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The Mediocre Touch. A Review of Kiran Desai’s Hullabaloo in the Guava Orchard

This book is different. Well, every book is different you might interject but here is the synopsis. A young boy, Sampath Chawla gets fed up of his life with his family, moves to a guava tree and suddenly becomes a ‘wise one’ that gives ‘wise’ counsel to people who believe him to be some kind of priest. While the story moves on, some wild monkeys join Sampath on the tree and these monkeys crave alcohol. Their love for alcohol turns them into tyrants in the community. The whole story is basically built on this summary. The plot is not full of twists and bends but just about a boy’s desire to be left alone.

Sampath has a father who always wanted a son with a good head on his shoulders with a good job but Sampath had not met any of his expectations. His mother is loosely described as a nut case whose problem seemed to have trickled down to her from previous generations in her family. Ammaji, Sampath’s grandmother is the one who tried to keep the peace between Sampath and his father and convinced her son to marry Kulfi, Sampath’s mother.

One might look at this story and feel that it addresses little or nothing because the writer was simplistic in her storytelling. However, the story is not as simple as you might want to believe because its power lies in its ability to use a simple story to narrate complex problems. The writer is undeniably a beautiful storyteller.

Kiran Desai

India as a nation and the larger human world is brought under scrutiny through Kiran Desai’s book, Hullaballoo in the Guava Orchard. Sampath is a mediocre who uses mediocrity to bring people under his spell therefore increasing money inflow for his dad who sought to make it a huge enterprise. This is seen in many religions and spiritual spaces where people parade themselves as wise and take advantage of many seeking to understand their calamities and find solutions to them.

The matter of mediocrity even in handling of these matters is depicted in the way the Chief Medical Officer, the Brigadier and Vermaji who should be at the helm of affairs in nipping the Sampath and his monkey charade in the bud are all caught up in other ‘irrelevancies’. The Brigadier thinks that catching the bird he watches is more important than the job of curtailing the menace of the monkeys. He even does not show responsibility in training his soldiers. The Chief Medical officer also drinks his onion juice to cure his ulcer and all of them go on an ego trip when all their ideas to curtail the monkey menace is not accepted by the new DC.

The societal pressure to simply be what you are not takes a toll on Sampath; Pinky his sister, and the Hungry Hop Boy. Sampath as a young man could not handle the pressure of being the man that society through his father will expect all men to be. Rather, he loves his space and reclusion. Pressure to get married pushes Sampath’s father to marry Kufli, Sampath’s mother. The same pressure is applied to Hungry Hop boy who is already smitten by Pinky but his family would have none of it. It would seem that marriage is believed to solve every problem.

The book is a satire and has quite a number of humorous scenes. It satirizes the gullibility of many and how much of mediocrity has been placed on the high pedestals of religious spaces. It makes the reader see how intellect is shoved aside to accommodate clichés and anything that speaks of and to the inner troubles of our minds: most of these troubles are caused by deprivation, poverty and human longing for a sense of fulfillment and belonging. This is what Sampath exploits to become ‘Baba’, a spiritual leader.

In the end… there really isn’t any major change. The monkeys were not caught. Sampath vanishes maybe to find the reclusion he truly desires or might as well continue the mediocre ’priestly’ charade. However, the author calls us to a higher form of reasoning and intellectualism. To question norms and simply be who we want to be.

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