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The Song of Kahunsha by Anosh Irani
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The Song of Kahunsha

by Anosh Irani

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Chamdi is a 10 year old boy raised in an orphanage in Bombay. For his entire life, he has been awaiting the return of one of his parents to take him home. He has not been outside the walls of the orphanage, but is sure that the city of Bombay is beautiful and full of loving people. He imagines a beautiful place and names it "Kahunsha", which to him meant "the city of no sadness." When the matron tells the children that the orphanage will be moving, Chamdi decides to run away and look for his father.

When Chamdi arrives on the streets of Bombay he quickly learns that people are not kind. He spends a night and two days on the street with nothing to eat, scorned by the people around him. On his second night he is approached by a girl his age, and she brings him to an alley where she lives with her brother and their mother who is schizophrenic and detached from reality. The girl, Guddi, and her brother, Sumdi, had approached Chamdi because they had noticed how thin he was, and felt that they could make use of him to slip through the bars of a nearby temple and steal the offering plate. Chamdi is horrified at the thought of stealing, but Guddi and Sumdi have been kind to him and fed him, so he decides to stay with them as they teach him the art of begging. They introduce him to their "Boss", Anand Bhai, an older man to whom they must daily turn over the proceeds of their begging, and be rewarded with a small amount in return. On his first meeting, Chamdi witnesses Anand casually gouge out the eye of another child beggar he caught withholding some of his earnings.

Over the next several days Chambi learns to live on the streets. He is surprised to find so many people sleeping in the streets, and begins to view the entire city of Bombay as an orphanage. He sees and experiences many horrors, but Chambi tries to maintain his illusions. All of this takes place against sectarian violence that broke out when Hindus destroyed a particularly holy mosque. Chambi and his friends are ultimately unable to avoid this violence.

The novel is narrated from the pov of Chamdi, and his is a delightful and charming voice, despite the grimness of his experiences.

Recommended

3 1/2 stars ( )
3 vote arubabookwoman | Sep 7, 2013 |
I really had no clue what to expect with The Song of Kahunsha - in fact, I had never heard of it until my book club picked it. From the moment I started reading, I was drawn into Chamdi's story. Much like Oliver from Oliver Twist, Chamdi is an orphan who must leave the orphanage and ends up falling in with the wrong crowd. However, Chamdi's story is much rougher and at times, it is hard to stomach. Irani's writing, though, is very beautiful and simple. ( )
  bookwyrmm | Jul 11, 2012 |
Chamdi’s name means “a boy of thick skin,” as appropriately given to him by Mrs. Sadiq, his caretaker at the orphanage where he has spent his short life sheltered from the evils that lurk behind the towering and concrete walls, in the streets of Bombay. His upbringing has been humble, with the same meals of rice and vegetables provided three times a day, a cot with a white sheet to sleep on, and a basic education affording him the knowledge to read and write. You can’t help but feel sad for Chamdi and his situation, until the closing of the orphanage sends him to the streets of Bombay where we quickly learn things can be much worse than he had ever experienced.
Chamdi’s road becomes increasingly harder, as he struggles to stay alive with no food in his tummy, money in his hand or a roof over his head. His saving grace and the true inspiration of this story is Chamdi’s ability to dream in colours. No matter how dark, dismal and desolate his circumstances appear to be, Chamdi need only close his eyes and dream of Kahunsha, his make believe recreation of Bombay, where there is no sadness, criminals, or starvation. This is a truly inspirational story that will not only make you thankful for all that you have, but hopeful for all that you have the power to imagine.
  PamelaReads | Aug 5, 2011 |
A sad but endearing work. ( )
  leahdawn | Jun 5, 2010 |
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0385662297, Paperback)

Abandoned as an infant, ten-year-old Chamdi has spent his entire life in a Bombay orphanage. There he has learned to find solace in his everyday surroundings: the smell of the first rains, the vibrant pinks and reds of the bougainvilleas that blossom in the courtyard, the life-size statue of Jesus, the "beautiful giant," to whom he confides his hopes and fears in the prayer room. Though he rarely ventures outside the orphanage, he entertains an idyllic fantasy of what the city is like – a paradise he calls Kahunsha, "the city of no sadness," where children play cricket in the streets and where people will become one with all the colours known to man.

Chamdi’s quiet life takes a sudden turn, however, when he learns that the orphanage will be shut down by land developers. He decides that he must run away in search of his long-lost father, taking nothing with him but the blood-stained white cloth he was left in as a baby.

Outside the walls of the orphanage, Chamdi quickly discovers that Bombay is nothing like Kahunsha. The streets are filthy and devoid of colour, and no one shows him an ounce of kindness. Just as he’s about to faint from hunger, two seasoned street children offer help: the lovely, sarcastic Guddi and her brother, the charming, scarred, and crippled Sumdi. After their father was crushed by a car before their eyes, the children were left to care for their insane mother and their infant brother. They soon initiate Chamdi into the brutal life of the city’s homeless, begging all day and handing over most of his earnings to Anand Bhai, a vicious underworld don who will happily mutilate or kill whoever dares to defy him.

Determined to escape the desperation, filth, and violence of their lives, Guddi and Sumdi recruit Chamdi into their plot to steal from a temple. But when the robbery goes terribly awry, Chamdi finds himself in an even worse situation. The city has erupted in Hindu-Muslim violence and, held in Anand Bhai’s fierce grip, Chamdi is presented with a choice that threatens to rob him of his innocence forever.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:14:48 -0400)

(see all 2 descriptions)

"It is January 1993 and Bombay is threatened by terrorism and sectarian violence. Ten-year-old Chamdi has rarely ventured outside his orphanage, and entertains an idyllic fantasy of a paradise he calls Kahunsha, "the city of no sadness." But when he runs away to search for his long-lost father, he is thrust into the chaos of the streets, alone, possessing only the blood-stained cloth he was left in as a baby. There Chamdi meets Sumdi and Guddi, brother and sister who beg in order to provide for their sick mother. The three become fast friends." "Fuelled only by a desire to find his father and the dream that Bombay will someday become Kahunsha, Chamdi struggles for survival. But when he is caught up against his will in the violence engulfing the city, his dreams confront reality."--BOOK JACKET.… (more)

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