As the story stretches itself between two worlds and several different cultures, many of the characters experience alienation from the different places they inhabit. Each character, in their own way, exhibits a yearning for home. Biju seeks out a restaurant in New York City that serves Indian food; Gyan and the boys in the GNLF work to establish a political state they can truly call home. The book shows home is a place that is characterized above all not by geographic location but by a feeling of belonging engendered by one’s own culture, traditions, and family.
Two of the physical houses in the novel—Cho Oyu and Gyan’s home—serve as “homes” because they reflect the cultures and socioeconomic statuses of those who inhabit them. The judge’s house had been built by a Scotsman, who had read accounts of the period and the area, such as The Indian Alps and How We Crossed Them and Land of the Lama—accounts that were written by the English about Indian culture. It had been fully outfitted with piping, tiling, tubing, and wrought-iron gates, representing how the judge feels at home in an Anglicised setting (which extended to Sai’s upbringing as well). It is also interesting to note that the house is rotting and being eaten by termites, a metaphor for the outdated and rotting customs of Anglicised Indians. Gyan’s house, meanwhile, is described as “modernity proffered in its meanest form, brand new one day, in ruin the next.” The house has a tin roof, walls made of cement corrupted by sand, and electrical wiring coming in through the windows. The second floor had been attempted but unfinished, leaving only a few bare posts. Though it tries to be modern, it demonstrates the way the middle class in India can teeter very quickly into poverty. Even though Gyan wants to better his life and the situation for Nepalis in India, he argues that he prefers this house over a house like Sai’s, because to him Cho Oyu represents elitism and foreign luxury.
The Nepalis in India are also trying to establish an atmosphere of belonging for themselves, as they are protesting in order to create a state in which their culture is recognized. After Indian independence in 1947, the British created the nation of India and the nation of Pakistan—a division primarily based on the religious practices of those in the region, but the way in which the border between India and Nepal was drawn left many Nepalis displaced in India. The Nepalis’ primary demands include the ability to establish their own schools (which would teach in their language), run their own hospitals, and have their own army. In India the Nepalis feel like outsiders because they are treated like servants, even though they represent eighty percent of the population in Kalimpong. Thus, in this post-colonial world, they work to have a “home” of their own, striking and protesting in the hopes that a state will be created within India that values them and their culture.
Biju, on the other hand, is physically displaced from his home. Instead, he tries to create a sense of home for himself in seeking out a living space and workplace that values and validates himself and his culture. Biju comes to work in a restaurant that serves steak, a fact that makes him uncomfortable because cows are considered sacred in his religion. He feels that it is imperative to not give up one’s religion and the principals of one’s parents, and so he quits his job. After this incident, he goes to work in another restaurant: the Ghandi Café. He feels at home with the food, the music, and most importantly, the people. The respect for his culture, which he is unable to find anywhere else in New York, is what makes him feel most at home. Ultimately, he returns to India, not only because of his poor treatment in America but also because he feels he has his lost connection to his father. When he arrives, he describes how he feels “the enormous anxiety of being a foreigner ebbing—that unbearable arrogance and shame of the immigrant.” But while home may be more about people and culture than physical place, people and culture are inextricably linked to physical places. Biju’s return suggests that while people may try to set down roots elsewhere, their connection to a particular place as home often remains strong. Thus, Biju only feels truly comfortable when he reunites with the cook in India.
Particularly in the newly globalized world presented in The Inheritance of Loss, “home” becomes less of a place and more of a sensibility or idea as people and products of all different backgrounds mix. Ending on a hopeful note with the reunion of Biju and the cook seems to suggest that one can never truly feel at home outside of one’s immediate family and culture, which together are what defines a community. As a contrast to Biju at the end of the novel, the judge and Sai feel restless and ungrounded as they live in the gaps between two communities, belonging to neither one. Home thus becomes a physical manifestation of a sense of belonging to a community, and without that community, home is nonexistent.
Home and Belonging ThemeTracker
Home and Belonging Quotes in The Inheritance of Loss
The judge could live here, in this shell, this skull, with the solace of being a foreigner in his own country, for this time he would not learn the language.
This underneath, and on top a flat creed: cake was better than laddoos, fork spoon knife better than hands, sipping the blood of Christ and consuming a wafer of his body was more civilized than garlanding a phallic symbol with marigolds. English was better than Hindi.
One should not give up one’s religion, the principles of one’s parents and their parents before them. No, no matter what. […] Those who could see a difference between a holy cow and an unholy cow would win. Those who couldn’t see it would lose.
It was a masculine atmosphere and Gyan felt a moment of shame remembering his tea parties with Sai on the veranda, the cheese toast, queen cakes from the baker, and even worse, the small warm space they inhabited together, the nursery talk—
It suddenly seemed against the requirements of his adulthood.
There were houses like this everywhere, of course, common to those who had struggled to the far edge of the middle class—just to the edge, only just, holding on desperately—but were at every moment being undone, the house slipping back, not into the picturesque poverty that tourists liked to photograph but into something truly dismal—modernity proffered in its meanest form, brand-new one day, in ruin the next.
He felt everything shifting and clicking into place around him, felt himself slowly shrink back to size, the enormous anxiety of being a foreigner ebbing—that unbearable arrogance and shame of the immigrant.