As editors, we sometimes go through days of despair because everything that comes into the inbox is hopeless. Sometimes we find manuscripts, and we know they will be good books. And then, there are times when we read a manuscript and we do a little we-have-to-this-book jig.
Flat-track Bullies belongs to the latter category. The two things about This book that make it really special for me are
a. The fresh, distinctive, unselfconscious and totally authentic voice and
b. the way children of a ‘different’ background are integrated into the story without making a big deal of it–without being conscious of doing something worthy and important.
And having lived in Chennai for many years, the language and the characters really came alive for me. I don’t think I have yet read a children’s book from India that is so wonderfully local in flavour and yet universal in the appeal of its storytelling.
From the very first page of the manuscript of Flat-track Bullies, it was clear that this was a voice that was as distinctive as it was unusual. As we read more and more chapters, I was completely hooked.
Indian writing in English over the years has often been a bit deracinated in the sense that regional flavours are frequently abjured in favour of a sort-of-uniform Indian English (of course there has been a recent spate of novels which glory in their use of the ungrammatical and predominantly north Indian lingo as English of the BPO generation but let us disregard them–largely, they are just bad writing). Flat-track Bullies is triumphantly as southern in its ethos as R.K. Narayan, though of course speaking of a very different, contemporary world. Here perhaps we see how fine writing can be triumphantly influenced by the cadences of other Indian languages.
Balaji’s book is quite radical in some of the things that it does. In the way it deals between relationships between the different social classes, as Anushka has mentioned, in the way it deals with the relationship between different genders at a preadolescent age. And in the way that it deals with family relationships. It is unusually honest–every word rings true–and of course, very, very funny.
I will never look at fruit in the same way after reading this book.