Book Review on Of Holy Men And Monkeys by Aakanksha Singh
Kiran Desai’s debut novel Hullabaloo In The Guava Orchard, does not come close to her 2nd novel The Inheritance of Loss which won her the Booker Prize. Hullabaloo In The Guava Orchard is a good read nonetheless, lacks the brilliance that lights up the storyline of The Inheritance of Loss.
The story of Hullabaloo In The Guava Orchard begins with the birth of Sampath Chawla in an apparently middle class family who lives in a village named Shahkot. Then the novel takes an Indian soap-opera kind of leap and we see Sampath twenty years old—two decades later—quite dull, and doomed as a failed person by his father. Only his mother, Kulfi, has faith that her son could be able to be something in life. And lo! What do you see, he does manage to do just that. But not before getting fired from the job of a clerk in the post office and running away from Shahkot to escape from the misery of life. He then comes across a guava orchard and decides to climb on a guava tree. Interestingly he finds peace and solace over there. He feels uncluttered and unfettered on that tree. With a quirk of fate, the people mistake Sampath to be a holy man sitting atop a tree and his father, taking advantage of this, cooks a brilliant trick to juice out money from this venture. Soon people start flocking to listen to his wise words and seek his advice and blessings! Sampath thus from being a good-for-nothing fellow becomes a famous Monkey Baba revered by the people. On the other hand, we see Sampath’s peculiar family: his mother relishes in having food and whipping up quite grand and glorious dishes, his sister, Pinky, who falls in love with an ice cream seller, Hungry Hop.
The one word that may define this novel best is eccentric. Hullabaloo In The Guava Orchard reminds us of the bumbling comedies staged during the Elizabethan Age that had similar comic situations with myriad quirky characters. The story portraits a satirical side on rural as well as urban India and shows how the people in India are obsessed with godly figures. The story underlines the dishonesty that prevails among the fake babas that spring up here and there. However, Sampath never intended to become a Monkey Baba, he only wanted to run away from all things pretentious. He only wanted to lead a simple life. It was his father who pulled him into the heart of the very worldly things he wanted to escape from. So perhaps Desai is trying to bring out how holy men cannot be always taken at face value. The other characters are well woven. For example, Kulfi has a penchant for food, which has been prominent since the beginning of the novel.
While the comic and satirical part of the book is well portrayed, it has a predictable storyline—very much similar to our very own Bollywood-masala-packed stories. Immature writing and the weak climax make the book rather disappointing. It is quite entertaining and funny in its ludicrous situations but surely not a must read, though a good time pass!
Author’s Bio: Aakanksha Singh. is majoring in English Literature at St. Xavier’s College, Mumbai. Her hobbies include reading, blogging, writing poems, and articles etc.