Anosh Irani’s third novel Dahanu Road is a comprehensive account of a family of Iranian Zoroastrians who migrated to India before World War II. The story is a mix of historic encounters, family values, memories and desires. The rich story telling technique can engross an average reader and makes the 320 pages book an easy, interesting read. Spanning the time span 1920 to 2001, the story is set in a place Dahanu, 65 kilometers north of Virar on western railway line of Mumbai suburban railway.
Located on the costal belt, it is known to be a rich land for growing fruit. Many early Irani migrants settled in the area and bought fruit farms from Warlis, who were the original farm owners of the place. Drinking debts which led to Britishers seizing their lands left them as slaves in the same farms they owned.
The book delves into the three generations of a Persian family who by the time we get into the momentum of the book are established land owners in Dahanu. The two major characters of the book Shapur and Zairos portray the contrast between the first and third generation of the family. The reader is led along not only the amazing narrative that the book carries but also unfolds the beautiful characters.
Most part of the novel has been told from the point of view of people who have power. The counterpoint for the author to establish the tension part of the story comes from the Warli community. The first present incident witnessed by the readers is the suicide of Ganpat, A Warli man. The body was first noticed by Zairos who as the story comes into flow meets his daughter Kusum and unknowingly explores the parallel three generations of their family and a surprising connect between the two families.
Grandfather Shapur, subjugated as a Zorostrian in Persia came to India with his son Aspi. The humble seller of country liquor has now become a harsh land owner and an established businessman and possessor of large Chickoo farms. Zairos, Shapur’s grandson, happens to fall in love with a Warli woman. Surrounded by the perplexity of his state of mind and his quest to get Kusum, a Warli woman, he discovers a less pleasant side to his grandfather’s past. The stories of Shapur and Zairos are presented largely in an alternate fashion. It is only towards the end that Zairos gets complete attention in his quest to get his love and expose the dark secrets of his grandfather’s early life. Till one gets into the minute details that the book carries, it looks like a very simple read.
The more one gets into the book one can explore the secrets hidden behind words, phrases and characters. The story also puts forward the question that why the oppressed become oppressors when given a chance to do so? Dahanu Road was a wonderful read. It had all the elements with an amazing sense of clarity to each element. It is a love story, life story, historical account, sorted characters and a great off beat plot which completely worked for me. Reading the book gives an insight of Zoroastrian culture. It’s about the art of being a human being.
Avesta Choudhary is Trainee Correspondent with Tehelka.com.