident when she was fourteen, and she had responded with a bout of silence that lasted four years, until the moment she met Aspi Irani at Café Military in Bombay. “I was so handsome that your mother just had to open her mouth and say something,” Aspi Irani told Zairos. But then one day at a party, while his father was telling this story for the hundredth time, Mithoo whispered to her son, “I did open my mouth, but only because I was in pain. Your father had worn pointy boots and he stepped on my toe and I howled. But he prefers his version.” In any case, they were married six months later. At eighteen, Mithoo was a radiant bride, and Aspi Irani, seven years her senior, continued wearing pointy boots. In later years, the boots gave way to moccasins. Whenever Aspi Irani went abroad, he came back with five pairs of brown moccasins, “One for each year, until our next holiday in five years’ time.” At the moment, the moccasins were neatly tucked away in a corner of the living room, while his face was buried in The Times of India. “The rupee has hit an all-time low against the U.S. dollar,” he grumbled. “What a wonderful way to start the new millennium.” Then he looked up at the silver-framed portrait of Zarathushtra on the wall. “You should become finance minister,” he said. “Only a miracle can save us.” But the prophet remained unmoved. In his soft and luxuriant beard, a burst of light around his head, palms facing upward, Zarathushtra seemed preoccupied with matters celestial; the plummeting rupee or a foray into Indian politics failed to rouse him. Aspi Irani turned his affections to the apple he was cutting. “This apple is raped,” he said, pointing to a tiny, almost invisible rotten patch. The word rape was a staple in Aspi Irani’s vocabulary. If his wife did not make the scrambled eggs soft enough, he would say, “Mithoo, these eggs are raped.” If his back hurt from the long hours of shuttling by train between Dahanu and Bombay, he would say, “My back is raped.” Everything was raped. The trees were raped, the walls were raped, the curtains were raped, the shower was raped, the whiskey was raped, the wedding was raped, and finally, if some unfortunate soul made the mistake of asking Aspi Irani for a loan: “Do I look like I want to be raped?” He offered his son a slice of apple, but Zairos shook his head. The first thing Zairos did every morning was smoke. He did not smoke at home. At twenty-five he was old enough, so that was not the reason. It just felt awkward, blowing smoke in front of his parents; it took the joy out. When Zairos was out of sight, he lit up. The horn of a train echoed off the walls of the bungalow, the sound like a jazz trumpet. It was 8 a.m.—the Gujarat Express had just come in from Bombay, and even though the coconut, mango, and gulmohar trees around Aspi Villa provided it with much-needed privacy, the train station was, as Aspi Irani said, “only a hop, step, and jump away.” “Dahanu Road” read the yellow sign on the station. At one point, that’s all that might have existed. A single road. But now coconut sellers in cream dhotis lined the platform, sickles in hand, a pyramid of coconuts in a cane basket by their side. Toddy booths offered salvation to the dry throats of passengers, the palm wine adding sweetness to a sour journey. Vegetable vendors squatted on the ground, cucumbers, brinjals, and cauliflowers sprinkled with water, ready to be cooked at home amidst the chitter-chatter of housewives. Just as fresh as the palm wine and vegetables were the newspapers in the A. H. Wheeler stall. Wafer crisp, the headlines were scoffed at by the drifters, rickshaw drivers, factory owners, and farmers who paraded up and down Dahanu station as though it were a holy ritual. Soon Zairos would reach his grandfather’s bungalow, where he would have his morning tea. But first he had a cigarette to finish, and, more importantly, he had to pay homage to the fruit that had fed his family for three generations. He blew smoke towards the chickoo trees that his grandfather, Shapur Irani, had planted decades ago. It was Zairos’ way of greeting the trees. It was the smoke of affection; it was like dew, a first kiss, one he blew their way every single morning.  