Beyond the Book: Background information when reading The Inheritance of Loss

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The Inheritance of Loss

by Kiran Desai

The Inheritance of Loss by Kiran Desai
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  • First Published:
    Jan 2006, 336 pages
    Paperback:
    Aug 2006, 384 pages

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Conflict in the 1980s: The area around Darjeeling in North East India (map) is populated primarily by Gorkhas (also known as Gurkhas) whose ancestors founded the Kingdom of Nepal; they have long wanted an independent state.  Massive violence broke out between 1986 and 1988 but was resolved with the establishment of the Darjeeling Gorkha Hill Council within West Bengal.  Although some still push for statehood rather than autonomy, it seems there is not the political will at this time to press on.  For example, there was a large rally in 2005 to revive the demand for a separate state but the issue did not more forward. 

Gurkhas take their name from the Hindu warrior-saint Guru Gorakhnath.  The Gurkhas are renowned for their bravery and strength and have been employed by the British army since the early 19th century.  Following Indian independence in 1947, six of the ten Gurkha regiments joined the Indian Army, four were transferred to the British Army, initially stationed in Malaya. In 1994 the four regiments were amalgamated into one, the Royal Gurkha Rifles.  One battalion is garrisoned in England, the other in Brunei.  Their motto is Kaphar hunnu bhanda marnu ramro (Better to die than live a coward).

Kalimpong (where the book is partially set) was originally part of Bhutan but in 1865, after the Anglo-Bhutan War, it was merged with Darjeeling, and is thus now part of the Indian state of West Bengal.  For many years it was a popular hill station, and now that unrest in the area is somewhat settled, once again attracts many tourists. 

A hill station is a term used to describe towns built at an altitude of about 3,500 feet or more, as places to escape the summer heat.  Depending on how they're counted there are between 65 and 80 hill stations throughout the Indian subcontinent, of which the British founded about 50 and the remainder were built by various Indian rulers, either as vacation destinations or permanent capitals.

Did you know? The house at the center of this story is called Cho Oyu, which is also the name of the 6th highest mountain in the world. Cho Oyu is Tibetan for Turquoise Goddess.

Also of Interest: A reader review by Vimal Khawas, a resident of Kalimpong, posted in early November 2006.

This article is from the October 19, 2006 issue of BookBrowse Recommends. Click here to go to this issue.

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