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!