This is Kiran Desai’s first book. Published in the year 1998, its front cover illustrates a monkey and a summary at its back, seems like it being a humorous jaunt for its readers. And, Kiran Desai proved promising!
The story is about a boy named Sampath Chawla who lives in a place called Shahkot. Sampath is a nuisance for his father right from the start. He is a dreamer, a wanderer and insincere. One day, he decided to make his own sweet world in guava trees, leaving his family go crazy. And what else does he do? He starts babbling. The best part is that his family and the Shahkotians take his babbling in a serious way. They start considering a boy who was useless until now, as a saint. The world suddenly becomes Sampath’s devotees. Initially, Sampath felt safe in the trees, but soon, he became weary. And thus comes around countless humorous consequences.
The entire Chawla family acts fanatical. Kulfi, who is Sampath’s mother, is a stout lady whom everybody considers of no use. Mr. Chawla, Kulfi’s husband cribs in front of his mother for marrying him off with such a woman. On the other hand, Ammaji, who is Kulfi’s mother-in-law, is contented only for the wealth that Kulfi brought home as dowry.
When Sampath grows up, nobody knows what to do of him. He is almost like his mother. Mr. Chawla anyhow gets Sampath a clerical job, whereas Sampath plans to do something else. The last member of the Chawla family, Pinky, who is Sampath’s sister, is another hilarious character. She eats off a boy’s ear only because she loves him. She is never at ease.
Sampath acts just about parallel to the monkeys who live in the trees of Shahkot. When he makes them his friends, people start taking the monkeys as an avatar of a Hindu god. And what does the Chawla family do while witnessing Sampath’s monkey business? They get into this business of bringing devotees for Sampath, who speaks nothing but proverbs. I like the hilarity of it all, especially when the monkeys go crazy after stumbling upon alcohol.
Kiran’s work is indeed remarkable. She sets a very Indian family situation in the case of the Chawla family. Not only the family, the place Shahkot that she portrays is just like another town in the country. You may also like the customs mentioned in the story: a mother bringing a daughter-in-law for the sake of dowry; a father wanting a son to fit the expectations; a wife knowing nothing but to eat and a world who worships a saint, who is sitting on a tree. At one point in the story when Ammaji brings a girl for Sampath, a sketch of a daughter-in-law that Kiran draws here is commendable. Take a glance at one the lines: “She should be fair-complexioned, but if she is dark the dowry should include at least one of the following items: a television set, a refrigerator, a Godrej steel cupboard and maybe even a scooter.”
It is must-read for the humor enthusiasts out there. Kiran Desai’s crisp writing here, is a winner.
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