A Hindu retelling of Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol.
In this debut novel, Kundanmal transplants Ebenezer Scrooge to modern-day India in the person of Salaram Baiman, a cranky moneylender who treats those around him with Scrooge’s well-known coldness and greed, even using the famous “Bah! Humbug!”catchphrase. On the eve of Diwali, the Hindu festival of lights, Baiman is visited by the ghost of his dead partner, Mohamed Crorepathi, who warns him of a dire fate awaiting him in the afterlife if he doesn’t change his ways. From these familiar beginnings, the story takes a new turn; Baiman is visited by the ghosts of Diwalis past and future, but the ghost of Diwali present is curiously missing. Eventually, he meets the goddess Laxmi herself and follows a familiar path as he comes to know the true meaning of Diwali. The shift in cultural context highlights the story’s universality while also exploring themes and rituals specific to Hindus, making it an accessible tale for readers of all faiths. The story is both satirical and earnest, capturing the spirit of the original with a mix of modern and classic language: “[I]t amounted to no more than what academics have termed ‘bovine scatology’ and regular folks the world over call ‘bulls**t.’ ” Even the ghosts are a mix of old and new; the ghost of Diwali future, for instance, presents himself as a fast-talking American, because America is “where the smart money in the future is headed.” Kundanmal’s tongue-in-cheek prose is fast and fun, although the abundance of cultural references can sometimes be too varied, blending mentions of Los Angeles with practices particular to India and at times giving the story a somewhat scattered feel. These missteps are few, however. Overall, Kundanmal’s spin on Dickens is enjoyable, relevant and heartwarming, with a good dash of humor.
A refreshing take on a classic for a new, diverse generation.