Dahanu Road by Anosh Irani

“Death and time are like two clowns,” Shapur Irani, the patriarch of Dahanu Road, tells his grandson, Zairos. “They play pranks only they find funny.”

By Kate Wallace / Telegraph-Journal

It’s true. Besides the leavening effect of the antics of Aspi Irani, Shapur’s son and Zairos’ father, there’s not much humour in Anosh Irani’s heavy-hearted third novel. Instead, those cruel twin clowns figure prominently.

It’s a personal tale for the ex-pat Indian author who moved to Vancouver in 1998. It’s one that must be hard to tell, for there is much to be ashamed of in Dahanu, a farming community outside his native Bombay: an economy whose success depends on one group’s subjugation of another, a history of violence and suppression that has persisted into the recent past.

History hangs heavy in Dahanu, where “the past kept intervening, contaminating things.”

Skipping between the 1940s and 2000, the book’s most recent chapters are nearly indecipherable from those from nearly 60 years earlier, when a young Shapur struggles with the price of the prosperity he finds in his adopted home.

He is part of a generation of Zoroastrians who fled persecution in Iran, bringing the sacred fires and texts of their ancient Persian faith with them to India, where they found opportunity, becoming doctors, lawyers, artists, businessmen and, in Shapur’s case, landlords.

Initially sickened by the treatment of the Warli workers who maintain his orchards, Shapur becomes hardened against their plight; he decides it is easier to think of the Warlis as “phantoms just passing through, letting out sounds of pain as perhaps nature itself had intended, just as the nightingales above him let out sounds of love.”

It’s a classic case of oppressed becoming oppressor and the draconian arrangement is barely changed in 2000, when Zairos is running things.

Like his grandfather, Zairos recognized that “it was shameful that one man wielded so much power over another,” but is unwilling to forfeit their privilege for fairness.

While the reigning class had chai and chatter, air-conditioning and massages to ease their guilt, the Warlis had no reprieve from their deep poverty and its attendant despair, alcoholism and domestic violence.

While I suspect Dahanu Road is the sort of novel ladies’ book clubs will be drawn to like moths to a porch light for its exotic setting and the love story at its heart, it is an intensely male story, both in terms of its central characters and concerns: power, privilege and self-preservation maintained through bigotry, classism and a pervasive sexual violence.

While Dahanu is not somewhere most of us would want to visit outside of the pages of a book, it’s an intriguing place Irani shows us, a place where old struggles yield beauty and love, as well as death and pain.

  • Rostam Chami

    Type your comment here…I am afraid the Iranis in Dahanu Road brought it on themselves….they were greedy, arrogant, exploitative to the core and thought nothing of exploiting even their own fellow Iranis…..my father, when starting a chickoo farm in Boisar, was sold very poor samples of cows, chickoo saplings, rose grafts etc with hyped up promises which as usual never materialised….I believe it is Divine Justice that the Dahanuwallas got what they deserved….there is a God!!

  • Firdos

    Rostam’s comment is a personal attack on a group of people who he does not know and I’m surprised that the moderators have allowed this.

    We need to remember that Anosh’s book is a work of FICTION based loosely on a town he hails from – and this review is a review of a work of fiction.
    It is unfortunate that Anosh chose not to change the name of the town.

    The Iranis in Dahanu are generally honest, hard-working farmers, many of whom are trying to save their farms from the effects of pollution from a power plant, climate change and greedy chickoo brokers who are the ones making the profit from the chickoo sales. Many are having to sell up and move away after their families have been here for generations. Yes there are bad Iranis and good Iranis as there are bad Parsis and good Parsis.
    Many Dahanu Iranis do a lot of social work for the Warlis – setting up libraries, ensuring schools are run well, helping them resolve issues with government departments, running deaf schools etc.

    I do not understand why someone would choose to attack and make such negative comments against a whole community. It is contentious, combative, extremely offensive and serves no purpose whatsoever.

    I trust the moderators will take note.

  • Rostam Chami

    I disagree with Firdos that my comments are unwarranted and prejudicial. I have watched the Dahanuwallas since the 1960s and have concluded that they are a despicable lot.The current generation of Dahanuwallas inherited the chickoo farms. They did not earn them. But on that inherited wealth, they would throw their weight arond. Even Nature was disgusted with them as evidenced by the floods and more recently the chickoo infection. They were arrogant to say the least and thought that everything in sight was to be used for their own benefit. No wonder some Dahanuwallas were murdered because of their promiscuous behaviour towards warli women. I am delighted that they are leaving Dahanu in droves to live overseas in anonymous isolation. Good riddance, I say!!

  • Rostam Chami

    Any welfare that the Dahanuwallas did for the warlis was to appease their own consciences for the injustices that they had inflicted on the poor indigenous people….in closing, the less said about the Dahanuwallas, the better….they are the absolute scum of the chickoo belt.

  • Firdos

    I wish you happiness in your life – thats the only comment I wish to make – as such negative thoughts are not good for anyone.

  • veena

    Please forget and forgive the past. Live in the present and do help everyone. God Bless All.