Hullabaloo

You must have heard the expression,  “ Do what you love, and you will never work a day in your life”. An ideal work life would be to have a job that feeds both our souls and our bank accounts. Having said that , even a job that you start off  loving and enjoying  can be rough if it turns out to be too demanding and stressful to the point that you find that the monetary reward is not commensurate with the level of stress and responsibilities you have to cope with or for whatever reasons you are no longer happy with what you are doing. Every job comes with its own pitfalls.

Most people have to work to earn a living, some have to hold several jobs to make ends meet. To many people it is not a matter of choice as we live in a commercial world. Some take it all in their stride while some may feel that they are trapped by the circumstances they are in. To those who are determined to escape the mundane trappings of the modern world, they will somehow find ways to attain their dreams even when there is not a chance seemingly, be it thrift, steal, borrow or beg. It takes courage and resolve to live the life we want.

The story of Hullabaloo in the Guava Orchard  written by Kiran Desai  is set in the Indian village of Shahkot ( State of Punjab). Sampath Chawla avoids the responsibilities of adult life. He is a bored peon , a lowly paid post-office clerk who takes pleasure in reading the postcards that have been brought in for them to be delivered and from these postcards he picks up all sorts of interesting information. ‘He had read of family feuds and love affairs, of marriages being arranged, of babies being born, of people dying and of ghosts retuning, of farewells and home-comings. He had read of natural disasters, floods and earthquakes , of small trivial matters like the lack of shampoo. Of big cities and of villages much smaller than Shahkot.

‘ He turned them over, smelled them, looked at the stamps, studied the names, the strange-feathered words : Bombalapetty, Pudukkottai,Aurangabad, Torik, Coimbatore, koovappally, Piploo, Thimpu, Kampala, Cairo, Albuquerque. He held them up against the light, the envelopes filled with promise, with the possibility of different worlds. He steamed them open over mugs of tea, just prised them open , the humidity in the air having rendered the gum almost entirely ineffectual, and lazily, through the rest of the day, he perused their contents.’

When Sampath loses his job, he does not mind it as he does not want the job. He needs to find a solution to his misery.

‘How would you approach this problem?

 Strangely for some odd reason, from way off in the distance, he remembered the taunting voice of Father Matthew Mathematics at the classroom board at the Mission School.

Show all steps leading to the end result for full marks.

           In his mind, the days, his work, his life and even his thoughts all whirled. The same days. The same place. The one road –

          The post office at the end of  his journey like a full stop.

          He did not want another job.

          He wanted open spaces.

        And he wanted them in large swathes, in days that were clear stretches he could fill with as little as he wished. Here a person’s experience of silence and space squeezed and warped into underground forms that were forced to hide, found in only a few places that Sampath could discover. In his small lapses from duty; between the eye and the print of a newspaper held by someone who never turned a page; in a woman who stared into the distance and past the blur of knitting needles in her fingers; behind muttered prayers, once in a long while in eyes that could look past everything to discover open spaces. But no, Sampath was to be allowed no peace whatsoever. He was found out and turned away from every refuge he sought.’

When Sampath’s family departs to attend a wedding, leaving him at home, he lets himself out of the house and  catches the first bus he sees. He  has taken the bus that takes the milk sellers home after they have brought their milk to be sold in town. When an old woman sits next to him and does not leave him alone by badgering him with questions, he leaps from the window of the stalling bus and runs with a feeling of great urgency through an old  orchard. He ends up  on top of a large and magnificent  guava tree.

When he settled among the leaves, the very moment he did so- the burgeoning of spirits that had carried him so far away and so high up fell from him like a gust of wind that comes out of nowhere, rustles through the trees n melts into nothing like a ghost. 

‘Yes, he was in the right place at last. Tiredness rolled over him like a wave and, closing his eyes, he fell into a sleep slumber, lodged in a fork in the guava tree.

Journey to Infinity MC.Escher’s World of Wonder , Artscience Museum, Singapore

When his family finds him sleeping on top of the tree, there is a lot of hullabaloo. His quest for a contemplative life is invariably disrupted and  many people come to visit him. When these visitors ask him for advice, he makes use of the information he has gathered from reading the letters secretly and he thus appears to be bestowed with second sight. Due to his simple-minded love of adages, he manages to utter very seemingly wise sayings that builds him a reputation for unfathomable wisdom. He becomes Monkey Baba in his treetop hermitage and his father makes use of the situation to make a lot of money by setting up a tea stall for tourists and churn out posters, fliers and newspaper articles. When the monkeys come to live in the guava tree with Sampath, they start to attack people and steal alcohol and become very drunk. There are many colourful characters including Sampath’s eccentric mother and sister, the town officials charged with containing the monkeys and there is also a spy for the local Atheist Society who wants to expose Sampath as a fraud. It is indeed hullabaloo in the guava orchard.

Kiran Desai based her book on real life story in which a man, Kapila Pradhan lived on a tree for 15 years. The story is comical and the author has composed a parable based on Indian culture and an absolutely delicious satire describing the follies of humankind, the behaviour of public servants,  entrepreneurialism and the credulous creation of gurus.

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