The Song of Kahunsha by Anosh IraniThe Song of Kahunsha by Anosh Irani

The Song of Kahunsha

byAnosh Irani

Paperback | November 22, 2006

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Abandoned as an infant, ten-year-old Chamdi has spent his entire life in a Bombay orphanage. There he has learned to find solace in his everyday surroundings: the smell of the first rains, the vibrant pinks and reds of the bougainvilleas that blossom in the courtyard, the life-size statue of Jesus, the "beautiful giant," to whom he confides his hopes and fears in the prayer room. Though he rarely ventures outside the orphanage, he entertains an idyllic fantasy of what the city is like – a paradise he calls Kahunsha, "the city of no sadness," where children play cricket in the streets and where people will become one with all the colours known to man.

Chamdi’s quiet life takes a sudden turn, however, when he learns that the orphanage will be shut down by land developers. He decides that he must run away in search of his long-lost father, taking nothing with him but the blood-stained white cloth he was left in as a baby.

Outside the walls of the orphanage, Chamdi quickly discovers that Bombay is nothing like Kahunsha. The streets are filthy and devoid of colour, and no one shows him an ounce of kindness. Just as he’s about to faint from hunger, two seasoned street children offer help: the lovely, sarcastic Guddi and her brother, the charming, scarred, and crippled Sumdi. After their father was crushed by a car before their eyes, the children were left to care for their insane mother and their infant brother. They soon initiate Chamdi into the brutal life of the city’s homeless, begging all day and handing over most of his earnings to Anand Bhai, a vicious underworld don who will happily mutilate or kill whoever dares to defy him.

Determined to escape the desperation, filth, and violence of their lives, Guddi and Sumdi recruit Chamdi into their plot to steal from a temple. But when the robbery goes terribly awry, Chamdi finds himself in an even worse situation. The city has erupted in Hindu-Muslim violence and, held in Anand Bhai’s fierce grip, Chamdi is presented with a choice that threatens to rob him of his innocence forever.
Anosh Irani was born and brought up in Bombay, India, and moved to Vancouver in 1998 to become a full-time writer. He is the author of the acclaimed novel The Cripple and His Talismans. His first full-length play, The Matka King, premiered at the Arts Club Theatre Company, Vancouver, in 2003. His new play, Bombay Black, was produced in...
Title:The Song of KahunshaFormat:PaperbackDimensions:320 pages, 8 × 5.03 × 0.87 inPublished:November 22, 2006Publisher:Doubleday CanadaLanguage:English

The following ISBNs are associated with this title:

ISBN - 10:0385662297

ISBN - 13:9780385662291


Rated 5 out of 5 by from Great book! Loved the story - perfect for a quiet rainy day read. Definitely a tear-jerker at times.
Date published: 2018-08-19
Rated 3 out of 5 by from Easy read This was a very easy read.. almost too easy. Seemed as if it was written by a child (which I guess was the whole idea). Was not a page turner.
Date published: 2018-02-07
Rated 3 out of 5 by from Heart breaking Irani paints a very real picture of an experience no child should have to endure. It is sad and less hopeful as the story develops. Be aware of your mood before you crack the spine of this novel.
Date published: 2017-02-05
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Magical, devastating, but mostly inspirational Chamdi’s name means “a boy of thick skin,” as appropriately given to him by Mrs. Sadiq, his caretaker at the orphanage where he has spent his short life sheltered from the evils that lurk behind the towering and concrete walls, in the streets of Bombay. His upbringing has been humble, with the same meals of rice and vegetables provided three times a day, a cot with a white sheet to sleep on, and a basic education affording him the knowledge to read and write. You can’t help but feel sad for Chamdi and his situation, until the closing of the orphanage sends him to the streets of Bombay where we quickly learn things can be much worse than he had ever experienced. Chamdi’s road becomes increasingly harder, as he struggles to stay alive with no food in his tummy, money in his hand or a roof over his head. His saving grace and the true inspiration of this story is Chamdi’s ability to dream in colours. No matter how dark, dismal and desolate his circumstances appear to be, Chamdi need only close his eyes and dream of Kahunsha, his make believe recreation of Bombay, where there is no sadness, criminals, or starvation. This is a truly inspirational story that will not only make you thankful for all that you have, but hopeful for all that you have the power to imagine.
Date published: 2010-03-26
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Poignant This is a story about Chamdi, a 10 yr old boy who runs away from the orphanage to the streets of Bombay in the hopes of one day finding his father. Before escaping, Chamdi, who has no idea what the world looks like beyond the orphanage walls, imagines Bombay to be a place where "children play cricket in the street with a red rubber ball and even if the batsman hits the ball hard, sends it crashing into a windowpane and the glass breaks, no one gets angry. The glass mends itself in a few seconds, and the game resumes." He calls this city "Kahunsha", the city of no sadness. What Chamdi discovers instead are chaos, thievery, prostitution, poverty and violence... all of which you will find painted so vividly in each page. Very heartwarming and poignant. It's The Fine Balance, Oliver Twist and The Kite Runner rolled into one.
Date published: 2009-01-27
Rated 4 out of 5 by from eye opening! this novel seemed boaring to me at first but once i got in to it i could not put it down. it really opened my eyes to what life was like in bombey during the time of turmoil in the 90's. it was fasinating to see what life is / was like for children living on the streets. it was an extrordinary novel!
Date published: 2008-01-19
Rated 3 out of 5 by from Pretty Good It wasn't the best of books. But it definitely wasn't the worst. It's an easy read, and you find yourself reading quite quickly. Personally, I didn't like the ending, and also the book was a bit slow. There wasn't a high point. On the other hand, it was frightening at times, and throughtout the entire story I wanted to help him out. I loved the fact that he still believed in a world of peace and beauty even after all that he saw and all he went through.
Date published: 2007-02-11
Rated 5 out of 5 by from A Page Turner This book captured me from the first page. The author keeps your interest throughout the book. A great deal of attention was paid to describing the characters and the setting,you can definitely picture yourself watching everything happen.
Date published: 2007-01-15

