Chapters 1-2 Summary
Set primarily in the mid-1980s in the small, remote village of Kalimpong in India, Kiran Desai's 2006 novel, The Inheritance of Loss, tells the story of the recently impoverished people who are caught in the middle of a revolution. Writing for the New York Times Book Review, Pankaj Mishra referred to Desai's novel as "extraordinary." The author uses "intimacy and insight" to explore not only the challenges of 1980s India, the reviewer wrote, but also contemporary issues of inequality and terrorism that continue to plague almost every country today. Though the characters of The Inheritance of Loss at first appear to be separated by social status, education, and economy, Desai connects them through a "common experience of impotence and humiliation."
A young woman called Sai is the protagonist of The Inheritance of Loss. She is an orphan living with her British-educated grandfather, a retired judge. While she waits for her math tutor, Gyan, to arrive at her home, a small band of young, desperate men push themselves into Sai's house, demanding weapons and food. They threaten to kill the family's dog first, then the grandfather, if Sai does not hand over any guns or knives the family owns. After Sai gives them her grandfather's old shotguns, the young men insist on being fed by the family cook. There is little food stored in the kitchen, but after rummaging through the house, the intruders discover a trunk filled with staples. After eating, they leave, taking the guns and the trunk filled with food with them.
It was February of 1986 and Sai was seventeen years old. She and her math tutor, Gyan, had been in love for almost one year. The village in which Sai lived with her grandfather, a male cook, and a dog called Mutt was located at the edges of the Himalayas. Rebels, who were dissatisfied with their treatment in neighboring Nepal, often raided the Indian villages within their reach. They searched for food and weapons with which to fight their enemies, most of whom were officials from China and England and who were constantly stealing land from them. They had lost too much, and though ill-equipped, they were ready to make a stand.
The day after the robbery, the judge sent the cook to the police station to report the crime. The cook was nervous and thought of his son, Biju, who had gone to the States to find a job. The cook missed his son and wished he were there to stand with him. The police did not favor people from the servant class, often believing that if a crime had taken place, it probably was committed by a servant. So they listened to the cook's story with suspicion. Though the police questioned the cook severely, in the end, they promised to come by the house later that day and further investigate the robbery. After all, theft of guns implied a greater cause of concern for all the villagers.