Book Review: Marathon Baba

Marathon Baba by Girish Kohli

It may not sound the name of a novel but that of a spoof on a reigning religious guru or a boring philosophical novel but little did I know that what was in store for me was something this funny and interesting. Yes! Marathon Baba written by first time writer Girish Kohli sweeps you away from your boring lives and takes you to the fictional world of Karna, a simple man, who lives in the City of Slums, and runs away from his home and life only to achieve a demi-God status some day and be called Marathon Baba.

The back cover of the book does not really say anything about the story or the plot of the book but it gives you a map of the world that Karna lives in. I must admit the map looks a little like the Map of Middle Earth in Lord of the Rings, but nevertheless, this is a book that, after reading cover to cover, I am willing to forgive for anything wrong under the sun. Girish Kohli is not an IIT-IIM graduate, I don’t even know if he ever went to school or not, but someone who can write a debut novel that is this pleasing, I’d say, kudos to you!

The Plot:
Marathon Baba is the story of a guy named Karna who lives in a fictional land, which you can easily mistake for an India like country. Karna grows up in an environment where his parents keep quarreling, which he calls a battlefield. Heartbroken after being dumped by the love of his life and bored of a stereotypical IT job, Karna runs away at the age of 23 to face life. Leaving all his money and worldly pleasures behind, he embarks on a journey towards the mountains in order to find himself. He travels from fictional city to fictional city having free meals at temples and gurudwaras and having sex with tramps. He becomes a traveler by the day and a compulsive insomniac, who runs all through the night, as he is haunted by the drams of his ex girlfriend. Running becomes a part of his life and on one such running outing, his skin mysteriously turns red. He runs day and night and chances upon a pair of running shoes that are worn by a skeleton floating in a river.

The shoes not only become his running fleet, but also lead him to a treasure, the returns of which help him and his new accomplice Java, a junkie, gay drummer to build the Marathon Ashram at the banks of a holy river. The Marathon Ashram promises to give free refuge to anyone who has been running away from his life. Other than Karna and Java, the first person they accept as a member to the ashram is Karsihma, a sultry beauty who has mysterious healing powers and has run away from her life after her mother’s demise. Karna fondly calls her Ma and she changes the face of the Ashram. Soon, Karna gets a brigade of 33 deadly disciples, one of which is a movie Superstar Suryakant after whose inculcation the media garlands him with the name of the Marathon Baba and he soon achieves a cult following across the masses.

The story takes a bitter turn when a beggar and ex-businessman claims his ownership of the shoes that led him to the treasure that helped Karna build the Ashram. He threatens to kill Karna and to expose his deep dark secret to the whole world. What is the secret and what happens later, that I’ll leave for you to find out!

The Verdict:
Never have I read a novel by an Indian author that has succeeded in putting a smile on my face all through the 255 pages that it runs through. Girish Kohli has arguably written the most stylish novel and I must say that if you want to take a lesson in creative writing, it is this, it is this, it is this!! The style of writing is so fresh that you are hooked onto the book due to the immense pleasure of reading it and a different concept and a an amazing idea never hurts.

The language of the book is simple and laid-back and the whole story kind of flows effortlessly like the fictional river Gathaji in its story. Girish manages to make the reader visualize every word that he has written and his humor just percolates into the protagonist too. Though the Marathon Baba is not supposed to be a spiritual guru, yet his one liners are humorously philosophical. The whole story revolves around just one character and that has been written and handled really well. The style and humor more than make up for any shortcomings that maybe in the story. The content is supported by little footnotes by the author himself and the mention of his own name within the dialog makes sure you take it as a piece of fiction.

Frankly Speaking, Marathon Baba is one of the best works of fiction by an Indian writer. The climax is edgy and all in all I would say that an Indian novel minus a love a story is just what could have restored my faith in the writers here.

My Rating: 4/5 and a double thumbs up for first time writer Girish Kohli. You made me enjoy this one, I’m definitely gonna buy the next one too!