Sapota. Sapodilla. In other words, the chickoo. Brown in colour, it looked like a potato with a shape so round it reminded Zairos of a woman’s bottom. When he bit into it, there was a sweetness that made him want more before he had finished eating what was in his mouth. The wily chickoo had travelled far and wide. Born in Mexico, it found its way to India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh (it was a third world fruit), Venezuela, Thailand, Vietnam, Indonesia, Malaysia, and even Brazil and the West Indies. This fruit liked its sunshine and tanned women. It had no patience for snow. Apart from sapota and sapodilla, it had a bevy of names. In Sri Lanka it went by the name rata-mi; sawo in Indonesia, lamoot in Thailand, nispero in Venezuela, naseberry in the West Indies, sapoti in Brazil, and Zairos’ favourite, sugardilly, in the Bahamas. As he walked the pebbled earth, he threw his cigarette into the cactus fence. His grandfather’s bungalow was in view. Even though it had been painted cream only two years ago, heavy rains had lashed the walls, and certain parts were bare again. It had an odd shape, two rectangular blocks at right angles with each other, like displaced train bogies. His grandfather was on the porch in his rocking chair, still as ever. Even though he sat in his rocking chair all day, he never moved. Movement was the enemy, a thing of the past. And because Shapur Irani rarely moved, he remembered everything. How many trees he had, how old they were, how crisp the air was fifty years ago. More than anything he remembered the love he had for his wife, Banu. He once told Zairos, “If you took an army of starving young men who had not seen their wives for years, and you measured their longing for their wives against mine, it would still come nowhere close to what I felt for your grandmother.” But neither love nor medicine could save his wife. Banumai died of a fever when she was in her late twenties. Zairos wished he could have known his grandmother. His grandfather did talk about her, but he presented her in pieces: she liked to read, she had two younger sisters, twins, she had fair skin, she loved Bombay more than Dahanu, she could bear the pain of childbirth like a tigress, she loved the feeling of morning dew on the soles of her feet, she had once seen a goat being slaughtered and could not eat for three days after that. Apart from these snippets there were strange utterances, spoken in a haze, phrases such as “Banu, make the water hot,” “The gun stays on the bed,” “We are not moving to Bombay.” Zairos was careful not to let his grandfather know that he heard all these reminiscences, but he put together an image of Banumai; he could smell her bottle of eau de cologne by the bed, he could see strands of her black hair caught in the hairbrush that lay by the mirror, or the sweat on her neck and the paper fan she used to drive the heat away. When it came to Banumai, Zairos was like a thief: he took whatever he could when his grandfather was unaware. But the one thing he did not need to steal, the one thing that was obvious and as deep as the lines that criss-crossed on his grandfather’s face, was the love between them. Zairos climbed the three steps up to the porch. His grandfather called him Zairos the Great. Shapur Irani gave his grandson that name when he saw him walk for the first time.  “He is a conqueror like Alexander,” he had said. From then on, whenever Shapur Irani saw little Zairos approach, he would go to the nearest chickoo tree and shake it with all his might. “Be careful,” he would say, as sparkly green leaves fell on him, “your strength is making the trees tremble.” But the name had meant something else to Zairos when his Navjote ceremony was performed. On the day of his initiation into the Zoroastrian faith, the head priest, in a white robe and prayer cap to match, admonished the nine-year-old Zairos for using that name, even if it was in jest with his friends. “Alexander is an enemy of the Zoroastrians,” said the priest. “He murdered dasturs like myself and destroyed our holy scriptures.” Shapur Irani was quick to knock some sense into the priest. “By walking the farm with his head held high, Zairos is reclaiming what Alexander stole from us,” he said. “That is a sign of greatness.” Then he bent down and placed his hand on Zairos’ head. “Remember, it is our enemies who make us conquer fear.”  Shapur Irani’s eyes were closed. Even though he was ninety now, he was still a big man. Over six feet five, he did not have the hunched look of a person who carried his ninety years in a dhobi sack on his head. He had his teeth, his strong legs and bushy eyebrows, the hair on his chest was white and long, and he shaved every morning at five, even though he never went anywhere. “Pa,” said Zairos as he sat on the porch steps. Shapur Irani did not respond. His eyes were still closed and his lips revealed the faintest quiver, a ghost language of sorts, which only the dead could decipher. Zairos stared at his grandfather’s thick head of hair—slicked back and silver. “Pa,” he said again. Shapur Irani opened his eyes slowly. If there was one thing that unnerved him, it was light. He did not want the light of the sun to gain entry through his eyes and illuminate the parts of him that were dead and gone. “To look at the past,” he once told Zairos, “is like shining a flashlight on a dead body.” Zairos heard the familiar rattle of cup and saucer. His tea arrived magically, as it always did. Lakhu, the male servant who had served his grandfather for years, had