Shivani Bajaj
MUNNI MONSTER by By Madhurima Vidyarthi. Illustrations by Tanvi Bhat Duckbill Books, 2023, 92 pp., INR 250.00
November 2023, volume 47, No 11

A story about a 10-year-old girl and her small family, is very readable for any child in the age group of 8-12 years. Her parents, grandmother and she represent a simple, happy, middle-class family with no ‘apparent’ problems or complexity, till something happens…!
The book is based on a real-life character who is family to the author and loved dearly by her.
It covers a variety of topics and issues that might be of concern to any 10-year-old in today’s world and times. Written from the perspective of Mishti, who lives with her parents and grandmother in a small flat in a big city, the story deals with her insecurities, her fears, her beliefs. Her bond with Thamma, her grandmother is very special, and she is extremely happy in her small world till someone else enters it. Then adjustments are made, things are shared—space, relationships, attention and even money. Mishti asks some very pertinent questions about managing money, relationships, family—which, after all is more important? And how does one achieve that balance? What makes a home happy and when will they be happy again? Her own planned struggle to end all unhappiness and to get her earlier happy home back, is with the help of a ‘close’ school friend. A friend who—as she only later discovers—is not actually helping her, but only making Mishti feel inferior and less privileged, thereby establishing her own superiority.
The book gives an opportunity to the young reader to look at their own struggles—in being accepted by the peer group/some special friends in school; with parents in doing the ‘right’ things in life and learning the ‘correct’ values; with life in general. Mishti’s own struggle to ‘belong’ to a certain class is subtle and underlying. She seeks acceptance from her ‘best’ friend who is rich and actually selfish and haughty. This is a real problem for her from the beginning of the story, something that has been there all along.
The characters are very strongly portrayed. Her parents—Joyeeta and Sachin—are loving and caring but will not tolerate any indiscipline or nonsense from their little daughter. In fact, they treat her like an adult when she says she is not a small child anymore. It is a treat to read about the near perfect relationship of the parents and the grandmother, though a bit hard to digest wherein both generations understand each other and appear to have the same opinion on a number of issues.
Sometimes it takes a mishap to make one realize what they truly desire or love. In that moment of confusion and tension, one realizes what values one lives by and what matters the most to them. Mishti, till now, has been unable to put her finger to her life’s values and what she desired most. She wanders in her mind and fights for all she ‘thought’ she wanted, but in the end realizes it was something she always had—within her and around her—the love of her family, of her near and dear ones. And somewhere the jigsaw of what makes a happy home comes together and fits perfectly! One is also tempted to ask: is it in a moment of emotional upheaval and reaction that Mishti ‘realize’ this?` And will it change again once things are back to normal? Or is this feeling thought-through and here to stay? How easy was the process thereafter of accepting Munni and sharing her entire life with her and how easy or difficult were the challenges that followed?
The language used is very advanced and makes one believe that the character is a serious one. Very believable illustrations especially of the ‘monster’ called Munni. Definitely a good one-time read that may lead the reader to reflect on their own personal lives, while opening a new area of challenges.