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Magesh Nandagopal

By Balaji Venkataramanan
Duckbill Books, Chennai, 2013, pp. 246, Rs. 250.00

By Deepa Agarwal
Hachette, India, 2012, pp. 179 44, Rs. 299.00


The vacation after annual exams—so eagerly awaited by every school-goer who is not a bore—symbolizes a rite of passage. Two months of breathing space to let you explore, have fun, trouble your parents and grow into your new shoes, so to say. Ravi, the protagonist of this book, while waiting to enter middle school in the new school year, has plenty of ideas as how to put the two months in front of him to use (marathon videogame sessions, 100 movies in 60 days perhaps).   Obviously, his parents differ from this line of thought. Ravi is crestfallen when he learns that his mom has lined up coaching classes from 6 AM to late in the evening (phonetics, IIT, tennis, swimming, cricket, handwriting hour and what not), for every day of the vacation. Presented in the form of Ravi’s journal, the book records (or rather Ravi records) his life for those two months. His friends, his relatives, his frustrations, his attempts to become Shweta’s ‘best friend’, his rebellion, his secret forays, adventures—all of this is narrated in brisk, clean prose, interspersed with capitalized fruit names accompanied by colorful adjectives (GRUMPY GRAPES, ROYAL APPLES, MANGA MANGOES) which stand-in for cuss words that Ravi wishes to use, but doesn’t, fearing that his mother might chance upon the journal.   The book captures the dilemmas and the priorities of a preteen boy’s life well. This is the author’s debut book—and it is hard to tell. The writing seems effortless; the eye for detail and scene setting abilities work in the background, strengthening the narration. There are some genuine moments that ring true—like when Ravi puts his pen on paper for handwriting practice, the only sentence that comes out is: Elephants live in herds in the jungles of Africa and India—a sentence from his third standard social studies text, that is stuck in his head for some reason. Another detail that hits home is when Ravi longs for his classmate’s flowing hair, center partitioned—that bounces beautifully on either side, like those tall Pakistani fast-bowlers, when he performs his bowling action—there will not be a boy of that age who reads this, who wouldn’t nod in agreement. And the author unapologetically weaves Chennai into the story—its milieu, its language, in all its glory—and the book is better for it.   The book picks up ...

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