Category Archives: books as friends

Lessons in life from a little girl (real and fictional)

Unexpected intrusions of beauty. That is what life is. – Saul Bellow

There are no words to express the way you feel when you hold the hand of an eleven year old, let her take charge and be your guide. For a few moments I felt like the schoolgirl I had once been, carefree, innocent and oblivious to what the world looked like to grownups. I thought I had left that self far behind but it was hiding in the open underneath the veneer of adulthood. I desperately hope (in spite of knowing that it will) growing up doesn’t rob her of her curiosity.

This child was knowledgeable about the technicalities of photography and that impressed me, I am still an amateur photographer years after professing interest in photography as a hobby. There lies the difference. It is more than a hobby for her. She is passionate about it.

I took to her immediately. Our vibes matched. It would appear strange when I say that because I am a world weary adult (even though I cringe while saying it) and she’s a bright kid. My inner child connected with her and perhaps in her I could see a glimpse of the happy-go-lucky child I used to be.

I have always connected well with children. At the same time, I have been told by my older friends that I am far too mature for my age. I am an old soul with a young heart. And only with a Gemini it won’t be a conundrum.

She was cheerful, restless and bubbling with enthusiasm like children are. It was something I could not have asked for but got in spades interacting with her that day. I was not supposed to meet her but she had come with my friend and how funny it was her that made my day.

The same night I found a book  I had been looking for ages, Oliver Jeffers’ The Heart and the Bottle. I don’t have to tell you that the illustrations are beautiful because it’s a book by Oliver Jeffers. It talks about a girl shutting herself away from the world because something bad happened to her. To live and to just exist are two different things. She allowed grief to overwhelm her and forgot to live until a little girl shows her what she was missing, just by being herself, full of life and not being afraid of the future (the great unknown for most of us unless you are a seer). I was that little girl but I don’t want to be that adult. Finding the way to yourself, and discovering who you are, isn’t that the purpose of life?

Life mirrors art. Art mirrors life. And we continue to live on trying to find meaning in the things we do.

Yesterday I read an insightful interview about Oliver Jeffers’ new book Here We Are which comes out today. The cover looks stunning and I cannot wait to read it.

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Wild Child and Other Stories by Paro Anand

Wild Child and Other Stories contains stories about teens dealing with issues that they grapple with. Paro Anand’s earlier book School Days which I thoroughly enjoyed was about tween’s issues but this one is so much darker because of the themes it deals with. Teens are unruly, difficult and moody but always in the need of love, both tough and tender.

This is an award winning book but why does it have such a bad cover? I mean come on, YA audience is used to being treated better all around the world. So glad it has now been re-released by Penguin India as Like Smoke which has 20 stories.

The title story Wild Child deals with a girl who is always bunking school (I had read an excerpt and decided to buy the book), vanishing somewhere where no one can find her. Intent only on punishing her, the elders make no enquiry or try to find out what is the matter with her. The answer when it comes, sheds light on her behaviour. People who deal with children need to be more aware and open, not to mention perceptive, to catch what is really the matter.

This is Shabir Karam is about children whose parents have been killed in Hindu- Muslim conflicts. Kids from different religions live together in a home but they have no love lost for each other. How children, who have no clue what religion is, are caught in the crossfire of hatred and bigotry will make you very uncomfortable.

Children are vulnerable, yet to form their opinions and adults, who are in a position to influence it, do grave disservice to them when they do it to meet their agenda. It makes children easy targets. Early childhood trauma is not something that can be reversed and their childhood is lost somewhere.

They Called Her ‘Fats’ is about an unruly, unfriendly and angry girl. Fatima has no friends and the children in the school spread vicious rumours about her. It is not only adults but children also fear what they don’t understand, and Fatima doesn’t make it easy for anyone. The sports teacher sees the potential in her when she throws the javelin.

Very few people are lucky to find  something that channelizes what they have inside them. It just takes one person to believe in you. What makes the story riveting is that it has roots in reality.

Santa’s Not So Little Helper is in a lighter vein. A boy who writes a creative writing piece in class about being part of Santa’s family. It is funny and did take me back to my school days but it didn’t quite fit in this collection.

In Jason Jamison and Ia star tennis player with swoon worthy good looks is troubled inside. The perfect exterior is a facade. He is the new boy who defeats the old reigning champion. Looks can be deceiving (quite literally) and friendship can spring up in the oddest of places between unlikeliest of people.

Mixed marriages are taboo in India and it is the worst when it is a foreigner. When the marriage doesn’t work out the family is left in the deep end, shunned by the society. What is the child’s fault? But he or she is the one who has to bear the brunt of it.

Hearing My Own Story talks about abuse that goes on inside the house. Physical and mental abuse is a reality for many married women. They have no clue that they can walk out of their abusive marriages and claim compensation. But the ground reality is murky and in India where marital rape isn’t a crime, women are helpless. The social fabric is at fault. Both people, outside and inside the home tell you to keep mum. 

