Hullabaloo in the Guava Orchard
Hullabaloo in the Guava Orchard
Kiran Desai's debut novel, Hullabaloo in the Guava Orchard (1998), made the author an instant success at the age of twenty-seven. She is the voice of a younger generation of Indian writers who write in English, many of whom live in self-exile. Indeed, many expatriate Indian novelists have gained international attention, including Salman Rushdie, Arundhati Roy, and Anita Desai (Kiran Desai's mother).
India is home to many religious groups, including Hindus, Buddhists, and Muslims. It also has a history of political strife among those groups, exacerbated by the interference of British colonialism and modern globalization. Desai, like other Indian writers in English, combines these elements of India's traditions and history with a secular emphasis on storytelling. Her work explores the toll that these cultural divides have taken on India's population.
Desai's work is known for its rich and colorful language, and detailed presentations of setting and character. Hullabaloo in the Guava Orchard presents a fictitious small town called Shahkot in North India. The town has a mixed culture of traditional Indian social norms and of modern life, wherein the runaway Sampath Chawla, who just wants to be left alone, is forced into being a holy man in spite of himself.
Given its popularity, the novel was still in print as of 2008; it was reissued as an Anchor paperback in 1999.
Kiran Desai was born on September 3, 1971, in New Delhi, India, the youngest of the four children of Anita and Ashvin Desai. Her mother, Anita Desai, whose own mother was German and whose father was Indian, is one of the most respected and famous Indian writers today. Ashvin Desai is a Delhi businessman. Kiran's parents are now separated, due to the nature of Anita's career and travel. Kiran's early life was spent in Delhi, and sometimes in a family house in Kalimpong in the Himalayas, the scene of much of her second novel, The Inheritance of Loss.
Kiran was educated at a convent in Kalimpong, and at the age of fifteen, accompanied her mother to England when her mother got a temporary teaching position there. When Anita Desai moved to the United States to teach and write, Kiran went with her, for she has remained closest to her mother, as a friend and fellow writer. In America, Kiran went to high school in Massachusetts and then to Bennington College in Vermont. At first she planned on studying science, but because of her natural talent for writing and her mother's encouragement, she soon switched majors. After graduating from college, she enrolled in writing programs at Hollins University in Virginia and then Columbia University, where she got an M.F.A. in writing. She began Hullabaloo in the Guava Orchard while at Hollins and completed it as part of her M.F.A. work at Columbia. The novel was published in 1998, when she was twenty-seven. The book was well received by critics, and the book received the Betty Trask Award from the British Society of Authors.
After this success, Desai secluded herself for eight years to write her second novel, The Inheritance of Loss (2006). While the first novel introduces social problems, it does so in a light comic or satiric mode and does not linger on them. The second novel takes up the more tragic theme of the loss of tradition, and the difficulties faced by immigrants who try to make a new life. For this novel, Desai won the Booker Prize for fiction. At the age of thirty-five, she was the youngest woman ever to win it.
In addition, The Inheritance of Loss was selected as a Publishers Weekly Best Book of the Year in 2006; as one of the New York Times Book Review 100 Notable Books of 2006; finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award for Fiction in 2006; short-listed for the Orange Prize in 2007; and long-listed for the Dublin IMPAC Award of 2008.
As of 2008, Kiran Desai lived in Brooklyn, New York, but spent time regularly with family in India. She is close to her family and especially to her mother. Indeed, mother and daughter have given readings of their novels together.
In the Himalayan foothills, in the small north Indian town of Shahkot, during a very hot summer, many proposals are made to induce the monsoon. By September the situation is so bad that famine relief camps have to be set up. This is the year Sampath Chawla is born. His mother, Kulfi, is only twenty-one and just married to Mr. Chawla. She gets bigger and hungrier as the drought gets worse, but none of the relief planes coming with supplies reach them. Kulfi is so hungry, she obsesses about food and sells everything in the house. Finally, she draws pictures of food on the walls, and when there is no more wall space, Sampath is born. It is the day the monsoon rains finally come. In the storm, Kulfi gives birth, and Sampath has a brown birthmark on his cheek. As if by miracle, a Swedish relief plane drops a crate in front of the Chawla house with food in it. Kulfi thinks her baby looks like he came from another planet. The baby is named Sampath, Good Fortune.
