By Ekta R. Garg
October 25, 2017
Genre: Women’s fiction
Release date: June 28, 2017
Rated: Borrow it / 3 stars
A man comes into a large sum of money and decides to move his family from their middle-class neighborhood to fancier digs. As he and his wife try to navigate the nuances of upper crust society, he will have to decide how much of his old self he wants to retain and how much he wants to blend into his new circle of acquaintances. Author Diksha Basu juggles several characters but doesn’t give readers enough of any of them in her debut novel The Windfall.
For years, Anil Jha thought he knew what life would bring him when his son got older. Rupak would go to the U.S. to study business, and Anil and his wife, Bindu, would live out their retirement in their middle-class community of Mayur Palli. Their building in East Delhi doesn’t exactly scream high society—the kitchen in their flat is tiny and worn out, and their neighbors always seem to know what they’re up to.
Until now. Anil surprised himself more than anyone else when he got the opportunity to sell his online startup for $20 million. Now he has enough cash to fulfill every dream he and Bindu have ever had, and he’s decided to start with their home. He buys a house in the upscale area of Gurgaon, and he’s giddy with the idea of becoming a member of high society.
Bindu has her own reservations about Gurgaon. She’s not quite as ready as Anil to trade up for a new residence. After all, she raised Rupak in their Mayur Palli flat. All their friends live in the building. They don’t know anyone in Gurgaon and even though Anil keeps talking about how excited he is, Bindu senses an element of hesitation in him too. Change, after all these years, will be hard.
In the state of New York, Rupak is treading water at Ithaca College. With the upcoming move, his parents have had enough distractions. He doesn’t want them to worry about him too, so he’s made it all the way to India for a visit and back without telling them that he’s starting a second year on academic probation. His mother and father think he’s working toward a master’s in business administration; he’s spending more time with Elizabeth, his American girlfriend, than in class. Now his parents are moving to a new house, and everything feels like it’s getting tossed in the air.
Anil can’t decide whether he needs an electric shoe polisher. Bindu is trying to curb her husband’s sudden need to buy sofas encrusted with Swarovski crystals and jewelry from Tiffany’s. Rupak keeps wondering whether he should call it quits at Ithaca and just go home, even if he’s not sure what “home” means anymore. The entire Jha family will have to discern how best to find their way through their new surroundings, as individuals as well as a unit.
Author Diksha Basu offers a peek into life in middle-class Delhi as well as its upper social echelons, but readers won’t get a chance to bond with any of the characters. Basu’s choice of omniscient point of view—sharing the thoughts and feelings of all of the characters in small pieces—will keep readers at arm’s length. Also, the Jhas’ actual move to Gurgaon, which is the inciting incident promised by marketing materials, doesn’t happen until well over the halfway mark into the novel. Basu has chosen a relevant and timely topic, but some of her narrative selections make the book come across as more of an exercise in fluff.
Anil Jha’s wish to reach for more than what he’s ever had in life rings true, but his reactions seem almost farcical. Of the husband-wife pair, Bindu is the more grounded partner. Her concerns get swept aside, however, in the larger tale. Rupak is the least developed of the three; he turns into a boring stereotype of the very experience Basu wishes to project. As a result, his thoughts and ambivalence toward everything will induce eye-rolling more than anything else.
The most interesting part of the novel comes in its subplot of the widowed Mrs. Ray, a neighbor to the Jhas in their old building. She’s lost her husband at a young age but still has the verve for life, and Basu’s treatment of her will comes across as respectful and thoughtful. When Mrs. Ray meets someone new, her desires conflict with her knowledge of how society will react. This through-line, more than any other, will resonate with South Asian readers everywhere.
Overall, the book is somewhat amusing for the lengths Anil Jha will go to for his new life, and some readers may find it entertaining for that purpose if no other. I recommend readers Borrow The Windfall.