strange powers. Perhaps Lakhu heard the cracking of pebbles under Zairos’ feet as he walked to the bungalow each morning, and he took it as a sign to boil the tea. It did not matter how Lakhu knew that Zairos was coming. He succeeded in not making Zairos wait for more than a minute. Zairos took a sip and relished the taste of Brooke Bond, mint, cardamom, and ginger. Ants crawled around his grandfather’s feet carrying biscuit crumbs on their backs. “It’s time you visit them,” said Shapur Irani. He was talking about his chickoo trees. They were his children, just as real, and loved, as his three sons, Khodi, Sohrab, and Aspi. Their breathing had kept him alive all these years. Every morning he walked through his fifty-acre farm, with gusto, without a cane, to let them know he was still around. He wanted Zairos to do the same. “Go meet them,” said Shapur Irani. When the last of the ginger tea was gone, Zairos walked across the gravel and into the farm. The branches brushed against his arm and left their mark. Each day it was a new scratch or two, sometimes on the forearm, sometimes on the wrist, always gentle. Zairos recalled that the chickoo had been brought to India in the mid-1500s by the Portuguese, and it continued to thrive in its new home long after the invaders had gone. But when Zairos was little, his father had told him that a Mexican gnome named Rose—called that because he had a deformed ear shaped like the flower—walked all the way from Mexico to Dahanu with a chickoo in his hand and, upon arrival, dug a hole and buried the shiny black diamond seed of a chickoo, and himself, in the earth. That was why chickoo trees did not grow as tall as pine trees. They had to restrict their height in deference to the gnome. When Zairos asked his father why the gnome walked all the way to India, Aspi Irani had replied, “He got lost.” Zairos went past the papaya trees that had long ago ceased giving fruit, and over the thick black pipes that ran through the farm like oversized pythons. He took the same route every single time, until he reached the well. It was one of the deepest wells in Dahanu, more than seventy feet deep, with large boulders jutting out from its inner walls, but it gave no water. Old and dry, it was part of the furniture. He plucked a blade of dry grass from the ground, put it in his mouth, and sat on the parapet of the well. There was an unusual number of crows in the sky. He looked up, tracing the concentric circles they flew in; they were gliding towards something to his left. Barely had Zairos turned when he saw what the crows were after. A man was hanging from a chickoo tree. His head was bent to the side, his arms dangling, his eyes wide open. He resembled a dark puppet.From the Hardcover edition.

Bookclub Guide

1. Discuss how the prologue in Dahanu Road introduces a central theme, or foreshadows events to come.2. Situational irony happens when a character’s actions generate a consequence that is precisely opposite from his or her intent. Discuss irony in Dahanu Road, particularly in the lives of Shapur and Zairos.3. Discuss the situation of women in Dahanu Road, whether from wealthy or poor families. Compare the lives of Banu and Kusum—what ultimately accounts for their suffering?4. When reading novels with compelling but flawed protagonists, one often ends up “rooting” for the protagonist, even when he or she is making terrible mistakes. Would you say this was your experience with Dahanu Road? Why or why not?5. Discuss the manner in which Gapat’s family destiny was entwined with that of the Irani family.6. Consider the promise that Shapur makes to Ejaz during the foreman’s first week of employment (p 51). What events are set in motion by this pact?7. Shapur thinks that his father Vamog would be proud of how he has established himself in a land where “it does not matter where your shadow falls.” (p 38) Discuss Vamog’s teachings of the lessons of Zoroastrianism. Do you think he would have approved of the way Shapur has conducted his life?8. Shapur tells Zairos to embrace his future land inheritance, because “goodness will not take you far, my son. Only courage will.” (p. 79) What do you think of this statement?9. What did you think of Aspi Irani’s behaviour and outlook on life? Is he truly as clownish as he appears?10. Discuss the imagery associated with light and darkness throughout Dahanu Road.11. What do you think the lives of Kusum and Zairos would have been like, if they had never met?12. Do you think the relationship between Kusum and Zairos is based on mutual love?13. Did you find this novel suspenseful? Were you surprised by the plot twists and revelations? Did you expect any different outcomes or secrets to be revealed?14. Zairos seeks absolution in the mountaintops at the novel’s close. Do you think he will earn it? In your opinion, does he deserve it? What do you foresee as his future?

