Category Archives: growing up

School Days by Paro Anand

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.

It 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 girl 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. Confidence is the message here. 

Settling in a new place

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 in a culture Parvati’s not familiar with is too much. 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, are 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 in school which is about Savitri and Satyavan. How will she make that happen? Most people in her class make fun of her but her teachers start to hope when she shows initiative and suggests a play, Children of a Lesser God, of her own accord. It has a deaf and mute girl in its lead. 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 not suitable for children. Comedic moments are done well and it so real you think it is all unfolding before your 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, a fat kid who is a good student is spoilt rotten by his parents because they finally got a son after 3 girls. Hail patriarchy! He is bullied because of his flab. It talks about a very important issue that 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. The story is about learning to deal with body image issues and being comfortable in your own skin.

Hostel diaries

Dear Dad is a funny story which has epistles (letters for the uninitiated) and telegrams from a boy in boarding school to his parents (each of them, mind you, for maximum impact) asking for more money but it falls on deaf ears. 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. I should know. I have never lived in one! He talks about his mother’s handbag where the phone can never be found (My mom is the same). He exaggerates situations which results in more laughs.

 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. His school is far from his home. So he has to get up at an ungodly hour to reach the school on time. This particular morning he’s looking for his pet mouse but he can’t find him anywhere. This boy is like Philip from Enid Blyton’s Adventure series, fond of keeping 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, the one who is supposed to maintain the decorum, climbed up on the table? 

Running Race

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

In Caught a boy who has never cheated in exams is sweating buckets because he has taken a chit in an attempt to cheat. 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 on how to handle things.

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, your story. Her stories always end on a cheerful note, quite unlike life, 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 seems to be 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 waiting to be read.

Silence

People say words hurt. I say silences hurt more. Long empty silences devoid of any gesture or sign, their capacity for hurt and damage is far reaching and many pronged, like an instrument designed for torture. Silence is invisible, so is the damage it causes.  They come out of nowhere, hit you with soundless bullets and the soundless scream that emerges can be heard by no one, as if in vacuum (Sound needs a medium to travel, it’s basic physics!).

Some silences are easy like the warmth of solitude. But too much of it and you risk becoming melancholic. What once lit up your being will now begin to choke you. Some silences are uneasy and gloomy like the loneliness imposed on you by the absence of a loved one or a long stay at home cut off from the world due to illness. But the thing is, they are interconvertible. One moment you are basking in solitude, and in the next, you are lonely. You might be out with friends and loneliness might descend on you without any preamble, far away from the company of friends, silence weighing heavily on your mind. Solitude can be found in the midst of people. You are in a bubble surveying what is happening without taking part, happy to just be an observer and a little while later you are somewhere else altogether.

The annoying bee like buzzing of thoughts has lessened with time. It is now the pleasant whir of a summer fan, not the onslaught of waves, lashing and battering rocks repeatedly. Now I am embracing the silence(s) instead of fighting it (beats the restlessness any day). One of the many effects of growing older (or is it growing up?) I guess.

Laurie Halse Anderon’s Speak

 I saw Speak a while ago, the movie adaptation of the very acclaimed book of the same name by Laurie Halse Anderson, starring Kristen Stewart in the lead role. Despair not, it’s nothing like Twilight (to be fair to her, Twilight fans say that’s how Bella is, in which case excellent acting ) where she has only two expressions (longing and longing) but it doesn’t translate into emotion. She is so much more than a pretty prop. Incidentally I knew that she can act having seen her in the bit role I had seen her in Into the Wild (one book I must get back to again). She emotes with their silence which speaks volumes. The movie does justice to the absolutely brilliant YA novel that deals with teenage rape and depression, alienation as a result of it, very serious issues which parents, teachers and the society at large will rather not admit exist, forget dealing with it. I kept remembering stuff from the book, the lines from the book in the screenplay and the things they missed.

I always follow this rule of reading the book first if I can help it. Like most book lovers or bibliophiles (I don’t mind what you call us, we are what we are) if I know the movie is adapted from a book I prefer to read the book first (I had to wait for long periods for reading Speak) and it has always been rewarding because I get to build the world created in the book, and that joy every book lover knows. Of course on the minus side the movie usually (I thought of using the phrase ‘more often than not’ but now that I have read On Writing I feel King’s watching me) falls short of expectations, except the adaptation of To Kill a Mockingbird.

