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Pavithra Srinivasan

By Shalini Srinivasan . Illustrated by Sebin Simon
Duckbill Books, Chennai, 2014, pp. 186, Rs. 225.00


Author Shalini Srinivasan certainly has a weird and wonderful imagination. It’s almost as though mere words cannot do justice to the way her thoughts spiral out, creating bizarre characters and new worlds, fabulous realms and fables that might rival the ones found in our own Upanishads. In her capable hands, tales of adventures simply spring out, wreathed in joy and eager to fill out the whole world. Your only worry is that there are simply too many things to take hold of, examine, and enjoy.  But first things first, and it’s certainly intriguing, the beginning of this story: ‘Dear Vanamala’, begins a mysterious note to our young protagonist, Vanamala Viswanathan, who lives in Basavakere. ‘I have taken your sister and the boopy. Yours sincerely, The Cephalopod.’ Not unnaturally, this little note, found in the trough of a local shop’s backroom startles her—especially as she really did write up a notice to sell her annoying sister Pingu, aka Padmaja. Despite all their tiffs, Vanamala does love her sister—and is feeling more than a little guilty about it (which gets worse when she’s labeled ‘Sister-seller’) and sets off on a long and interesting journey to find Pingu—except that getting her back isn’t quite so simple. Vanamala meets Basavan Mama (who happens to be the ex-king of his land and in serious need of re-instatement) and despite all her efforts is caught by the Cephalopod (who has a dozen fables written about him/her, and appears to have his/her own epic beginnings) who sets her polishing a nagamani, in the company of a host of other sea-creatures and who else? Pingu, of course.  Vanamala’s adventures feel a little like Alice’s bizarre adventures into Wonderland—she meets such a host of curious people, and has such strange conversations. There’s the Lettuce-Grower, for instance, who writes fables on—what else?—lettuces; Girish, a fellow-fish in distress, her own sister, now a jelly-fish—and finds that she herself is now a jelly-fish! It’s a twisted, magical and frightening world full of people you seem to know but don’t, really. But here’s Shalini’s gift: somehow, she manages to steer you clear of shoals of fish, beyond coral and sea-weeds and tooth-fish, through the Cephalopod’s beginnings (with a different fable at each point) with intriguing language and a certain wry humour ...

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