Twenty years have passed. Sampath has grown into a thin and oversensitive young man, unable to sleep with the noisy breathing of his family around him, all sharing the one ceiling fan: father, mother, grandmother Ammaji, and sister Pinky. He rushes to the roof of the house where it is just as hot. He sings and walks back and forth all night, wishing he had somewhere else to go; he feels suffocated in his life. When morning comes and the town begins to wake up, he sees his father come out with a yoga mat. His grandmother goes for morning milk. She worries that Sampath did not sleep.
Mr. Chawla is a man of habit and performs morning exercise. He is forty and head clerk at the Reserve Bank of Shahkot. He shouts orders to his family as he readies for the day. Ammaji and Pinky try to keep up with his demands. Mr. Chawla reads bits from the newspaper. Kulfi is uninvolved with what is going on and sits by the window thinking of food. She has grown more and more peculiar, and the grandmother has to do all the work. Pinky is disgusted by the political scandals her father reads and wants him to read the story about the Cinema Monkey who attacks ladies outside the cinema, stealing food and pulling at their saris. Mr. Chawla lectures Sampath on how to be a success. Sampath had been happily idle until his father found him a job at the post office. The father and grandmother argue about Sampath's future, and the sister joins in.
Sampath bicycles in the morning traffic of Shahkot, among children, clerks, beggars, holy men, animals, and cars. Pinky gets off the back of his bicycle and goes to the public bus. She is pretty, and removes a hairpin to stab any man who hassles her. The post office is a gloomy building, and Sampath crawls under the barbed wire fence. He hears the flirting between two postal workers, Mr. Gupta and Miss Jyotsna. She describes an incident with the Cinema Monkey who ripped her clothes and ran off with her peanut cone. Sampath is fascinated by her beautiful red toenails. They speak of the wedding of the daughter of their boss. When the boss, Mr. D.P.S., arrives, they jump to attention. Sampath tries to add up the wedding accounts, but all the bills look alike, and his mind gets dizzy. As soon as the boss leaves, the two clerks flirt again, and Sampath begins reading the mail. He is supposed to sort the letters, but he likes to read about the lives of the people of Shahkot. At the end of the day, Sampath has finished none of his work and is scolded.
- Hullabaloo in the Guava Orchard was adapted as an unabridged audiobook read by Madhav Sharma and produced by Isis Audio Books on six tapes (1999).
Later, the whole office staff is on duty at Mr. D.P.S.'s house to help with his daughter's wedding. Curious, Sampath wanders into rooms of the house and looks in drawers. He is drawn by the expensive perfumes, even dressing up in wedding clothes. He becomes drunk on the various scents. He looks at jewelry and gems, lights a candle and looks at himself in a mirror. He feels transported. He had always been attracted to beauty and imaginative stories and thus, failed his examinations and his job. He goes out and dances up and down in front of the marriage tent. His boss and the crowd stare at him, but Sampath is floating in his own world. He jumps into the fountain and disrobes, singing, as the audience shrieks. He is fired on the spot, and his father is furious, saying he will have to find another job. Sampath feels trapped in a life he hates. Looking at a guava, he wishes he could have its quiet beauty. The guava fills him with sweetness, and he dreams of freedom.
When his family is gone the next day, Sampath runs away, catching a bus. He rides past the outskirts of town. When an old woman on the bus insists on talking to him, he jumps from the bus. The passengers see him race to an old orchard on a hill. Sampath runs until he finds an old tree that looks inviting. He climbs it and settles in. It is a guava orchard, part of the university research reserve. Sampath feels peaceful. Life is sweet and uncomplicated. He feels at home and falls asleep in the branches.