Book Review: I’m Not Twenty Four…

I'm Not Twenty Four... by Sachin Garg

What Chetan Bhagat perhaps started, was big enough for many engineering graduates, like myself, to take up writing seriously and follow a passion that few dare to pursue. Following CB’s suit, perhaps, is Sachin Garg. Though not an IIT-IIM pass-out like Bhagat, but an engineer from DCE and a management major from MDI Gurgaon (another prestigious MBA institute of the country.) BlogAdda’s Book Review program landed me with Garg’s second book, I’m Not Twenty Four… I’ve been nineteen for five years…

The prologue of the book tells Sachin’s story how he met a girl named Saumya, working in a steel plant in a remote village in Karnataka and the book has thence-forth been written in the first-person view of the girl. Saumya, a pass-out from MDI Gugaon lands up in a man’s job in Toranagallu in a steel plant, all because of her unisexual name. I’m Not Twenty Four is the story of an ultra-modern Delhi bred young girl Saumya, working in a steel-plant in Toranagallu. Saumya, an HR major is designated as an Assistant Manager in the HR department and is assigned the profile of handling the reaction team in the Safety Department. Having come from a pampered Delhi lifestyle, Saumya not only finds it difficult to adjust to her new surroundings without any real friends but also proves to be faint-hearted in times of some gore accidents that she is asked to handle. Accepting the fact that she is not fit for the job that she has been assigned, she decides to quit, just when she meets a dusky Bengali hippie/wandered, Shubhrodeep Shyamchaudhary, who loves weed and beer more than anything else in the world. It is then that she sees a new side of life when she learns about his experiences in life and his ‘Move-On’ theory which makes him stay in no place for more than 90 days.

Right from the onset of the book, I felt too many words being wasted to describe a small event and too many repetitions of adjectives and descriptions. A few pages into the book, you accept typos and grammatical or time-line errors an integral part of the book, though on the part of the writer, I consider it as a cardinal sin. (Forgive me, if I too make them, but they are OK only as long as its a personal blog.) The first 50 pages of the book, though establish a setting for where the rest of the events take place, but they are highly likely make you put the book down due to a lack of Wow-factor as I like to call it. The story begins to get a bit interesting on the entry of Shubhrodeep (Shubhro), but soon falls back to a sluggish pace. The chain of events that provoke Saumya to arrive at the decision of quitting her job and going back home make perfect sense following the psychology of her character but the re-entry of Shubhro in the story is predictable and desirable in order to bail out the reader from succumbing to the sluggish pace of he book.

The second half of the story takes Saumya through the life of Shubhro and his experiences in the 12-odd cities around the world that he has lived in for three months (90 days) each. Saumya falls in love with Shubhro at first sight, and his character never fails to shock you throughout his stay. What disappointed me the most was the porous description of the 90-day stay of Shubhro with Saumya and the untimely death of a potentially interesting character, Mallapa just before Shubhro’s re-entry.

The character of Shubhro is very well written and there there is not too much to be credited to any other characters, other than Saumya herself. What struck me a little into the book was the fact that the biggest folly, perhaps, that Garg made was to write a story as a girl’s first person account when he himself is a man. Let’s accept it that you do not expect a man to fathom the feelings of a woman, leave alone writing something from her perspective. The second half could have been more interesting had Garg experimented with Shubhro and provided a more vivid account of his stay.

The story picks pace around the 180 page mark when on the last day of his stay with her, Shubhro confesses his love for Saumya and they entwine into passionate love-making, only for Saumya to wake up and realise that Shubhro had left, without a trail, without even bidding adieu, in resonance with his ‘Move-On theory.’ It is only in the last two chapters of the book that you are actually glued to the story and I, personally, silently cursed Garg for leaving the good (mind you, I’m using good and not the best) for the last. The book in its last 20 odd pages becomes a mystery you want to unfold. It was Shubhro’s story, how a Bengali kid with a noxious childhood made it to IIM, graduated with an MBA in finance and ended up a hippie for the world to curse, when he was silently doing social service for the under-privileged in each city he visited. Shubhro’s story is inspiring and the way it was narrated, made me wonder whether Sachin Garg was facing a writer’s block when he wrote the rest of the book.

I’m going with 1.5/5 for Sachin Garg’s I’m Not Twenty Four…, instead of reading the whole book, I would suggest you read the back cover followed by the last 40 pages of the book. Sachin Garg has written something different from other Indian authors but the book lacks novelty in form and idea and is something that you can easily miss. Read it if you have nothing better to do on a lazy Sunday afternoon but do not have any high hopes from the book as it is one that you can easily put down and forget till you dust your book closet sometime in the future.

My Rating: 1.5/5

This review is a part of the Book Reviews Program at Participate now to get free books!