Author: Girish Kohli
Price: Rs 150
As I flipped through the pages of Marathon Baba the very first time, I was distinctly dissatisfied. On the back cover flap, the author, Girish Kohli was described as having been born “on the day when a dog in the US was put on trial and executed for barking too much”. Girish, it went on to say, “hasn’t passed out of the IITs or the IIMs. He doesn’t have a day job either. If you wish to speak to him, you will not find him either on Facebook or Twitter. He drives a jeep without a spare tyre and is the author of two unpublished novels. Marathon Baba, his third book which has been published first, is the only book in the world based on a pair of unused running shoes”.
What put me off about this author bio was that it used the tired old trick of using humour on the back flap. It felt a bit too much. I mean, I know this is a funny book, but when I read an author bio, I’m looking for actual information. Information about his social networking or lack thereof is not going to help me understand his work better.
At this point, I must confess that when the book arrived from the publishers, I was in a very cranky mood. I had just read another ‘humour’ book: an endless, tiresome bore of a book with too many words and too little wit. So naturally, I looked on another ‘humour’ book – complete with a funny author bio – with ill-concealed loathing.
Turns out, it was a good thing. Because I was expecting so little enjoyment from Marathon Baba, it hit me with quite a wallop when I realized that I was racing through it and enjoying it immensely. Sometimes people like me need that wallop. It keeps us from becoming overbearing cynics and turning to one-note bores.
Now, if you’re one of those who view the boom in Indian publishing with sinking hearts, be of good cheer. There is at least Marathon Baba, which you can read and actually enjoy. The book is written with a frantic pace which reflects its main concept: that a man can keep running away from his troubles and still find salvation. No, really! It’s the opposite of everything we’ve read in Paulo Coelho books.
The plot in a few short sentences: Boy Karna grows up in bad home. Mom and Dad fight. Boy runs away for the first time. After that, he runs away from other problems like girl who broke his heart and a dead-end job. He finds that he can’t stop running. That’s his salvation, his peace. He finds a magical pair of sneakers which go on to be a major point of contention in the novel. Karna ends up founding the Marathon Ashram which becomes a refuge to all those who are running from something or the other. He refuses to be religious and refuses to be political and that, ultimately, may be his downfall.
A deeply cynical vein runs through Marathon Baba and it is not afraid to poke at Modern India’s holy cows. Corporate jobs, the idea of success, the ubiquity of politics and religion, worship of celebrity and our desperate need for someone, anyone to lead us – all of these are skilfully skewered by Kohli. There’s no denying that the prose tends to be a little uneven, but there’s great energy in this book. It’s almost as if it was written under the influence of the kind of drugs that Marathon Baba sells to fund his ashram.
Marathon Baba is not a very heavy book and it won’t take too much of your time. Don’t hesitate to pick this up if you’re looking for a story that will breathlessly take you right till the end and will make you laugh as well.