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The Windfall

Humankind is so clever and accomplished - until it’s time to distinguish between wealth and contentment. This momentous distinction is comedically tackled in “The Windfall” a debut novel set in the status-obsessed wealth colonies of India. Sat Bal

 

There’s even an official name for the kind of psychological turmoil that overnight wealth of this sort brings: Sudden Wealth Syndrome. “The Windfall” mirrors this turn in fortunes for middling entrepreneur Anil Jha whose SWS moment comes when he manages to sell his website for $20 million.  

While this sum doesn’t quite put Jha in the 1% of India’s Bollygarchs, it’s enough to catapult his family from a respectable housing complex to the luxurious Delhi suburb of Gurgaon where status is all.

Author Diksha Basu tells a jaunty, witty story that bristles with the psychopathologies of handling both new and established wealth. In doing so she artfully weaves a cast that vacillates between the former and future lives of the Jha family.

Their future features Mr Chopra, a beefy burgher of Gurgaon and the scion of inherited money. In other words, he knows his way around wealth and is accustomed to the lifestyle it affords. The Jhas are not. Yet Chopra’s dynastic wealth does little to calm his psyche. We’re told that he’s not afraid of much “but the thing that frightened him most was poverty.”

His status fears are heightened when his neighbours sell their house to the Jhas in order to upgrade to London’s Kensington, prompting Mrs Chopra’s insecurities. “What if everyone else in Delhi becomes rich and the people who are poor now move in next door and suddenly we are one of the poor. What then?”

One imagines the same anxieties being played out in Shanghai, Brasilia and other new money hot spots around the globe. The realisation that happiness is not automatically on the fixtures and fittings list of a luxurious house is a sobering thought for anyone who expects contentment to flow as an emotional corollary of wealth. As Charles Spurgeon put it: “It’s not how much we have, but how much we enjoy, that makes happiness.”

The constant catch-up attempts of the Jhas set the tragicomic scenes ahead as new wealth conflates with old times. Witness the embarrassment felt by Mr Jha when his new Mercedes, which arrived early, was delivered to his old home where it was “nearly impossible to navigate past the cows in the narrow lanes.” Jha’s shame is palpable: the delivery driver seeing his old abode and the neighbours seeing his new luxury car.  

Mrs Jha has parallel issues when her husband decides that they can’t employ a kitchen maid lest guests fail to notice that they have a new automatic dishwasher in the kitchen. The husband even sees trophy value in the aspiration that their son, Rupak, will have a blonde American girlfriend in the US, where he’s studying for an MBA.

Yet the fact that Rupak’s girlfriend, Elizabeth, is indeed a US blonde causes the boy untold grief. The non-disclosure of Elizabeth to his parents, whose objection he anticipates, sets the scene for endless conflict. Rupak is decidedly the weakest character in the book and Elizabeth makes this point with the warning: “Figure out who you are and just be that person,” as the relationship teeters.

The author brings an engaging set of characters to the fray. There’s the widowed romantic, Mrs Ray, who assures herself that lust is a curiosity rather than a reality. Mr Chopra’s son Johnny likes Lexus cars and girls but seems unable to earn a living - a fact welcomed by his dad whose money shields the boy from the unsavoury pursuit of working. And then there’s Serena - Elizabeth’s Indian counterpart. Predictably, Rupak’s affections for Serena just induce more hand-wringing and their druggy encounters stay right there.

Yet despite the promising cast, credible scene-setting and Diksha Basu’s nimble storytelling the novel ends at a plateau rather than the expected crescendo. That said, this debut novel puts Basu on the literary watch list - and the summer reading list.

 

The Windfall

£7.99 Paperback/Ebook

Publisher: Bloomsbury

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