Even though I am a grown woman, a school girl still resides in me somewhere. It is wonderful to get into a child’s head and see how they view the world and hope some of the innocence rubs off on you. So years ago when I spotted Paro Anand’s School Days in the book fair I pounced on it. It was a tattered old copy but all the pages were there. I know I have come a long way from reading only pristine undamaged books (read new books). What can I say poverty teaches you many things.
The book has eight not so short stories with different settings and situations. They are guaranteed to make both children and adults laugh. Your attention won’t waver even once (unless you aren’t a reader) as the stories are delightfully crisp.
Centre of attraction
The protagonist in Centre Stage is competing with Malati , her classmate, to be centre stage in some kind of a gymnastic event. She has to do a headstand to guarantee her place in it. But for some reason she’s unable to pull it off even after trying many times. Help comes from unexpected quarters, from a person who exists only for her. Having faith in oneself is the message here.
New Blue was hilarious and had me laughing out loud in a public place. Immersion into a new culture is never easy. Being the new girl in not only a new school but a new country, and in a culture Parvati’s not familiar with is too much to handle for any person. Making friends isn’t easy when people can’t even pronounce your name. (Read Parvati becomes Poverty). How we perceive things to be true without really knowing the facts and fitting in, is what the story deals with.
Stammering through a play
To Play a P-p-part is about a girl who stammers. Gitali desperately wants to take part in a play. How will she make that happen? Most people in her class make fun of her because she stammers but her teachers start to hope when she shows initiative and suggests a play, Children of a Lesser God, which is about a deaf and mute girl. Since she won’t have to open her mouth the stammering won’t be a problem. Clever, but there is one problem. The movie is a romance with intimate moments and unsuitable for children. Comedic moments are done well. The story appears so real that you think it is unfolding before your very eyes. Evading a problem isn’t going to make it go away. To deal with the truth you have to face it head on. These stories have a lesson or two for us world weary adults too.
Who’s a bully?
In Bullies, Vikrant is a good student, who is spoilt rotten by his parents because they finally got a son after three girls. Hail patriarchy! From being the cynosure of all eyes at home to being bullied at school because he is fat, we see both sides of the story. Bullying affects so many people at so many levels, not only kids. Either you have been teased or you have done the teasing or you know someone who has been teased because of his/her weight. It is that common. The story is about learning to deal with body image issues and being comfortable in your own skin.
Dear Dad is a funny story which has epistles (letters for the uninitiated) and telegrams. A boy in boarding school writes to his parents (each of them, mind you, for maximum impact) asking for more money but it falls on deaf ears. He exaggerates situations which results in more laughs. We get a tiny peek into his life at boarding school (reminded me of Harry Potter). Children are sent into boarding school to build character so that kids are self reliant and stand up for themselves.
Pandemonium in the classroom
Mouse C Tung opens with an alarm beeping. (I have a hate hate relationship with alarms to this day.) A sound too familiar to all of us when growing up. Winter break is over. Time to go back to school. Cosy under the blanket, he finds it hard to get up in the morning at an ungodly hour. This particular morning he’s looking for his pet mouse but he can’t find him anywhere. He reminded me of Philip from Enid Blyton’s Adventure series who always has an assortment of pets. Where has the mouse vanished? Meanwhile in school excitement is in the air. The class is abuzz with everyone swapping stories. Wait. Why is the teacher, who is the one supposed to maintain decorum, climbed up on the table? No such luck in my school where nothing remotely exciting ever happened.
I used to run when I was a kid. Nothing to write home about, just something I remembered while reading the story. In Suvira there are two runners – the new girl Suvira, and the crowd favourite (obviously not new). In this story we see a race from start to finish. Running commentary is through the eyes of the Suvira. We read the thoughts as they race through her head. I could feel the suspense mounting, waiting with bated breath to see who will reach the finish line first. I felt as if I was back in the school field watching the race unfold before my eyes.
Cheater cheater pumpkin eater
A boy who has never cheated in exams is sweating buckets because he has taken a chit in Caught. Does he manage to cheat egged on by his friend Pratap? The story is set in the examination hall for most part and the tension is so thick it can be cut with a knife. The ending sends a message to kids and, especially to adults.
Most of the stories are written in first person, and quite a few have protagonists who are unnamed. So it becomes more personal, and in a sense, everyone’s story. Her stories always end on a cheerful note, and much needed if you ask me, if we are to imagine a better world.
The writing is so effortless that you start to wonder if it came to her this way. Crackling dialogue is a given in Paro Anand’s stories. Read School Days to your kids or better yet have them read it to you. Their activities in class will remind you of your own school days or of your children. It’s a pity we grow up too soon.
I need to get my hands on all of Paro Anand’s books, especially Wild Child and Other Stories for which she was awarded the Bal Sahitya Puruskar. I’d better find a way to retrieve I’m Not Butter Chicken which I gave to a cousin of mine two years ago. And Pure Sequence is patiently waiting on a shelf to be read.