Manika Kukreja
KUNGFU AUNTY VERSUS GARBAGE MONSTERS by By Shweta Taneja Talking Cub, An Imprint of Speaking Tiger, 2023, 192 pp., INR 299.00
November 2023, volume 47, No 11

Aaah! Lizard’, was my expression when I saw one in the kitchen. But as I kept looking at it, I observed it looking at the fruit flies and that brought about a realization for me: It was there because of those fruit flies hanging around my food peels bin near the kitchen sink. After I ate my food, the flies had found their food and the lizard found its in turn. Suddenly, my feelings of disgust and fright at the sight of the lizard changed to that of a non-pushy, co-existing neighbour. Shweta Taneja, similarly, and subtly, hints to the ideas of flies, mosquitoes and rats not being human enemies in her book Kungfu Aunty versus Garbage Monsters.
This science fiction is set in a time of the future when the ruler of the world is a pest representative called Trash Rajah. There is trash all over the place, humans are not allowed to keep dustbins, clean and dust surfaces. They need protective suits and oxygen helmets since the air is not clean to breathe as it is, the plants are black with dirt and pollution. ‘Monsterquitos’, ‘bloatrats’, and ‘fatflies’ comprise the Rajah’s army that is in charge of maintaining the dirt and trash in the surroundings. And humans who go against the trash rules are cleanorists, or cleanliness terrorists.
The protagonist of the story is Kabir, a 9-year-old boy who idolizes Wild Wuss, doesn’t want to stand out or do heroic deeds, rather just follow the rules. However, his younger sister Lila, a rebel in Kabir’s words, on every occasion pushes his boundaries since she is the total opposite of Kabir. Lila leads Kabir to their deceased mother’s lab downstairs from their home to discover a clean bot created by their mother. This story follows two siblings saving the city from the clutches of Trash Rajah with help of the clean bot and their school friends.
The story takes the reader to a place where trash and junk take over human lives. It shows a scenario of what could happen if we don’t manage our waste properly. This ‘what if’ aspect makes it a good read for young adults and adults interested in issues of waste management. However, the story briefly also explores the idea of ‘power’ which interested me the most. There is an incredible backstory to how the Trash Rajah came to power by helping the people clean their mess. It was a much-needed support to keep the humans away from the waste and so Trash Rajah was appointed by the humans to keep their surroundings in check; but to feed its army and their growing demands heaps of trash, decaying food and polluted water bodies came about in the city. What started from helping the common, became about having a place that serves only the ones who have power. This allegory on the political system is astute and gives the story a new perspective for discussion.
The book details out the descriptions, it proficiently works with the language and will be a suitable option for students to work on story plot and language skill building. Upper primary teachers might want to use this as text for their Social Science and English classrooms as well.