Saturday, October 9, 2010

Book review: Children of a different god

A crash course in human emotions

How many times have we seen people getting admonished as ‘mental’ for doing something stupid or silly? Haven’t we as children teased or labeled our classmates for doing something similar way back in school, without fully knowing what the word implies? Apart from conditions such as progeria and dyslexia that have been popularised by the recent Bollywood releases Paa and Taare Zameen Par, can our country’s educated populace list out a few more disorders that afflict the differently-abled, without having to google for them?
That the portrayal of the differently-abled in Indian commercial movies is far from realistic needs no introduction. In fact, it would be an understatement to say that our woods - Bollywood, Tollywood, Kollywood and the like – have created the most inaccurate of the impressions in our minds about such persons. Think mental, and you immediately conjure the image of individuals with unpleasant appearances who are always subject to violent mood swings. Children Of A Better God, written by Susmita Bagchi in Oriya as Deba Shishu and translated into English by Prof Bikram K Das, a Sahitya Akademi awardee, answers such questions by stressing on the fact that spastic children are normal too, and react identically when subjected to the same stimuli.
Children… follows the travails of Anupurba, the wife of an IT employee and an art teacher at a primary school in the US, whose husband has been asked suddenly to relocate to Bangalore. Not knowing what to do after coming back to India, Anupurba stumbles upon a long lost friend who persuades her to work at a school for spastic children. The rest of the story is all about the protagonist acquainting herself with the children in the school and the persons behind its operation, before she launches into making a difference for these children.
Scan quickly through the book and you would realize that the author, wife of Subroto Bagchi, chief executive, Mindtree Consulting Inc., has managed to draw most of the characters in the book from real life. The IT executive who has been asked to move to India from the US to handle a development centre, the two NRI siblings who are finding it difficult adjusting in their home country, the divorced young woman who is waiting for her boyfriend to move in with her and the caretaker who is trying to make both ends meet with her meager salary are all persons that we, at various instants, have encountered in our daily lives, such that reading the book can give one the surreal experience of having personally visited a typical Indian metro. Susmita’s attempts to portray the landscape of Bangalore in the book can be likened to Michelangelo’s efforts in painting the Sistine Chapel, such that the reader gains a fair impression about roads in the city when he is done with reading the book (which also means the book doubles up as a rough tourist guide). The IT-belt in the city – Sarjapur Road, Koramangala, Airport Road and Whitefield-ITPL - receives special mention. Incidentally, Mindtree’s offices in the city are located in the above mentioned areas, so it should not come as a surprise to the reader if the author has decided to adapt real-life settings in her book. Also, watch out for special trivia tidbits like, for instance, the reasons behind the name of the locality Marathalli.
A common complaint leveled against works translated into English from Indian languages is that the translated versions do not retain the actual essence of the original. Prof Das, a former professor of English at Foreign Languages University, Hyderabad, puts such fears to rest by employing simple language in translating Children…, as its characters not only enraptures us, but also ensure that we have a lump in our throats.
Children... may not probably win an award for an intricate plot and setting, for it simply doesn’t have one. In fact, the reader may be able to predict the plot to a certain extent, which in no way is the book’s undoing. If at all the book has a drawback, or if it can be called that, it is the rapid pace at which characters and the lives behind them are introduced to the reader; however, this is more than made up for by their careful and realistic portrayal.
Just as a picture is worth a thousand words, the reader is able to form impressions about the characters clearly due to the manner in which human reactions have been brought out. One stand-out scene from the book in my opinion is when Anupurba, who is visiting the spastic school for the first time, gets overwhelmed by a sea of emotion when she realises that the children are staring at her lovingly, as if in hope that she will be able to make a difference to their lives, when she herself has her apprehensions about the same. As if in a reflex, Anupurba suddenly remembers about her children and starts feeling anxious for them, which in essence is basic human tendency and is the major factor that drives Children…