“The Song of Kahunsha” is a novel by Anosh Irani about a boy who runs away from an orphanage with a dream to find his father, however, once exposed to the real, devastating society we live in, Chamdi finds himself struggling to climb out of Bombay’s deepest chasm of violence, racism, and poverty. The author does a fantastic job of clearly displaying the development of the protagonist by providing a series of twists and turns in Chamdi’s life which consequently contributes to his maturity from a little boy from the orphanage, to a real man out in the real world.
Chamdi struggles with internal conflicts in the beginning of the story, also known as Man vs. Self. Curious and questioning the existence of his parents, he begins to demand answers from those around him which contributes to the development of a new dream; to find his father. With all of the threats and dangers Bombay’s present racial war proposed, Chamdi never dared to step outside of the walls of the orphanage. “Mrs. Sadiq, who runs the orphanage, has not allowed any of the children to step outside the orphanage walls over the past three weeks” (page 10). Due to problems with the landlord, the orphans were expected to leave within a month and Chamdi took advantage of this opportunity to carry on with his initial goal. “He now knows he has to leave the orphanage before it leaves him” (page 41). We notice the first step towards maturity as Chamdi takes a brave step out of the orphanage without any money, knowledge, and possessing only a white cloth smeared with his father’s blood.
Chamdi spends his first few nights on the streets with another boy named Sumdi and his little sister, Guddi. He is introduced to the underground begging system of Bombay; “Anand Bhai is our boss. All beggars who work in this area must give him whatever we earn. Then he will give us some money back” (page 118). Chamdi is now facing external conflicts with the horrific weather conditions commonly referred to as Man vs. Nature, and is also struck by poverty, violence and racism, also known as Man vs. Society. As Chamdi is put to work as property of Anand Bhai, he is both witness to and participant in terrible acts of violence, yet still manages to retain a belief that the city around him is capable of goodness. Using his imagination, he pictures a place of good; no violence, discrimination andpoverty, a place he refers to as Kahunsha. Constantly referring back to Mrs. Sadiq’s words “once a thief, always a thief,” he is always feeling guilty of his actions.
It is evident that the protagonist is developing a sense of maturity, as an independent boy with a dream to find his father is forced to face his fears on the dangerous streets of Bombay. Furthermore, after the unfortunate death of Sumdi, Guddi and Chamdi are taken care of by Anand Bhai’s warm hearted parents. However, as Chamdi and Guddi fall in love, he is determined to protect her for the rest of his life. When Anand Bhai threatens Chamdi with Guddi’s life, he is forced to murder a Muslim family which was an obstacle he faced, known as Man vs. Man. In the long run, although Chamdi committed an unforgivable act, it is it which further contributes to Chamdi’s maturity as a man. In the final scene where Chamdi and Guddi release the ashes of Sumdi, Chamdi also lets go of his cloth which symbolized the tough decision of letting go of his goal to find his father. “At the last of the ashes leave the white cloth, Chamdi lets go of the cloth itself.
Go land at my father’s feet, he says to the cloth… Now it is his turn to find me” (page 265). This scene is significant, for it symbolizes the new man Chamdi has become. “Chamdi wishes Mrs. Sadiq were here to witness this moment because she would have been very proud of him. Her words come to him: You are no longer ten. You are a man now and it is my fault that I have made you the man you are. But Chamdi is grateful to her. He wants her to know that” (page 265).
In times of hunger, pain and hardship, it is very difficult and may seem impossible for one to find happiness. However, Chamdi’s character throughout the novel is highly significant in terms of character development. “Finding beauty in unexpected places” is the theme that Irani has clearly transferred. A young boy who grew up with no parents is heartbreaking, however, with his imagination, he found happiness in his own setting: Kahunsha. Linking all of his favourite flowers, music and food to this beautiful place, it has helped him persevere and dream of a better, cleaner Bombay. Furthermore, as Chamdi found the girl he loved, he has simply learned to “let go.”
He put himself second by temporarily forgetting the rather “important” things in his life, such as his father, and has clearly stated his final dream to make Guddi happy, to protect her and to love her
till the day he dies. This act of determination when he takes priority of Guddi rather than himself is something humans are often not comfortable with. It is also an act of “giving” which is ironic, for Chamdi is a beggar himself. Chamdi’s experiences of living as a “prince” (as Sumdi referred to multiple times) at the orphanage with clean bedsheets and food, and as a beggar on the dangerous streets coping with poverty, violence and racism, has significantly contributed to the timeline of a Chamdi’s life from boy, to a man.