One of the prominent themes in Desai's novel is that of hunger and satisfaction in a place where hunger is common but satisfaction hard to come by. Though it is a serious theme, the author weaves a sense of humor throughout. (How many novels feature drunken monkeys??)
Food is an all-consuming issue for the protagonist, Samptha's mother, Kulfi. Throughout her pregnancy, she is "obsessed with food. Despite the drought engulfing Shahkot, Kulfi is determined to feed her insatiable desire. She bribes the vegetable and meat sellers at the bazaar, always driven by a fierce hunger she cannot stem. In the same way, when she begins to feel the movements of the baby inside of her, and with her hunger ever-increasing, Kulfi reacts by drawing pictures of eating scenes and pictures of food all over the walls of the Chawla family's home "in desperation for another landscape."
Both Samptha and Kulfi are dissatified with their unfullfilling lives, they "hunger" for purpose. It is fittingly ironic, then, that Kulfi winds up in a guava tree. Guavas are an important staple in the Indian diet, and his desire to both consume and transcend his place in the world is made manifest in his hunger.