I don’t know why so many people look down on YA. Trust me there are many. What you read popular fiction?! The term pop fiction is even more hideous. What’s wrong with the term contemporary fiction? Other than classics and books written by dead writers everything else they look down upon. Book snobs! They deal with real things in a real and sometimes not so grim manner, and do not put people to sleep so that their target audience actually does read and understand it. I was absolutely bowled over by Speak. Anderson is brilliant in the way she captures the voice of a teenager on the precipice of completely losing her sanity and spiralling into a quiet depression, and sinking into it but for her art teacher who gives her something to do that she enjoys, hence something to live for and she looks forward to stay in the land of living day after day.

It was first published in 1999 and five years later the movie followed in 2004. At first look the movie appears to tread a familiar territory because we have seen so many high school movies but it couldn’t have been farther from the truth.

The book cover had intrigued me for a long time and I took some time to be convinced about the story- I did not want to read about another victim who had thrown her life away. I liked Laurie Halse Anderson’s website, read her blog, bought the book and absolutely fell in love with the cover again, one of the most beautiful covers ever and waited. I believe every book finds you at just the right time. Another way of saying it unless I feel compelled to read something I don’t read it. I read it and it was literally life altering. The author interview at the back gave me some background to the book and the furore it created after its release.

She deliberately goes mute chooses not to say a word because when she tries to speak out the truth about what happened that summer nobody listens. It gnaws at her inside and she changes from a girl who lived life to just existing. She finally speaks out and she is the one who helps herself climb out from the horrific past and begins the process of acceptance as she tells herself that there is no point denying what happened. She is never going to forget it and the best way to deal with it is to confront it head on, which would someday eventually lead to healing.

The book is a must read. How come it doesn’t top favourite lists here isn’t exactly a surprise to me, it is because of the themes it deals with. I highly recommend it. Speak the book is more powerful than the movie. I will be talking about the book again soon. It’s been calling out to me again. Time for a reread.

You have to know what you stand for, not just what you stand against.

You can’t speak up about your rights and be silent.

You need to  visit the mind of a great one- Picasso who saw the truth and ripped it from the earth with two angry hands. If something is eating at you, you have gotta find a way to use it.

A revolutionary is only as good as his analysis. Why? We should be able to shout out how things can be better.

What’s the plan?

What do you to say to someone, who is a new acquaintance and has no idea where you come from, and thinks that she sees you as you are (how is a conversation or two enough to know a person that I will never know), sees so much potential in you that you wonder if you know yourself at all (lasts for one shaky moment and then it passes as quickly as it had come) and wonders out loud (while you are standing right there) about what are you doing with your life. What’s the plan now? I am sick of this question and I suppose people are sick of waiting for me to figure things out.

It is in everyone’s best interest to shrug it off and run as fast from the conversation and the person in question. I will run as fast as my hypermobile joints will carry me and as long as I don’t end up in a hospital, it should be fine. On a completely unrelated note, it’s true the sure thing boat does not take you anywhere and even if you can’t run your own life, you can at least run away from it and wallow in self pity till life smacks you back into place and drills some sense into your stubborn skull, beyond which there is hopefully a receptive and working brain.

An acquaintance was shocked  when I said that I had decided not to work in the field I was interested in at the moment and she took it to mean forever. Why are people so quick to jump to conclusions and worse, they think they have all the facts? It is difficult to explain the present as it is, forget about the past. It has taken years (basically all my life) to become the person I am today.

How do you explain the many false starts and disappointments? How sickness and being ill played spoilsport and took away even the will to live? They cannot be so casually dismissed and taken so lightly as people do. Words fail to communicate where and when they are needed the most.

Keeping mum is the only thing to do here since explanations will always fall short. Trust me, I have tried explaining and it serves no purpose other than making me look like a babbling idiot, frothing slightly at the mouth with a glint in my eyes (She is gone bonkers is what they believe and I do nothing to convince them otherwise). Total radio silence is sometimes the best thing.

But if you can bask in the glory of nothingness and be at peace with where you are in life, and proclaim it gleefully to the world then there is nothing better than that. Sit back and enjoy the puzzled looks on their faces as they try to reconcile what they see with what they know about your situation, and how you should feel.

