The Windfall by Diksha Basu - a comedy about anxieties of social status and wealth from Sydney to New Delhi

First-time novelist Diksha Basu is a graduate of Columbia University's creative writing programme.
First-time novelist Diksha Basu is a graduate of Columbia University's creative writing programme.PHOTO: MIKEY MCCLEARY

This is a comedy about keeping up with the Joneses, or in this case, the Chopras, with anxieties about social status and wealth providing rich pickings for satire from Sydney to New Delhi.

The windfall in question falls on Mr and Mrs Jha, who come into millions in middle age, after Mr Jha sells a website for a fortune.

Determined to enjoy the smell of success, Mr Jha splashes out on a new car, a crystal-encrusted sofa and business-class tickets to New York City to visit his son Rupak, a student in the United States.

The couple leave behind their nosey but well-meaning neighbours in an apartment complex in East Delhi and move to Gurgaon, a gated neighbourhood where snooty residents live behind high walls monitored by security guards in homes with swimming pools and even an imitation Sistine Chapel ceiling.

Surprise, surprise.

The Jhas may have become wealthier, but aren't exactly happier - the Missus misses her neighbours, while the Mister, who has no idea he looks ridiculous in his expensive new clothes, frets about not fitting in with his neighbours.



    By Diksha Basu

    Bloomsbury Publishing/Paperback/293 pages/ $27.91/ Books Kinokuniya

    3/5 stars

There are also two romantic subplots involving a comely widow and a dishy divorced man, and Rupak's dalliance with an American girl who is the apple of his eye, as well as an Indian girl whom he thinks is more his parents' cup of chai.

This comedy of manners about middle-class Indians by first-time novelist Basu, a graduate of Columbia University's creative writing programme, is a breezy read.

At its best, the book is an entertaining diversion and mildly funny like the 1990s British comedy Keeping Up Appearances, which stars Patricia Routledge as the inimitable Hyacinth Bucket (read as "Bouquet", s'il vous plait).

There are some funny touches, such as when Mrs Jha realises with a heavy heart that her sari is similar to what is on the maid of their snooty Gurgaon neighbours.

It is a farce when Mr Jha and Mr Chopra compete in a race to the bottom - boasting about how incompetent their respective sons are. Their warped reasoning is: The richer you are, the more you can indulge a good-for-nothing son.

But The Windfall is not quite Crazy Rich Indians. The book does not quite achieve the wicked wild abandon of Kevin Kwan's Crazy Rich Asians.

I wish it had loosened up more - it can afford to be louder, sharper and a whole lot crazier.

•If you like this, read: Crazy Rich Asians by Kevin Kwan (Anchor, 2014, $16.05 from Books Kinokuniya), a laugh-out-loud funny book about rich Chinese families.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 11, 2017, with the headline 'Keeping up with the Chopras'. Print Edition | Subscribe