The covid-19 pandemic may have become an acceptable way of life now, but do you remember the initial difficulties that the lockdown brought? The terror of the unknown? The frustration brought by unforeseen inconveniences? Perhaps, the loss of a loved one?
We adults probably have voiced our feelings in front of our friends and family. We rekindled long-forgotten hobbies and passions, or perhaps ventured into entirely unknown territories, to heal ourselves. But what about children? What did they go through? How did they cope with the lockdown, or worse, with the loss of a loved one?
This forms the premise of the story. Set in the first lockdown of 2020, this is the story of an almost 9-year-old girl, Swara. She shares a unique bond with her maternal grandmother, Pitter Paati. The story explores this relationship through the eyes of a nine-year-old, while she tries to come to terms with the passing away of her grandmother. Swara’s love for detective stories and her belief that her grandmother is sending her clues lead her to bust a crime racket on the side.
The highlights of the very well-worded story are the characters and their descriptions. The strong-willed and extremely creative curly-haired protagonist, her teenager brother, her friends in the residential complex, and her parents. Each relationship is etched beautifully. The bits about the online classes with the student-teacher interactions are especially refreshing.
Here is a subtle humorous thread binding all the chapters together. The story unfolds in a linear, uncomplicated fashion, ideal for kids to read. The third-person narrative reads like the voice of a child inside her head. There are a few characteristic phrases the author has used very cleverly, repeatedly. “Fools!” Swara exclaims inwardly, each time someone does not agree with her own opinion. A lot of colloquial idioms have been incorporated, which the endearing protagonist labels “Sayings, sayings!” much to the reader’s amusement.
The tale makes a few very valid points, in a lucid, easy-to-digest manner. First, unplanned setbacks like the lockdown cause a lot more anxiety in children because of the shroud of secrecy around them. Like loss of a job or a loved one, financial crisis, etc. Parents trying to shield children from ugly truths can cause them to imagine these to be bigger monsters than they are.
Second, children learn a lot by emulating parents, especially when parents are caught off guard.
Third, children react to a profound loss quite differently from adults. And the best way to help them cope with such losses is to encourage them to express themselves, instead of trying to distract them or belittling the magnitude of the loss.
On the flip side, at a few places, I felt the book was dragging, with redundant references to the fact that the child grieved inwardly. The pace could have been slightly faster for a better reading experience. Also while the puns scattered all along are cute, at a few places, they felt a little forced into the narrative, for example, the grocery list. The description of the crime also felt a little rushed and impractical. But the highlight of the tale is clearly the emotional coming of age of the not so little girl and so, the crime understandably takes a backseat.
All in all a wonderful book, delicately showing by example, how everyone around can help a child deal with a huge loss. Recommended for children and adults alike.
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