Coming across Finding Violet Park again

I finished reading Finding Violet Park a couple of days ago and I am still thinking about it, which is always a good sign because my memory isn’t as reliable as it is used to be. I think the cover is brilliant (much better than the photograph I have taken) and when I first got the book, I thought someone had actually doodled all over it. I remember thinking I liked it and at the same time wondered how could they sell such a book, even if it is second hand, until I read the blurb. Silly me.
I knew the book as Me, the Missing and the Dead (but I must confess I like the title Finding Violet Park better because it is a title that doesn’t give anything away) as it was released in America. It’s a title I was familiar with since 2010, when I had read Broken Soup (Jenny Valentine’s second book), having noticed it in Pantaloons (when it still housed books) perhaps because it stood out due to its unusual cover.

After reading Broken Soup, I came to know that her first book, Finding Violet Park, won the Guardian children’s fiction prize and I wanted to read it (the stunning cover was the actual reason). Then university happened and I forgot all about it. Recently I saw it on a used book site (thank you Bookchor) and it all came back to me. Jenny Valentine felt like a nom de plume to me but it is indeed her real name (she married her Valentine).

It is odd coming back to an author whose work I had read when I wasn’t as much of a cynic and sullied by the world as I’m now. While reading I felt as if I was reconciling the present and past versions of me, which is weird because it is the first time I am reading this book but my mind associates Finding Violet Park with an earlier time, a pre-university era.

I read a major chunk of the book while awaiting my turn in a long line (which twisted and turned in ways unimaginable) of people waiting for their turn at the registration counter at a hospital. And if my nose wasn’t buried in the book, the two hour wait in the line moving slower than a snail, which ultimately turned out to be for nothing, would have been maddening. If there is anything I have learnt all these years, it is this – Never leave the house without a book.

The book deals with how Lucas, a 16 year old and his family – mother, sister, brother and grandparents, cope after his father goes missing (read ghosting in real life). It’s a book where death has a strong presence since the other lead character Violet Park, is in a urn (as in already dead). Their paths crisscross and what happens then forms the rest of the narrative.

Lucas has been forced to grow up before he hit his teens and never got the chance to be a normal teenager. He is a bit of an oddball and strange for his age but  that is what growing up too early does to you. He talks to himself often. I get you. I really do. When others don’t understand the only option left is oneself. He idolizes his father, who vanished without a trace, leaving behind his pregnant wife, two children and ageing parents. And this breaks my heart because I know the truth won’t be pretty.

Lucas conjures up out of the world scenarios for his father’s disappearance, never believing him to be dead. He believes that one fine day he will be back in their lives. He is unable to face facts or refuses to do so because the world he has so carefully constructed would then crumble and, he would be left with nothing but a gaping hole, where life as he knew it used to be.

Pete, Lucas’s dad, was absent from their lives but is present throughout the book. Lucas was the worst affected by his absence and could not let go of him even as time passed and there was no hope of his returning home. His mom let him be a walking shrine to his dad, thinking it to be a way he could cope with the disappearance though it made moving on very difficult  for others.

Though published by Harper Children in 2007 this is not a children’s book but would belong in the category YA (young adult). The writing is simple but the themes are complex but then YA books have never been traditional and that is what I like about them. Some people think YA books are rubbish and precocious, and isn’t worth the hype. Read the book for the most unexpected pair of protagonists, if not for the themes it addresses – death, alienation, loneliness, assisted suicide, dissolution of a marriage and growing up in a broken family, trials of old age and ravages of dementia all without ever getting heavy handed.

The book is equal parts funny, tender and sad and hopeful though not all at once. And the ending will leave you gobsmacked. I suggest you get your hands on a copy, if YA floats your boat.

It occurs to me all that most people do when they grow up is fix on something impossible and hunger after it.
 I can’t believe how people turn themselves in circles and repeat the mistakes that screwed them over in the first place.
It’s funny when you start thinking about pivotal moments like this in your life, chance happenings that end up meaning everything.
 Maybe Pansy saw him the way I wanted to, half blind, without the cruel light of actual knowledge. 
I don’t know if I said it right or not when I said it to Bob. It’s much easier saying everything you want to say when you are the only one that is listening. 
…I was thinking how ironic it was, how unfair that I’d been mad for so long at the person who stuck around instead of the one who abandoned me. 
 It’s what you do when you grow up, apparently, face up to things you’d rather not and accept the fact that nobody is who you thought they were, maybe not even close.