Simran Sadh
BOOM BOOM by By Prema Revathi. Illustrations by Anthony Guruz Tulika Books, Chennai, 2022, 60 pp., INR 295.00
November 2023, volume 47, No 11

Boom Boom is the story of Sura, a young boy living with his mother in Velankanni in Nagapattinam. He spends his days selling stickers at the Velankanni Church, playing with his friends, and climbing coconut trees. His mother, like many in the community, begs at the shrine. While the family gets by each day with difficulty, their life is depicted as one of abundance and not deprivation. The story unfolds as Sura joins his Thatha who is a Boom Boom Maaattukaarar and his Boom Boom Maadu, a decorated ox on their trips to the neighbouring villages and towns. On these trips he learns about his grandfather’s trade as a fortune teller, about their nomadic community and the fading traditions as modernity takes over.
When the Ox falls sick and Thatha loses hope, Sura is sent back to the village but with a newfound perspective about his community. His longing for travel takes him to Chennai where he learns more about the ways of the strange world. The detailed illustrations in the story complement the text and walk us through the characters’ journeys through diverse landscapes and situations. They depict the contrast in the simple abundance of the village and the enormousness of the city very well.
Stories wherein a series of challenging events lead to a transformation in the protagonist’s character fall into the ‘coming-of-age’ genre. While Sura does end up exploring himself and his cultural identity in the story, he was never really a stranger to the harsh realities of life. The characters in the story help us understand the conflicts, challenges and dilemmas of their generation. Thatha who had lived through the practices of the community has to now see them wither away. While he is in despair, he is not cynical but instead resilient. Even though Sura’s father doesn’t directly appear in the story, he represents a generation, first among the others, who had to choose an alternative path for the sake of survival. Sura’s Thatha has made it a point to pass on the legacy of being a Boom Boom Mattukaaran to him. While Sura realizes its importance for himself, he must also adapt those practices according to the contemporary times. The story gives a glimpse into the lives and values of a community which is left to fend for itself in the absence of state support but still ends on an optimistic note. The text at the end of the story is helpful in making the readers aware about the Boom Boom Mattukaarars in Tamil Nadu, their socio-economic condition and the existence of similar communities in the country.