Read from the Book

Prologue.Without warning, the man rams the iron rod into the face that peers through the window. There is a sickening crunch and the face disappears. That must be Hanif the taxiwala, thinks Chamdi. The man stands guard outside the window, the iron rod by his side. He looks ready to repeat his actions should the need arise.In the darkness of the lane, Chamdi can hear a woman scream from inside the blue shack. He imagines Hanif lying on the ground, his teeth smashed with an iron rod, blood streaming from his nose and mouth, while his wife bangs on the bolted door with her fists.Chamdi is unable to move. None of the neighbours come to the family’s rescue. Most of the men and women return to their shacks, and the few that remain outside look just as terrified as Chamdi.Chamdi stares at Anand Bhai, who stands rooted to the ground. Dressed in black, Anand Bhai looks like he is part of the night itself. Chamdi cannot understand how Anand Bhai can smile at a time like runs his hands across his ribs.He tries to push his ribs in, but it is of no use. They continue to stick out of his white vest. Perhaps it is because he is only ten years old. When he grows older, he will have more flesh on his body and his ribs will be less visible. With this thought, he walks down the steps of the orphanage.He stands barefoot in the courtyard. He never wears slippers because he likes to feel hot earth against his feet. It is early January, and the rains are still far away. Even though a new year has begun, the earth looks old, the cracks in its skin deeper than ever. The sun hits Chamdi’s black hair and forces him to squint.He stretches his arms out and walks towards a wall, where his world ends and someone else’s begins. As he nears the wall, he hears the city – faraway car horns, the hum of scooters and motorcycles. He knows Bombay is much louder than this, but the courtyard is not near the main road. Beyond the wall is a small marketplace where women sell fish and vegetables from cane baskets and men squat on their haunches and clean people’s ears for a few rupees.Pigeons sit in a row on the wall and chatter. Spikes of glass are placed along the edge of the wall to prevent people from entering the courtyard. Chamdi asks himself why anyone would bother sneaking into the courtyard. There is nothing to steal at the orphanage.A loud cycle ring causes a few pigeons to flutter away, but they quickly regain their places on the wall. The shards of glass do not seem to bother the pigeons. They know where to place their feet.Chamdi touches the wall and feels the black stone. He smiles when he thinks of the moss that will appear. Rain can make life out of walls. But it is still a few months before he can inhale deeply and take in his favourite scent. The smell of the first rains, that of a thankful earth satisfied by water, is what he dreams about all year long. If only the inside of the orphanage could smell like that, it would be the most loved orphanage in the entire city.This tenth year has been hard for Chamdi. He is beginning to understand many things now. When he was a child, he had many questions, but now they might be answered, and he is afraid he will not like the answers at all.He turns away from the wall and wanders towards a well made of grey cement.As he stares at his reflection in the water, he wonders if he looks like his mother or like his father. He believes he has his mother’s eyes, large and black. Was it his mother or father who dropped him off here? He wonders if they are alive.He puts one foot on the parapet of the well.Bougainvilleas surround him. They are his favourite flowers. So pink and red, full of love, he thinks. If these flowers were human they would be the most beautiful people on earth.He puts his other foot on the parapet of the well and stands tall.He looks through the open window of the orphanage. Most of the children are huddled together on one bed. He can hear them sing “Railgaadi.” The girls make the chook-chook sound of a train, while the boys shout out the names of cities and towns at great speed – Mandwa, Khandwa, Raipur, Jaipur, Talegaon, Malegaon, Vellur, Sholapur, Kolhapur. There are so many places in India, Chamdi says to himself, and I have not visited a single one.He likes how tall he feels with the added height of the parapet. Perhaps one day he will grow to this size. But it will still take years. And even if he does grow tall, so what? He will still have nowhere to go. There will come a day when he must leave the orphanage. But there will be no one to say goodbye to. No one will miss him if he goes.He stares at the water in the well.It is extremely still. He wonders if he should jump in. He will swallow as much water as his body will allow. If his parents ever come back for him, they will find him sleeping at the bottom of the well.The moment he has this thought, he gets off the parapet.He walks quickly towards the orphanage and climbs up the three steps that lead to the foyer, where the children’s rubber slippers are placed in a neat row on the ground and a black umbrella hangs from a hook on a yellowed, patchy wall.His small feet leave dirt marks on the stone floor. He enters the sleeping room and receives an angry look from Jyoti, who sits on her haunches and washes the floor. She always scolds him for not wearing slippers.From the Hardcover edition.

