Marathon Baba by Girish Kohli – Book Review
Running is injurious to health.
The feet had to run. The heart had to fly!
It’s not about the pace, it’s about the peace.
The only book in the world based on a pair of unused running shoes.
The unconventional writing style, unconventional format, a story that is as much a fiction as it is real. And Marathon Baba may be the only book that comes with an interval, telling you ‘Reading is not about pace, it’s all about peace’. As if the author always knew that once you start reading his story, you would not take a break on your own, in-spite of him declaring the interval, I did not take a break and finished the book in one go.
The feeling of running away is universal in India. People run away from anything and everything that tries to hold them and mould them. So the protagonist of the story runs away from his home that he calls battlefield. He meets a pair of running shoes that take him to a treasure with which he builds an ashram for the runaways like him. Here everything is free for the inmates. Only criteria for entry is that you should be on the run and the name of the Ashram, you guessed it ‘Marathon Ashram’.
He acquires red color on his skin, as he takes a dip in the river one day. He becomes the God for the people who live in his ashram. Followed by the rest of the world after he gets a celebrity disciple in his ashram. There is no going back, but there is drama to follow. There is a villain who follows his family shoes and helps create the climax scene. And there is every masala for a Bollywood flick in this script. There is a family, there is romance, there is heart break, there is running away, there is sex, there is a silent lover. And there is a Baba aka GOD, there is a police inspector, there is a happy ending. But most importantly there is wit and humor.
Every character and every place in the story is real yet mythical. You know the character and even those you do not identify, you know they are someone author knows. Places including rivers are known yet fictionalized. Ganga becomes Gathaji, Benaras becomes Kathapur, Mumbai – the city of slums and Khajuraho Kamsutrapur. He even borrows philosophies from the famous books. And quotes them to explain some philosophical concepts and to justify he explicitly mentions them.
The language keeps you in splits, with small appearances from the author like a storyteller who cannot let you imagine anything otherwise. There are a couple of subplots where you are warned that they have nothing to do with the story, sometimes he just makes an appearance in an algorithm or in a comment, inspired by Subhash Ghai I believe. Each character is introduced with a small bio-data that do not have data yet you get to know what the author wants you to know about the character, other details are irrelevant to the story. Here and there author breaks into poetry that fits wells into the potpourri of various other styles that he mixes to create his own.
There is no melodrama whatsoever in Marathon Baba. The usual cliché dialogues have been turned around in a satirical way. So while they convey the push and pull of the conversation they still manage to keep the mood of the story light. You would love reading this book, Marathon Baba …
I am already looking forward to Girish Kohli’s next book.