Mother Steals a Bicycle and other stories- Book Review
Authored by Salai Selvam and Shruti Buddhavarapu, illustrated by Tejubehan and published by Tara Books

How can you not fall for the charming stories and winning pictures of Mother Steals a Bicycle, including the intriguing title that shows a determined peacock trying to steal an ‘e’?! The eight stories in this slim book emerge, it would seem, from the childhood memories of the narrator’s mother.

The mother has a way with words, and a propensity to add ‘kannu, mookku’ as we say in Tamil, meaning ‘eye, nose’… In other words, to add masala to her memories and make of them delightful stories that she tells in the drollest yet dramatic manner. Based on text originally written in Tamil, the stories have been translated into English by V. Geetha.

At the heart of each story, though, lies the kernel of childhood or, rather, being a child in a village in South India. The bicycle, for instance. Amma was desperate to learn to ride a bicycle, and ‘it had looked pretty easy when I saw other people doing it. You just had to sit and pedal, pedal, pedal. Easy!’ So, when she spots a visitor’s bicycle, she gets someone to help her clamber on and starts pedaling away. Except that she doesn’t know how to stop.

Understanding the Path

‘You could have used your brakes, Amma,’ her daughter tells her as she sits listening to her mother’s exploits. But then, her mother says, this was the first time she was on a cycle, so she keeps going thinking ‘that the cycle was only meant for paths, and that if there were no paths, the cycle would automatically stop working.’ Of course, she falls, into a dry water canal and pushes the cycle back home, tired and screaming to make herself feel better, all the while carrying a thought niggling in the back of her head: the scolding that surely awaited her arrival!

Amma’s adventures involves her friends, peacocks, insects, swimming, make-up, even the dark! There’s an innocence and simplicity about these stories and illustrations that makes you smile and want to sing. Most of all, these stories remind you of the stories you have yourself heard from your own mother, father and others close to you. These are the kind of stories children can be nourished by and nurtured on — if we care to share them. They are among the best kind of nutrition we can provide, for the eyes, the mind, the heart, the ears.

The detailed black and white illustrations brilliantly lit up with flashes of blue bring alive a real world inhabited by a myriad living creatures and nonliving things. It’s a world inhabited by the storyteller; it could be a world inhabited by the reader as well. Designed elegantly by Dhwani Shah, the book is a must for readers of pictures and/or words, alike.

Mother Steals a Bicycle and other stories is part of the Parag Honour List 2020. You can buy it here.

Sandhya Rao is a Chennai-based journalist, children’s writer and editor.

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