Bookclub Guide

1. Chamdi develops a unique worldview while growing up in the orphanage: e.g., colours have power; thinking makes things possible; real prayer means sending a bright thought, like Thank you or I love you, to heaven…Do you share any of Chamdi’s beliefs? Did any of his ideas change the way you see the world?2. Chamdi has never met his mother. Sumdi and Guddi’s mother is catatonic. All three children have nothing left of their fathers but bloodstains. Anand Bhai, on the other hand, has kind and loving parents. Discuss the role of parents in The Song of Kahunsha.3. Twice in the story Chamdi is forced to choose between two equally dark outcomes: to become a thief or allow Amma and her infant to starve; to throw a fire bomb into an innocent family’s house or allow Guddi to be sold to older men. In these moments, does Chamdi have free will? Has he completely lost his innocence by the end of the novel?4. "So he made up his mind to achieve something so wonderful that if he were to tell anyone his life story, it would take days to tell, even weeks, and the ending would be a happy one…" Why do you think the author chose to leave the ending of the novel open? Do you think Chamdi will find happiness or will he be suspended forever in a world of poverty and homelessness?5. The novel is suffused with the sights, sounds, smells and textures of Bombay. Of the many rich sensory details in the novel – both fair and foul – which affected you the most?6. Anosh Irani has described Bombay as a great teacher and a muse. How does the Bombay depicted in The Song of Kahunsha compare with the view you have of the city through other books, films, or your own travels?7. Despite its dark subject matter, the novel contains moments of levity. How do the street children use humour to help them cope? How would you describe Sumdi’s particular brand of humour?8. As an orphan of unknown parentage, Chamdi belongs to no religious community yet he is sucked into sectarian violence. Discuss the Bombay riots of 1993 as depicted in the novel.9. "Chamdi cannot understand how Anand Bhai can smile at a time like this." Have you ever encountered a character as evil as Anand Bhai in your readings?10. Many of the characters in the novel – including Amma and Dabba – are based on people the author saw in Bombay. Does this realization affect your reading the novel? Have you ever been haunted by the sight of a complete stranger?11. The novel is written in the third person, present tense, from the perspective of its hero in language that has been described as simple and unadorned. Does this voice suit the subject matter? Why or why not? How would the novel be different if, for instance, it were written in the first person?12. The novel takes place over a five-day period of rioting. What impact does this time span have on the story’s pacing? What function dramatic does the prologue serve?13. Chamdi uses language and imagination to overcome obstacles; Samdi uses his wits and humour; Guddi uses song. Discuss the ways in which the street kids manage not only to survive but also to experience moments of grace and happiness despite their dire circumstances.14. Most of Irani’s characters have experienced loss of some sort – whether of their loved ones, their limbs, their eyesight, or even their sanity. How does loss impact the characters in The Song of Kahunsha?15. Dabba wants only to live in peace for the remainder of his life. How do you think a limbless and impoverished man might find peace?16. Does Chamdi still believe in Kahunsha by the end of the novel? Is there something in your own life that plays a role akin to Kahunsha?

Editorial Reviews

"With understated skill, Anosh Irani tells such a darkly enchanting story of the abandoned children of Bombay that I felt swept away by their fate and entangled in the world's too believable cruelty towards the innocent. Irani's shocking tale unfolds with a macabre and terrifying beauty that is both heartbreaking and compelling."–Wayson Choy, author of All That Matters"[Irani] vindicates the fragile but triumphant scope of childhood imagination with touching grace."—The Globe and Mail"[Irani] rewrites Dickens’ Oliver Twist with his native Bombay replacing 19th century London. . . . Pure storytelling."—Toronto Star"Irani has written a gripping and compassionate novel that will resonate long after readers have completed it."—Winnipeg Free Press