The Chawla family go to the police to search for their son, and the whole town makes the most of the drama. The watchman of the university forest reserve bicycles into Shahkot and announces there is a man in a guava tree who won't come down. Mr. Chawla feels sure it is Sampath, and the family catches the bus and gets off at the old orchard. They find Sampath in the tree, eating a guava. Sampath thinks of excuses, but in the end says nothing. His mother alone seems to understand why he is in the tree. The family calls in Dr. Banerjee from the bazaar clinic, who tries to get Sampath to come down, but Sampath is afraid of being locked up for being insane. Dr. Banerjee hoists himself into the tree with his stethoscope and pronounces Sampath indeed crazy. The family tries all kinds of remedies that don't work. Then they visit a holy man, who says Sampath just needs to get married.
The Chawlas can only find an ugly girl for Sampath. The girl arrives with her family on the bus, which is full of pilgrims singing. The bride, her family, and the pilgrims arrive at the tree. While Sampath has romantic fantasies about beautiful women, he is horrified by the ugly girl, as the pilgrims lift her into the tree in her billowing sari. When she tries to touch Sampath's feet in devotion, he yells, and she falls out of the tree. He wants to shout to the people to leave him alone, but instead, he calls out to Mr. Singh, whose letters he has read in the post office. He asks if his jewelry is still hidden beneath the tulsi plant? Then he asks Mrs. Chopra about the lump in her throat. Sampath goes on revealing the secrets he has read in letters, and the people assume he has divine powers. Soon a newspaper article proclaims him to be a holy man in a tree.
Mr. Chawla suddenly realizes that Sampath might make the family rich. People no longer laugh at his son; they arrive in growing numbers to consult him. The Chawlas take over the watchman's shed and move to the orchard to manage Sampath. They make him comfortable with food, a cot, and an umbrella. Sampath delivers his Sermon in the Guava Tree to all the pilgrims who come to the orchard. He answers their questions with witty and nonsensical aphorisms. Among the first to arrive are his old co-workers, Miss Jyotsna and Mr. Gupta. Sampath enjoys his new position of power, and is in great humor. When he is tired of the questions, Sampath goes to sleep in his tree. His simplicity and directness are counted great spiritual virtues. Kulfi, totally inspired by her son, begins cooking masterpieces in the orchard in her outdoor kitchen. She too likes the freedom of being in the forest. Sampath grows fat, nourished by the exotic food cooked only for him.
Pinky is worried that her life is being disrupted by her family's orchard life. She is reduced to once a week trips into the bazaar for supplies. Mr. Chawla is on leave from his regular job and has plans of getting rich managing the pilgrim trade to his son's tree. Pinky feels alone, with no family to support her social ambition. She has to plan her own elaborate outfits and overdresses for the market, as though she is a movie star. She insists that she is being followed by men in the street. Mr. Chawla believes she invents situations because she is starved for drama, and he makes her go to the market in plain dress. On a trip to town to buy Ammaji new dentures, Pinky and Ammaji are attacked by the Cinema Monkey while buying ice cream after seeing a movie. When Ammaji takes a bite of ice cream, her dentures stick in the cone, the cone drops, and the monkey runs off with it. The Kwality Hungry Hop Ice Cream boy frightens off the monkey and recovers the dentures. Having been rescued in front of a cheering crowd by the Hungry Hop boy lights a flame in Pinky's romantic heart. She had thought the boy unremarkable before, but suddenly, he is a hero.
Mr. Chawla has made the watchman's shed comfortable, with electricity and running water. Mr. Chawla opens a bank account for a proposed temple to which the devotees could donate. He approaches merchants to put up ads in the orchard. Buses make detours so passengers can visit the new Baba in the tree. Ammaji operates a tea stall. Mr. Chawla sells garlands and fruit to pilgrims, then collects them and sells them again.
Sampath is charmed by the visitors who ask him questions on the nature of life. One is a spy from the Atheist Society and Branch to Uncover Fraudulent Holy Men (BUFHM). Some of Sampath's answers make sense and some don't, but they have the ring of truth, so the pilgrims are satisfied. The spy takes notes in a notebook; he writes that Sampath avoids questioning by pretending to be otherworldly. Sampath's rejection of a bride is the final proof to the crowd that he is a true hermit. Miss Jyotsna sings a hymn, and Sampath thinks how pretty she is. He sings with her, and the people join in. The spy wonders how he can fool the people. He plans his investigation into Sampath's life.
Kulfi searches the forest for exotic things to cook for her son. She kills game found in traps. …