Deepa Agarwal
NIMMI’S CRAWFUL CAMPING DAYS by By Shabnam Minwalla Talking Cub, An Imprint of Speaking Tiger Books, New Delhi, 2023, 176 pp., INR 250.00
November 2023, volume 47, No 11

Twelve-year-old Nimmi Daruwala is not an outdoorsy person. However, Mr Bakshi, the ‘kind and enthusiastic’ Principal of Vidya World School, decides that a Team Building Camp would be the best way to launch the school year for troublesome Grade 7. And so, Nimmi sets off with her unruly classmates to spend a ‘night under the stars’ in ‘the lap of Mother Nature’ hoping to bond and discover ‘altogetherness’.
Shabnam Minwalla is the acclaimed author of several award-winning books for young readers and this title is the fourth in the well-loved Nimmi Daruwala series. It explores the complex emotions and everyday problems of a girl on the cusp of adolescence with humour and empathy, and the author expertly juggles a large cast of characters who somehow feel both familiar and yet larger than life. Filled with situations that any twelve-year-old might identify with, it replicates the angst of contemporary pre-teen existence with keen insights and much understanding. The Instagram anxiety, the never-ending stream of messages that keeps everyone on a constant simmer, the outrageous rumour mongering—they are all there.
What is it like to be an almost-teenager? When you feel like you’re ready to start dating and yearn to be as cool as the coolest kid in class? But somehow, things refuse to go the way you would like them to. Nimmi’s mother is totally opposed to dating and beauty treatment before she is sixteen. More so, being an ardent recycler, she insists on sending her to camp with an ancient sleeping bag stuffed into a green Amazon Fresh plastic bag, which becomes the unexpected catalyst of astonishing events. It evokes scorn from the fancy and superior Evil Threevil—Alisha, Devina and Nimmi’s erstwhile friend Sophia, and mouthwatering hope for goodies being denied in camp for Imran and Rohan, the ‘trouble-magnets’ of the class. Worst of all, it arouses sinister suspicions in Sumit, who has a score to settle with Nimmi and is convinced this bag will clinch his revenge.
Thus, the stage is set for a crazy+awful (Crawful) chain of events which will keep the reader chuckling and turning pages till the startling denouement. The journey to Camp Happy Heaven on the ‘Hapy Jorny’ bus becomes torturous when Nimmi discovers that the snooty Alisha has developed a crush on her friend Kabir and persists in her attempts to lure him away while bombarding Nimmi with cutting remarks all the way. On arrival, Mother Nature’s lap does not turn out to be soft and welcoming, they are greeted with a thunderstorm instead. The camp organizers and the accompanying teachers turn out to be woefully inept, the food is revolting, and the tents provide scant shelter from the rain.
Somehow, Nimmi has to survive the ‘grastliest night of life’. Nothing could have prepared her for the ‘ghim and grastly’ experience of trying to find sleep in her ‘poky, proddy’ sleeping bag in a leaky, drippy tent with two of the Evil Threevil and the perpetually Groaning Grishma. A night that metamorphoses into the stuff of her worst nightmare when the tent is invaded by terrifying intruders.
Together with this saga of weird events, the battle to be Class Rep is playing out—a crucial part of the action, along with the bullying, rivalries and groupism of school life that are vividly depicted in this exuberant, true-to-life story.
‘Crawful’ is itself an indication of what to expect in this hilarious but heartwarming narrative. The brilliantly expressive made-up words, so typical of the language kids coin at the drop of a hat, heighten the comic element and add immensely to the reading pleasure.
What really struck me was how effectively the communication gap between kids and the adults in charge of them is highlighted in this book. From the ‘kind and enthusiastic’ Mr. Bakshi, well-meaning but clueless, who totally misreads the verbally challenged Rohan’s cryptic email, the disconnected teachers who also take it at face value without bothering to use reason or their personal knowledge of their students, to the DreamTeam members who are to conduct team building activities but have no experience with children—it is the adults who are responsible for the comedy of errors which leads to the disaster at 4.48 am in Tent No. 5.
But all’s well that ends well, as it should in a children’s book. Kind-hearted Nimmi amply demonstrates her mettle, coping heroically in a crisis situation. And eventually, it is the unbreakable bond of friendship that carries the day as Nimmi’s friends Kabir, Diya and Kavya help her to recognize her own strength.
The comical cover illustration by Tanvi Bhat provides the perfect peek into the action of the book and will no doubt entice many young readers.