The Song of Kahunsha By Anosh Irani
“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. This is the quote on the jacket of the novel The Song of Kahunsha by Anosh Irani, published last year in hardcover and recently released in paperback. It is also one of the selections for the 2007 edition of CBC Radio’s, Canada Reads.
CBC Radio One will broadcast this year’s Canada Reads from Monday 26 February to Friday 2 March at 11:30 a.m. and 7:30 p.m. The books that will be debated are Children of My Heart by Gabrielle Roy, Natasha and Other Stories by David Bezmozgis, Stanley Park by Timothy Taylor, Lullabies for Little Criminals by Heather o’Neill, and The Song of Kahunsha by Anosh Irani.
I am writing about The Song of Kahunsha on a day when, looking out the window beside my desk, I see a blizzard - a beautiful snow covered landscape. I went skiing this morning, had a leisurely lunch and a quiet day at home. How thankful I am that I was born into this life and not the life of a child on the streets of Bombay. Although this is a really tough book to read, I recommend that you do read it.
The writing is wonderful - it is a brilliant book - but, be kind to yourself, read it in a comfortable chair, in the day time, take a break, go for a walk or a ski and cherish the life we are so fortunate to live in Canada.
This novel is the story of only a short period of time in the life of Chamdi, a 10 year-old orphan boy. His name means “a boy of thick skin” and we will discover that he certainly will need it. He has lived in an orphanage since he was an infant, under the loving care of Mrs. Sadiq.
But Chamdi has a need to know about his parents - are they alive, who are they, how can he find them? Finally Mrs. Sadiq tells him he was left by a man who ran away, leaving only an infant wrapped in a white cloth - this she gives to Chamdi.
The orphanage is being forced to re-locate and Chamdi sees this as an opportunity to run away - to run after his father. Chamdi is a dreamer, he disappears into his day dreams to a place he calls Kahunsha, “the city of no sadness”, the place he thinks Bombay will one day become, when sadness will die and the city is reborn.
Chamdi is a very old ten year-old. He was protected from the outside world while living in the orphanage.
To the reader, at first it seems that life in an orphanage is a sad life for a child - but we soon learn that compared to life on the streets it is a much, much better place. Chamdi, is not only a dreamer, he is an observer. The world he sees both inside and away from the orphanage, the city of Bombay, is in some sense not real to him at all.
When he leaves the orphanage Chamdi quickly discovers that the city is not kind and friendly, and he has no place to live or to sleep, and no means to acquire food.
Chamdi has been taught to read and write, he has been taught right from wrong - skills and morals that have no value on the streets.
Guddi and Sumdi are sister and brother; they befriend Chamdi and he enters the world of the street child - the desperate poverty, the filth, the starvation, the horrible disfiguration of some of the people on the streets - the disease.
The life of these homeless children is beyond anything we can imagine.
I must say that if this book were not so beautifully written I would have stopped reading. The lives of these children are truly desperate. As Bombay erupts in violence between the Muslims and the Hindus the children become caught up in the chaos on the streets.
In an effort to feed themselves, they become the victims of a cruel and evil man. They are children without a childhood.
Anosh Irani was born in Bombay, and grew up in a gated Parsi colony. He was witness to the sectarian violence of the 1990s between the Muslims and the Hindus before coming to Canada in 1998.
In an interview with the Georgia Straight, Anosh Irani expresses his admiration for the street children of Bombay and their ability to look beyond their dire circumstances: “A lot of these street children, when you talk to them, they have dreams. They are very poor.
“They live in grinding conditions, but they have very large dreams: some of them want to become doctors and find cures for diseases; they want to become movie stars, singers, dancers; some want to join the police force and bring about real change. They are all about change, because they know that if they don’t hope, if they don’t create some kind of dream, survival for them is going to be very difficult.”