Bangalore Baloney written by Thomas Itty is a story that spans several decades and takes place in several countries. At its core, though, the book is the intimate journey of three young men. Given how personal it feels, one gets the feeling that the author lived many of these experiences.
Swami, George and Venu form a trio called the Scrimshankers They become best of friends at an all-boys middle school in Bangalore, India when the book begins and when the book ends, the now thirty-something Scrimshankers’ relationship is just as strong.
Swami is our middle ground; an upper-middle class, brown-skinned Indian boy with writerly instincts. George is the pretty boy, an affluent child who was born in America but returned to India with his family. Finally, Venu is the late bloomer who belongs to a working class-family.
One of the most compelling aspects of Bangalore Baloney is its sweeping three-part structure. Characters that we see early on in our story evolve and change as the years advance. An early obstacle for our young boys is that of C.K. Ganguli, a prefect at the all-boys school who is jealous of George’s spoiled upbringing and makes him and the rest of the trio’s life a living hell. C.K. is written with all the authenticity and seriousness of a full-fledged childhood bully and yet the book revisits him at the end, a changed man. Similarly, Venu’s alcoholic father beats his wife and his kids, but later quits drinking and becomes Venu’s biggest advocate when he gets into medical school.
This reader also learned a lot while going through the book. In addition to the international setting and scope, Itty frequently gives us background and history in everything from the competitive high school entrance exam system in India, to Idi Amin’s expulsion of hardworking Indians in Uganda, to the blockbusting of African-Americans in East New York. The lattermost example, for example, gives dimension to a crack-addicted Jamaican co-worker of George’s, who one might be quick to judge without the history. At times, though, Itty’s editorial interjections feel cumbersome and take the reader out of the story. The constant detail is occasionally overwhelming and its success often comes down to one’s own interest and curiosity in what’s being explained.
Itty also has included several original musical interludes throughout the story. George grows up to be a big-time singer and songwriter and many of the musical pieces reflect a thematic phase of the sweeping story.
Bangalore Baloney is a good-hearted novel with characters that are sympathetic and fundamentally decent. Early on, Swami and Venu lament the fact that George was given everything – the looks, the talent, the money – but as the years go by, Swami and Vanu find their own confidence and they realize that the grass isn’t always greener. That’s life.