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A Magical Tale

Laila Tyabji

By Shree Kumar Varma. Illustrations by Vinayak Varma
Puffin Books, New Delhi, 2009, pp. 132, Rs. 175.00


When editors start sending one pre-teen books for review, it’s a sign that second childhood is imminent. The Indian Express did it to me not long ago, and now it’s The Book Review’s turn!   Old age has its advantages, and so does children’s fiction—it has the fantasy, fun, and distinct story line that most adult fiction today eschews in favour of the darkly psycho-analytic and introspective. It also has happy endings! I am all for the latter—both in life and in literature.   Actually, The Magic Store of Nu-Cham-Vu doesn’t exactly have a ‘happy’ ending—it has a resolution. In this, as in other aspects, it is rather a grownup children’s story, though targeted at the 9-plus age group. It contains numerous stories within stories rather than a single story line, and there is no one hero or heroine—or even a main protagonist. Nu-Cham-Vu, the ‘Bad Guy’, is actually, in many ways, the most endearing and certainly the most rounded and fully realized person in the book. He dominates every scene and his colour, vigour, and appalling nastiness can reduce the other characters to two-dimensional cut-outs. Rather like that other monstrous beast—Toad, in Kenneth Grahame’s Wind in the Willows!   Even the magic toys he creates—a flute that senses seasons and makes flowers bloom in winter (and is inadvertently the catalyst of the first drama of the book) a bicycle with an elephant’s trunk and coughing bell, the Honest Babble-Bird and his terrible twin DBB, the Dishonest Babble-Bird, The Talking Box with the irritating mouth, the giggly Jasmine Doll with her long white hair made of jasmine flowers—who can translate the thoughts of her creator Nu-Cham-Vu, but has no words of her own—have a persona and dynamic of their own, more memorable than most of the other characters. And, significantly, most of the toys have the linguistic powers Nu-Cham-Vu himself lacks.   Shreekumar Varma, The Magic Store’s author, is an adjunct professor in Creative English at the Chennai Mathematical Institute. (What is an ‘adjunct’ professor anyway?! Is it the same as an ‘associate’ professor?) There is a charming interlude where Mrs Galido, the Mathematics Teacher, and Miss Jaldeer, the Language teacher at the Anchan Bay Grammar Etcetera School, each attempts to proselytize for their own subject—one singing the praises of Logic and the other of Freedom. ...

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