Dahanu Road by Anosh Irani initially reads like a harmless account of three generations of a Zoroastrian Irani family that has come to be landowners in Dahanu, till recently a backward, isolated place inhabited by a tribal agricultural community of Warlis who were once owners of the land they today are slaves in.
As the story unfolds, one sees the immigrants from Yazd in Persia (Iran), fleeing religious persecution in a society where they are second-class citizens, landing up on Indian shores and, thanks to their own business acumen and the Warlis love of alcohol, start acquiring lands to build up their own chickoo farms. Shapur Irani, the patriarch of the family, branched out into liquor sales and started seizing the lands of his customers who could not pay their debts. The Warlis now work on the farms in slave-like conditions. Shapur’s grandson, Zairos, comes across the body of one of their workers, Ganpat, who hanged himself after Shapur refused to lend him money to rescue his daughter, Kusum, from an abusive marriage.
Zairos has many questions about how this all has come to be. It dawns on him uncomfortably that, from being the oppressed, his community is now the oppressor. He ends up falling in love with Kusum, even as he tries to get her out of her life of squalor. Their relationship exposes him to criticism and the harsh truths of Dahanu society.
The prose is good: Aspi Irani loved the idea of sabotage. He was an imp straight from the underworld, full of guile and mischief. Of course, with his thick forearms and massive calves, he was too large to be an imp, but he had an imp’s demeanour, from sleazy to the sublime.
The author has traced the passage of the Iranian Zoroastrians who emigrated to India, suffering deprivations before managing to make their fortunes, but it also exposes the strange divide between landowners and workers in the sub-continent (why blame just the Parsis?), while bringing out some of the issues being faced by a community probably nearing its own extinction.
Dahanu Road by Anosh Irani