BOOK REVIEW: Monkey Man (Reviewed by Monideepa Sahu)

Monkey Man by K. R. Usha
Penguin (India), 259 pages
Price: RS.299

K. R. Usha’s latest novel takes a fresh, deeply sensitive and insightful look at life in Bangalore, India’s fastest growing city. Shortlisted for the for the Commonwealth Writer’s Prize and winner of the Vodaphone Crossword prize for her previous novel, A GIRL AND A RIVER, this consummate storyteller takes readers into the heart of a city zooming beyond the technological stratosphere while teetering on the brink of chaos.

As a new millennium dawns, a strange creature attacks passers by in the streets of Bangalore. Is it a malevolent avatar, or a sign of the displeasure of the gods? Is it the grotesque mascot of a city that is growing too fast, or merely a lost monkey? Shrinivas Moorty, a teacher in a city college, call center professional Pushpa Rani, Neela, secretary to an influential man, and Sukhiya Ram, her office boy, are the first to sight the strange creature. They are invited by popular RJ Bali Brums to discuss their experience on his popular radio show.

The lives of these characters become intertwined in unexpected ways, as each sheds new light on life in their city. They also personify the multiple hues of tradition juxtaposed against and vying with modernity and westernization; a theme running through the heart of Bangalore and many Asian cities.

Bali Brums, nee Balaji Brahmendra, stands like many of his city’s youth at the cusp of a bold new westernized way of life, yet unsure of cutting his tenuous ties with traditional roots. His girlfriend and radio co-star Shanta Lakshmi prefers to call herself Chantal. She affectionately calls Bali ‘Balls and Bums’ in a desperate bid at westernized sophistication. Such light strokes of good natured humor brighten this rich and multi-faceted story.
Shrinivas Moorty, compelled to sell off his crumbling ancestral home in exchange for a poky ‘modern’ apartment, is unable to decide which is the lesser of the two evils. Neela continues secure yet stagnant in her sinecure job, spreading concentric circles of pettiness and inefficiency. .Pushpa Rani successfully overcomes a deprived upbringing to take on the world from her desk at a call center. Rising from a city where glass and aluminum skyscrapers overlook shanty settlements, and where ancient temples stand proudly in the middle of busy streets, the story of the Monkey Man entices the reader into a deeper understanding of human nature.


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