Editorial Reviews

“Anosh Irani does for Iranis what Rohinton Mistry did for Parsis.  The Irani community comes alive for those who do not know it.”—SUNDAY TIMES OF INDIA"The soul-searching journey of three generations of Iranis is blended into a heart-warming story…The author portrays [an] unlikely yet compelling romance between a young Irani man and an even younger Warli woman with an exquisite touch.  The beauty and purity of their love lingers even when it is violently truncated…The stories of generations as well as of individuals unfold on a sweeping scale, intertwining and coming full circle.”—THE DECCAN HERALD, INDIA“… exquisitely plotted, researched and written … a story of intertwined destinies and uncomfortable class divisions crafted in an unapologetic voice.”  —MINT LOUNGE, INDIA  "Anosh Irani's latest offering is a saga of unrelenting tragedy and a tale well told."   —THE CALCUTTA TELEGRAPH “[Dahanu Road] goes beyond sepia-tinted nostalgia to depict the savage wrestling for power between landlords and Warli workers…the plot [is] taut and suspenseful…a chronicle of the eccentric members of one of the world’s most exclusive and quickly declining clubs – the Zoroastrian community…Alternately tragic and funny, Dahanu Road doesn’t lose sight of it all.”  —TIME OUT, NEW DELHI “… NOT-TO-BE-MISSED…”  — ELLE INDIA “…Dahanu Road is engagingly written and Irani creates a lovable cast of characters.” —MUMBAI BOSS "Author Anosh Irani provides us with a unique blend of fact and fiction, interspersing village life with realities of Irani history.  A heart-wrenching chronicle of love and loss,  Dahanu Road is one man's search for truth in a sea of deception."   —THE TIMES OF INDIA "After a long time, an unputdownable book.  A fascinating insight into Dahanu's Irani and Warli communities, written with warmth, honesty, and a great deal of humour by a skilled storyteller."—SOONI TARAPOREVALA, Oscar nominated screenwriter of Salaam Bombay, Mississippi Masala, and The Namesake  "Anosh Irani moves back and forth through the generations skillfully. His writing is visual and intense, and he creates his flawed characters with humour and compassion as they struggle with changing times and cultural mores, while trying to survive the ghosts of the past. Irani gives us a fascinating and exotic story that takes place within a little known historical context of Iran/Indian history."  —THE CHRONICLE HERALD“Anosh Irani has a talent for peeling back layers of history and class in brilliant tales that are wittily folkloric, devastatingly political, and flamboyantly mythological. He must come from a long line of storytellers, fire keepers and, I suspect, also magicians.” —RAWI HAGE, author of De Niro's Game and Cockroach“A beautiful novel, Dahanu Road is big with love and infused with the passion of Anosh Irani's gentle yet shrewd prose.”  —DONNA MORRISSEY, author of What They Wanted and Kit's Law“Anosh Irani’s third novel, Dahanu Road, offers a blend of personal family memories, historic truths and rich storytelling…it’s proof positive that there’s another superior talent from Southeast Asia living here. In writing about distant worlds he shows us the exotic Other, while at the same time enacting on foreign stages the moral challenges we all face.” —NATIONAL POST“Like Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet, Dahanu Road, by Anosh Irani, is a story of forbidden love. Irani writes evocatively in a tale that has humour and texture as well as pathos.” —ELLE CANADA“Irani weaves an intricate web of personal and political relationships… With characters as rooted in the earth as the trees of the orchard, Dahanu Road springs to life. The fruits of Irani's labours will surely win him the acclaim he's enjoyed for his past work.” —WINNIPEG FREE PRESS“Irani keeps the intricate story moving . . . as grandfather and grandson struggle with the behaviours expected of their class. . . . A fascinating look at what can and can’t be controlled despite the best of intentions.”— GLOBE AND MAIL“Simply told and nicely paced. Readers who have never set foot in India will get a feel for the country.” —VANCOUVER SUN“Dahanu Road is the sort of novel book clubs will be drawn to like moths to a porch light for its exotic setting and the love story at its heart. . . . It’s an intriguing place Irani shows us, a place where old struggles yield beauty and love, as well as death and pain.” —NEW BRUNSWICK TELEGRAPH-JOURNAL“Irani’s writing seems to capture the heat of an Indian summer.  As he delivers a tragic love story, he also writes about peoples unfamiliar to most Canadians, telling of class differences and connection to the land.  Anosh Irani is one of the best young writers in Canada.” —UPTOWN MAGAZINE“Dahanu Road has much in common with Rohinton Mistry’s Giller-Prize winning A Fine Balance…Irani unravels convoluted history and class division to lay bare a grand narrative….The pages are saturated with rich detail.  The smells, vistas, religious rituals, and rhythms of nature on the road are key to the narrative’s power.”  —HERENB.COM