A quick review, in a nutshell -- This book is a laugh riot. Finally, a genuinely funny, sweet, sensible Indian book about the angst of growing up. Two thumbs up!
It’s been a long time since I’ve laughed out loud after reading an Indian writer’s English prose. Maybe it happened last in the 90s —when Upamanyu Chatterjee and his English August had one chuckling at the shenanigans of bureaucrats in small town India. Next, Pankaj Mishra had the same effect with his debut work travelogue, Butter Chicken in Ludhiana. Of course since then, the internet space has thrown up a variety of LOL raisers, but by and large, Indian English fiction is generally dead serious, nostalgic, whimsical, sometimes twee, occasionally risqué—but rarely funny, hilarious, in the mould of a Sue Townsend or a Bill Bryson.
To get back on track—here is a debutant novelist bucking the trend –and having this reader-reviewer at least, in splits. ROFLing, to use internet forum jargon.
Ice Boys in Bell Bottoms by Krishna Shastri Devulapalli is a laugh riot of a tale about growing up in Madras of the nineteen seventies. The book’s back page blurb tells us that it is the first of an intended trilogy. All I can say is—we’re waiting KSD!
The book tells a highly diverting tale about the child Gopi and his journey to teenage angst and understanding, about his setting roots in Ramalingam Street of T Nagar along with his delightfully eccentric circle of family and friends—the Telugu film lyricist grandfather-family head; the comic illustrator- artist father that Gopi tries to emulate, the pesky siblings and adventurous friends, the wierdos that weave in and out of the frisky protagonist’s life; the movie- buff mother, a surprisingly and pleasantly liberated lady, no doormat this .
Their tales and background have one chuckling and nodding as one recalls similar characters from one’s own life, similar situations. To give an example, the mother experiments with doll- making and finally gives it up since ‘after hours of toil, the end products resembled a Nazi experiment gone terribly wrong.’
Like any such ironic tale, there are of course some very interesting neighbours—like the octogenarian neighbor whose monthly shave fest provides Gopi and pals with their very own freakshow, the Dikshit family who feast and fast in their own special way, the family doctor who turns out to be more than bargained for.... there are the film aspirants from Hyderabad, bedding down for the nonce at Ramalingam Street, trying their luck in the movie machine of Madras…and for the reader with insider knowledge of Madras ( and not just Chennai of present times), it is wonderful to read nostalgic tidbits about the Veecumsee group of theatres, the very first multiplex from back then—Safire, Blue Diamond and Emerald. This whole lot is now off the map—but the book brings those times alive. What fun.
Yet fun is not just fun; the tale starts off merrily enough…but by the time Gopi’s hormones get active, the story changes tone, there is young love, teenage angst, moving passages, closure.
Overall the book is a breezy read. The language is lucid, effortless, effective—‘Our landlord, Raghavan, had built the rambling grey two-storey house with scrupulous savings, and judicious pilferage from the Indian Railways.’ Ha ha.
A couple of small quibbles—a few copy-editing errors caught my eye. Also, perhaps, some lines could improve with better phrasing.
But my final words to the reader of this review—read this book if it is one of the few books you are going to read this year.
As the blurb declaims --Ice Boys in Bell bottoms is ‘gloriously funny and surprisingly poignant’.
Amen to that.
More details about the book : http://www.harpercollins.co.in/BookDetail.asp?Book_Code=2931