Authors: Salai Selvam and Shruti Buddhavarapu
Publisher: Tara Books
Price: Rs. 400
Mother Steals A Bicycle and Other Stories is a collection of stories told by the narrator, who shares with the reader a series of stories about her mother’s (Amma) exploits in a southern village in India where she grew up. Whether it is stealing a bicycle, befriending your own shadow, learning to swim first in the village pond and then to dive in the village well — the stories sound fantastical to the 11 year-old narrator, who is never quite sure what is truth and what is an exaggeration.
But the narrator’s voice is earnest, and the stories paint a vivid picture of Amma’s childhood, rekindling a yearning in those who have experienced village life. In others, especially children growing up in urban India, an awe and longing to experience that lost world where children walked to school alone, played games in the open, swan in ponds and rivers, and explored the dark.
The stories are also slices of life and children will find reflection of their experiences and feelings in subtle ways. For instance, when Amma falls off the bicycle, the narrator asks, “Did you cry Amma?”
“I did, a little. Actually I just really wanted someone to come pick me up, dust my clothes and carry me back home. But I was all alone. So I used all my strength to push the cycle off me and managed to stand up slowly.”
Or the time when Amma and her friends tortured a peacock and pluck feathers off him. “That’s cruel Amma. Didn’t you feel bad about hurting it?” asks the narrator.
“At that time, no, we were just thrilled…but then, slowly, I started feeling bad.”
Or the time when Amma and her friends competed to make as loud a splash as possible while diving into the river. The narrator says, “Swimming Sir says that a loud splash means your dive is incorrect.” To which Amma responds, “Oh Psshh! No such thing. Don’t you feel like making a huge splash sometimes?
Amma’s adventures reflect her courage, sense of curiosity and indomitable spirit. Today’s children are growing up in an overprotected world. And the stories open up the possibility of a world where children are less bound by societal and parental expectations, free to explore and be.
The book is written in the form of a dialogue between a child and mother. And the questions asked by the child and her reflections build the contrast between her urban upbringing and Amma’s world. There is also opportunity to weave in important changes. At one point Amma says, “Back then the rains almost always came on time…not like it is now, where ponds are always dry.”
The pen and ink illustrations are charming. Honestly I read through the stories without stopping much to take in the illustrations because the text gave wings to imagination. But the second time I paused and took in the richly detailed illustrations that build a context within which Amma’s adventures take place. The illustrations grow on you, inviting you to look closely. The text is cleverly designed to emphsise key words in the narrative. In the chapter “Fussing Around Insects”, the illustrator has weaved insect drawings into the text, enriching the reading experience.
What I would have liked is one page on the authors and illustrator. That apart, a beautifully written and designed book that cleverly and subtly juxtaposes urban and rural, old and contemporary, reality and imagination.
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