Jayasree Kalathil; Illustrated by Rakhi Peswani
Rs.150 Pages 44
To be honest, I judged this book by its cover — in fact, I was totally intrigued by it. The illustrations by Rakhi Peswani are striking.
The story evokes familiar imagery from Rabindranath Tagore’s famous tale Kabuliwala. There is a young girl, and an ‘outsider’, a social outcast; and a similar attachment forms between the two of them. It even has the same gut-wrenching scene of the outsider being expelled from society after establishing a tender bond with the little girl. The big difference between the Kabuliwala and The Sackclothman is that Tagore’s story was narrated from the father’s point of view while the latter is recounted by the girl child.
The narrative is profoundly sad. The young protagonist, Anu, and her family are grief-stricken due to the sudden demise of her elder sister. The loving family has fallen apart, with Anu’s mother in depression, father turned alcoholic and Anu, isolated in her own lonely world.
Anu is wise and empathetic beyond her years. The loss of her sister, her best friend, has created a deep void in her little world. It is then that she strikes up an unusual friendship with the village ‘madman’ who has a sad past of his own. She waits for her friend Chakkupranthan, every day. With him, she feels heard, in a world that is quick to snub a child’s emotions or questions.
When he is taken away from the village, Anu experiences her second big loss. Whereupon the parents realise that they need to pull themselves together to save their daughter from falling apart. The novelette is deeply touching. Anu’s raw emotions and her family grappling with their loss are heart-rending.
Although I liked the book, I don’t have the heart to recommend it for young children.
Madhurima Kahali (The Book Review)
The latest (November) issue of The Book Review (www.thebookreview.org) features reviews of stories for children. Two selections