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Spirited Tales

Arthi Anand Navaneeth

By R.K. Laxman and R.K Narayan
Puffin Books, Delhi, India, 2010, pp. 238, Rs. 199.00

By Anjali Nayar and Ruskin Bond
Puffin Books, Delhi, India, 2010, pp. 121, Rs. 150.00

VOLUME XXXIV NUMBER 11 November 2010

Two books. Two different centuries.Two distinct styles. One a social comment of the times, the other light hearted. Both spirited tales of school filled with incidents which make the reader say ‘Oh I have done that...’or ‘I knew a teacher like that.’ While Ruskin Bond’s Mr Oliver’s Diary may never become the classic that R.K. Narayan’s Malgudi Schooldays is, it is a very entertaining and easy read. It is contemporary (cell phones are not entertained and the boys dance to new Hindi film music) and is set in a boarding school in Shimla. The book is a diary, a journal maintained by the eccentric Mr Oliver, a teacher of history. The other characters are a mix of the usual suspects and some novel ones—mischie-vous boys, a pretty lady teacher, a snoring matron, a girl’s school next door—and some new ones like a sleepwalking student, frogs, a parrot that says ‘Bottoms up’ and a ghost. The boys play pranks and Oliver’s bald head is a constant target for them. Some pranks are ruthless—the boys send a barber to him, knowing fully well that he wears a wig. He is declared topless by the pretty teacher he is besotted with! But Mr Oliver turns out to be a Bond of sorts. He plays football, not minding at all if his team is violent. He rescues sleepwalkers and finds (at least tries to) a solution to the hordes of frogs that suddenly inhabit the school. He constantly covers for the violin loving headmaster. He even emerges victorious in love!! The book takes you through one full term of juvenile fun.Some of the incidents are not politically correct, given the juvenile readership the book is likely to have: ‘Such a pity caning has been banned,’Oliver muses one day when the boys get on his nerves.Oliver is scathing and unsparing in his observations of the large earring wearing friend of his beloved. But irreverent fun, through the eyes of an unlikely hero, is what makes this book refreshing. Overall a cool fun-filled read. Now, is there any need to review the iconic R.K. Narayan?Swami and Friends was written in 1935 and Malgudi Schooldays is its edited version. This reprint from Puffin, which brings the entire Swami stories together in one volume, is a fitting tribute to one of India’s ...

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