“His India was neither rich nor poor. There were no huge homes and elaborate weddings, nor were there slums and water shortages and child laborers. The middle ground was too confusing to explain to an outsider. It wasn’t exotic or familiar enough.”
In this fun and funny debut, Diksha Basu takes a look at social climbing and keeping up appearances in the world of modern Delhi, India. After a lifetime of hard work and measured success, the Jha family has had a “windfall”; Mr. Jha has sold his website and wants his life to reflect his new wealth. He and his wife are leaving the comfortable yet crowded housing complex in which they have lived for decades (along with their charmingly nosey neighbors) and moving to a virtual mansion in an elite part of town.
Mr. Jha, in particular, wants desperately to display his newfound status, to fit in with an acquisitive and often insecure crowd. His antics and acquisitions are endearing and infuriating in equal measure and are a source of regular snorts and chuckles for the reader. Whether ordering a ridiculously uncomfortable, jewel-encrusted sofa or relishing his son’s failures at an American university as a sign of privilege and excess, Mr. Jha is his own worst enemy. His ever-patient, level-headed wife is his foil. Where Mr. Jha keeps biggering and biggering, Mrs. Jha is content in the quiet life they have been living and has no interest in fitting in with the superficial, country club crowd her husband hopelessly envies. Her new neighbor Mrs. Chopra, who is self-satisfied, spoiled, and shiftless, gives voice to the juxtaposition in hilarious fashion.
“Of course Mrs. Jha didn’t watch Indian Idol, Mrs. Chopra thought. Mrs. Jha probably never did anything enjoyable. Everything probably had to become an issue with her. She did not like the way Mrs. Jha was sitting upright in her simple sari and gold chain looking around the Chopras’ house. Mrs. Chopra knew the type – the so-called intellectual ones who come into money and then buy up homes in the fancy neighborhoods but think they’re too good for the others. They think there’s some moral code to how you spend your money. Mrs. Jha was just this type. She would be the kind to put her arm around a homeless person to make a whole production out of it and then look down her nose at Mrs. Chopra simply because Mrs. Chopra had no desire to get lice herself.”
Upward mobility is the butt and the star of this “comedy of manners.” Basu’s “The Windfall” is both deeply expository of the Delhi communities in which it is set and widely generalizable to the global phenomenon of “making it.” Her writing is satirical yet sympathetic, her characters are flawed and funny. “The Windfall” was a joyful, witty, and refreshing read.
Thank you to Crown Publishing for the complimentary Advance Reader’s Copy in exchange for a fair and honest review. “The Windfall” is released in the U.S. on June 27, 2017.