Like Smoke was gut wrenching but felt short and abrupt. Maybe that is what the author wanted to show, how living in terrorist climes is, with bombing and shooting being everyday affairs. How uncertain and fragile their lives are with the threat of death looming on the horizon.

It makes you think about what is really being done about the situation in Kashmir. The militancy is destroying the lives of so many people, who are easy targets because they refuse to leave their motherland; it is the civilians who are paying the price for the unrest. Continue reading Wild Child and Other Stories by Paro Anand

Simply Nanju by Zainab Sulaiman

10-year-old  Nanju  wears a diaper to school and hobbles around as he has crooked feet. He lives with his Appa and older sister Shanti. He doesn’t pay attention in class and regularly scores zero but manages to hide the evidence from his father, who threatens to send him to a hostel. Happy in his world, nothing seems to bother him much. His best friend is Mahesh, who is terribly clever and lets Nanju copy all his answers. He gets by with a lot of help from his friends.

When I was reading Simply Nanju many people commented on the lovely book cover. The face of an innocent child with an endearing smile, who can resist that? (People who have hearts of stone, that’s who!)

It is business as usual in school with petty rivalries and merciless teasing, greeting teachers in a singsong voice, and the class turning into a fish market when the teacher leaves the class momentarily. Class topper Aradhana’s notebooks vanish and return days later in a shoddy condition. Nobody knows who is behind it and Nanju makes it his business to find the culprit when fingers are pointed at him. Mahesh and Nanju, though not quite Holmes and Watson, set out to solve the mystery. Do they manage to find the thief who isn’t a thief? Read Simply Nanju to find out. Continue reading Simply Nanju by Zainab Sulaiman

Thoughts on Dash and Lily’s Book of Dares

Dash and Lily’s Book of Dares is an epistolary novel co-authored by Rachel Cohn  and David Levithan. Their earlier collaborations include Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist and Naomi and Eli’s No Kiss List, which caters to teens, just like this one. The cover was appealing but a bit too cutesy for its own good. Heart shaped snowflakes really? But don’t let it deceive you. It is not just a Christmas romance though it is set during Christmas  in Manhattan, when there is snow in the air and good cheer.

It is alternatively narrated by Lily (written by Rachel Cohn) and Dash (written by David Levithan). Dash and Lily  write dares and  thoughts in a red Moleskine notebook which Dash finds next to Lily’s favourite author (which also happens to be his) while perusing through the books in Strand Book Store (yes the one and only). The idea was devised by Langston (named after  Langston Hughes), Lily’s older brother so that she finds someone to share her Christmas excitement with (she loves Christmas like only children can and she is not a child so that does make it a little odd) as he will be busy with his boyfriend and their parents will be out of town.

Lily is a shy teenager, good at football and overprotected by her family. She does not fit in and has no friends at school though her lovable extended family more than make up for it. Her cousin Mark and Great Aunt Ida make for great secondary characters and play a significant role in safeguarding the notebook.

Lily’s notebook is picked up by Dash who hates the idea of Christmas. He is an introvert and comfortable in his own company. A child of divorce, he’s used to taking care of himself and guards his solitude fiercely. Dash’s best friend  Boomer, is overexcited and overeager (for his age) not unlike a toddler on a sugar rush providing us with many funny moments. I thought theirs would be an unlikely friendship but they complement each other well. Yin and Yang.

Through impossible dares Dash and Lily accept, designed to push themselves out of their comfort zones, they see new sides to themselves. They grow  together  and confide their innermost longings to each other in a notebook. Sharing a common ground with an anonymous if not nameless but faceless stranger can be a powerful connection. Would it have been better (read more acceptable) if they had done it face to face or had it been a conversation on the phone? It isn’t the mode of communication that matters but the connection. Or is it just plain idiocy trusting someone’s words, someone whom you have never seen or met, in this age of dishonesty? It’s Kali Yuga after all.

Here the the barriers in real everyday life appear to dissolve and the playing field is vast. I mean anyone could have picked up that notebook.  It goes on to show how we box ourselves and allow others to pigeonhole us, put labels, when we can go beyond it and be so much more alive.

Lily and Dash are book nerds hence the usage of words isn’t what would constitute normal teenage banter. Nevertheless the writing is contemporary although you might feel out of your element (read bored) if you don’t share their love for words. Take a look at these lines:

“I particularly loved the adjective bookish, which I found other people used about as often as ramrod or chum or teetotaler.” 
“I was horribly bookish, to the point of coming right out and saying it, which I knew was not socially acceptable.”

“We all just took the bookstore at its word, because if you couldn’t trust a bookstore, what could you trust?

Continue reading Thoughts on Dash and Lily’s Book of Dares

You are what you read

“The best moments in reading are when you come across something – a thought, a feeling, a way of looking at things – which you had thought special and particular to you. And now, here it is, set down by someone else, a person you have never met, someone even who is long dead. And it is as if a hand has come out, and taken yours” ― Alan BennettThe History Boys: The Film