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The Song of Kahunsha

by Anosh Irani

Anosh Irani’s second novel, The Song of Kahunsha, is the heartbreaking yet ultimately hopeful story of a young orphan living on the streets of Bombay. The book is set amidst the racial rioting of 1993, and Irani vividly describes the city as it descends into violent chaos.

The story centres on Chamdi, a young boy who leaves the orphanage he has grown up in to search for his father. Hungry and homeless, Chamdi is befriended by Guddi, a young girl who is helping to support her mother by working for the local beggarmaster. Quickly put to work as a beggar himself, Chamdi is both witness to and participant in terrible acts of violence, yet still manages to retain a belief that the city around him is capable of goodness.

The Song of Kahunsha could have been a depressing experience, but through Chamdi’s eyes Irani shows that beauty can be found in even the bleakest settings. Moving among the crippled and maimed and surrounded by the filth of the streets, Chamdi finds hope and happiness in the colours and sounds of the city – and in his imagination. He keeps petals in his pocket from a beloved bougainvillea, petals that he thinks are so pink and red and full of love that they would be the most beautiful people in the world. When he hears Guddi singing in a schoolyard he tells her that because of her song, the “city of no sadness” will be born.

Irani does such a good job of creating a living, breathing city that at times it is almost overwhelming. Chamdi’s life evolves from the relative security and occasional near-happiness of the orphanage to the horror of the bombings and burnings of the Hindu-Muslim fighting. Yet just often enough, scenes of peace and beauty – a stolen ride on the back of a horse carriage, or the blue and yellow stripes of the police station springing to life as powerful, protecting tigers – lift the story from tragedy to a tale of hopefulness.