'The Rock Babas and Other Stories' book review: Not your daily serving
You could call it a map of human frailties and resilience—as true in the Himalaya as in the state of Georgia
Ameya Prabhu’s debut novel written during the pandemic yokes together all the impossible colours of the rainbow. You could call it a map of human frailties and resilience—as true in the Himalaya as it is in the state of Georgia.
With a ‘willing suspension of disbelief’ you read about an ageing tycoon, Takahashi Watanabe, who donates his fortune to charity when faced with a terminal illness, in an attempt to reconnect with his estranged daughter.
Special agent Jackson Holder, an African-American agent of the Georgia Bureau of Investigation, overcomes racial biases to crack a homicide with undertones of a domestic hate crime. In the last chapter, the Swiss hotelier Helmut Kauffman transforms under the tutelage of the eponymous ‘Rock Babas’, a group of monks playing rock and roll and living high in the Himalaya. Even as elsewhere, a deposed dictator in prison reflects on his life and times. Perhaps each of the chapters would have made a perfect read on its own. Together they are light of touch, caustic and comic.
Not for the discerning reader are sections like ‘Manifestations in Anpao’ where the epigram is stretched from the old, well-worn, oft-told tale of the greying Red Indian Chief teaching his son about the vagaries of life. He tells him that inside us is a battle royale going on between two mighty wolves: one is evil, arrogant, jealous and laden with ego; the other is the good wolf, full of joy, peace, compassion and empathy. All of us know this well-spent tale.
Why inflict it on the hapless reader who will never ask:
‘Which wolf wins?’ asks the naïve boy.
‘The one you feed!’ says the old man.
Though Gentle reader, you have to wait until the very end to find yourself face to face with Shangri-La (eerily similar to James Hilton’s The Lost Horizon, published in 1933). Here, under the shadow of the unblemished Kangchenjunga dwell the ‘Rock Babas’, swaying to a music all of their own. And that is the general direction in which Helmut, a Swiss mountain climber, is headed on his arrival in the Nepalese capital of Kathmandu.
‘They trekked through dense forests, gushing rivers, streaming waterfalls and crossed rickety mountain bridges… they continued waking through thickly-forested paths, passing chortens or Buddhist stupas inlaid with beautifully engraved mani stones and on the seventh day of their trek, they finally reached the quaint Tibetan village.’
Rescued from an avalanche-hit expedition, he is nursed back to health by the monks. You too will be as ‘gobsmacked’ as Helmut as you read about these Rock Babas who are ‘doing an impeccable rendition of the legendary rock song and the guitar, drums and vocals are all on point’. Despite liberal servings of chexo (rice and yogurt) and thukpa (noodle soup), the reader wakes up somewhat groggy.