Sunday, March 21, 2010

REVIEW: Monkey-man

Usha K.R.
Rs 299
Pp 272
ISBN: 9780143068563

A brush with a strange creature would change his life forever. 3 January 2000. It is the start of the new millennium. On Ammanagudi Street in Bangalore, a strange creature is spotted. As the beast seizes the imagination of the city, the first people to sight it—Shrinivas Moorty, a teacher in a local college, Pushpa Rani, who works in a call centre, Neela Mary Gopalrao, secretary to an influential man, and Sukhiya Ram, her office boy—are invited to talk about it on Bali Brums’s hugely popular radio show. What was it that they saw? A bat? A malevolent avatar? A sign of the displeasure of the gods? The grotesque mascot of a city that is growing too fast and crumbling too soon? Or merely a monkey that has lost its way?

Using evocative prose that reflects her profound understanding of human nature, Usha K.R. delves into the lives of her characters and their unexpectedly linked destinies in a city that has grown from a ‘Pensioner’s Paradise’ to the frenetic hub of the country’s IT industry.

Branching out Outlook
Shrinivas Moorthy, history professor in a college in Bangalore, inveterate misser of opportunities, cautious radical turned stodgy conservative and the protagonist of Usha’s new novel, Monkey-Man, feels that history can be illuminated by cinema and fiction. “It was so important to put a human face to every movement, every event, even an idea.” And it appears that the primary purpose of this work of fiction is to provide human faces for the movement of Bangalore’s and, consequently, India’s history.

Monkey-Man’s own movement is a series of extended flashbacks that outline the life histories of its main characters, occasionally digressing further into the stories of subsidiary characters. While this method makes for loose storytelling, it does produce a sensitively rendered and beautifully detailed portrait of a set of lives, a deeply felt slice of ethnography. But be warned: the attempts to build a tight narrative are cursory. The eponymous monkey-man could have helped turn some pages. Unfortunately, he is given less than five per cent of this book’s space.

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