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'Responsibility to Protect'


Benita Sen

JUST A TRAIN RIDE AWAY
By Mini Shrinivasan
Tulika Publishers, Chennai, 2009, pp. 56, Rs. 80.00

VOLUME XXXIII NUMBER 11 November 2009

For a child, the love and presence of both parents means the world. However, often in spite of their love for the child, parents find it difficult to live together and separate or divorce.   According to www.indiandivorce.com, India still has one of the lower divorce rates in the world at 1.1% compared to 54.9% in Sweden. But you don’t need to punch a calculator to work out that in a population of over 1.14 billion, that amounts to a disturbing number. That’s just the visible statistic. There are many more couples who have separated but not sought legal intervention.   With more and more marriages ending in separations and divorce, a never-before number of children are growing up looking to fill that void of a missing parent.   Just a train ride away has the courage to take on this thorny issue. It looks at the pain of single-parent children and takes the issue further: Santosh, the young protagonist, has grainy memories of his father, nor does he know who the man is, what he does and why he has never come to meet him. Author Mini Shrinivasan has probably met several children like Santosh since she has taught for a number of years. She catches, for instance, the pain of not having a father stomping up the stairs at the end of a working day.   So, what can Santosh do? There seems to be no way he can find his father till his ‘matter-of-fact’ (author’s words, not mine) mother announces a holiday bonanza for him: travelling from Mumbai to Kolkata by train, to ‘visit some of my old friends, all on your own. It would give you lots of time to read, to just sit doing nothing, to meet strangers, to see more of India.’   This, indeed, is the basic and a serious flaw in this book.   When she asks him, ‘How does that sound?’ one wants to say, ‘Daft! Immature. Irresponsible’ Well, Santosh’s friends almost complete that for you when they hear of his holiday plans. ‘The others looked at him as if he were some kind of nut.’   If Santosh is as old—or rather, as young—as the boy on the cover, his friends are not far off the mark. The book has its charming moments like Santosh grappling with a sudden burst of inexplicable uncouth behaviour. ‘What is couth, Ma,’ he asks his mother ...


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