Super Brat and Other Stories is a delightful collection of stories reminiscent of R.K. Narayan and Swami.
The reader enters the warm and familiar world of the South Indian home, awash with the wafting smells of sambar, the gentle sounds of the Veena, the incense of the pooja room and the comforting presence of Amma. It is a safe and secure world, from where it is easy to cope with the problems of school, sibling insecurities and the world turning modern just outside the door. Even the dentist seems less sinister and ambitions more attainable as they spring out of the TV screen in the form of a film director, the Prime Minister, the President of the Dentists Association, a Carnatic Musician and the producer of a 13-part TV serial
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Amma is most definitely the miracle; botd wonderful and exasperating; all there anc yet missing; all yours and yet not yours; homely yet beautiful; the ‘walking time bomb’ yet the gentle healer, the spoken and the unspoken; the very essence and the centre of a child’s world.
Against this warm and secure background are a host of familiar characters, a bratty brother Ramu, Glamorous Asha Aunty, a very leaky baby brother Dakky, Sundaram Sir, Bus Ma’am, fizzy friends Ramu, Gopi and Suresh, the class bully Mukund, the crooked neighbour Mr. S and many more.
Each story seeks to explore with gentleness and understanding the insecurities of childhood and removes fears in the midst of sheer ‘ordinariness’!
In the ‘Toothless Monster’, Ramu falls while playing cops and robbers, losing a tooth in a tangle of arms, legs, Amma and dhobi clothes. Since it was not a milk tooth, the prospect of being stuck with a gap is treated with hilarity, as images of Ramu growing up to be famous though toothless are explored. Happily for all, the dentist is a bearer of good news! ‘You’re lucky’, he told Amma, patting Ramu on his head. ‘If this incisor had not fallen, we would have had to pull it out—’ The dentist is suddenly a friend and being toothless a moment of fun.
‘The Fabulous Collection’ is a story of the average child, a child all thumbs, all left instead of right, singularly lacking any talent except that of being a child. It is a celebration of how glorious it is to be at an age where all you are able to collect are cuts and bruises and wear them as badges of honour.
‘Bringing up Amma’ is the most sensitive of all the stories, it is difficult to tell but easy to feel. One’s own homespun mother as compared to the slim and glamorous women that are the mothers of others… Meenu’s sincere efforts to help her mother out of her do-gooder, stay-at-home crumpled image, the sudden understanding of her mother’s real talents and the sacrifice involved in being just a mother make this story somewhat special. Or perhaps I was just biased!
‘Fizzy Friends’ is full of fizz and jokes, drawing typical images of school, of friends and of a child who in trying to be a better teller of jokes, overdoes it and temporarily loses his friends. But do not despair, Amma is there, and drawing from her own childhood, manages without preaching or coddling to bring realization and solace.
No collection could be complete without one story in which Appa plays a star role. ‘Who Wants Green Fingers, Anyway’? is the story. But more than the story of Appa it is the story of a family that ‘loves together, stays together’, even if it is through potted plants.
‘The Trouble with Bubbles’ is about baby-sitting a baby brother, still in diapers, with healthy lungs and often damp. Embarrassing, exasperating, bringing out the monster in you, he is still cute, lovable, and when you really get down to it, a delight to hug and ‘absolutely no trouble’.
‘Super Brat’ is about sibling jealousy, a shared flippy-floppy pet puppy and what childhood dreams are made of—leaving the house in a huff.
‘You Can’t Always Win’ is a lesson; do not gamble and above all beware of people like Mr. S!
‘Who Could It Be?’ is the beginning of the world of Christie and crime, of make-belief where the nerves tingle, the breath quickens and then mercifully the light goes on and all is well.
‘Algebra and the Art of Fighting’ is the class bully, defeated by the helping hand that is put out to solve an algebra equation.
What is perhaps nicest about this collection of stories is the fact that the child who reads it can be totally at ease in English with his Indianness. However, one can’t help but feel that the writer has attempted merely to present images rather than write stories. The lack of a story line gives the stories a sameness that could degenerate into monotony.
The language too, though it seems to flow from the writer’s pen giving the reader the distinct impression that she is enjoying every bit the writing process, tends to be rambling and loose.
‘The plants!’ groaned Appa, looking at the monster with two of its huge, holey leaves torn. And the rubber plant had its stem broken in half in the awkward fall it had when it plunged, head first from the ledge.’
Certain images seem out of place and incongruous. ‘I remember she had looked at me fixedly like she was Nelson or something—a England-expects-every-man-to-do-his-duty kind of look.’
Also one wonders how grateful parents and teachers would be to a book which reinforces in the child’s mind phrases like ‘Sundaram Sir’ and ‘Bus Ma’am’.
The illustrations by Suddhasattwa Basu add greatly to the book and often make the characters came alive. The only thing that might take away from this book being an ideal gift for a 12-14 year old is its price. In its present edition Rs. 30/-seems too much.
Anita Kohli is a freelance writer.