Case of the Missing Notebooks
Title: Simply Nanju
Author: Zainab Sulaiman
Publisher: Duckbill Books
Price: Rs 199
The tenor of Zainab Sulaiman’s Simply Nanju is set in the opening scene – Nanjegowda, all of 10, with a congenital spinal defect that forces him to wear calipers, peeks out of a washroom at United Integrated School to see if the coast is clear. He had soiled his pants again – the spinal defect distorts his awareness of when to go — and the last thing he wants is the Ayammas to find the soiled set of shorts that he has carefully tucked amid the cleaning paraphernalia. In that moment, you know that this boy, call him differently-abled if you will, knows a thing or two about survival.
United Integrated is a school for outliers — children with special needs, from low-income group families, whose survival kit includes a far stronger dose of enterprise than self-pity. There’s Mahesh, Nanju’s best friend, sharp, insightful, but wheelchair-bound; Aradhana, the class topper; Armaan, who has cerebral palsy, but loves numbers and spends the day solving simple sums; Pratik, the new boy who has recently moved in from Bangalore; and Sangeetha, the new girl , who wants to pip Aradhana to a school scholarship. Life would have been smooth sailing had Aradhana not begun losing her notebooks. Everyone knows Nanju is the class copycat and Sangeetha is almost sure that he is the culprit — how is he to prove his innocence? It takes all of Mahesh and Nanju’s ingenuity to narrow down suspects and solve the mystery of the missing notebooks.
The 2011 census fixed the percentage of disabled people in India at a contested 2.1 per cent, yet, integration of persons with special needs into the mainstream is still far from reality. The book, born of Sulaiman’s experience as a special educator, fixes the onus of inclusion not just on the government, but on each individual, willing us to be the change that we seek. Simple, yet deeply moving, Simply Nanju is a delightful addition to the ongoing conversation on diversity in Indian children’s writing.
The Secret Life of Strays
Title: Every Dog Has its Tale
Author: Ranjit Lal
In 1943, when popular British writer Enid Blyton’s Bimbo and Topsy, based on the stories of a cat and a dog belonging to her daughters Imogen and Gillian, came out, the adventures of the two beloved pets went on to regale generations of young readers. Pshango, the eight-month-old black Labrador, at the centre of Ranjit Lal’s Every Dog Has a Tale, is far less fortunate than Bimbo and Topsy, abandoned as he is by his master in the posh Peepul Enclave. But his friendship and subsequent adventures with the Pariahs of Peepul Enclave, a bunch of strays led by the good-looking Commander, reminds you of and gives you as much joy as Blyton’s lovable rogues.
Apart from Pshango, the Pariahs include Bullet, Romeo, Bindass, Phantom, Silky, Tipu, and another abandoned dog, a beautiful red setter called Duchess. Together, they forage for food in the neighbourhood, learn to escape the dog catchers who make periodic appearances and stay clear of the Lalaram Louts – Alfa Rot, Beta Rot and Theta Rot — the three spoilt Rottweilers at Numbers 4 and 5, who take special joy in being the scourge of other animals around.
Their owner, Seth Lalaram, has arranged his daughter Lovely’s wedding to a man who has endeared himself to the family by his outright rejection of dowry, but there’s a sinister plan brewing in the abandoned house at Number 3. It’s up to the Pariahs and lonely Sabiha at Number 2, a young girl left in her chachi’s care, to restore order when Lovely and her husband-to-be are kidnapped at gunpoint from their wedding mandap.
The plot is not without over-the-top moments but Lal has a lightness of touch that makes it seem credible. His writing is witty and full of slice-of-life vignettes, but more than that, it’s the compassion and warmth with which he writes about the animals that make the book a happy, fuzzy read.