Under my byline

Approaching reality

Posted in Books by Rrishi on 24 April 2010

People and place come alive in this novel of globalising Bangalore

Monkey-man
Usha K R
Penguin
pp vi + 262

Before the pattern and the people settle in, this novel may try your patience. All the characters are in and introduced only about a third of the way through the book. Until then the reader meets each member of the cast turn by turn, and waits for the fixed centre to emerge.

This is Usha K R’s fourth novel. Her last, A Girl and a River, won the Vodafone Crossword Book Award in 2008. That was a memorable story of three generations of a family in small-town Karnataka between the 1930s and 1980s. Monkey-man, too, carries the shadow of history — though it is recent history, the moment in early 2000 in fast-globalising Bangalore in which the urban legend of the “monkey-man” was born.

That incident, the first sightings of the supposed creature, connects the chief characters. So does the fact that they are to appear together on DJ Bali Brums’s popular radio show to speak about the encounter. And the fact that most of them live in and around middle-class Ammanagudi Street. And that at one time or another they have worked or studied together. Thus the city of Bangalore is a lead actor in its own story.

The book gets better and better as it progresses. Its characters — ordinary people in ordinary lives (yet how ordinary is any life?) — emerge slowly in the round as if under the hands of a sculptor, more and more closely approaching reality. Strangely, at the very end one feels as though all the introductions are finally done and the characters are ready to come to life. Memorable.

Read an interview with Usha K R from 2008, just after she won the Vodafone Crossword award.

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