Thursday, April 23, 2020

Year of the weeds - hopefully!

Today being  “World book day”, we realise the value and importance of books and reading all the more in testing times like these…. Isn't it? Books not only afford a great escape from all the surrounding stress but also seek to provide answers to our quest of the known and sometimes the unknown too. The present lock down is a lot more tolerable because… well as they say “we are the readers”…. and alternating between my own reading and reading many a picture books to my little one and reading online a YA novel to my son who is away at my parents’ farm “Shrishti” in Dharmasthala, is what keeps me going for the whole day!  I began blogging to share my reading adventures with my then four year old son who has gone on to develop his own taste and declared his independence long back in choosing his own genres of books and authors, without any interference from me. While I find it hard not to raise an eyebrow over his obsession with the Michael Morpurgo books or the Alex Rider-like series, I realised his rather unadventurous attitude towards new series or new authors can be a blessing in disguise…. as moms of teenagers are always looking  for an opening into their world……and what a better way to gain an entry than embark on a joint adventure with your teen into the world of books!

While he plunges into his favourite books and buries himself in it day and night, he does need a little prodding when it comes to trying something new. So that’s when I check in and we both fly away to distant lands only to be pulled back my little one who is waiting for me with her picture book! 😊 Anyway, what was planned to be a ten day break before his starting the bridge course at school turned out to be an extended vacation for Abhay at his grandparents’ place and of course he isn’t complaining! With everything turned online owing to the lock down scenario, why not read a book online I thought…and over the last ten days, every night between 9.30 and 10 pm ….Abhay and I would be transported to Deogan and Balangir in western Odisha - the setting of “Year of the Weeds” by Siddarth Sarma, a Young Adult (YA) novel brought out by Duckbill Publications. “Year of the weeds” could not have come to us at a better time when we are most likely to lose hope in the situation, the system, and most of all ourselves in overcoming what has now come a human catastrophe. “Year of the weeds” in so many ways restores our faith in the system, brings about so much positive vibes and makes for a truly uplifting read this season. Set in a tribal village of Deogan inhabited by the Gond tribes, the story takes the reader through their simple, poor yet contented life built around their Gods and a belief system that holds the neighbouring Devi hill as sacred which is sought to be threatened by the discovery of bauxite beneath the hill, the mining of which will result in not only the displacement of the Gonds but erosion of all that they hold on to. Amidst all this, is the protagonist, a young tribal boy named Korok who’s passion for gardening and tending to his employer's garden touches upon every aspect of his understanding of life and the workings of the adult world and his curious take on the mainstream world.  To borrow from Abhay’s own blurb/write up about the book “Year of the weeds is a fabulous novel that opened up my mind to a great extent and gave me a lot many things to think about… the characters had simple qualities yet were layered in subtle ways” As we went from chapter to chapter, reading over a chapter and a half each night connecting over the internet or the telephone, Abhay hung on to each and every word that I read and tried to visualise the setting and imagined the characters from the seemingly simpleton Korok to the empathetic city-kid, Anchita, from the resigned village headman Mahji to the local activist Jadob master, from the feudal-minded, self-proclaimed king of Deogan, the Superintendent of Police Patnaik to the apathetic establishment man, District Collector Behera, along with guest appearances by the politicians and Maoists. Needless to say, my urban-teenage-device-driven-city slicker was continually intrigued with the part-humourous, part-philosophical narrative of the events unfolding leading up to a coup-like ending. A brilliantly written socio-political drama that makes for a thoroughly engaging read while also impressing upon the future adults about the  system, its weeds and how to have the weeds defeat one another! Here's hoping that this year be the year of weeding out all that the ills the system!  

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