Mumbai, Oct 15: Suddenly, the spotlight has turned on Kalimpong, nestled amid the Himalayas in the Darjeeling district of West Bengal. The pretty-as-a-picture hill town is basking in the glory of Kiran Desai, who as a little girl loved running up its slope.
It was here in Kalimpong that Kiran wrote a part of her Man Booker winner – Inheritance of Loss. And, 9th Mile in Kalimpong is sharing the joy with Kiran's 72-year-old aunt Indira Bhattacharyya.
"I have read the book and loved it. It was overwhelming," said Indira, her voice ringing with pride. Did she speak to Kiran after she won the Booker? "No, Kiran is in Frankfurt. I spoke to her mother when I heard the news," said Indira.
After word got around about Kiran winning the prize, best wishes have been pouring in. "People here are congratulating me for the success of my niece," said Kiran`s Aunty Indira. The novel dwells quite a bit on the GNLF`s Gorkha liberation movement in the hills of Darjeeling. Did that trigger off any reaction?
"The GNLF has been kind to me. Even if anybody said anything, I haven`t been informed. But, one must remember that people are sensitive and we don't have the right to hurt anybody," said Indira, measuring her words.
The book begins with Sai, an orphan girl, who lived with her grandfather in Kalimpong. She falls in love with Gyan, a local, who later joins the Gorkhaland movement.
Does she recognise any of the characters in the book? "There is nobody one knows. The characters are all fictional. She grew up hearing about the hills and its people. That must have been woven into the characters in her book," said Indira.
Indira (Anita Desai`s sister) is a child specialist who set up home here 20 years ago. And, ever since, Kiran and her siblings would visit her during their vacations. So, when Kiran set about writing Inheritance of Loss, Kalimpong and the breathtaking Kanchenjungha must have resonated in her mind. "She had set a part of the novel in Kalimpong and wanted to come here to write," recounted Indira.
"Kiran came in August-September and stayed for around six weeks. She wanted privacy. So I arranged for her to stay in my friend Bunny Gupta`s house nearby. Bunny lives in Kolkata and the house was empty except for the servants whom Kiran loved. They, too, doted on her," said Indira.
Both houses, Indira`s and Bunny`s, offered an awesome view of the majestic Kanchenjungha. As a kid, Kiran would visit Kalimpong with her parents. "She was a normal, happy kid. She wasn't a brilliant student. I don`t know if she loved school. She was fun-loving and loved playing around," recalled Indira.
"I don`t think she works as hard as her mother. She is the gregarious sort who loves partying," she said.
The hill also has sad memories for Kiran. "Once she came on a holiday with her family. I wasn`t at home. They had brought their pet Golden Retriever Tenzing along. He died here. He was so beautiful. It was really sad," recounted Indira.
Besides writing, Kiran is a good cook, too, said Indira, as she remembered a Turkish dish her niece had cooked during one of their meetings. "She writes a lot about food. She is an imaginative cook who loves to experiment," said Indira.
Kiran relished the local cuisine. "She loves Nepali food. Whenever she came, she wanted to have ninglo, a fern used as saag, munttha, tendrils and tender leaves of squash, momos, mushrooms and churpi, a local cheese," said Indira.